Trusting the Reign of God in our Lives and our World
Mark 1:21-28New International Version (NIV)
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
[Show the 2 x 4 and the nails. Explain what I will do with them. Ask people if they believe I can do it. With God, things that seem impossible becomes possible.]
I am a person of faith.
I had some persistent discomfort that I did not understand.
Saw my doctor who referred me to a specialist whose name I could not pronounce.
She wrote a prescription that I could not read.
I took the scrip to the pharmacist that I did not know.
He gave me some pills which I did not understand.
And I took it because I am a person of faith
The Gospel lesson is not merely about any faith – like faith in the medical system. No. It is about the power of faith that the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God is breaking in on us and breaking in on our world today. This is the good news that Jesus brought to the Synagogue that morning and especially to a man imprisoned by an impure spirit.
We get the same Good News as he did, from the same man teaching with divine power and authority. The reign of God is breaking in on us and our world to break us out of our prisons. Our world is in disarray: our national government is dysfunctional, (and you don’t have to pick a side to agree with that); cyberattacks come from who knows where; the threat of nuclear attack is more real than it has been in a generation. On a personal level, some of us are jailed in a job that does not fit us. Some with an illness that keeps us trapped; some struggle with the prison of financial woes; others with the prison of addictions and other life controlling problems. Some of us are in a literal prison, with walls and guards and rules that control our lives.
All of our external prisons are tied to internal emotional prisons: like fear, anxiety, worry; or hurt, bitterness, resentment; or guilt, shame, regret.
The man in the story was imprisoned by his demons. Perhaps in one or more of the forms mentioned above. Perhaps, a severe mental illness. We don’t know. We know that he had just enough faith to go to a holy place and see the holy man. He had just enough faith that maybe the Holy Man would bring the reign of God into his life.
It’s just my opinion, but I believe those demons fought him all the way. He had heard about Jesus coming to the synagogue and he said to himself, “Maybe, this one can help. Maybe this time, something will happen.” But, he also had a head full of voices that said things like, “You’re a hopeless case. You’re worthless. Don’t try. No one will pay any attention to you. The Great Master has no time for you. Give up. Stay Home. You cannot succeed. You were born to fail. You’ve always been this way. You’ll never change. You will only be crushed again by disappointment. It’s easier to not try.”
A speaker in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting talked about the committee inside his head. The committee says things just like that. Many in the crowd nodded their heads having shared the same experience. Perhaps you too have had a committee inside your head that wants to keep you trapped in its prison. I know I have.
Think about the faith that this man in the Gospel lesson must have had. After years of trying everything, he believed that the impossible might be possible with God. Trusting that the reign of God could break into his life. Those demons arguing, screeching in his ear every step of the way. Still, he believed just enough that this teacher had authority. This teacher was not about information. He was about transformation. That the impossible might be possible. That maybe an ordinary guy can balance 12 nails on the head of one.
You Don’t Need to See
I have a recurrent dream in which my eyelids slam shut and refuse to open. I’m not blind. My eyelids just won’t open. And , I’m usually driving a car in this nightmare. One time the dream happened with a whole new twist. At that time I was working on a grant funded project. Time was running out on the grants. We were desperately seeking and not finding any new funding. I became increasingly imprisoned by anxieties and fears. When the grants would run out, I would have no income.
And then the dream took place with a new twist. The dream was in Kansas City, and it began near a street construction site where I picked up two friends. We began to proceed up a ramp to the Interstate when suddenly my eyelids closed. In spite of every effort, they would not open. For the first time in any of these dreams, I prayed, pleading with God repeatedly, “Please, let me see. Please open my eyes.” This prayer went on for a long time.
Finally, an answer came, “You don’t need to see.”
I knew the answer was God’s, though the words, “You don’t need to see,” came up from within. I didn’t even hear them.
Being terrified and thick-headed, I argued with God, explaining what He evidently didn’t understand. “This ramp is long. It is narrow and curvy. We are bound to crash.“
God replies with the same calming words, “You don’t need to see.”
The reign of God, the Kingdom of God is breaking in on us as individuals and it is breaking in on our world. We don’t need to see how it will come out in the end.
Agnostics and atheists often pose the question, “If there is a God, how can you truly understand anything about that Supreme Being?” Of course, our answer is that God knows it’s impossible for us to understand Him. That is why He became a human, in every respect like we are. Except that He taught with authority by both His words and His self-sacrificing actions. Giving up His life for us.
The face to face meeting between Jesus and the demonic at the beginning of His ministry shows us that the demonic is on its way out from our personal lives and from our world. We may not see how but we don’t need to see. Casting out the demons is the sign that the boundary between heaven and earth has been pierced and the reign of God is here.
Things that seem impossible to us – paying off a student loan, restoring a broken relationship, getting a life after years behind the wall, finding a worthwhile career – become possible when we place our faith in Jesus who is “…the boundary breaking, demon dashing, law transcending Son of God.” Things that seem impossible to us – like pulling together a world in disarray: from our dysfunctional national government; to cyberattacks coming from who knows where: to the threat of nuclear attack. These too are best resolved by placing our faith in Jesus who is “…the boundary breaking, demon dashing, law transcending Son of God.”
[Finish by balancing the 12 nails on the head of one. Does balancing the 12 nails on the head of one seem impossible to you? Do you have faith that I can do it? Do you believe you could do it? Let’s see. ]
Pastor Otto Schultz, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE