Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (NRSV)
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
Gospel Reading: Mark 1: 21-28 (CEB)
21 Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. 23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
Sermon: Revealing the Way
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing to you O God, our rock and our redeemer.
I must admit, today’s passage upon first glance is one which makes me uncomfortable. Removing an evil spirit in the middle of synagogue, or as many would describe it, an exorcism, is not the first text I would pick. I mean of the miracles seen in the Bible, I’ll admit references to evil, unclean spirits are not my first pick. Turning water into wine, feeding over 5,000 people, now those are all stories I can support, and I will read full heartedly. I mean who doesn’t like wine and a potluck? But when it comes to casting out demons or any images of the devil or evil, it makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t want to date myself too much, and by date myself, I mean appear any younger than I am. When I was a kid, Star Wars was all the rage. And when I say Star Wars, I unfortunately do not not mean the original three movies with Luke and Leia. I’m talking about the overly CGI prequels. If you have not seen them, I’d highly recommend going to Disney Plus and watching them. I mean after further glance they’re no cinematic masterpiece, but for me they revive my nostalgia factor. They tell the story of Anakin before he becomes Darth Vader. In the first episode The Phantom Menace there was a character by the name of Darth Maul. Now I will admit, I could not tell you all of Darth Maul’s backstory, but I can tell you that as a kid, Darth Maul was the character who lived in my nightmares. When I imagined what evil might look like, what a demonic force would be, it was always Darth Maul. He has red skin with black markings all over his face, spiky horns on his head and the most soul piercing red eyes. As a young child, I immediately knew this dude was bad news. Not to mention he had a double-sided lightsaber. He truly scared me. It may have been because of his horns, but also the red face, but I also think there was something uncomfortable about the bad guy. About the antagonist, the opposer to what is good and right. He goes against the characters I’m cheering for.
If I would have written Star Wars, I would have written Darth Maul out, opting for a story which is just a lot of stock footage of Yoda, or now Baby Yoda from the Mandelorian, because they’re cute and don’t leave me with the sense of uneasiness.
However, by taking out the central conflict, the evil, the dark side, I would also be removing the story, the reality of how good and evil are in opposition and how people can overcome evil. By pretending these forces of evil are not a reality in our world, I would be missing the reality, the truth that there is darkness in the world. That there are demons which need to be cast out. And so that’s why this story in Mark, while uncomfortable, it reveals for us the importance of working for good.
Before we dive too deep into this passage, I think it is first important to acknowledge what evil is not in this circumstance. Unfortunately, exorcism, or removing evil, has roots in being a way to remove mental illness. Exorcisms have been used in toxic ways to try and dehumanize and push harm on others. This not the evil we are talking about. To cast out people’s identity and humanity, is not the evil which needs casting out. Therefore, this evil does not include sexual orientation, mental illness or any trait which seeks to dehumanize the other person.
Instead, this evil is based in the separation between humankind and God, it is the broken relationships we create which separate us from one another. It is when we dehumanize another, to fill our own pride, our own ego. It is when we refused to love our neighbors. Evil then is when the good, love, is absent and not seen fully. And so, we go then to the temple and we witness Jesus cast out this demon.
With any miracle, or act of Jesus Christ, it can be challenging at times to say how much of this actually happened. I don’t want to debate about the scientific measures by which Jesus engaged in all of his miracles. Rather, for this moment let’s see this story as one of good versus evil. Jesus versus the demon. And what it says about Jesus.
First it is the demon who reaches out to Jesus. The unclean spirit sees Jesus teaching in the temple and recognizes he does so with authority unlike any other. Jesus speaks fully with the authority of God. And evilness recognizes there is deep power contained within Jesus, for Jesus has the only power which can push out this darkness, the light of God. And Jesus continues to use this authority, use this power to speak to the demon, “Silence, Come Out of Him.” He commands this spirit. Jesus’ actions echo the proclamation Moses made about the prophets who follow: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” (Deuteronomy 18:18) Jesus speaks with the authority to silence the evil spirit, to say “Enough. No more.” Jesus is not afraid to call it out and to literally cast out the evil.
By taking this action, then Jesus reveals his power. He does not do this in secret, he does this as his first public, very public act, in the Gospel of Mark. He allowed all to see this action, instead of hiding this power away, to show the power he held.
