Salem Lutheran Church

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Relationships First

We have spent three of the last four weeks reading through the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and just here in the first chapter we have heard many voices speak out in this story. Three weeks ago, Mark began his Gospel with a voice of “one crying in the wilderness,” (1:3) John the Baptist, and in that same story we heard the voice of God proclaim, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). Then last week we heard the voice of Jesus as he began his ministry when he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news” (1:15) and of course we heard the voice of Jesus as he then invited his disciples to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (1:17). Here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we quickly hear the voice of the prophet, the voice of God, and the voice of Jesus.

Now today, Mark continues his story by sharing with us Jesus’ first public deed of power as Mark adds a couple of new voices — the voice of the unclean spirits and the voices of those who are listening to his teachings. It is the Sabbath and Jesus does what a good Jewish man should do, and that is he went to the synagogue, but he didn’t go to just sit and listen, he went to teach, and Mark says he taught with authority. He taught like Moses and other prophets, that is he taught as though God had taught him directly. And then in the midst of this powerful teaching, Mark introduces a new voice, "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" (1:24), the voice of an “unclean spirit.” I always find this story fascinating because the unclean spirits know exactly who Jesus is, “the Holy One of God,” and yet those who are seeking to learn and listen to Jesus, don’t know him and ask “what is this?”. The unclean spirits know that Jesus has power over them, and, yet, those who seek to want Jesus as their king fail to recognize his authority over their lives. And in this story, Mark sets the stage for Jesus’ ministry, that battle between evil and God, a battle that God will win!

As I have shared with you many times, each of the Gospel writers tells the story of Jesus’ life a little differently and so I find it interesting that Mark chose this story to tell us how Jesus began his ministry. You see, in this story we get a real strong clue as to what Mark believed was the heart of Jesus’ ministry and mission. What is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry is not God’s law; it’s not tradition or the current culture or the current political climate. No, for Mark the heart of Jesus’ ministry and mission is rebuilding healthy relationships between God and God’s people and the relationships God’s people have among themselves and among others. Today we are reminded that God is against those forces that rob any of God’s children of the life God offers to all of God’s creation.

The good news offered to us today is that God stands steadfastly against all those forces that are keeping them down, that God is opposed to anything and everything that robs us of abundant life and that God is prepared to do battle with those who seek to rob our lives of joy, meaning, and purpose. This man who had been possessed by this unclean spirit has been robbed of life with his family and community. He was most likely not welcome into the midst of the community and he probably was even a danger to himself. So, when Jesus meets such a person his first action is to rid this person of whatever evil is preventing him from participating in the “whole” life God created for him and for those around him. It didn’t matter to Jesus that it was the Sabbath. It didn’t matter to Jesus that he was in the synagogue and that some people might object to his doing such works. No, what mattered is that that this man be healed and made whole again so that he could be in a healthy relationship not only with God, but with the community around him.

You know, as much as I love this story and what it teaches us about Jesus and his ministry, I also struggle with it because in our modern, factual world, stories like this cause us to struggle with what is meant by things like “unclean spirits.” When we hear such terms, my guess is we all conjure up images of a being with horns, or a grotesque being of some kind that can somehow enter our bodies. Now maybe such beings exist, but I believe the evil spirits we encounter today are much more than that. I see things like addictions (the opioid epidemic), economic issues and economic inequality, unemployment, racial inequality, unsafe working environment, situations where power is abused, or harassment and discrimination tolerated are all forms of “evil spirits” that must be exorcised. Any condition that prevents us, and all of God’s people, from the hope of a better future must be exorcised out of our lives. And from God’s perspective, God is not simply against these things theoretically. No, God calls on the Body of Christ, the church, you and me, to address them directly and with courage.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to force out and get rid of those things and lifestyles that prevent us from living the abundant life God has created for us. We are called to get rid of those things in our lives that keep us from fighting against the evil that exists in this world and our challenge is to identify those things and exorcise them and command them to get out so that we might build a stronger relationship with God, our families, our communities, and all of God’s creation.

In just a little while, we will begin our annual meeting. We will be challenged to look at our current situation and we will be challenged to begin making some critical decisions for the future life of this congregation. Some decisions need to be made today like voting for new council members and approving our 2018 budget. But those are the easy decisions. The harder ones will most likely require us to get together again after more work and more healthy discussions.

The biggest decisions we have to face have to do with what we can and will do with this facility. Two years ago, we voted as a faith community to try and stay here and we instructed council to conduct a feasibility and expansion study. You have received the results of that study and you will hear a little more about it in our annual meeting, but the fact is to proceed has a starting price tag of over $2,000,000, and will exceed $14,000,000 when all is said and done. To decide we must be wiling to answer questions such as, How can we first and foremost focus on the ministry and mission Jesus has called us to do? How can we better feed the hungry, care for those in need, and strengthen our relationship with God, each other, and the wider world? Is it this building that will do that, or is it a strong commitment to community, to ministry, and to our faith?

Are we willing to exorcise out of our lives those things that are robbing us of the abundant life God is offering? I know these decisions will be hard, but remember God is with us and God is prepared to do battle with those things and people who seek to rob us of lives of joy, meaning, and purpose. Are you ready to commit to a new life? God is ready for you. Amen.


Tags: Sermons