Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Jan. 28-29, 2012 sermon: The Kingdom of God and the Will to Undo

The Kingdom of God and the Will to Undo
Jan. 28-29, 2012: Mark 1:21-28

Today’s gospel reading is a story about demon possession. The very term, I imagine, for most of us conjures up images of B-grade horror movies, or at least of Linda Blair with her head spinning around. Demon possession? Really? Haven’t we gotten past that kind of thing in the 21st century, with all of our insights into psychology and medicine and such? What in the world does this story have to do with sophisticated people living in the 21st century? We don’t deal with things like demons today.

Or do we?

Turn with me in your green Lutheran Book of Worship to the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness, found on page 56. Together, let’s read the large bolded section. When we do, even if you’ve been a lifelong Lutheran as I have and have recited these words more often than you can count, pay attention to what it is we are all saying here. We read together: “We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”

We are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 7:15-19: “15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

My friends, we are possessed. We are possessed by the power of sin. When I say sin, I’m not just talking about individual actions, individual wrong decisions that we make. I’m talking about sin with a capital s, the condition of sin. The will to undo. When the Bible talks about demonic powers, that’s right at the core of what it means. Demonic power, the condition of sin, this force that grips us and holds us tightly and from which we are unable to free ourselves, is quite simply the will to undo. The first chapter of Genesis, where the universe is void and formless, and with a word God speaks creation into being: with that we are painted a picture of a God who brings order out of chaos. We are painted a picture of a God who creates, who brings about life and can call it good. Sin, on the other hand, is the opposite of the Genesis creation story. Instead of light out of darkness, it seeks to bring darkness out of light, chaos out of order. It is the will to undo.

And we’re all caught in it. We’re caught in the desire, and we’re caught in the effects. We are in bondage, a very real bondage, a bondage no less dramatic than that of the man Jesus met in the gospel reading.

A little bit of context here. We’re still right at the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. Mark doesn’t have a nativity story—no mangers or shepherds here. He begins with Jesus’ baptism. Right afterwards, Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Right after that, he calls his disciples. And immediately after that they go to the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, where today’s story happens. Mark writes with a sense of urgency—time almost seems sped up, as he uses the word “immediately” all the time. Even so, this healing happens almost immediately after Jesus’ ministry begins. In fact, in Mark’s gospel, this is Jesus’ first miracle.

Any first carries special significance, special weight. That, and the fact that this comes right on the heels of Jesus’ preaching that the kingdom of God has come near, gives this event important meaning. Jesus is demonstrating, Jesus is living out, what the kingdom of God looks like. This is SO important for us today. Jesus didn’t proclaim that the kingdom of God was still coming, he didn’t say to wait until the end of time or until we were dead and in heaven, he said it had come.

Jesus preached the kingdom, then he lived the kingdom, because Jesus is the kingdom.

And he came to this man, the one gripped by forces beyond his control, the one in bondage to a demonic will to undo, this force that had torn him apart until he was unrecognizable, almost inhuman. This man was untouchable. He was shunned. He was outcast. Do you notice where all this happens, though? Jesus is still teaching in the synagogue. It’s the Sabbath, and he’s there in the synagogue, when suddenly this man cries out. He never should have been there. He was unclean. He was ritually impure.

But this is the interesting part. While everyone else is amazed and astounded at Jesus’ authority, it is the possessed man who calls Jesus who he really is: “the holy one of God.” In Mark’s gospel, this is the only time Jesus is referred to by a person as being of God, until after he has died on the cross and the Roman centurion says “Surely this man was the Son of God.” And really, in today’s story, it’s not the man himself who’s doing the speaking—it’s the demons. This power, the will to undo, sees the embodiment of the kingdom of God standing right in front of it. And just as in Genesis when God brought order out of the chaos with a word of creation, here in Mark the Word made flesh brings order out of the chaos of this man’s life with an order of silence and an order to come out.

You want to know what the kingdom of God looks like? It’s nothing like people in robes with haloes and harps floating around on the clouds. The kingdom of God looks like a man ravaged by forces that had been tearing him to shreds. It looks like that man standing up right in the middle of church and crying out. And it looks like Jesus speaking a word of authority, a word of healing, and bringing wholeness back to that man’s life. Bringing him back into community, back into wellness, re-establishing relationships and support and life.

The kingdom of God looks like a people who confess that they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves. Did you hear that? You cannot free yourself. Any attempt to free yourself, any attempt to make yourself right with God, any attempt to build a bridge from your brokenness to heaven, it’s going to fail. It’s not going to happen. You can’t do it. I can’t do it.

Take a moment. Silently or aloud, name your demons. What are those destructive forces in your life from which you are powerless to free yourself?

You want to hear the good news? What we can’t do for ourselves, God has already done for us. Notice I didn’t say God CAN do. What we can’t do for ourselves, God has ALREADY done for us.

On the cross, Jesus entered our brokenness. Jesus entered our sin. Jesus confronted those demonic powers, the forces of evil, the will to undo, and through his death he cried loudly, “Be silent!” And when he came out of the tomb on Easter morning, it was the ultimate statement crying out, “Come out of him! Come out of her! You have no more power here!”

We still live in a world marked by sin. We still struggle with pain and the effects of our brokenness and the brokenness of others. But at the same time we live in a world where the Kingdom of God has already come. Christ is here. In the bread and the wine, Christ is here. In the brokenness and suffering of our neighbor, Christ is here. And in our own brokenness, right at the very center of our sin, right at the very core of the evil, the will to undo, to which we are bound, Christ is right there.

We cannot free ourselves. Christ has freed us. Christ has freed us not for our own sake, but so we may be free to live for others. And this is not just as individuals but especially as the church. Our primary purpose is not to keep this institution alive, our primary purpose is not simply to grow, our primary purpose is not even simply to teach and comfort and care for each other. We may do all of these things, but when self-care becomes the primary purpose of the church, it ceases to be the church. For us to live into our identity as followers of Christ means we are called to go and follow Jesus to those places where the cross already is—directly into the pain and sin and grime and muck of our world. God has called Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church to look beyond itself, following Christ into the messiness of life, into the demons of our world. Where there is demonizing of people, we are called to bless. Where there is the sowing of hatred, we are called to promote love. Where walls are built to separate, we are called to break them down. Where there is the seeking to tear apart in fear, we are called to be agents of reconciliation and hope.

Matt Schur
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

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