This sermon was delivered on January 28th, 2018. Enjoy!
–Grant, the Nerdcore Theologian
21 Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts.23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed,24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!”28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
If you’re going to stand for something, inevitably you will find opposition.
It’s practically a law of nature: any object in motion with any force will be met with an equal and opposite force. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a large or important something either.
Ages ago, when I was a mere youth director in Crosby, TX, I was present in the office when the trustees were gathered around the floor, staring at carpet samples. They were looking to remodel the sanctuary after a major flood had basically demolished the sanctuary, so this was a fairly important decision, but certainly not a life-or-death decision. Well, so I thought, because let me tell you, I had no idea people could get so worked up over deciding what color carpet we wanted. It took hours of comparing, talking, reminiscing, and most of all arguing. Arguing over the texture. Arguing over the color.
Won’t this be too dark?
No no no, this is too light.
I don’t like this maroon-ish color!
Well should we go with teal?
No, it doesn’t match anything else!
Round and round they went. It was my first introduction to trustees meetings, and I am thankful that our trustees are not nearly as confrontational or time-wasting. But it was illuminating, because it was I think the first time I had truly witnessed a fight in the church.
Church, in my mind up to that point, had been a place to get together, worship, and be a family together.
I suppose in the abstract I knew fights happened in the church. I knew that my dad would sometimes get home and look defeated, or exhausted, because of a long meeting and the confrontations that went on there. But hearing about it, and seeing one firsthand, over something so trivial, opened my eyes.
Church, we can do some really silly stuff. And sometimes, we can be bullheaded, and stubborn, and yes, even mean. Part of it is because the church isn’t a building, it’s a people, and people are flawed, sinful, and wounded creatures. Yes, we are justified, and loved by God, and transformed by his love, but we’re all works in progress. That means that sometimes, we’re going to fight. But getting through it is the mark of true faith.
A Rocky Start to Ministry
As we’ve gone through the gospel of Mark, we see the beginnings of Jesus’s ministry.
He starts off boldly, being baptized by John and proclaiming as his central message repentance, as the kingdom of God is near. But now, after he’s gained his followers and started his ministry fully, his inaugural sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum was , to say the least, a rocky start.
He began to preach immediately–because everything happens “immediately” in Mark– and people were at first caught off-guard because of the way he preached. He preached like someone unlike they had ever heard. He didn’t preach like most other priests or scribes.
Rabbinical tradition is that of a conversation with scripture. You don’t command to others what the scripture says, but rather, interpret it, pose questions to it and to other scholars, and on the whole it’s a much more contemplation-based tradition. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s the tradition I feel most comfortable preaching in. We are always in conversation with scripture, learning from it and asking questions about it with others.
Jesus, however, didn’t do that. He preached, not from a stance of humility or questioning, but from authority. He preached as if he himself had breathed the scripture into being. He preached like the words in the Torah and the words out of his mouth were one and the same. I mean, I’ll give you one guess as to why, but for us this is 20/20 hindsight.
Imagine being in that room.
Imagine being there on a Friday night Shabbat service, just like every week. Imagine having to wrangle the kids together, put on your temple clothes, walk down to the synagogue, and be ready for another week of services. Imagine thinking it would be just another service, where you sing the songs, say the prayers, and maybe hear something mildly interesting by the local rabbi, and then be ready to go home for the post-Shabbat feast. And then imagine instead of the local rabbi, this yahoo from Nazareth shows up, and out from his mouth comes teachings that reverberate inside your very soul. Imagine then what happens next.
As Jesus teaches, a scream comes from out of the back of the church.
Up jumps a man onto the pew, fire in his eyes and venom in his mouth, as an unearthly voice erupts from within him, hurling accusations at Jesus. What’s weird though, is that he first complains with something that might have been said by anyone:
What have you to do with us, Jesus? What do you think was going to happen here? Do you think that just by being here, things are going to change? Do you think you’re going to destroy us here, and replace it with something better? Do you think you’re really going to bring about the kingdom of God?
Think about that. That really cuts to the bone, doesn’t it? Though a demon said it, I’ve been in enough churches to know that’s a real fear. Fear of change. Fear of what Jesus actually means. Fear that Jesus will change everything, and fear that we’re going to have to change with everything. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s Jesus giving the good news or an apostle of his, a regular old preacher. A holy one of God will always threaten the demon of complacency. And that demon will always speak.
But here’s the good news: Jesus is really good at throwing demons out.
With but a word, he drove out demon that spoke through that church goer, and the people were amazed, thoroughly and completely. They were amazed at the teachings he said, and the manner in which he gave them. And they were amazed at the power to drive out demons from among them. Maybe…maybe this Jesus is the real deal.
Conflicts and Resolution
So hear me now: churches are going to have conflicts.
This is an inevitability. I learned this that day when we were arguing over carpet squares. I have only seen further proof as I have grown into the role as pastor. Conflict can plague us, and make us feel as if we are tormented by demons. But the Good news is, Jesus is really good at casting out demons.
With Jesus, we can tell that demon among us to go away. You know, the demon that tells us that we can’t change, that we shouldn’t change. The demon that shackles us, constrains us, and holds us back from the full potential that God has promised to us in the Kingdom of God. Jesus can unleash us from this demon complacency, this demon fear, this demon of “no.” Jesus can free us, and make us bold, courageous, inventive, intuitive, and powerful.
In the mean time, there are some things that we as followers of Jesus can do to overcome the demons that sow conflict among us.
First, we can be reminded that we are all children of God. We are all grace-filled creations, each beloved by the Spirit, and bound together by the blood of Christ. Remembering that we are brothers, we are sisters, we are siblings in Christ, can take us a long way to not seeing each others as adversaries but as family.
Second, we pray. I like starting off every meeting at this church with an invocation of the Holy Spirit, and praying that we can be inspired with the wisdom of the Spirit to make the right decisions, to bring forth the Kingdom of God. Prayer can heal a lot of wounds. Prayer puts us in the right mindset to make good decisions. Prayer can draw us closer together as the family of God. Prayer works.
Finally, we can be bold, imaginative, inventive. We have every blessing of the Holy Spirit at our disposal if we but ask. Perhaps an idea might seem outlandish, but so was Jesus. Perhaps a way forward may seem thorny and filled with peril, but none can stand against us if we have but Christ in our hearts. Perhaps we may feel hopeless, but nothing is too hopeless for Christ. We must simply be open to the influence of the Spirit, however strange or intimidating that might seem.
Wherever we go in ministry, whatever we do, we will run into opposition. Sometimes it’s supernatural, but more often than not, those demons that plague us only use the words, thoughts, and feelings, that exist within us already. We will have conflict, and we may have our demons. But Jesus is really good at casting out demons. May Jesus then cast out whatever demons that plague you, plague us, and lead us in boldness into the Kingdom of God. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.