Sunday, January 29, 2012

Encountering Jesus

Mark 1:21-28
Many people have a hard time connecting to passages like this one. We have a hard time making sense out of talks about unclean spirits or demon possession and don’t know how to wrap our modern logical scientific minds around concepts such as this. Even if we do not see people walking around appearing to be demon possessed, nonetheless the forces of darkness are at work in this world whenever anyone participates in actions that are contrary to the work and will of God.

Evil is still at work in this world in small as well a cosmic ways. People do horrible things. Evil is played out via the actions of people in every community, in every country each and every day. Somewhere today, a drunk will driver plow her car into oncoming traffic, a drug addict will take another hit after promising himself, his wife and his children that he would quit, and a family will be torn apart because the parents can’t seem to stop yelling at each other; a child will be harmed by an adult he loves, a woman will be beaten senseless by her husband or boyfriend and a man will be shot on his way home from work. Each and every day, children die of hunger, people are murdered and those in power misuse their authority to harm others. Evil is at work in this world in the actions, thoughts and reactions of people everywhere. Each and every day people all around us allow evil to be worked out through them. In this passage we what happens when evil in the form of this unclean spirit encounters Jesus.

We don’t know anything about this man or what he had done to allow an unclean spirit to inhabit his life and actions but we do know is how that spirit acted and reacted when it encountered the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Actually, the man and his unclean spirit are not the primary focus of this passage, but instead it is their and everyone else’s reactions when they are encountered by Jesus the messiah.
People at the synagogue have an encounter with Jesus. Jesus comes to Capernaum and when the Sabbath day came around, went to the synagogue to teach. We don’t know what he teaches. We know at other times he has gone into the synagogue, read and taught from Isaiah. We know in other places he has given proverbs type teachings. At other times and places he taught in parables. He might have used any one or any combination of these teaching methods that day, we simply don’t know.

What we do know is that the people are astounded at his authority when teaching. It must have been some pretty amazing bit of teaching. So you would think that it would be pretty important for Mark to include it in his gospel, but he doesn’t. And this is because it is not what he taught that astounded them. What astounds his listeners is not the content he taught but the authority with which he taught it. There is weight and meaning behind what he has to say. Jesus’ authority does not come from learning or adherence to the law but from an independent authority – his own divine authority, his own knowledge and understanding – out of his unfettered relationship with the one true living God. Jesus knew how to teach about the good news of God because he knew God. The people in the synagogue that morning had a divine encounter with Jesus.

Jesus is done teaching, the people are astounded and then suddenly something oddly disturbing happens – there is man there in the synagogue with an unclean spirit. We don’t know how he got there or from whence he came, whether he just wandered in at that very moment, or if he had been there all along but was silent until this point. Perhaps his spirit was dormant and mute within him and at this very moment cries out. We don’t know, but we do know that this man with this unclean spirit, at this time encounters Jesus, the messiah, God’s one only and eternal Son, the living word through whom God spoke the entirety of creation.
The man and his spirit ask three questions and then they end with a statement of fact. The first question is asked by the man himself. What are you going to do with us? These are the first words he says upon encountering Jesus. Do with us? The man and his unclean spirit- are together on this one – what are you going to do with us?

The Unclean Spirit, wants to know what will Jesus do with it (it probably only has terciary concern for the man, if any at all). As far as we know this is Jesus’ first encounter with an unclean spirit. The spirit probably has no idea what Jesus’ reaction to it will be. What does Jesus do to unclean spirits? This is the burning question to which this spirit needs the answer. It knows who Jeusus is, the Holy One of God. It knows who it is up against but it wants to know, what does the Holy One of God plan to do about this spirit’s existence in this man’s life?
The man also wants to know the answer to this question. He wants to know, what Jesus is going to do. How are you going to treat me? How will Jesus act toward me? Will he ignore me? Will Jesus cast me out of the synagogue to go live among the unclean? Sweep me under the rug so to speak – tell me to go live with all the other undesirables of society. Shunt me off to a mental ward. Place me in a “home” for “my own good.” What will Jesus do to me?

The second question is similar to the first and the man and the unclean spirit both want the answer to this question as well. What is Jesus going to require of us? The man wants to know, what will Jesus require of him. Will Jesus require him to get rid of the spirit? What would that mean in his life? Perhaps he has grown use to the spirit, he may not like it but it is apart of him and his life and it might be scary to get rid of it – it may not be something that he is prepared to do. Will Jesus require him to do something else? The man who was unclean with leprosy in the Old Testament Scriptures was required to bath 7 times in the Jordan river. Will Jesus require this man to do something so that he can be cleansed of the unclean spirit. What will Jesus require of him once the spirit is gone? He called these fisher men to give up everything and follow him. As the man encounters Jesus the one of the burning questions he has is, “what will he require of me?”

The unclean spirit also has a stake in this matter as well, it
wants to know, what Jesus is going to require of it. Will Jesus require it to leave? Where will Jesus require it to go? Is there anything it can to do maintain its existence after this encounter?

The last question they ask is, “Has Jesus come to destroy them?” The unclean spirit sees that there is nothing for Jesus to do but to destroy it. It knows more than anybody, standing in that room that day, exactly what Jesus was capable of and it knew Jesus could demolish it where it stood. It wanted to know what Jesus planned to it and wanted to know if it was facing its own destruction.