And so for the crowd in the temple, this is something unlike anything they’ve seen. Imagine for a moment, you are worshiping in a temple. You are going through the proper protocols and then you hear “Silence!” And all of a sudden, an evil spirit comes out of a man. You might think back to the prophets of Moses, those who could speak boldly, and who commanded the actions of other forces. And here today, was a man who spoke with the same authority of those former prophets. You couldn’t help but be amazed. It might be something that you would have to sit and process what had happened for a while. You might not immediately believe this is the Messiah, the chosen one, but you could definitely not deny that there was something special about what had happened. Whoever this man was he had power. The power to do unimaginable things.
And as the story shows those who witnessed such this action could not keep it to themselves. The news spread across Galilee. Like a viral video everyone shares on Facebook, everyone’s friends were telling them about it. People might not be able to make out fully what this all meant, but what they found was there was power in this God, in Jesus. Such power that it could cause evil to be silenced, to stop acting immediately. Jesus reveals his power to do this, showing us goodness casts out evil.
But what then do we do when Jesus reveals his power to us? We don’t see how the people in the temple responded that day, but we see they spread the news, they shared it with all. What do we do when we’ve witnessed God’s goodness and grace? How do we respond?
Christ’s actions reveal to us the path. We can now see clearly that we must follow in the way of Jesus. No, we do not have to cast our demons in a synagogue. But we do need to find ways to eliminate evil in the world.
This casting out, comes in the form of marching in a pride parade to show all people belong to the kin-dom of God. It might be donating to one of the many food pantries in the area, to ensure no one has to spend a day feeling hungry. It could be learning more about the systems of racism and looking to dismantle them through action. It could be in the compassion shown to people regardless of the language they speak or where they were born, to oppose the world’s “isms”. These all work to directly oppose the evil forces.
But we too must be ready to turn to follow in the way of Jesus, showing humility and recognizing the bad which lives in us. The times where someone cuts me off in traffic on my way to church and I consider rolling down my window to give them a piece of my mind. The times where instead of listening to an alternative perspective, I respond by belittling the other person telling them how they are wrong and my opinion is right. Then blocking them on Facebook when they cannot see my perspective. The times when I respond quickly and lash out at another person, hurting their feelings, and harming the established relationship. These are just a few of the ways I’ve let the darkness live in me, this week. And I think it is the reminder that I need Jesus to reveal himself, to show that this does not have to be the way to live. When someone cuts me off in traffic I can respond with, “It is okay”. I can pause to hear a different perspective, and even if I might disagree, I can recognize we are both on the journey of discovery. And showing compassion allows for the relationship to continue instead of cutting it off. And when I mess up I can ask for forgiveness. I can own up to my mistakes with humility and grace.
The wonderful thing is Christ is always revealing the way to us. Each day there are the signs of joy, of goodness, flourishing, a new life to be lived. By Jesus casting out the evil in the man he showed the humanity of the man was more important than being indebted to the evil. Jesus showed there was a chance for redemption every step of the way. And this was just the first of many of the signs of Jesus. The start of the many ways Jesus unveiled his power to all. And we can experience this every day, through forgiveness, through grace, through the relationships we share with others, even though we are separated. Through working to be a little better each day. And when we choose to follow in the way of Jesus, casting out the darkness in our communities , there will be moments where it is challenging and uncomfortable and we have to ask each day for Jesus to reveal the way of truth and light.
I still am afraid of Darth Maul, the freaky horns spook me. The reality of evil makes me uncomfortable. But if there is anything I have learned from the Star Wars movies, it is there is always the battle between good and evil. Luke, Leia and Han might have destroyed the Death Star in the first movie, but they have to keep actively pushing back against the dark forces of evil. At times it might feel hopeless, but there is always the reality that good will win out. The light will overcome. The force is revealed, just as Jesus is revealed to us each day, forcing us to speak “Silence”, to the evil, speak with the authority to cast out evil. To cast out injustice. To cast out oppression. To cast out the harm. To cast out brokenness and to mend ourselves to be good once more. To allow the way of goodness to be revealed each day and to follow Jesus’ path of life and light. This is the way. Amen.