By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 31, 2021
Mark 1:21–28 (ESV)
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
This past week has been interesting for me. I changed the type of work that I do outside of the church, which gave me a different perspective than I have had in a while. And we also had our Yearly Meeting Mini Conference. The conference was probably one of the better conferences we have had in a while, and we have had several good conferences, but this one was very timely. The topic was “Maximizing Our Kingdom Capacity During a Global Pandemic” but to be honest we did not talk a great deal about that. What we focused on the most was anger, sorrow, and what scripture calls lament.
The reason I liked this was because I did not realize just how upset and angry, I have been over the past few months. And I am not the only one. This past year has stretched us all. We have had to change aspects of how we do things. We must remember an extra piece of clothing every time we leave the house. We have had change aspect of our jobs and education. There is very little we have not had to change in our lives due to things outside of our control. For the most part we have adjusted quite well, but there is something within us that is a bit upset. We have to adjust, we cannot do things the way we have always done it, we resent this to some degree no matter how well we handle it. And our emotions are at play a bit. Then there is one little incident and it sets us off. Maybe someone asked you to put on a mask, maybe someone did not put on a mask. Maybe you noticed someone not washing their hands in a restroom. Maybe someone was standing too close, or maybe you were asked to take a step back. Maybe you are just tired of having to look through fogged over lenses all the time. Something triggers a response and the emotions bubble to the surface and it is not even the incident that you are upset about. Th reality is we are tired, we are drained, we are mourning the loss of the life we once lived, we are not upset about masks we are upset that our expectations are not met.
This is true about more than the pandemic and how we respond to it. We are constantly bombarded by unfulfilled expectations. Dissatisfaction with our jobs is often because it is not what we expected. When we look deeper into the divorce rates in our nation the reasons are not what we would expect. The most common issue we toss around is financial, but if we were to peel that layer away the underlying issues are unfulfilled expectations or uncommunicated expectations. When we pile these up over the course of time eventually we triggered by how our spouse squeezes the toothpaste and an argument ensues.
I want us to consider this in our lives. We have countless expectations we have never communicated and we assume everyone knows. I will give one example, every monthly meeting I am expected to give a report to the meeting but what goes into this report? For fourteen years I have asked respected and weighty Friends what is supposed to be in this report and I have never been given a clear answer. I have asked professors at Barclay College and Friends University and they will give examples but no real answer. Why when every Meeting and pastor knows they need to give a report, why can’t we tell the pastor what to put in the report? The answer is that there is not an answer. Everyone has a different expectation. Each person would like to know something but they have not expressed or communicated this and I would venture to say that many issues Meetings have with pastor deal with unexpected expectations on all sides.
Jesus goes to the place of worship and begins teaching. I first want to stop right here and make mention of something important. Jesus went to the place of worship. Scripture even goes as far as saying that Jesus made it his custom to go to the place of worship on the sabbath day. We need to remember this. We need the church. I do not necessarily mean that we need to meet in a building like this one, but we need to make it our custom to meet with others for mutual encouragement for our emotional and spiritual lives. Jesus made it his custom to meet with the community to worship.
This pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse in this area. It is a blessing because it has challenged our religious organization to come up with different plans and techniques to provide encouragement during a time where physical meeting has not been possible. This is extremely good. There are a number of things that we can do over the internet that make it possible to encourage others even over great distances. Over the past few months, I have met with Friends over zoom that live in two different states and we have worshiped and encouraged one another and it was a blessing. And just yesterday our Yearly Meeting was able to have a conference with people attending from across Mid America while one of the presenters was in Idaho. We could not do this before because many worship communities had not even explored the concepts of distant video interaction. These are blessings but there is a dark side too. Many have gotten comfortable with not meeting. Technology can not fully replace the psychological need of physical human interaction. We need to be around people physically. Some studies have proven that our brains do not fully function without other brains in proximity.
We need others to challenge us. We need others to expand our understand and to give us different perspectives. We need others to assist us in interpreting our lives, because at times we can become bound in a narrow point of view and unable to see a blessing just beyond our perception. We need others, we need communities. Jesus affirms this and makes it part of his holy rhythm of life. We need each other. I think I have mentioned this on multiple occasions. And we need people that have had different life experiences so that they can speak from a different perspective.
Jesus goes to the place of worship, and he begins to teach. Those present at that meeting for worship are astonished at the way he is teaching. The gospel writer says that he spoke as one with authority and not as the scribes. I find this fascinating because it seems a bit upside down. The scribes would have spoken from their knowledge and knowledge has power. They would have had confidence in what they were saying because they had footnotes and references. If you questioned their interpretation you could look it up. Maybe not look it up but you could ask another scribe to verify what they had said. They had the power and the authority of centuries of theological interpretations, yet the people at that synagogue were astonished by what Jesus taught because he spoke with authority. Like I said this seems a bit upside down, so what is the authority that Jesus is using? Is it confidence? Is it the fact that he is speaking from his divine personhood? It could be, but there is more. Authority can mean that he spoke in a way that alluded to an ability to perform. Usually when we think of authority we think of enforcement of legal standards, but authority could also come from life experience. I might have knowledge of things. I could tell you about pregnancy and how birth occurs, but I cannot speak with authority because I have not experienced it. I would be one of the last people an expectant mother would ask for encouragement but there are some in this room that they would quickly seek out for answers to their questions. That is authority. They were astonished because Jesus spoke in a manner that could be lived, and he spoke from authentic life experiences.
