Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
February 2, 2003
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever been in a situation that was such a mess, that was so out of control, that you just wanted to scream: Whoís in charge around here anyway!? I know I have been. Sometimes the whole world seems to be that way. Or sometimes, we know whoís apparently in charge, and things are still a mess, still out of control. Maybe that comes closer to describing the world we face today. Many of us wish someone else were in charge than the people who seem to be. So whether we canít figure out whoís in charge, or whether we think we know the answer to the question of whoís in charge and donít like that answer much, weíre often left wishing someone were in charge that we could trust, someone who had the best interests of all the people, of the whole world at heart.
It may not be obvious at first glance, but I think this morningís Gospel lesson is about this question It gives the Christian answer to the question. Itís a little story that appears, in this form at least, only in Mark. Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue in Capernaum. Mark tells us that he taught "as one having authority." Of course, thatís because he in fact had authority, and thatís what Mark wants us to understand. Then we are told that there was a man in the synagogue "with an unclean spirit." Now, we donít talk much about people having unclean spirits. We would probably say the man suffered from a mental illness. But for this morning, letís take the story at face value. The man had an unclean spirit, that is, he was possessed by a demon, a spirit that had fallen from the goodness that God put into all creation in the beginning. Jesus, it turns out, not only teaches the people with authority. He also has authority over unclean spirits. This spirit, which refers to itself in the pleural for reasons that arenít at all apparent, recognized who Jesus was, calling him the "Holy One of God." When Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to leave the man it was possessing, the spirit had no choice but to obey. Mark is telling us in this story, I think, that all of creation, both humans and the spirit world (including the unclean spirits) are subject to the authority of Jesus, the Son of God.
So, the Christian answer to the question "whoís in charge around here" is: Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, is in charge around here. Ultimate authority among us and in the spiritual realm as well rests with him. Thatís what we mean when we confess: Jesus Christ is Lord. Now we can acknowledge that Jesus is in charge of our lives. Itís up to us whether or not we want to recognize that fact and live in accordance with it. But does it have any meaning for us to say that the spirit world is under his authority as well? I think it does. Those of you who have been attending our Sunday morning adult education sessions on Walter Winkís book The Powers That Be are already familiar with the concept that everything in creation, not just individuals but institutions, ideas, ideologies, in short everything, has a spiritual dimension, a spiritual reality to it. That spiritual reality can be referred to metaphorically as a spirit, or to use Paulís term that Wink develops, a "power." These spirits or powers are part of Godís creation, they are Godís creations in the same way that we are. When a spirit, or power, acts in ways inconsistent with Godís intention for it, it becomes "demonic," that is, it becomes a demon. And because of the fallen nature of our earthly existence, those spirits, those powers, again just like us, almost always do act in ways that are inconsistent with Godís intention for them. And so our world is beset with demons-the demons of domination, violence, nationalism, militarism, materialism, consumerism, racism, and on and on.
Our Gospel story from Mark is telling us this morning that even these demons, these unclean spirits, are ultimately subject to the authority of Jesus Christ. In the end, they answer to Him. And that is very, very good news indeed. Because who is this one to whom all the unclean spirits that bedevil our world are subject? Jesus! The one who loved, and loves, us so much that in faithfulness to the God whom he incarnated in this life he even died for us. Jesus, who said I do not call you servants but friends. Jesus, who showed us that in the end God is always on the side of the poor, the weak, the sick, the dying, the oppressed, that is, on our side. Jesus, who said he is with us to the end of time.
Now, it isnít always very obvious how that subjugation of the powers, of the demons of the world, to Jesus is playing itself out. They seem most of the time to have free run of the place. And yet in faith we know that their ultimate subjugation to him is the ultimate reality. And because we know that to be true, we can face whatever they may throw at us with courage and in peace. We can rest easy, knowing that the one with the real authority is on our side, not theirs. Thatís the good news, the Gospel, for this morning. And that, my friends, is very, very good news indeed.