28 January 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
When ever I’ve pilgrimaged to the Holy Lands,
The buzz amongst fellow spiritual pilgrims is,
“Oh, how I want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.”
In many locations,
History and tradition become so blurred
The archeological evidence often disappoints.
The synagogue in Capernaum is an exception.
We know exactly where it is at.
It has been extensively excavated.
The archeology confirms the fact that
This is indeed the location of the Jewish synagogue
That was in active use during the time of Jesus
In the village of Capernaum.
Stand at the North end,
Between the central columns facing South,
And you are standing exactly in the footsteps of Jesus.
This is where he taught with authority,
As related in our Gospel lesson for this morning.
This is where he exorcised an unclean spirit from a man who confronts him.
This is the exact spot where all were astounded at his teaching
And all were amazed at the loud, demonstrative departure
Of the unclean spirit.
Jesus left the crowded synagogue astounded and amazed.
Location, location, location, it is said
Are the three most important aspects of real estate sales.
I would suggest location is an essential aspect of this Gospel narrative.
To make sense of this Gospel lesson,
And to find useful applications for our lives,
Let us consider location.
A spiritual battle is taking place
With cosmic, cataclysmic implications.
The location of this battlefield,
First and foremost,
Is within a human person
Who had been kidnapped,
Taken hostage, and was being held
By a foreign power.
A demon had entered a man;
An individual was a near perfect image of a loving, creating God.
Through no fault of his own,
A demon entered this man
And began to wage war
With one of Abraham’s own covenant bound descendants.
The first shot was fired by Satan himself.
Regardless of your or my belief about demons,
It is quite obvious that there hasn’t been an eradication of evil in the world.
Before we are quick to explain away Biblical demonic possessions
And make a diagnosis from a distance that
Demon possession can be dismissed as mere mental illness or epilepsy,
Let us move with caution.
Let us recognize some cold, hard facts:
Evil is dangerous.
Evil is opportunistic, and
Evil isn’t afraid to cross boundaries.
Regardless of evil being personified, or not,
It would be a calamitous error to under-appreciate or under-estimate
The power of Satan or evil in our world.
Jesus didn’t, and neither should we.
I do not like using military metaphors
When it comes to interpreting or proclaiming the Gospel.
Yet, today, it is entirely appropriate.
Spiritual warfare was initiated by Satan
And the battleground is this man infested with an unclean spirit.
Had Jesus been a wet-behind-the-ears young seminary graduate,
He probably would have turned tail and headed for the hills.
This is not the case.
The Gospel of Mark plants the flag in the sand
And claims the cosmic prerogative
The universe’s high ground:
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus was no lightweight;
Jesus was the Son of God.
Jesus, Son of God, taught with authority!
It is with this Divine authority that
Jesus confronts the unclean spirit on the battlefield,
At the location of Satan’s own choosing,
In this formerly clean man.
Jesus takes off the gloves.
If you think Satan wasn’t afraid of crossing boundaries,
You haven’t been paying attention to Jesus
(and you didn’t pay attention to last Sunday’s sermon
About the call of Simon and Andrew,
James and John).
Jesus has no fear.
He confronts evil
Eyeball to eyeball.
This tells us the extent God is willing to fight the battle,
Even when the battlefield is your life or mine.
Jesus is prepared to cross the clean vs. unclean boundary,
He is willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty,
Simply to save the life and the soul of this man
Taken over and held hostage by a foreign power.
Consider the implications.
God values every human life.
God is willing to go to the mat for everyone.
This is an exceptionally powerful message
For those of us whose body betrays us.
Think about it this way:
Have you ever felt spiritually dirty?
Spiritually unclean through no fault of your own?
When the brain becomes diseased and betrays you,
And you must eat with a bib or start wearing Depends?
When the legs give out, the spine is in pain,
And you are forced to use a walker or a wheelchair?
Consider the shame that is felt by one
Impaired by tics, spasms, drool, or speech imperfections.
The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this:
Jesus only sees you as
Clean, nearly perfect, and as a person of infinite value.
Christ is willing to fight for you!
Christ is determined to reclaim you!
Christ will never allow Satan to win, now or in the future.
Christ will hold on to you and defend you for eternity!
Location, location, location!
Let us consider location,
Beyond the man.
The tip of lightening
Emanating from this slam-down
Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil,
Of God vs. Satan,
Is taking place in the synagogue,
In full view of all the people.
There is no secret here.
Christ’s authority is on display for everyone to see.
The fact that the unclean spirit convulsed him,
Cried out in a loud voice,
And was cast out of the man
Gives credence to the authority of Jesus
To win over evil
And to teach with authority.
It is credible …
It is a certainty
That Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.
The battle takes place within a structure of organized religion.
This isn’t a coincidence
Or a shear accident.
