Lord, I come to You. Let my heart be changed renewed, flowing from the grace that I’ve found in You. And, Lord, I’ve come to know the weakness I see in me will be stripped away by the power of your love. Amen. (Prayers from the Northumbria Community)
Our reading for today begins half way through the first chapter of Mark and already Jesus has healed a person in need. Following his baptism, 40 days in the wilderness, and the calling of his disciples, Jesus goes into the synagogue to teach. In the 23 verse of chapter 1, Mark tell us that Jesus, confronted by a man with an unclean spirit, casts out the spirit and heals the man. Mark still hasn’t told us anything about Jesus’ teachings, but he shows us that Jesus has power over things that people label as unclean. This unnamed man once possessed by some sort of evil is set free. He is changed, given back his true self and set again on the right path. In a classic example of the simple, sparing, language that is Mark’s trademark, we are told that Jesus has come to change lives. In this oldest of all gospels, we learn early on that the will of God present in Jesus is there to fight against the evils present in humanity. The question is – do you believe God in Christ can change your life? Do you believe he can change the life of the world?
There is a great story about a bride who was extremely nervous on her wedding day? She confessed to her minister that she was not sure she could make it all the way down the aisle without shaking or crying. So the minister, a seasoned veteran, gave her a bit of advice. “When you begin your walk,” he said, “just remember this three-point formula: First, look straight down the aisle; second, when you get about half-way, look straight up at the altar; and third, when you get near the front of the church, look straight at your groom. First the aisle, then the altar, then him. I think this will help relieve your nervousness.” The trembling bride agreed to try his advice. And it worked beautifully. She walked with poise and confidence in her step, with no sign of nervousness. However, there was one small problem. Imagine the surprise of the congregation as she got close to the front of the church and they heard her repeating to herself over and over again while looking at her future husband – “Aisle, altar, him!”1
Well, the truth is, most brides don’t have a lot of luck in altering their husbands, just ask Melissa. But the good news of today’s gospel is that God can alter us. Christ has come to set us free. Like the man in the synagogue, each of us has our own demons, our own weaknesses, our own failings and sins that can only be addressed by God. What are your demons – anger, prejudice, selfishness, greed, addiction, envy, lust, fear? We all have them. Only Christ can tame them.
Kathleen Norris, our keynote speaker for the first WomanKind, once wrote: “When I think of the demons I need to exorcise, I have to look inward, to my heart and soul. Anger is my best demon. My husband, who has a much sweeter nature than I, once told me that my mean streak grieved him, not just because of the pain it cause him but because it was doing me harm. His remark … felt like an exorcism. Not that my temptation to anger was magically gone, but I was called to pay closer attention to something that badly needed attention, and that was hurting our marriage. (O)ne can no more hide one’s true faults from a spouse than from God, and in exorcising the demon of anger, that which could kill is… transformed into that which can heal. What are your best demons? To name them for what they are and how they bring suffering, is half the battle.”2
I believe in the healing power of Christ. I have seen it in the lives of others. I have seen it in my own life. Many times people have asked me to pray with them for healing. Usually it is to pray for healing from an illness like cancer or arthritis. But Christ can deal with our personal demons as well. Through prayer and practice, through the love and grace of others around us, through submission to God’s will, through a willingness to be transformed, anyone can know the healing power of God. After all, as Mark tells us, freeing people from the things that possess us is high on Jesus’ list. It is one of the first things he does.
The British journalist and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton once said that there are two kinds of people in the world: When trees are waving wildly in the wind, one group thinks it’s the wind that moves the trees. This is the ancient view of things. The invisible is behind the scenes giving energy to the visible. But there are others who believe that the wind is nothing but the product of the movement of the trees themselves.3 As if trees can fan the air and drive the wind! We hear a lot of advice these days that says – “You’ve got to do it yourself! If there is any hope it has to come from you. You have to look inside and make the necessary changes.” Tell that to the man in Capernaum with the unclean spirit. He knew that what he needed he could not get by himself. I’m sure he’d tried everything to get free from this demon. But his situation was not a matter of self-help. He needed to be humble enough approach Christ. He needed to open himself to Jesus if he wanted to be made well. You and I need to do the same.
But never forget that being a Christian isn’t just about getting yourself right with God. It’s also about doing what you can to heal the world. As the baptized, we have a calling to continue Christ’s work. We have a calling to confront the demons of injustice, poverty, cruelty, hatred, and war in name of Christ. Too often we come to church on Sunday morning in search only of something for ourselves. As if the church existed to make us feel better. As if everything that the church did happened only inside these doors. When in fact, the church exists to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote about how the Russian government handled the church during the years of communism. He wrote: “No one stops them from ringing their bells; they can break communion bread anyway they please. They can have their processions with the cross. But they will in no way allow them to have any connection with social or civic affairs.”4 The church was allowed to go through the motions; it was allowed a presence, but it could not have an influence.
As the baptized, we are called by our Lord to be healed and to be healers, to reconcile ourselves to God and to be God’s reconcilers. This is what it means to be a disciple. You and I have been given the grace through Jesus Christ to be healed. You and I have also been given the authority through Jesus Christ to heal, to proclaim, to change, to bring redemption, and to expel. Following Christ requires that we do both. Amen.
1. James W. Moore, Some Things Are to Good Not To Be True, p. 48.
2. From “Exorcism” in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 1998).
3. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene H. Peterson
4. The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.