Monday, February 2, 2015

A Meditation, February 1, 2105

A Meditation
Mark 1:21-28

Our world is filled with so called “authorities.” They fill the media with their most confident opinions. Health experts. Sporting pundits. Dietitians. Gardening experts. Stock market advisers. Psychologists. Astrologers. Ethical analysts. Political commentators. Automotive experts. Preachers claiming the only true gospel. Authorities are everywhere. They claim to really know what they are talking about. They want to influence us, and in some cases manipulate us for their purposes. The trouble is many of these authorities do not deliver what they promise. The stock market expert accepts no responsibility when his opinion costs you thousands. The automotive expert doesn’t care if you follow his opinion and end up buying a lemon. It doesn’t matter to the TV preacher if you gave your money away on an empty promise.

Today we listen to a different kind of authority. In the town of Capernaum, he taught in the synagogue’s Sabbath service. Those who listened “were astonished at his teaching, for unlike the scribes he taught them with a note of authority.” To tell you where the listeners are coming from, there is a deranged, demon-possessed man running around in their worship space. Jesus addresses the demon in the man, and it screams, and shrieks, and convulses. The people treat it like it’s an ordinary event. “Oh yeah, that’s Harvey. He’s just like that.” But when Jesus heals the man, now the people are more amazed. Hurting, victimized people are commonplace. Healing is not. When Jesus of Nazareth taught, and befriended, and healed people, something from deep within the human soul cried, “Yes! Yes! This is it! This is the real thing.” He awakens an echo of God that lies deep inside us. No matter how far buried under their junk, the sacred resonates in his presence. A forgotten, neglected, or wounded part of our humanity gasps with new hope. Jesus awakens life that seems buried and bleak. Jesus speaks to the core of our being, and that core stirs and starts to come to life. How different his authority is from the counterfeit experts of the age.

Have you ever heard that voice, speaking to the core of your being? If not, then today is a chance to realize that Christ, the one who speaks with God’s authority, has the power to liberate us from all that keeps us from being whole people. Christ shatters the domineering designs that shackle people to lower standards for life than God intends. Jesus stands ready to help us caste aside that which binds and constricts us, the demons that defeat our best and highest purposes. Christ stands ready with the authority of grace, which breaks the power of sin over us.

I know. We don’t like to talk about demons. But I’m not talking about bat-winged creatures that torment you. I’m not talking about the enemies of TV preachers and priests from horror movies. To me, any force that prevents even a single one of us from experiencing the full humanity God intends for all humanity is demonic. I think of possession as an unhealthy way of relating to God, our fellow human beings, and even ourselves. Instead of working in collaboration with communities, the powers of evil manipulate and use others for their own benefit. It’s like those invasive root systems I pull out of my yard every year – you know that vine that grows 15 feet a year and chokes out the tree it twists itself upon to find life? Evil is like that. It needs a host. Those little plant shoots looks innocent enough in the early spring when they pop out of the ground. We don’t recognize the extent of that plant’s root system. Just let those tender shoots grow for a few weeks. It quickly overtakes everything around it. Let it go too long, and drastic measures are needed to make it go away. And like that dreaded vine in my yard, we can’t get rid of evil all together. It keeps coming back. And we keep fighting it. It takes vigilance. It’s hard, work that does not seem to get a lot of long-term benefit.

The deeply-rooted evils of racism, sexism, and homophobia haunt our communities through generations. Poverty enslaves millions around the world, keeping them uneducated, unemployed, homeless, hungry, and hopeless despite an overabundance of resources. Maybe if we close our eyes they will go away. No, that doesn’t work. They grow too quickly for us to just ignore. Maybe we can run from them? But that won’t work either. Those who have tried know that our demons follow us.

A while ago I watched the movie “I Am Legend” with Will Smith playing Dr. Robert Neville, a world-famous epidemiologist. It’s a remake of Omega Man starring Chuck Heston. That movie still haunts me. After a cancer cure mutates into a plague, Dr. Neville finds himself the only person left in New York City, and perhaps in the entire world. Something in his blood grants him immunity from a disease that turns people into sub-human, aggressive, violent killers. Neville’s only protection is his fortified bunker, and the sunlight -- which drives back the demonic hordes until nightfall. He tirelessly works on a cure for this disease, even though he thinks he is the only human left. But why?

At one point in the movie, he meets two more survivors. They are traveling to a survivor’s colony, but Neville won’t go. He says, “The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.” I won’t give it all away, but by the end of the movie, Neville lights up the darkness. He doesn’t run and he doesn’t cover his eyes. He touches the evil around him. His actions give the rest of humanity a cure.

If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then we are called to touch some of this evil, to light up the darkness, to confront the invasive evil in our own lives and in our communities. We are called to name the powers that bind our lives and the lives of our sisters and brothers. We are called to name the abuse, the addictions, the bigotry, the violence, the poverty, the greed, the apathy, and every other demon that haunts this old world.

As we take communion today, I want us to think about the authority that God gave to Jesus, and the authority that Jesus gives to us. Many of us have demons we are dealing with today. Your job may not be going well or you may have lost it. You may be struggling with illness or are feeling the pain of someone who is. You may be depressed, anxious, nervous, or scared. You may be looking for guidance or struggling to know where God is leading you. . We need to be healed in body, mind, and soul. We need to be raised from the dead and dying places in our lives. We need to be cleansed from every division. We need to be freed from the demonic powers that keep us separated from God and one another. We need help to become the people God created us to be. As you take the bread and the cup, remember the unbounded compassion that moves God to embrace us in all our faults and frailty and love us even more. Don’t be afraid. Light up the darkness.

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