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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Epiphany 4B RCL January 29, 2012

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8: 1-13
Mark 1: 21-28

In our first reading, God’s people are on the border of Canaan, poised to go into the promised land. God is assuring them that God will raise up prophets like Moses to guide the people. There is a long line of prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and many others who held God’s measuring rod up to their societies and called people to follow God’s ways.

More recently, we have prophetic people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyl, who has led the struggle for democracy in Burma, also called Myanmar, and Professor Wangari Maathai, the tree lady of Kenya, founder of the Green Belt movement to plant trees and combat deforestation.  The Green Belt Movement has also promoted social justice and democracy. God is constantly calling forth prophets.

 Our reading from 1 Corinthians asks the question: Is it all right to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols? This may not be a burning question for us, but there are other issues which can divide us.  Paul offers a profound insight. He says, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” As we are working through decisions and issues in the Body of Christ, it is important to treat each other with respect and to exercise humility.  Freedom and license are two different things. Our behavior affects the lives of others in the community.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples go to Capernaum, a large town located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. When the Sabbath comes, they go into the synagogue. In those days, the local synagogue was a place for teaching, praying, and studying the scriptures together. The Temple in Jerusalem was the place where worship and sacrifice took place.

Jesus teaches the people. They are astounded because he teaches with a personal authority and immediacy that is magnetic. They can tell that he has a close personal relationship with God.  He is not just mouthing things he has learned in a scholarly setting.  Jesus is not a Scribe, one of the people who are the official teachers of the law.  His authority comes directly from God.

Then we move into the next part of this gospel. There is a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue.

 Scholars tell us that, in the first-century Mediterranean world, people believed that everything was caused by personal forces.  God was at the top, followed by “other gods,” sons of gods, and archangels. Then came angels, spirits, and demons. Then came humans with our own layers of social status.

Demons resisted any attempt to dislodge them from their host. In this gospel, the demons try to protect themselves by using Jesus’ name and recognizing his authority. If the demons admit Jesus’ power, maybe he will leave them alone.  Theologian Nancy Koester writes, “After all, why should the Holy One of God care about a bunch of unclean spirits inhabiting some worthless human being—especially if these unclean spirits know and confess who is boss? But Jesus will have none of it. For Jesus, authority is not merely the right to wield power over those of lesser rank, but it keeps in view the ends for which that power is used. Jesus does not make little compromises with evil. He has the authority to deliver, heal, convict, forgive, cleanse, and raise from the dead. He aims to defeat evil so that we can be set free.” (New Proclamation Year B, 1999-2000,  p. 111.)

 People believed that demons (the Greek term) or unclean spirits (the Semitic term) could control human behavior. Demons were seen as a force causing people to behave in unacceptable ways that separated them from the community. To set someone free from the demons not only cured them but also restored them to the community.

 Normally when Jesus encounters unclean spirits or demons in the gospel, I talk about how diseases were in those days attributed to demon possession. But this gospel is focusing on Jesus’ ability to confront and defeat the forces of darkness. Very early in his gospel, Mark is putting Jesus’ ministry in a cosmic framework.  He cares about even the most humble and insignificant person, and he has the power to defeat any and all forces that would rob us of God’s intended wholeness.

 Jesus has authentic authority. Remember that the word “authority” comes from the Latin auctoritas, authorship, creativity, that which sets us free. If we go back to our epistle for today, we would say that true authority builds up, does not tear down. True authority is always working toward health and wholeness.  The opposite of authority is the Latin imperium, that which imprisons, confines, controls.

In this scientific age, we do not often think in terms of forces which may control us. But they exist even if we don’t want to name them or face them. Greed, materialism, self-serving ambition, violence as entertainment, all forms of addiction including substance abuse, gambling, internet addiction, and the list goes on. All of these imprison people.

 We also don’t like to acknowledge the existence of evil in this world. But it is there. Many times it comes from our own misuse of God’s gift of free will.  Whenever we think we are facing the forces of darkness, it is a good idea to look within and see what we are doing to create this or contribute to it. But there are times when it is clear that there is a powerful and palpable force of darkness. C. S, Lewis, in his classic The Screwtape Letters, cautioned us neither to deny the existence of evil nor to give it too much power. 

I am an Associate of a religious order for women in the Episcopal Church called the Order of St. Helena.  I had the privilege of working with a wonderful spiritual guide who was a member of the Order. Her name was Sister Rachel Hosmer. Sister Rachel worked for many years in Africa. The people she worked with had beliefs similar to those of Jesus’ time. Their world was full of spirits and they practiced voodoo. People actually died from curses and other practices. Once, when I was having some encounters with the forces of darkness, Sister Rachel told me something like this: “When you are being assailed by these forces, they seem huge and endlessly powerful, so dark that they block your view, but just remember that, in the face of the light of Christ, they are but a little speck.”  Sister Rachel’s comment is a perfect summary of our gospel for today.                                   Amen.                 

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