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  • Writer's pictureRev. Drew Stockstill

Possessed by the Holy Spirit

Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan - June 6, 2021

Mark 3:20-35

Jesus went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that Jesus and the disciples could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit. 31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Grace and peace to you from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

What do you think? Do you have to be a little crazy to preach the gospel? At the very least, you have to be willing to take a risk. When I read today’s gospel I thought, you have to be a little crazy to preach the gospel – to find the good news in these words! Then I thought, what is the alternative? Not to say anything?

We honor those who have gone before us who did take that risk. On April 29 the church commemorated St. Catherine of Siena who lived in the 1300’s. Catherine was a roman catholic and humanitarian who worked to alleviate the suffering of the poor and imprisoned. She was also a renewer of church and society and advised both popes and any persons who told her their problems.

I discovered a quote from her that seems to fit for today. She said, “Preach the word as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” While there are clearly times to be silent, it appears that preaching the gospel is better than simply saying nothing. In today’s gospel lesson from Mark, we learn that Jesus has been rather successful preaching. He has been proclaiming that the kingdom (reign) of God is at hand. And he is saying this by driving out demons and healing all kinds of people who have been ill. He has become so popular with the crowds that he can hardly get into any of the towns or even get a bite to eat. Jesus is a star. And yet, he does not really seem to fit in. I wonder if we had been there, would we have been pushing in to see him and reaching to touch his clothing.

His family is clearly worried about him, and the scripture suggests that they may think that he is out of his mind! Those who actually like Jesus are asking questions. The religious people have come from Jerusalem to see what is going on. And they come to the conclusion that he is casting out demons because he actually has one inside him.

What’s going on here? How can preaching, teaching, and healing create such controversy. As I read this lesson, I was reminded of a church I visited in Washington, DC in the 80’s when I had a Sunday off. (i was serving at the Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill at the time.) It was in a very distressed area of the city, but it was almost impossible to find a place to sit in the church. The chancel was huge, and the choir took up most of that area. You might think the contemporary music was drawing people in, but it was the pastor. He offered hope to those who had given up because of poverty and a life that seemed to offer nothing for the future. Actually when I visited there, it seemed obvious what was going on. The gospel was being preached. Those who appeared to be on the outside in that city of power and wealth, were on the inside in that parish/congregation.

So what was going on with Jesus? It may have been fairly simple. Jesus was nowhere near what the religious authorities expected of a rabbi. He didn’t fit into their categories of what a preacher should be. They came to the conclusion that he was crazy or possessed. Up to this point Jesus had been announcing a new vision of God and a new way of being in relationship with God. At the heart of that conviction was God is love.

And God desires the health and healing of all god’s creation. God stands with us and for us and is determined to love us and redeem us – no matter what the cost. This god chooses to be available to us – to all of us. Anyone and everyone.

The scriptures tell us that God wants us to have an abundant life. God wants that for us and for all of creation. That is clear in all of our lessons for today. Thats why God is taking on the demons and Satan. Jesus sets himself up against all the forces/powers that would rob us of that abundant life. Those powers might be unclean spirits; disease [such as corona virus] that ravages the mind, body, or spirit; illness that isolates and separates those who suffer from the rest of the community. Jesus introduces a new vision of God that not any of us, would expect.

In today’s gospel, those scribes have a problem. Let’s not judge them. They are part of a long tradition of people who have been faithful in their service to God. The problem is that Jesus does not conform to their structures. Jesus declares that the law is not about regulating our relationship with God but was given by God to help us get more out of life. So, Jesus heals whenever there is a need – even on the Sabbath. And he welcomes those who are excluded by religious restrictions or customs. And he does banish unclean spirits. Jesus points back to that unpredictable and merciful gracious god who is always making things new!

At the center of this marvelous passage is Jesus’ victory for the kingdom (reign) of God. He fights Satan to free god’s good creation. As we think about this story of Jesus, we see the story of the community in which the gospel was first told and read and proclaimed. We also are reminded of those who have met with resistance in following Jesus – St. Catherine and saints and martyrs through the ages as well as those we know perhaps in our own families and communities. This legacy of resistance includes many who are easily forgotten even though their influence may have been great at certain times in history. I was on a spiritual retreat a few years ago in Bangor, PA – near the Delaware water gap. It is called Kirkridge, and it is a place where many who have lost hope find their way through prayer and simply viewing the beauty of god’s creation. The strong spiritual leaders there include those who speak out for care of the earth and peace and justice

for all – some have had great influence – in some cases spending time in jail for their attempts to bring peace. [I am referring to the Harrisburg seven – a group of priests and nuns led by fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan and from the new catholic left who tried to end the Vietnam war.] As the rev. Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr., said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Darlis and Helene at Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center, Bangor, PA

Those people, and others like Jesus and his disciples may have lost mothers and fathers and siblings and houses and fields for the sake of the good news. And many may have felt that they were under threats by authorities as Jesus was. For those people through the ages – then and now, Jesus offers freedom, courage, and hope. And he did that even in the face of those who would kill him.

I asked you earlier if you thought we would have pressed in to see Jesus and touch his garments. Maybe we are doing that now. And if we are, we will find that Jesus has already claimed us as his siblings and mother, and we are no longer outsiders. We are drawn into the inner circle of mystery and love of God. Every week we confess that the god who created everything not only knows us but loves us. He loves us enough to send his son to demonstrate that by word and deed – even if it meant being killed.

We are possessed by the spirit of God! We are drawn into that circle of god’s family, a family founded neither through blood nor the law but through faith and the water of baptism that bears god’s spirit and is created by god’s holy spirit.

You have to be a little crazy to believe that message – maybe even possessed. Are we - like Jesus – “out of our minds”? I certainly hope so!

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