This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Feb. 1, though the end of this sermon is different than the one preached on Sunday.
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
The currently much maligned comedian, Bill Cosby once wrote, “Parents don’t want justice, they want peace, and quiet.”
As I anticipate the birth of our second child, I find this quote to be more true than my pre-kids, idyllic version, of what myself as a father would be would ever believe. I envisioned my children always listening and behaving, for the sake of listening and behaving, because it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t going to negotiate with my children, they would simply do as I said.
So, how’s that going you may ask? Well, Charlie just finished off another sticker chart and received another prize for the grand accomplishment of sleeping in his bed the entire night. And, while there is the benefit of more rest and sleep for him, the reason for the chart lies entirely in Charlie’s parents, and our inability to get him to empathize with us over how horrifying the sound of his feet pitter-pattering into our room at 2:30 in the morning really is.
Bribery, ignoring, distracting, and I’m sorry to admit, the occasional, little white lie, seem to be the stuff that parenting is made of.
But, if we’re on a roll of truth telling, I think we could change Bill Cosby’s quote just a little. Instead of Parents, we’ll say, “People don’t want justice, they want peace, and quiet.” Perhaps..the person of Bill Cosby is case-in-point for this.
We could take this approach to today’s Gospel lesson as well. There’s a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit. Possibly, this was nothing new, but instead of anyone risking the general peace and quiet by confronting this unclean spirit, folks in the synagogue just sort of put up with it.
We humans, put up with a lot of things that we shouldn’t, both in our own lives and the world, and we have an incredible capacity to do so, it’s called the power of denial,
the power of sin.
And so, when Jesus breaks onto the scene, all of a sudden, the unclean spirit, or spirits are afraid. Here is someone who is able to confront and deal with them. Here is someone in Jesus who is guided by the fact the peace…and quiet…are not possible without justice. Here is someone who’s very presence, is a threat to the unclean spirits of the world.
If you’re like me, this thought of Jesus, coming to deal with our unclean spirits, our sin, to put it another way, can seem a little threatening. This is because sin has a way of causing us to seek and desire peace and quiet in our lives as our top priority, rather than justice. We humans seek to be as successfully normal as possible, in whatever way that means in our lives. Of course we want justice, and the other gifts of God, as long as it means we can fit them into our lives and way of being, and especially into the relationships that we have with each other.
While in Orlando, for Stephen Leader training, I heard a person at my table describe a scene that reminded me of this Gospel story, and the ways we humans simply put up with, and adapt to our sin. This person, we’ll call him George, told me about a friend of his, a fellow brother in Christ, opening up to him about an extramarital affair. While this person was a good friend of his, George told me that he wasn’t the first person his friend went confided in, in fact, he said, his friend had not been anxious to talk to him at all. And, do you know what George, the nice, Christian man told his friend, it was something different than anyone else had told him, George said, “you need to stop this right now, and you need to tell your wife.” In essence, George was telling the unclean spirit haunting his friend, “Be silent, and come out of him.”
George told me that this event happened a while ago, and that it still affects his friend’s marriage, but, at least now this marriage, and George’s friend, could live again in truth and life, and not lies and deception.
Whether it is in how we parent, how we feel about celebrities we admire, or how we talk to our friends, often, we sacrifice justice, and truth, and righteousness for peace and quiet. But Jesus didn’t come here, Jesus isn’t here in this place, to give us peace and quiet. Jesus is here to give us peace, and justice, and love, and life, abundant life, and Jesus is uncompromising in his mission to do just that, and calls us to seek, and know, and love the truth of God so much, that we would be just as uncompromising. When Jesus is present, when we are present, the unclean spirits that bring hate, suffering, and death into this world run and hide.
But you know what, we’re human beings, and sin is much stronger than us, and it does a pretty good job in tricking us, isolating us, and bringing us pain and suffering. And so as much as Jesus is uncompromising when he deals with our unclean spirits, he is even more uncompromising in giving us his grace.
This past week, I presided at a funeral for a man named Bob, whom I had never met. At the funeral, Bob’s brother got up and spoke about his brother, who he turned to when he found out his son had an addiction to drugs. Bob’s brother told all of us, how his brother was always there to listen, to comfort, to support and share in the struggles of his family, he told us, how much his brother loved him, and his son, and he shared with us how his son has now been sober for a year and a half.
Through all things, Jesus is with us, and he is uncompromising, both with his truth, and with his grace. As we move forward, as we stumble forward, may we grow in our trust of Jesus, the Living Word of God, may we seek to hear his truth, not shy away from it, and may we endeavor to hold each other in the grace that holds us, the grace that dies for us, the grace that lovingly and authoritatively tells the sinful, unclean spirits of our lives and world, to beat it.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,