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Sunday 31 January 2021


Setting people free

Mark 1:21-28


By Deirdre Brower Latz

Principal of Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, and one of the preaching team in congregations in Longsight, and Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester

Context: a congregation from a range of ages/backgrounds in a multicultural urban church in Manchester; many of the congregation are impoverished. A Eucharist Service

Aim: to encourage the congregation to consider a combination of their discipleship, Christ’s identity and the nature of freedom

Scripture invites us to consider whose we are and to wrestle with our identity in Christ. Here in Mark’s Gospel we’re called to consider the good news of God, and the arrival of God’s kingdom. That’s the beginning: The holy one; with his holy, and wholly unexpected, followers; on the holy day; going into a holy place; to open the holy book and speak.

This story in Capernaum isn’t comfortable. It’s excruciating on several fronts.

1. Who is Jesus anyway? He’s an unexpected guest speaker, in the teaching seat, unlocking the scroll and whatever he’s saying, it’s FRESH. The synagogue listeners – including four visiting fishermen whose whole identity has been left behind for one of discipleship – are shocked. There’s tension, drama, the people are astounded. Something about Jesus has interrupted mental to-do lists. Eager ears and bodies leaning in – what’s he saying? He’s changing the world with his words.

2. And then, there’s the public moment every speaker dreads. The possessed, unclean-spirited person raucously shouts out – interrupts with excruciating tortured words: the shout of pain, and plea. The man (you realise) isn’t unclean, he’s possessed by that which is – a demon – something evil that has ‘swallowed him’ from the spiritual realm. His shouts identify Jesus: What do you want with us? Do you want to destroy us? I know who you are … I HAVE SEEN WHO YOU ARE…THE HOLY ONE OF GOD. In this moment, evil is seeking to name Jesus and gain power, doing what it does best, breaking in to create chaos; spread anxiety; warp goodness, But, in this moment, evil declares something true. Jesus is the holy one. Not a, not one of, but THE. Meanwhile, the shout lingers …

3. Can you imagine the gasps? I wonder if the leaders tried to throw him out, like bouncers. I wonder if his wife sank to her knees in torment. I wonder if his little boy was fearful as his father became unrecognisable. I wonder if a circle emerged around him – something dread in their midst – might it be contagious? I wonder … But, it happens in a flash. The tormented shout. The identification of Jesus as holy, as something MORE … ‘Have you come to destroy us?’

4. And then, the voice. The Word speaks. The words spoken: ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ The rebuke, sharp, concise, and uncompromising; no mumbo-jumbo here. The evil spirit, the demon, addressed and conquered. In the presence of Jesus, no evil has power: he’s no mere exorcist, the evil realm is defeated. Jesus demonstrates here, in this worshipping place, that he is who he is. That, in fact, the best answer to ‘have you come to destroy us’, if the ‘us’ in that sentence is evil, darkness, chaos-creating, pain-giving spirit – the best answer is yes!

5. The man, now dis-possessed, is juddering, throwing his body around, convulsed. He’s released, liberated, clean, empty of evil, free to be fully himself – his life, reputation, community restored. The demon didn’t go quietly – of course, but it DID GO.

6. Everyone else, now they really have something to talk about! This man, who seemed already to have authority – it’s not just what he says, it’s what he does – his authority is rooted: when the Word speaks, it comes to pass. They are amazed, and they gossip: Jesus’ fame grows. The people are stunned by him, a new miracle-maker – but in this story anyway, that doesn’t translate into revival, following, or obedience. It translates into bursts of news door to door, the first-century equivalent of a viral tweet.

7. What does this story mean? As disciples, whom we follow is Jesus. He has authority, and he comes to set people free. He’s profoundly good news – and his being, his life, his teaching and his actions here remind us that ‘God reigns, God is here.’ Even demons speak truth when he’s in the room: he is from Nazareth – that’s his parentage; and he is the holy one of God – that’s his present and his future.

But we’re asked to grapple with some challenging questions:
What possesses us, holds us captive?
What brokenness, captivity, or oppression, possesses people around us?
What possesses the church? Power? Racism? Misogyny? Wealth? Fear?

Whatever the answer to those questions, in the middle of a worshipping community – the synagogue here, and the church in our lives – the holy and messy intersect. There’s something right about broken people drawn to a place of worship. Something wrong about the reality that in this place of worship, his brokenness still rules him. And something beautiful and hopeful in that Jesus sets him free.

God shows up and liberates and heals broken people. God is HERE. The Holy Spirit is at work to release the captives. This is a good news story!

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