January 31, 2021   What Do You Expect?, by Pastor David

Mark 1:21-28 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

In a moment of silence, we breathe deeply, noticing the presence of the Spirit in the music and word in this hour. Breathe it in and may the word speak to our souls. 

January 31, 2021 What Do You Expect? St. Luke

Last week, a friend told me that I had said something that really hurt a while back. My first reaction when I heard that was, "I never said that.” My second reaction was to apologize. My third reaction was to realize that there are more complicated dynamics going on than I want to admit and that I’d do well to reflect rather than to react one way or the other.

We all have times when we say something that we later regret - or something that we’re surprised, on reflection, to realize we said or did — or didn’t do. At least I assume all of us have experienced that. I don’t think I’m the only one around here who isn’t perfect. Sometimes we realize that we have a consistent way of saying or doing or not doing things that we regret. We notice a pattern of behavior that we don’t want to claim as our own. It doesn’t feel like who we really are.

Email has for me, been a real problem at times, because it’s so easy to write a response to somebody and send it immediately without thinking. More than once, I had second thoughts the next day about something that I wrote that was an immediate reaction rather than a a more considered response to somebody. 

These days some psychologists say that there are parts of ourselves that act differently than what our core self really wants to do. They say that we can notice those patterns or parts and slowly learn to not let them take over, not let them react harshly to a situation, to be present rather than to fight or run away. It’s not easy to do. 

We want to live with integrity and always live in line with our deepest beliefs, but every now and then somebody aggravates us so much. Then we might either blame them - feeling like they deserved it for provoking us or whatever they did - or we might blame ourselves - noticing that we did not really intend the words we spoke. Blame of other people or of ourselves doesn’t really work though. 

In Jesus’ time, they had a very literal way of thinking about these parts of people that act out of character. They talked about people having demons and they imaged those demons as beings that, as in this passage, could be cast out, or exorsized. In the Gospel of Mark, there are a bunch of stories in which Jesus heals people, about 4 of which include the kind of exorcism that we heard about in today’s reading that Charlie read for us. 

We don’t have quite the same understanding of demon possession that they had in the first century, but we know that demonic forces are still present in ourselves and in our midst. And we know that having a strong inner core and connection with the Spirit supports us in not giving in to parts of ourselves that are going where we really didn’t intend to go. Christ can still cast out demons, as several of the songs we are singing today, proclaim.

As I reflected on what happened in the riots at the Capitol three weeks ago, I realized is that I have been in crowds where the energy was really strong, maybe even violent, sweeping people along into things that at least some of them didn’t want to do. I remember one march I was in where people started chanting negative things about the police, some of whom were there helping to guard and protect people’s right to march. I understood where some of the anger was coming from, but I worried that it could take over and lead to some bad things happening. 

There are also some, of course, who actively plan or take advantage of that negative energy, who are totally caught up in anger and reactivity. How can the better angels of our nature take over and guide our actions and guide our community? If we expect the better angels of our nature to guide us we have to be aware of our susceptibility to the demons of reactivity and the patterns of passivity that we can sometimes give into. If we expect to build on the promise of beloved community, we need to cultivate the better angels with reflection, contemplation and practices of integrity, honesty, and courage.

I know some people are giving up hope that the better angels of anybody’s nature can win out in our broken culture. Some of us are starting to expect that things will go wrong. That’s where the promise of this passage brings us hope. The Living God is still casting out demons. Christ is still transforming lives. And that God energy will make a difference in our lives if we give ourselves to it. It doesn’t really work to point to somebody else’s demons you see, if we’re not letting Jesus cast out our own demons. 

I was telling Terri the other day that when I worked as a community organizer, we used to notice that if we had about 4% of any group moving in the same direction, it could change the direction of the whole group. That’s why active congregations of people can be so influential in a community, especially when we work together beyond our faith boundaries and differences, especially when we are actively engaged in contemplation, and connection with the Living God who silences unclean spirits in our mind and in our heart. 

The ancients knew something important - that a group can be controlled by the hidden demons or angels of their nature. That’s what they called them. We might call them the corporate personality, the character of a group or institution. Every group has that kind of character. When we get together and invite others to join us in prayer and active compassion and caring, we are building that kind of character that leads to healing of the whole body. 
May that activity of the Living God in our midst give us courage and hope. May that activity of the Living God make us faithful, true, and whole. This is God’s good news. 

Responsive hymn.  264  Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit