Immediately

Mark 1:21-28

Deut 18:15-20

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

Feb 1, 2015

There’s a word that the author of Mark’s gospel uses over and over again—immediately.

English translators, in an effort to make his language easier on our ears, often leave it out. As they do in this passage. But, as we read through Mark this year, consider that the word “immediately” is providing a drumbeat through this text.

Mark wants to make sure we know that time is moving. Time is marching, and quickly, toward the conclusion of this story. Jesus is marching through this Gospel, with no time for dillydallying.

When we hear Mark say “immediately”, it should call us back to the moment at hand. It should remind us that following Jesus, becoming people who fish for people, isn’t about something that will happen sometime in the distant future. It is about right now. This very moment.

The newly appointed disciples have just left their nets by the shore when, immediately, they go to Capernaum. Not a big commute. It is town very near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And the Sabbath arrives, so Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches.

And, in the middle of this astounding teaching, immediately a man with an unclean spirit appears, interrupting the lesson. “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.”

We could get hung up on what it means for this man to have an unclean spirit. But we won’t. Because I don’t have an explanation. And Jesus doesn’t call his disciples to gather around the bedside and make a diagnosis either.

Remember what has already happened in this first chapter of the gospel—the heavens were torn apart and the Holy Spirit descended, until it landed on Jesus. So, Jesus, the man with the Holy Spirit is now, a few verses later, immediately, engaging a man with an unclean, or unholy Spirit.

The heavens have been opened and the battle that is being waged is nothing less than cosmic. From the beginning of Mark’s gospel, it is apparent that the demonic, the unclean spirits, are on their way out. The hold and authority they have had in the world is coming to an end. The beginning of the Good News!

So, this possessed man speaks to Jesus. And notice what he says, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The first voice in Mark’s gospel who proclaims Jesus’ identity is God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism. The second voice to proclaim it is an unclean spirit.

Even the demonic realm knows and proclaims Jesus’ identity. What will become clear to the human characters (or at least to some of them) by the end of the gospel is immediately known by the cosmic realm at the beginning.

Jesus silences this Spirit and commands it to leave the man. Because when you are possessed by unclean spirits, you are not free to live the life to which you have been called by God.

And Jesus’ call is to freedom, and wholeness and new life.

The crowds were impressed with Jesus authority. And the fact that his authority seemed to be so novel and impressive makes me wonder if their religious authorities had not been speaking with authority at all.

If the religious leaders had been speaking out of both sides of their mouths, or had been silent because they were afraid of offending people, the crowd would no doubt have been as thirsty for Jesus and his authority as wanderers in the desert.

I’ve been thinking about that authority of Jesus, which on one hand is certainly different, categorically, than any authority of ours. On the other hand, I think one of the things that drew the crowds to him, that draws us to him today, is the way he spoke clearly and truthfully, no matter the cost to him, and no matter who might be offended or upset.

He is so clearly grounded in his own self, mission, and beliefs that he speaks from a place of deep conviction and authority.

This past week, as many of you know, I spent a fair bit of time at the statehouse, with many of you, listening to testimony for and against the Add the Words bill, which would have given protections in housing, employment, and public accommodation to Idaho’s gay and transgender community.

It would not have restricted the way we, or any other church, practice our faith.

And yet, the largest voice against treating every person with dignity, safety, and equality, was from people speaking from their deeply held Christian convictions.  If you didn’t listen to the news, I will spare you some of the comments these Christians made against the bill, often in the name of the God of love. It was not a high moment in public discourse.

Yet they claimed they were there speaking, with authority, on behalf of God.

It didn’t seem to matter that there were as many clergy speaking in favor of the bill. Those of us in favor were, generally, more polite, more succinct, allowed for multiple viewpoints, and spoke for ourselves rather than claiming to speak for God. I’m grateful for the other religious leaders who joined me to speak out for justice, but I’ve had nightmares about the pastors who preached hate, on the record, with pride, in front of cameras.

The bill failed to make it out of committee. So I’m reminded that working for human rights, for civil rights, is a long game. And we will keep at it, trusting that love will win. We will keep at this work for justice, but I keep hearing Mark’s urgency—

immediately

immediately

immediately

We have no time to waste, friends, to share God’s love, to protect people, to make this a safe place for all people to live and flourish.

But when there are so many people, speaking with authority and saying different things, how do we know who to listen to?

Because of the week I had, these texts have been grating against me.
And while the Deuteronomy passage promises us that the “bad” prophets will die, it doesn’t help us in our discernment. Lots of people speak as if God has sent them to give the message, myself included. Speaking with authority about God’s love and mercy desperately matter to the world. How do we discern authority, though, when the messages are so contradictory?

I’m certain some of those pastors who spoke with such hate and judgment are preaching the mirror image of this sermon this morning, telling their parishioners about the supposed faith leaders who spoke FOR adding the words.

How do we discern?

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).

And that’s how I see the healing connected to authority in the gospel passage.  What are the fruits of what we say in God’s name? Do our words give life and hope to a hurting world? Or do our words wound?

Jesus silences this Spirit and commands it to leave the man. Because when you are possessed by unclean spirits, you are not free to live the life to which you have been called by God.

And so the authority with which Jesus speaks serves to bring wholeness and restoration to people and communities.

We can’t be Jesus. Not even on our best days.

We can’t heal the unclean the same way he does. Jesus’ authority is not ours.

We can, however, claim our authority to speak against the powers that bind people, and keep them from being free to live the life God is calling them to live.

Sometimes those powers are big, and seem cosmic—wars, systemic violence or behaviors that seem impossible to change—and sometimes those powers are more personal—bullying, or addiction, or even hunger and economic insecurity.

We need to claim our authority to speak out and free people from those demons that keep them from a whole and healthy life.

Because if we don’t do it, those false prophets in sheep’s clothing will speak in our place. And they won’t speak God’s word of love.

I’m grateful to serve a church that takes seriously our call to speak God’s love and healing, and to speak with authority.

You speak with authority when you testify at the capitol and when you spend time in prayer and witness.

You speak with authority when you spend time with kids at Grace Jordan Elementary School, showing those children, by your presence, that there is a community that cares and that they matter.

You speak with authority when your mission projects make lives better and help people imagine a future with hope.

The world is desperate for the Good News. It wants to be astounded by the healing authority of the God of Love. How is God calling you to speak with authority? Maybe it involves your words. Maybe it is your ministry of care and presence in peoples’ lives.

Whatever it is, let’s go astound the crowds with the Good News of God’s love.

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2 thoughts on “Immediately

  1. Wow! wish I could have *heard* this one. I don’t know if you remember this but there was a Bible study in ca. 1988 at the Trinity Chapel on the Gospel of Mark that spent a lot of time on Mark’s sense of urgency. I don’t remember the details anymore. Maybe I have notes somewhere.

    You will know them by their fruits — this is such a hard message. I’m involved a lot of situations lately where I try to point out a disturbing truth and am told to shut up because I’m making people upset and we should all try to be loving toward each other. I think I will wrestle with this problem until I die …

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