Tony E Dillon-Hansen
Sermon based upon Mark 1:21-28; Psalm 111, and Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Opening prayer from Psalm 19.
There are several themes that we can work out in this week’s lectionary as I noted in the midweek message. Let us start with Deuteronomy 18.
19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.
20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
If we reword Deuteronomy 18:20, we read that words of a “false” prophet will be rewarded with death. Ouch! Further, Deuteronomy tells us we will recognize this when the words are untrue and not of God. Passages like this make people like me take considerable care with the words we use to ensure the message that we lift up from the scripture as the Word of God.
St John, on your quest for pastoral leadership, this ought to be part of your test. Do those people who fill the pulpit (including me) faithfully and prayerfully lift the Word of God and the sacrifice of Jesus as expressions of God’s love? Do those help us realize this in our community?
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 reminds us that this is not just for preachers, but all people because “we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’ …but love builds up.” Paul reminds us as Christians to be wary of leading people astray and that our actions and words are examples to others. That is not to say we have censor ourselves, but rather that we have to be considerate in what we do, say and what we offer. We do this so that others have no mistake in recognizing the wonderful love of God is in us.
Do we build up people with our love or just fancy them? Do we recognize and share the love of God that is truly in each other or something else? Do we acknowledge the legitimate need for justice for all?
If we pivot then and look at our journey through Mark, Jesus is at a worship service where a person with an “unclean spirit” is present. Jesus commands “with authority” and the unclean spirit leaves. Let us examine this.
There is a bit of irony in this because through baptism, we believe that the spirit of God falls upon us and is invited to be in us. Jesus was baptized. Then, Jesus recognizes and calls out an unclean spirit. Jesus performs an exorcism.
There are some among us that won’t believe this story. Yet, there is something that we can see in every one of us and around us all. We have talked about this before and the question is begged here.
What possesses us or what distracts us from doing God’s loving work? The person was possessed by something. When we think of possession, it is not just unclean spirits, but those things in our lives that control us or have power over us -- things we don’t have control or can’t do anything about it. It is the also false prophets in our lives.
Addicts will tell you exactly what this feels like, and it does not have to be substances or beverage that holds us. We can be possessed by what we think others think or what they think about us. It can be honest grief of loved ones or loss of something in our lives. It is falsehoods like racism, sexism, homophobia, social status, materialism or other idols that distract us away from love and justice for our neighbors.
We see another kind of possession in Mark as well that is all over our society today. Even before we entered this pandemic, cleanliness is a social obsession. There are aisles and aisles of soaps, perfumes and cleaners to help us clean every part of our lives and our bodies. What is it that makes us so unclean, and does cleanliness divert us from doing God’s work?
Ultimately, each of these are letting others (or things) define our happiness and our love rather than God. Yes we want to be clean, but do we let this distract us from say helping a homeless person get food or be with the hurting veteran?
We can’t buy love. We can’t buy happiness. We cannot control what others think or do. We may not be able to control what others think, but we can control what we think, what we say and how we react. This is in line with what Paul writes to Corinth. Even more, we don’t do this alone, as our Sioux quote suggests as well.
Our great “undertaking” is done with God when we lean into this liberating love of Jesus- when we let the Holy Spirit be in us. I submit to you, beloved, that what we have in Jesus – is a different kind of clean! I submit to you Jesus is the liberation, love and justice we need! -- from those earthly things! Through God, we have true happiness, true love, and then our actions and words will be unmistakable. Let this love possess you and be you!
As we say over and over, it is never too late for God. Turn towards God’s love, and let God reveal to you. Witness love and justice in your hearts. Let the kingdom break forth into your life. We do that through love of God and love of neighbor - lifting us, especially when people are down. When we do that, people will see the unmistakable Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love in our actions and words.
Thanks Be to God