Have You Come to Destroy Us?


SermonAs I said earlier, today marks the beginning of the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week. I am part of the Planning Team for the events and services in Halifax and I encourage you to check out one or more of them out. This afternoon is the multi-faith celebration at Mount St. Vincent University. And throughout the week, various places of worship: Muslim, Hindu, Baha’I, Jewish and others are ready for visitors this week.

Have any of you ever been to a service at a synagogue? Attendance at one was part of one of my classes at the Atlantic School of Theology. It was a powerful and moving experience… Powerful and moving because I heard words from the Bible proclaimed from a pulpit in a different religion and I felt a profound connection with the Jewish community.

This morning, I invite to you picture yourself in the story we just heard from Mark’s gospel. You are in a Jewish place of worship. Picture this place just as it is this morning, a normal Sunday morning with people gathered to hear God’s word written in scripture and then interpreted. In some way they are people just like you and me… people who love and laugh, cry and wail, are kind and rude. People with children and aging parents. People who have worries and challenges.

In other ways, they are very different from us. They lived in a land ruled by a foreign power; they were burdened by heavy taxes… well in that aspect, perhaps not so different from us. They had little or no say in how their lives were governed.

But they gathered… on the Jewish Sabbath… Friday night and Saturday morning.
They would have heard words from the first 5 books of our Bible read, along with a Psalm, perhaps even the same one we heard earlier:

Honour and majesty are your work;
your righteousness endures forever.
You have won renown for your wonders;
you are gracious and full of compassion.

Into this gathered community came Jesus. Along with James and John, Peter and Andrew, the fishermen who he invited to follow him. And he taught the gathered community, as it is written, “As one who has authority.” It sounds as if they were all paying close attention to him.

In this respectful and respectable gathering, there is a man with an unclean spirit. That doesn’t necessarily refer to demonic possession or mental illness. In the time that Mark’s gospel was written, it meant impure, meaning anything that prevented this man from full participation in the life of the faith community. The man, knowing that there is something which he wants to be free of say, “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.”

And Jesus heals the man… and they were ALL amazed.

So now, you might be sitting there thinking, “Okay Catherine, thanks for explaining that story a bit, but so what? What does it mean for me and for us now?”

These are the questions that came to mind this week as I was praying and pondering this reading in particular:

1. What sort of ‘unclean spirits’ do each of us harbour?
2. Do we hang on to them with fierce determination?
3. Are we willing to let Jesus heal us?

We could reflect on those questions individually, as a faith community, the community in which we live and the global community. Who here has bad habits? Anyone other than me? A wise person once told that a bad habit served some purpose. It was a form of self-soothing and anxiety reduction that we all need. Think of a baby… lulled to sleep by sucking on a pacifier. Or being pushed in a stroller or carriage. The pacifier serves a purpose, the sucking sensation is a reminder of loving closeness and being fed. However, take that same child, add a few years to his or her age and suddenly it seems inappropriate for them to be still sucking on it.

What are some of the things that we use to sooth ourselves as adults? Food? Smoking? Alcohol? Drugs? Shopping, Endless business? Food is often my method of soothing myself… crunchy, greasy, salty, I’m your girl! And when my life feels chaotic, I will want to organize something… hoping perhaps that outward order will lead to inward order. Instead of spending time with Jesus, I try and distract myself… instead of dealing with whatever is really bothering me, I soothe myself with artificial means. Instead of asking Jesus for healing, I think it is all up to me to figure out whatever is going on.

I posted those questions on Facebook and a young woman I know wrote this in response to those questions: “I think we hold on to certain “unclean” things cause they serve our selfish purposes in some way.. Getting us what we want, when we want it, manipulating people. I learned in my recovery program you have to become ready to have defects of character removed before you can humbly ask God to remove them.

A colleague responded to those questions with a question of her own, “Do we hang on to them because we can’t imagine how life would be if we were healed, whole, and at peace?”

What would life be like if each one of us was healed, whole and at peace? What would our church life be like? What would are communities be like? What would our world be like? Are we ready both individually and communally to let Jesus heal us?

I don’t know St. Paul’s nearly well enough to even begin to answer those questions.

1. What sort of ‘unclean spirits’ do we harbour?
2. Do we hang on to them with fierce determination?
3. Are we willing to let Jesus heal us?

And of course, it’s not just ourselves and our church that are bound up by demons or spirits.

Our world, the way in which we interact with each other economically, spiritually, ecologically, is hurting.

And if you are anything like me, those problems seem so huge that I don’t feel as if I can make any impact on them at all, I try to remember, that while I am just one person, I am also a person.

I may not be able to have much impact on global issues, but I can make an impact on my part of the globe.

Allowing Jesus to see our demons, our unclean spirits, takes courage, vulnerability and trust. Courage because opening ourselves to a new way feels risky. Vulnerability because letting Jesus see all the not so nice parts of ourselves can hurt. Trust because the new way is not yet visible.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and prolific writer was born 100 years ago yesterday. He wrote, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I would add that organizations of all sorts do the same thing. David Anderson wrote, “We all climb that ladder. There are ladders that scale the heights of movies and music and dance and painting. Ladders to the top of non-profits and churches and charities. Everybody’s on some ladder.” (http://findingyoursoul.com/2012/08/when-the-ladder-of-success-leans-against-the-wrong-wall/)

But there comes a time when we realize that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, that we have been chasing demons, that we are bound by unclean spirits. Jesus doesn’t come to destroy us…he comes to cast out that which holds us hostage to unhealthy ways of being. At that time, with courage, vulnerability and trust, we can let Jesus see us, heal us and empower us to live in a different way.

Thanks, be to God for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.

© Catherine MacDonald 2015

Psalm 111
Mark 1: 21-28
February 1, 2015
St. Paul’s Spryfield

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