The man is also pretty anxious to know the answer to this question. The spirit was a part of this man and his life, he did not see life without it, and it had intertwined itself with who he was. He was allowing it to control his thoughts, his actions, and his words. Who was he without it? Would he be destroyed if and when Jesus cast it out and destroyed it. Was there any way to not be destroyed along with the unclean spirit? Here he was face to face with the Son of God and he did not see his life remaining the twisted unclean thing it had become, he knew Jesus was going to radically alter his life, and remove this spirit from him could that be done without destroying who he was? Could the demon be destroyed and there be a man left to go on living?

When the man and his unclean spirit encounter Jesus Christ they together come him with three questions and a declaration. The last thing they do is declare, “You are the Holy one of God.” Together they declare that they know who this Jesus is. They know he is the Holy one of God. It is because of this knowledge that they are engaging Jesus at all. All the previous questions were asked because of this knowledge, it is because of this one fact that the man and the unclean spirit stand before Jesus completely uncertain of their future.

This man and his unclean spirit have encountered the one true living God in Jesus Christ, what will become of man and spirit now? Jesus tells the unclean spirit to shut up and get out! And the spirit obeys him – he leaves kicking and screaming but he leaves nonetheless. The man is left free to live his life, free of the unclean spirit that he has allowed to bind and control him. Jesus gives him a new lease on life, a second chance, the ability to start fresh and make better choices, the ability to choose to love God and neighbor as the scriptures require.

This man has encountered the Holy one of God and because of that encounter he will never be the same. He allowed Jesus to cleanse him and rid him of all that bound him and held him captive, he allowed Jesus to take away that which he held onto too strongly, he allowed Jesus to cleanse and purify him from within. And now he has the ability to move forward and live life fresh and clean, to live an unblemished life. Jesus has cleansed him and set him on the path to having a right relationship with God. Jesus has cleansed him and given him the ability to live life the way God has created him to live it, he is now free to be the person that God created him to be.
“They” the gathered crowed have also encountered Jesus. The crowd that had gathered there in synagogue were watching. They heard Jesus teach and were astounded by the authority with which he taught, they saw the man and heard his words, watched as Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of him. And they are amazed. Amazed because he teaches with authority and amazed because unclean spirits obey him. They see that Jesus teaches a new teaching with authority – a new kind of authority that is different than any they have encountered before and are astounded and amazed by it. “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” They are amazed by this as well. The sentiment behind this thought is similar to “even the wind and the waves obey him.” People at this time put the ability to control spirits and the ability to control nature on the same level. This Jesus is amazing because he can command the forces that be, the powers that they did not understand or could comprehend and they obey him – Jesus’ authority was unique indeed. They are amazed and they tell other people, because of their amazement and Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the region
This crowd has encountered the Holy one of God and they go away changed as well, their lives may not be as radically changed by their encounter, as the man’s life was, but they are changed nonetheless. They are amazed by what they have seen and they go away from there with knowledge about Jesus they did not have before.

Each and everyone of them walk away with a choice, either to allow this amazement to change how they think about Jesus and what they believe about him. They can choose to believe that he truly is the Holy one of God or they can walk away and choose to believe differently. They can walk away and share what they have learned with others or they can keep it to themselves. The people in this crowd have encountered the Holy one of God in Jesus Christ, how will they allow this encounter to affect them as they walk away? Will it change their lives or will they go on living the way that they have always lived?

Whenever we come to church, whenever we bow our heads in prayer, whenever we see Christ in a fellow human being, whenever we open the scriptures, we are encountering the Holy one of God. Each and every time we encounter God we have the opportunity to allow that encounter to change who we are, change how we live. Each time is the opportunity to say, “Yes” to God and what he wants for our lives and say, “No” to living apart form him, say, “ No” to choosing ourselves over the things of God and to say, “No” to the unclean things that we allow to control our lives and how we live them.

When we encounter Christ it can be frightening – the man did not know what Jesus was going to do with him, he was afraid that Jesus might destroy him, he did not know what would become of him if he allowed his encounter with Jesus to change his life and the spirit he was allowing to live within him. Sometimes when we encounter Jesus it is scary, there are things in our lives that we know are bad, things that we really don’t want apart of our lives but we are afraid of what would happen if Jesus cleansed us of them. What will become us? Who will we be without them? It is almost as if we are afraid that we will be destroyed if we parted with these things and allowed Jesus to cleanse our lives.

Other times our encounters with Jesus are not so scary, not so radical, sometimes we just walk away with new knowledge, we have seen something miraculous that he has done, we have sat at his feet and been taught by him. We walk away with new knowledge of God and God’s kingdom. Even in these times we have choices about what to do with these encounters. Do we take what we have learned to heart, do we allow our new knowledge to influence the way we live, do we allow this knowledge to bring us closer to our God and help us to develop a deeper relationship with our Lord? Do we go away and share with others what we have learned in hope that they too can be changed and influenced by this knowledge, in hope that they can come to know Jesus as we know him?

We have come to church this morning, we have prayed, we have seen Christ living in each other and we have come to the scriptures this morning, we all have encountered Christ in all the many things that we have done here in this service.
Today we have encountered the God who speaks and the God who calls. What will we do with this encounter? What will I do? What will you do? Will you allow Christ to cleanse you of the unclean things that you have allowed to enter into and perhaps even control your life? Will you allow yourself to be taught by what you have learned today? Will you allow God’s words that you have encountered in this scripture and throughout this service change who you are? Will go you go from here today and share the good news of God with others so that they too might know God the way you do? You have encountered the Holy one God this morning, how will you allow this encounter to change your life?