The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Message for Epiphany 4, February 1, 2015

Based on readings from Hebrew Scriptures:  Deuteronomy 18: 15-20, Psalm 111, and Mark 1: 21-28

For the people at Knox United Church, Vancouver, B.C.

Opening Prayer: Astounding and amazing God, may we be guided by your Holy Spirit alive in our midst strengthening us for our call to mission and ministry in this time and in this place.  In our dreams for healing and wholeness, we pray, amen.

This morning we celebrate the fourth Sunday in the season of Epiphany, we hear again how God’s divine presence came to be revealed in the life of Jesus.   This morning, we find ourselves, with Jesus, immersed in what was typically understood to the very public arena of the synagogue at Capernaum.  Here, in the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus reveals, not only his authoritative teaching style but also, his embodied healing presence. 

Here is what happens when an unclean man possessed by demons interrupts Jesus’ teaching with two challenging questions.   

Listen again to what he says in interrupting the teaching:

  1. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
  2. “How have you come to destroy us?”

Then, even before Jesus has a chance to respond, the man declares: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  

Like wow!  Here, just a few lines into the reading, we come face to face with another startling example of God’s revealing presence in Jesus.  And from where is it revealed?  From out of the mouth of an outcast!

 If Epiphany is the revelation of God’s Holy Spirit as manifested in the person of Jesus, then we’ve arrived!

“Arrival” is what I perceive the whole of Mark’s gospel to be about with its characteristic sparse language, frequent use of the word “immediately”, its’ almost palpable sense of urgency, and its focus on authentic discipleship and servanthood ministry. 

Now back to the story which I love, not only because God’s glory in Jesus get named by an outsider, but also, because something else very important happens when Jesus responds to the interloping man.

Jesus immediately stops what he is doing, and gives his full attention to the man.

Embodying God’s compassionate love, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man and to everyone’s amazement, it does.

The reading concludes this way: “They were all amazed…what is this?   A new teaching-with authority!  Jesus commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

There is much here for us to reflect on as we consider the who, what, where, when, and maybe even the how God’s chosen one is revealed and how his teaching and healing powers overlap.

For the gathered in community in the first 60 years after the birth of Jesus, the common understanding of the space between humans and God was different than our context.  

In that time and place, the space between was thought to be inhabited by a variety of spirts, demons, and evil powers.  Exorcism of such demons would be a good thing!

In our culture:  Not so much.   In our culture, conventional wisdom brings with it much scrutiny and skepticism to the topic of spirits, holy or otherwise!  

Still, for some of us who embrace a more Celtic spirituality as part of our Christian journey, we are learning to speak about the luminous or “thin” spaces-thought to be the space between us and God.  For most of us, though, we are just too busy to open ourselves to reflect deeply on issues that are just beyond the pale or the veil.   

Perhaps that’s the take away nugget for this morning: To hold up our lack of openness as a culture and often, as a church and our inclination to avoid setting aside time to consider the mystery of God’s presence and then, how that is revealed by those we might see as lesser than or as outcasts.  Perhaps. 

Another take away might be to consider the sway our ‘shadow’ sides hold over our lives- how our issues of unacknowledged sorrow, loss, grief accompany us on the various stages of our life’s journeys and/or how we hold all of that at bay.

A third take away might be to continue to reflect on how this story about the man with the unclean spirit provides us a model for balancing teaching with healing and compassion in our shared ministries in this time and in this place.

My personal take away nugget for this morning?   Its clear to me that the outcast man’s witnessing to the divine in Jesus leads to his healing.  The man with the unclean spirit is changed, and so, by extension, is the community. 

That’s my starting place and my leaving off place for this morning.  In witnessing to the divine in Jesus, the man with the unclean spirit is changed, and so, by extension, is the community. 

Until next week, when we pick up another story about healing from Mark’s gospel-until then, I will also be considering this question:

In these days, what DESERVES our amazement or our giving of authority?

Let us pray: Powerful God, make us bold to embrace your wisdom and open to being shaped by its way.  Speak to us, that we might enact your word and take our roles in the amazing transforming of our world modelling your way of compassion, love, and justice.  Amen.