God in Christ still comes to you and me and brings wholeness to all that is broken and speaks truth in our confusion, for our healing and life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Lect. 4 B
Texts: Mark 1:21-28
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Maybe we modern people are too clever for our own good.
Today we hear Jesus drive out a demon and look right past it. We’re “scientific,” “up-to-date,” and don’t believe in demonic possessions anymore. Or at least, if any of us might wonder about them, our culture and our church dismiss them as superstition. We might even find it a little embarrassing that our own Martin Luther believed demons were real and plagued people’s lives.
And some of Jesus’ exorcisms look a lot like the healing of diseases we recognize. Sometimes the person shows all the symptoms of epilepsy, others seem to have a personality disorder of some kind. So we can easily pretend the Gospels aren’t really talking about actual demons.
But what if discounting the power of evil that the Gospel writers assumed was real means missing real grace from God, real healing?
Our modern critique of what Jesus did might show a way to find that grace.
If some of Jesus’ exorcisms were actually healing of epilepsy, for example, what if we reconsidered all the things that cause us pain, that might also have been seen differently in an unscientific age?
We and all people suffer from many illnesses of the mind and spirit. Depression. Anxiety. Grief that won’t go away. Dread of the future. Fear of just about anything, depending on the person. Addiction, again to just about anything. And the deeper, more intractable mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on, that plague so many.
There also are those evil patterns of thought and behavior that we’ve learned to see in us and want to root out, but it’s deeply difficult: our implicit biases against certain groups or people; our harmful actions and thoughts shaped by the privileged lives many of us live; our involvement – unintentional or not – in so many systems in our culture that destroy others, whether it’s racism or poverty or sexism or whatever.
Like with demonic possession, some of these can feel as if they come from the outside, like evil’s moving against us.
When someone is overwhelmed with anxiety to the point of being unable to move, we even call it a “panic attack,” as if something has taken over the mind, against the will.
This is important, because mental and spiritual illnesses still carry a stigma that others don’t, yet afflict us like any physical illness. If you get cancer, everyone supports you and encourages you. But often people who seek mental or spiritual health hide it, as if we’re afraid to be seen as weak because we’ve allowed such things to take root in our lives.
Maybe we don’t have to call these things demonic, or even imagine them as possession. But if God in Christ revealed a power over such “unclean” spirits, as Mark says today, and that power is still something God wants to offer you, wouldn’t you want to know it?
We began worship today praying this: “Compassionate God, bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion.”
What if we actually believed that prayer?
Jesus’ exorcisms were some of the earliest signs to the people of that day that he came from God. The authority he had to drive away invisible, evil things that plagued people’s lives, to heal not just legs and ears and eyes but minds and spirits, astounded people. And people flocked to him because, like us, nearly all of them needed God’s healing.
The good news is that you and I already know that God still does this.
We live in this amazing time of science and medicine where the brains and imaginations God gave all people have taught us so much and brought so much healing.
And that applies to healing for our minds and spirits, too. If you’re clinically depressed, suffer from debilitating anxiety, are bipolar, or many other things, there are medicines to help. Therapists are able to help with so many illnesses of the mind and spirit, too. And ancient, holistic treaments bring relief. God heals in all this.
And God heals through the grace and blessing of those who love us. If we’re sad, or anxious, or depressed, or afflicted in any way mentally or spiritually, family and friends can be a part of the healing and hope, through love and kindness and presence.
But the great wisdom of the ages says God also heals from within.
The witness of millions of believers from the time of the Bible to today says that the Holy and Triune God walks with you in all things, “above you, beneath you, behind you, ahead of you, beside you and with you,” as the Celtic Christians prayed. And these millions of witnesses, including some in your own life, tell you that walking with God brings tremendous grace and healing in the midst of your pain. Learning this can begin by simply opening yourself up to God for a few minutes in each day, and giving your pain and suffering and need to the God who loves you, to carry for you.
It doesn’t always mean the illness or internal struggle is immediately taken away. The apostle Paul often prayed for a “thorn” of suffering to be removed, and God didn’t. But the same Paul witnessed that he learned to be at peace and content in all circumstances, even in suffering, because God was with him.
This is what today’s Prayer of the Day gives you: words to invite God to come to you and embrace you in love and grace. To help you learn to live in God, let God’s breath breathe in and out of you, even in your pain. To trust that God will bring wholeness to all that is broken in you, and speak truth into your confusion.
God has come in Christ with authority even over unclean spirits!
That’s the astonishing Good News of Mark’s Gospel. Don’t be afraid to name your need, your pain, those inner things you struggle with, the evil that afflicts you. You don’t have to deal with them alone.
You are God’s beloved child, and in so many ways, whether by medicine or family and friends, and certainly by living within you, God is able and willing and hoping to bring healing to all aspects of your life: mind, spirit, and body. To drive out evil from your life, and bring you to the fullness of life God has dreamed for you.
And God wants this for all God’s children, until, as we prayed, all creation knows God’s healing and life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen