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            Preachers have go-to resources that they use.  One of my resources, which I was given by a soon-to-be-retired minister in Northern Ontario, is called “Preaching the New Common Lectionary.”  It was edited by Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, and Carl R. Holladay and published in—wait for it—1984!  I have newer resources and use those regularly, including a couple of blogs I look at each week, but I often come back to Craddock, et al, when I’m lacking some inspiration. I’ve loved Fred Craddock’s sermons and reflections. Craddock died some years ago; I don’t know about Hayes and Holladay—retired, I’m sure.

            At the end of the section giving some background to the passage from Mark that we just heard, the three preaching scholars wrote, “The preacher will… need to locate and identify the forms and strategies of evil equivalent to the 1st Century demons.  No service is rendered simply by announcing we no longer believe in demons.  While that is true for most, not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world.”  I thought to myself, Ain’t that the truth!  And it sparked some thinking about today’s world and the Gospel.

            So, what are our modern-day demons?  Loneliness?  Depression? Anxiety?  Fear?  Isolation?  Following after false authorities?  Alt-right authoritarian leaders?  Dis-ease?  Lack of freedom?  Oppressive regimes and countries?  Self-catering multinational corporations?  Individualism?  Hubris?  Self-centredness?  Egoism?  Fake News?  All of the above?

            It’s interesting that so early in the story of Jesus, Mark introduced this healing aspect to Jesus’ ministry.  It is interesting, also, that Jesus was recognized as one having authority to heal and cast out demons.  And I think that this is Mark’s point; he is establishing that Jesus is the Chosen One, the Son of Humanity, who heals, speaks, and teaches with authority, and who proclaims God’s gift of abundant life.

            One of the things that some scholars have come to understand about Mark’s system of beliefs and values is that illness is never just biological; leprosy, for example, is never just about a skin condition.  Illness for Mark was about one’s place in society and the cultural and religious expectations around disease.  When you were ill, it was thought that you had done something wrong or that you were spiritually out of sorts; if the illness was serious enough, you could be ostracized from your community.  Thus, for Mark, when Jesus healed, he restored those who were ill to the greater community and challenged the cultural, spiritual, and religious norms that were used to push people outside the wholeness of community.

            It is clear that Jesus was all about restoration and wholeness—the restoration to community, the healing of a broken community, and the wholeness of people brought back into relationship.  Healing for Jesus in Mark was a relational concept that was underlined by justice.

            Today, we understand that there are many social determinants to health; they include shelter, income, age, gender, education, social status, ethnicity, country of origin, having adequate health care or not, mental health, spirituality, support networks, childhood development to name a few.  As followers of the one who heals and restores to wholeness—Jesus—we are called to support healthy living as full human beings.  That means supporting one another and seeking the mechanisms available to us all to live whole lives of love and hope.

            Mark, I think, invites us to look more deeply into who Jesus is for us today.  He is not some miracle worker; his whole function is to invite us to choose between death and life: the demons represent death and Jesus’ healing action represents life.  Jesus reminded everyone what Moses taught the people before they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction….  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…” (Deuteronomy 30: 15 & 19b)

            Sometimes it is difficult to make the life-giving choice.  We aren’t always sure what that choice is.  We hear the voices in our heads that tempt us to make the bad choice—what some might call our individual demons.  Or we rely too much on our arrogance, thinking that we are always right and that the choices we make are always the life-giving ones.  Or we are afraid that others will think less of us if we ask for help or someone’s advice.

            The reason that this healing story comes right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel is that it declares what Jesus is all about for Mark.  Jesus is all about choosing life, enhancing life, confronting the powers—political, religious, or individual—that deny life, and also about restoration to community—hence the term the Kin-dom of God.  God’s gift of life is abundance; healing is all about tapping into this spiritual intention of aligning our lives with the Great Life God has given.

            I think healing is partly about paying attention.  When we’re distracted by the things that seem to be tearing us apart, it is easy to miss the things that point to wholeness and healing.  My great temptation—my personal demon—is to retreat into myself and miss the signals of support, love, and encouragement from others and get lost in negativity.  We each have our own distractions—our demons, if you will—that prevent us from seeing the pathway to healing.

            One of the spiritual tools that I’ve always wanted to more about is the Enneagram.  This is an ancient piece of wisdom in which there is a path of integration and a path of disintegration.  The path of integration leads to the life-giving choices I’ve spoken about; it leads to deeper engagement in one’s community and a deepening of relationships.  The path of integration leads us into our full humanity living out the Kin-Dom of God; the path of disintegration does the opposite.

            And it takes courage to embrace life in its fullness and journey the path of integration and healing.  Courage is that heart energy that seeks out others pursuing life in abundance.  That’s what we’re missing in not being together physically, the mutual support of one another to choose the way of life.  But, we persist in prayer, we use the resources available to us, and we—those of us here in worship—send our good wishes and blessings down the internet pathway to you all.

As I wrote this sermon, I was reminded of words by John O’Donohue, the late Irish spiritual writer; the poem/prayer that came to mind is called, “For Courage.”

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark

That is all you need
To nourish the flame
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold! [1]

Jesus leads us in just such a journey of life, discovery, and healing.  Jesus leads us back into community where the Kin-Dom of God comes fully alive.  Amen.

 


[1] From To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue, page 107.

 

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