21They 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, convulsing him 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.
Have you noticed anything about the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel compared to say St. Matthew? Mark’s Gospel is rushing right along. No birth narrative … just John the Baptist; baptism; desert; and boom right into ministry.
We are still only in the first chapter of Mark and by verse 25 we have two accounts of Jesus’ ministry: His teaching in the synagogue and an exorcism. The exorcism has flashes of the dramatic, the miraculous about it, and draws our attention. But judging from the opening and closing of the passage, it doesn’t seem to be the focus of the story. Instead, Mark refers us to Jesus’ teaching. The exorcism underlines his authority to teach.
The crowds confirm this emphasis, for we are told they were “astounded at his teaching,” because he taught as “one having authority and not as the scribes.” “And the unclean spirit cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?’ And Jesus said, “You better believe it!”
If we skip ahead a few chapters to Mark 3:13 we read of Jesus appointing the twelve disciples to do the same. These disciples were the beginnings of the church. That is, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to first preach the gospel, and secondly, to cast out demons.
Personally, I find it is much easier to preach about being born again, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, love, joy and peace than it is to dwell “too” much on the second part of fighting evil in our world. But that too is the Gospel. For the demon possessed man THAT WAS the Good News!
In one of my favourite movies, A Few Good Men, there is a powerful scene in this movie where Navy Lieutenant Commander Jo Galloway (Demi Moore), a lawyer, is helping to defend two Marines on trial for murder. Standing at the back of the court room is asked: why she likes these guys so much? And she replies: “Because they stand on a wall, and they say ‘nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch’.”
I think that is what we see in our passage today from Mark. Jesus goes into the synagogue, stands against the Evil One and says to the man: Nothing is going to hurt you tonight … not on my watch! Jesus didn’t stray away from evil. He saw it, confronted it and dealt with it.
There’s an old Aboriginal story about an Elder who was instructing some young men about the struggle within. “It is like two dogs fighting inside of us,” the Elder told them. “There is one good dog who wants to do the right thing and the other dog wants to do the wrong thing. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight.”
“Who is going to win in the end?” a young man asks. The one you feed,” the Elder answered.
The only food available to feed the good dog within us comes from above. It comes from outside of us. It’s the food of hope and grace whose authority comes only from God. We do not have the power to overcome evil on our own. In fact, left to our own devices we will choose evil more often than not.
Have you noticed that the more the power of evil is rooted in your life and the more the power of evil is rooted in our culture, it is more difficult to remove? Just ask someone who is fighting against the demons of addictions: alcohol, substance abuse, pornography, how hard it is to fight it on their own.
It doesn’t take much to look around us and see that our society, and elements of our culture are driven by evil. As a society, as a culture, as individuals we have been feeding the wrong dog. And evil has been growing and thriving in our culture.
Now, by demon possession, I am not talking about the stuff that makes movies like The Exorcist, with all the craziness that scared people for generations. I had nightmares for weeks. I am not talking about the made for movies kind of stuff. It is when the power of evil possesses a culture and individual lives in a culture, in a society. For example, Germany during World War II was a demon possessed, evil culture. It wasn’t simply Hitler who was demon possessed but enough segments of that nation became possessed by the power of evil. Otherwise, how could six million Jews be exterminated? How could that happen if a culture had not become evil? When good people do nothing and try not to know about the evil that is going on all around them.
Words are powerful and can be used for either great good or to cause great evil. We saw the power of words as insurrection hit the capital building in the USA on January 6th.
January 27 is International Holocaust Memorial Day. I believe it was the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, in a speech about the holocaust once said:
“The evidence of what people are capable of doing to each other when we forget to love our neighbour as ourself is very clear here. As Christians we need to remember that appallingly evil things such as the Holocaust start with whispers, and then progress when good people fail to speak out. The Church and all the good people in it, for the large part (with a few notable exceptions) either failed to make what was happening their business or were too afraid to speak out and say this is wrong, this is evil. All of us have a Godly responsibility to never let this horror be forgotten and most importantly to never allow it to be repeated.”
Or, the Stalin years when millions of people were killed. The list is huge. We continue to see it in our culture, in our society. Today all we have to do is look at Terrorism and ISIS. Or the mob riots stirred by white supremacy and racism.
I often wonder if we have not become somehow numb to the state of our own towns and cities. The poverty that has struck so many! Where evil has overtaken the lives of people with addictions, substance abuse, home violence, murders. The growing evil in our society seen in the sex trafficking of young girls and women. When we lived in Terrace BC the highway out of town towards Prince George was called the Highway of Tears because of all the young girls who went missing over the years and the tragic thousands of women who have gone missing in the last number of years all across our country. The huge number of young adults who have become hooked on crystal meth and opioids. We are in a crisis but we don’t know what to do about it.
As a society we have become numb to the awareness of how the evil one has been playing havoc on the lives of individuals through poverty, addictions, violence and abuse.
Sometimes I feel like we are standing on the wall and we are powerless to do anything. It is happening on my watch and evil is winning. Too often we stand by and see our friends and family members feeding the wrong dog in their lives.
But I assure you the battle is not over. There is hope. Mark, Chapter 1 gives us that HOPE!
We aren’t merely looking back on Jesus’ authoritative words and being inspired by them. Through his death Resurrection and Ascension He is present with us now, still speaking and acting with an authority that overcomes evil. Jesus promised us that he would never leave us or forsake us, but is with us. That He would send us His Holy Spirit, the advocate.
One of the greatest preachers of the 20th Century was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When I googled King’s speeches, I found a marvelous video of one of his most powerful sermons. Maybe as good as the “I Have a Dream Speech” he gave in Washington DC. In the old black and white video King presents words of hope
– words of hope to people who lived 60 years ago – and yet is so powerful today. He spoke to our past, but he speaks to our present and future as well, as he draws on Jesus’ authority and challenges us to live lives based on equality, non-violence and love – even for our enemies. His life and words show us just how powerful Jesus’ words are as they strengthen us in our present and future struggles against the evil that would fragment the human community into competitive and combative factions.
King’s message for us today rings true as it once did in Montgomery, Alabama. He said:
“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, because you will reap, what you sow.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice
How long? Not long, because
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
It is in the voice of preachers such as Dr. King where we can hear the authoritative voice of the One who stood up in the synagogue to teach and whose words could drive out evil. Such power and authority were reflected in King’s words as he confronted war, racism, violence and injustice and his words still help us in our ongoing struggle to drive out these unclean spirits.
*Whose words have authority over our lives?
*Whose words and actions have the power to sway us and call us to righteous living?
*Who influences our conscience enough to cause us to change our ways and take up life in God’s reign?
*Who gives us perspective and glasses to look out at our world and helps us find the good and reject the evil?
*Whose words give us hope of revival?
*Whose words give us hope of change?
*Whose words give us words of hope?
For us Christians, Jesus’ words have such authority for us!
And so today, we stand here in St. Andrews. Maybe not literally, but figuratively. There is a call for each of us to stand together on the wall …
To fight the fight against evil in our society.
To fight against the stronghold of poverty, addictions, abuse, violence; the evil that has taken grasp of the lives of so many people.
I ask that you stand with me as we ask Jesus to come and bring revival and renewal into our Parish, into our community of St. Andrews. We stand against the evil that has fed the wrong dog in our lives and we stand on the wall with Jesus and say: Nothing is going to hurt you tonight … not on my watch!