I’m not one to live a paranoid life,
But it is nearly impossible not to see that
Forces opposed to the Gospel
Are sometimes at work within the very
Halls, naves, and offices of the Church.
Forces opposed to Jesus
Sometimes hide in plain sight,
Camouflaged by beautiful robes, candles, and high steeple edifices.
Christian history is resplendent with abhorrent examples
Of treachery, oppression, threats,
Violation of vows, betrayal of trusts,
Larceny, abuse, rape, mutilation,
And, yes, even homicide.
Christian history is stained with evil practiced in
Cathedrals of grandeur
By authorities of privilege.
Power and wealth that inflates egos and male hubris,
Sadly, we’ve been there, done it, and wrote the book.
To make progress,
It is incumbent we
Confess the sins of the past,
And work in ministry for a better tomorrow.
Satan isn’t driven off by a wooden cross.
Demons do not fear
Doctrine, theology, or law,
Nor do they respect episcopal directives.
Holy water doesn’t scare the Devil.
Demons make it their business to cross all boundaries,
Including the threshold of the Church
And to pick a fight on the Lord’s sacred ground.
No place is safe.
No location is beyond the evil reach of forces opposed to Jesus.
What then, are we to do?
Biblical scholars have long been advocates for studying the Gospels by Starting with this question: What is the first thing Jesus does?
Christ’s first action in each of the Gospels will reveal a lot
About the theology, the thrust, the agenda of the Gospel author.
For John, Jesus’ first action is turning water into wine.
From thenceforth, the Gospel of John proceeds.
For Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee and his expanded Sermon on the Mount.
For Luke, Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue, in Nazareth,
Where he teaches from the prophet Isaiah.
But here in Mark, it is reported that Jesus teaches with authority
In the synagogue in Capernaum
And he exorcises an unclean spirit,
Who obeys him.
Indeed, considerable time and effort is spent in the Gospel of Mark
To cover all the landscape that amounts
To Jesus casting out demons, unclean spirits, even Satan himself.
In this spirit,
We find direction when we look ahead
In the third chapter of Mark.
It is the account of Jesus appointing his twelve disciples to
1. Be with him,
2. And to be sent out to proclaim the message, and
3. To have authority to cast out demons.
If demons are free to attack us
Anywhere and everywhere,
What are we to do?
We are to take the authority Jesus gives us
And to attack them, too.
Cast them out!
Get rid of them; every last one!
The strength to do so
Comes from God,
Not from within.
This isn’t about having the courage or having the ability.
This isn’t a mandate only for seminary graduates or the ordained.
This isn’t a call for judgment.
This is simply Jesus giving you and me his Divine authority
To cast out demons in our world.
This is simply Jesus giving each of his disciples everything we need,
Every resource that will be required,
To defeat evil, injustice, and oppression where ever and whenever they present themselves,
On their turf, or on ours.
This is our baptismal vow.
Lies are evil.
Reject lies, without exception.
Use the authority of Jesus to cast the devil out of those who lie.
Stealing is evil.
Shine light where there is darkness and deceit.
Use the authority of Jesus to reveal theft and cast the devil out of those who steal.
Worshipping gods other than the Lord is evil.
It’s called idolatry.
Reject idolatry and call out idolatry when you see it.
Use the authority of Jesus to cast the demon out of those who want to worship anyone or anything other than the Lord.
It is possible to list example after example in the Bible
Of tactics and strategies,
The Devil uses to oppose Christ,
To pick a fight,
To wage spiritual warfare on a battlefield of his own choosing.
What are we to do?
We are to go on the offensive.
Take the authority of Jesus
To renounce and reject sin,
To cast demons out of everyone being destroyed by sin,
And to allow Christ to claim victory,
To reclaim and bring healing
To those wounded on the spiritual battlefield.
What are we to do?
Be on our guard that an unclean spirit doesn’t infect us, too.
Temper behavior and live righteously.
Surround ourselves with other disciples of Jesus.
There is strength in numbers.
Other disciples also hold us accountable,
Even as we are to hold others accountable.
What are we to do?
Evil has nothing to gain
And is unable to establish a foothold in attacking those who
Live a life in God’s love and grace.
What we shouldn’t do
Is set back and do nothing.
We shouldn’t play prevent defense with the Devil.
We shouldn’t let our naivete lead us to give Satan a timid, half-hearted fight.
We shouldn’t let others dissuade us
To fight another day
Or to fight on some other issue or battlefield.
A passive approach to evil is nothing more than lazy.
Never back down.
Never give up.
The fight isn’t between you and any individual.
It isn’t personal.
The fight is between Christ and the forces who oppose him.
The outcome of the battle to be waged is never in doubt.
By his authority,
Christ is victorious.
Christ is always victorious.
Cast out demons,
And taste the Divine victory that is ours!