I understand these things to be true about the culture of preacher and hearer (of the Word) today: People wish to understand and appreciate how a passage from the Bible can advise and enlighten their daily life – and – they want to hear (again and again) of God’s love for them and the world – and – they prefer to be offered ways to “think about” the questions they have (about God, faith, religion, judgment) rather than having their questions answered by the person in the fancy clothes and collar standing in the pulpit.
More clearly; I believe people who show up to hear a sermon on Sunday wish to be participants in connecting their faith to their life rather than being only hearers, watchers, audiences of a sermon. It is not so much about what the Bible says, as it is how it (the Bible) can help, preacher.
Then along comes Sunday morning and a gospel story about an exorcism (Mark 1.21-28) with words like “rebuke,” and “authority,” and “commands,” all those sort of biblical power words that shut-down a modern-day reader’s and listener’s (and preacher’s) chance to even consider whether or not the story, its telling, and its language are relevant to any of us today.
There is an art to story-telling; we all have our favorite authors who captivate us (over and over again) with their story telling – it is their method, their art, in the telling of the story, which brings us into the story. And every time we read or hear Bible stories, we are actually encouraged to notice the details of the art (the method) of the writer, and their telling of the story, in order for us to consider what they are saying; how the spirit and spirituality of a 2,000 year old (or older) story is relevant to us today.
So this: this exorcism story can transform lives still today – it is relevant. Here is how; try this: Mark starts his story with Jesus in a bare-knuckles confrontation with an unclean spirit. Not a confrontation with the man “possessed”, he receives compassion and mercy in his trouble. Jesus takes on the “thing” that has a hold on the man; and for all of us, whatever problem or trouble (or thing) has a hold on us, convulses, shakes, trembles, agitates, causes each of us to shudder at times; there lies the story’s relevance today – we can face anything with Christ with us and for us.
Yeah, Mark opens with a fight scene, and we know who is going to win the fight for us – Jesus Christ, our savior. Relevant today? You bet. Jesus came to oppose everything in this world that separates us from the love of God. That message is the same today. God wants only the best and most for us in our days as human beings. God wishes us joy and people, and purpose – all that is most dear to us. God does not want anger, fear, work, abuse by any substance or person or thing; God does not wish any of that to own us or define who we are. God wishes to love and assure us so much we are able to say, “So what!” into the face of whatever seems to own or define us – “So what! I choose to live in spite of you, you, you unclean spirit!”
Hold on to this in the coming week: In our trouble and problems God is not distanced or hiding from us. God draws near to us, in particular, when disappointment occurs. Yes, God does. Yes, God does.
Mark tells this story of Jesus resisting the trouble a man sitting his place of worship has, and with a new teaching of love and compassion Jesus frees the man of living poorly.
This dramatic story is at the heart of the life we are invited to live: Wrestle with those problems boldly, say, “So what! I choose to live well.”
Others will want to know how you do it, and you will help – you will help.