A sermon in the season after Epiphany based on Mark 1:21-28.
A couple of weeks ago I read a line from a commentator on the creation account. The theologian stated that rather than creating ex nihilo as we often espouse (and there is reason to back this idea up elsewhere in scripture which we won’t explore today), rather than out of nothing God created out of something that already existed. The world at that point had only water and darkness and chaos, and then God stepped in and God breathes life into the world. God’s first act upon the face of the earth brought redemption.
A respected biblical professor of mine once said after hearing a new idea that he would need to, and I quote, “ put that in my theological pipe and smoke it for a while.” I’ve been doing that with this concept about God and creation and redemption being God’s first act on the earth. This notion calls out to me because I think that God desires redemption for all of us too. That the reason for Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, miracles, passion, resurrection, and ascension is so that we might experience redemption. God offers us restoration, conversion. God takes the mess of situations in our lives and breathes new life into them. God doesn’t destroy the mess, mind you, God did not destroy the deep and the darkness at creation, but God sees all of it as precious and shines light and hovers over the deep and with a word life abounds.
This strikes me because Jesus’ first act in his ministry as recorded in Mark’s gospel offers life. He makes his way to the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. He teaches the assembled congregation there, and, Mark tells us, he astounds them. Just then as they lean over to one another making comments about his teaching, a man with an unclean spirit enters in and has a confrontation with Jesus. “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.” Then Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and it came out of the man.
Laying aside for the moment all this talk of evil spirits, I want to focus on what Jesus does. He doesn’t throw the man out or say that he is worthless. He doesn’t ignore him either. He has compassion on him. He brings this hurting man who has dealt with the demons for long enough restoration and wholeness. Jesus takes this man held captive and gives him freedom. He brings him redemption.
We can only speculate how long this man dealt with the demons of his life. While in our age post-enlightenment we rarely hold to a belief in evil spirits. Yet we do know when people are not themselves, when they have been overcome by addiction or fear or depression or greed. We do speak of the demons like that which torment others; we pray that they would not be overcome by them. We long for them to be returned to their right minds, to their former selves.
My work as a priest compels me to look for signposts of redemption. To see with the eyes of the heart the way God’s Spirit moves. To notice the shooting buds in the spring announcing the arrival of new life—and after the snow this week and more predicted to come, we’re hoping that that holds true—as well as the new life emerging from the desolate winters we experience in our interior lives. I notice it in books or movies, and I hear them when I have conversations with you. These signposts are all over if we just take the time to look for them.
Two weeks ago a new series aired on Masterpiece Mystery called “Grantchester.” Based on novels by James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, the show focuses on a 30-something single Anglican priest, Sydney Chambers, serving a parish just outside Cambridge in the UK during the 1950s. Sydney served as a soldier in the Second World War, and he has a good childhood friend—and possible love interest—Amanda Kendall who lives in London. Besides being dashingly good looking, he also has an interest in mysteries as people trust him and allow him to probe deeper into, as one person put it, matters of the heart.
Through the course of the first episode, we learn that Sydney is carrying the burden of “shell shock,” what today would be classified as PTSD. And in his sleauthing with the local Dectective Inspector, we watch as he uncovers the truth and helps people deal with the past and the demons. In his sermon at the end of the first episode, he tells his parish congregation, “We cannot erase our pasts, however hard we try. Instead we must carry them with us into the future, we must carry them with us and look forward with hope. We must look forward because to look back is to waste precious time. Someone recently said to me, ‘We must live as we have never lived.’ We must, all of us, do that: Live our lives as we have never lived.”
It is a sermon made for TV, so the message of hope doesn’t get declared as specifically as it could in 30 seconds, but he’s talking about the work of Christ, of course. He’s talking about redemption. Something he needs and is experiencing in different measures and something he shares in his ministry with others.
At our Annual Meeting last Sunday, I mentioned that I want to have 60 one-on-ones this spring in an effort to deepen my connections with all of you. Calling it “Grab Coffee with Fr. Phil,” I’m inviting you to an informal meeting. Whether we grab coffee, a meal or just a seat in the parish office, I want to hear your stories. I will be looking for those signs of redemption as we talk as well. A chance to see with you and explore the way Jesus has brought about transformation.
Because those signposts are there to be found. I’ve witnessed the redemption that has taken place in the past. The ones who have overcome the demon of addiction through the power of God and hard work and perseverance. I’ve seen marriages pulled back from the brink, and I’ve seen others who have emerged stronger from those which could not be saved. Redemption has come to children who had felt unloved by a parent, and in teens who have felt the weight of the world pressing in on them.
And there are signposts yet to be discovered. I believe very much that God brings transformation and redemption into our lives, and I believe very much that God’s work isn’t complete in us in this life. Putting it another way, perfection is not to be found in this life. We will continue the journey, there will be times of difficulty and things to overcome with God’s work in us, and we will continue to receive redemption. Some of you may be in a darker spot right now, dealing with grief either known or unknown, or experiences that suffocate you. There is hope to be found. Jesus’ powerful work continues on.
I may not know the demons you carry on this day—the things that burden you and crush your spirit—but Jesus does. And he longs to offer you hope. To release you from those things, so that we can live as we have never lived before. God’s work of redemption began at the very beginning, and it will continue on throughout our lives. Jesus meets us every week at this table, offering us a chance to experience deep love and healing. Through him we can be transformed and live lives full of his gracious abundance. Amen.
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