There is power in that kind of authority that goes beyond words in a book. I love knowledge. I would go back to school tomorrow if I could, to gain as much knowledge as possible, but knowledge can only take us so far. Our lives have power. Our experiences have power. We can debate until our bodies can no longer stand, and not move a single person closer to our opinion. But if we engage them in conversation, if we were to walk with them and show them a different perspective of life, we could change the world. Our testimony, our witness, our life experiences have more collective power than any sermon I will ever preach, because our life experiences are real. You might think your life is boring or uneventful but there is power there.
Jesus spoke from experience, and he spoke in a way that inspired people to believe that their lives could be lived differently. They were attracted to what he said. It was different and intriguing. It made them want to believe. But there is something else going on within this community. Not everyone is impressed with the way Jesus is presenting things. There was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, who cried out against Jesus.
I want us to consider this for a moment. I want us to fully consider this scene in our minds. If we were to examine the books of the law and the prophets, we would understand that not just anyone could enter this meeting for worship. There were obligations required for people to enter this sacred place. This man, this man with an unclean spirit, met all the religious obligations and yet something was not right. Jesus spoke and this man would have nothing to do with what was being said, he was triggered so to speak. This is terrifying to consider. This man from all appearances was acceptable within the religious community, he might have even been considered as respectable, yet in the two thousand years of church history we see him as a demon possessed man. We see him as being someone outside acceptable religious circles, but he was in the synagogue. He was accepted as part of that community.
He listens to the words of Jesus, and he cries out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the holy one of God.” I want us to just stop for a moment and consider the words that he is saying, but I want us to think of them from a different perspective. “What do you have to do with us,” is the first statement which is followed by Jesus’s name and his hometown. Could this man be disgruntled because Jesus is not from their community? Could he just as easily be saying, “Wait a second Jesus, we don’t do things like that here. That might work where you are from but not here.”
Next, he says, “Have you come to destroy us?” Have you ever had thoughts like this? I know some of us have because I have read Facebook posts and I have listened to enough conversations to know that many believe that if someone does not have the same opinions as we do, they are going to destroy our nation. I hope that hits us a bit, because as I prayed with this passage this past week, I felt like God hit me hard enough to leave a bruise.
Then the last statement, “I know who you are – the holy one of God.” Could this be sarcasm? Could this man be making a statement attempting to discredit Jesus? If he knew the family that Jesus came from, he might have known the questionable origin surrounding his birth. And the statement about the holy one of God is offset in our translation as if the man might be jeering. I know who you are. I know your family. I know what you did in high school and you are here trying to tell me how to live my life, really?
We often approach this passage and we see the power of Jesus over the unclean spirit, but what if we are that man? What if our words, our actions, our judgmentalism is just as demonic as what this man presented in that place of worship? This terrifies me because I have been that guy. I have discredited ideas presented by others because we just do not do that here. I have participated in conversations where I have accused someone of attempting to destroy everything me and my ancestors have tried to build up. I have made judgments based on past actions instead of current reality. I am this unclean man and I am a leader in a religious organization. I have power and respect. And I recognize this in myself. And I have also been on the receiving end of this as well. I am unclean. We are unclean.
We can get so bound in ourselves and what we think is correct that we can hinder the gospel that we claim to love. We can be so trapped in our ways of thinking and our traditions that we can drive people away from the kingdom instead of attracting people to a life of repentance. And we see this in our communities.
Jesus does not let it stand though. He looks at that man. The man approaches Jesus filled with self-righteous fervor, pointing his finger at Jesus’s chest making these statements. And Jesus tells him to be still.
Be still. We do not have to debate. We do not have to argue. If we are together in this place of worship our goals should be the same. Everything that we do and everything that we say should be done for a similar purpose. When we leave this place on a Sunday afternoon, we should be inspired to live our lives reflecting the holy life of Christ in a world that is filled with darkness. But the world so often does not see what we want them to see. The world so often makes statements about us that are untrue and it pains our spirits. We go out and we wonder why do people not come to church? Why do people leave the church? Why do they not love Jesus? Be still.
Are we showing them the truth? Are we speaking with authenticity? Are we living the life we claim? Be still. If people are saying things that we believe to be untrue about us, are we living a life that proves their falsehood or ours? Have we considered the possibility that we can be wrong?
In our conference yesterday they put a quote from Eugene Peterson on the screen that says, “The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We can’t proclaim the Jesus truth but then do it any old way we like. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.” Our words and our actions must be united. Jesus is speaking to us with authority, but are we listening? Jesus is praying that the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, are we praying with him? Are we Friends of Jesus or are we like that man in the synagogue pointing a finger?