Shaping Our View of the Christian Life

Scriptures: Mark 1:21-28

Let us pray:

We are instruments of God’s grace.  May these words and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

I wonder how many of you have read any of the late Marcus Borg’s work?  Numerous books by his hand have given us different perspectives on theology and Christian community, the Scriptures, the Christian tradition, indeed even Jesus himself.  I have only just begun to read some of his many works.  A quote from the Center for Action and Contemplation last week re-posted a quote of his that gripped me as I compared today’s scripture lesson with this week’s reading assignments for class.  Borg is quoted as saying,

[H]ow we see Jesus . . .  shapes what we think the Christian life is most centrally about.”[1]

One of the works we are reading for this semester is the book Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries by Gerald L. Sittser.  Historical Followers of Jesus – no matter how eccentric, have some insights for us as we shape our view of what it means to be Followers of Jesus today.  Take the desert fathers and mothers, for example.  Let me give you a little background:

These followers of Jesus left their predominantly Christian culture – a time and place in the waning of the Roman Empire where Christianity had become an accepted state religion – and took a hard look at the earliest forms of worship and following Jesus that they had available to them, and compared it to the secular Roman Christianity that had developed since the time of Constantine.  “The desert saints chose to live in the desert to reclaim a faith that had become too easy and convenient,” writes Sittser.[2]  A guiding theme for most of the desert saints was the idea that, “the Christian life requires struggle against the darkness that resides in the heart, epitomized by the egoism that runs rampant in every human being.”[3]

Egoism you may ask?  Haven’t we been aware of that and dealt with it in a life of humility and basic common sense being neighborly with one another, accepting others different from ourselves, and realizing that there are many different ways of being in the world, even if there is but one God, Creator of all?  Good question.  Have we learned to be truly neighborly, accepting, loving, and open-minded?

One of our contemporary traps is “…read the Bible with an eye to prove [our] understanding of … Jesus so that our ideas and our church are right—and others are wrong. If we are honest enough to admit this bias, we may have a chance of letting go of it for a richer understanding of the Gospel,” writes Richard Rohr.[4]

I wonder, if we had a slightly better understanding of the world Mark’s faith community inhabited, we might glean new insights for our community of faith today?  Let’s try a comparison, of sorts, and see.

“Like the synagogue spectators, most modern readers are “amazed” (thambeomai, 1:27) by this story or story within a story; but they are “amazed” not by Jesus’ “powerful” teaching. In fact, most modern readers would argue that Jesus does not “teach” at all in this text, at least not in any traditional understanding of the term. Instead, readers today are “amazed” by the interior story of the exchange between an anonymous and mute man and a noisy gang of demons who reinforce what Mark first tells readers as his Gospel begins (see 1:1): Jesus is the “Holy One of God” (v. 24).

For characters in this story, this face–to–face meeting with demons in the synagogue is all about teaching—teaching that all things demonic are on their way out, including the demonic hold on religious life sanctioned by synagogue and temple (see 13:1). While some readers may respond to this story by asking, “Are there really such things as demons?” the characters in Mark’s story do not focus on demons, or on what they have to say, or how Jesus effectively exorcises them. The characters are amazed by this new teacher whose words carry with them power to make the unclean, clean.”[5]

“…Amazed by [a] teacher whose words carry with them power to make the unclean, clean.”  That is an interesting comparison, isn’t it?  The community of Mark’s time took for granted demonic possession yet our time thinks of that and gets tripped up focusing on it to the point of trying to reinterpret their belief for our time.  But the true power of the teaching is in the making clean – setting afflicted ones on a new path of unafflicted; setting sinners on a path of holiness, where all things become transformed under God’s reign.

Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, writes,

“I recognize that talk of evil and demons and unclean spirits does not resound with familiarity in our day and time.  In fact, it sounds a little nutty.  However, reading the daily news renders it difficult to deny that darkness is pervasive and requires nothing less than God’s intervention to bring light and wholeness.  The challenge isn’t to find the evil, rather it is to see th eplaces where the formally possessed are clothed and in their right mind and then to celebrate that wholeness, not disbelieve it or be afraid of it or beg Jesus to leave our neighborhood because of it.

This week’s Gospel lesson is about Jesus, not about us, though.  Our role in this story is limited.  Those who witnessed Jesus’ astounding teaching and power showed up to worship and then talked about what they experienced.  They asked one another what it might mean and then they told others who had not seen for themselves about this extraordinary teacher.  They spoke the truth about what had transpired, proclaiming that even the unclean spirits obey him.  Surely, they were not the same after such an encounter with the Holy One of God, even if they could not fully understand or explain what happened.  Is not the same true for us?”

In categories of scripture, commentators call today’s pericope a miracle passage, not a healing passage, although healing happens.  But what does this passage actually mean for us?  It meant teaching with authority to the original readers.  It means making clean that which was unclean.  It means setting one afflicted man on a new path with a clean slate.  But all of this occurs because of what Jesus says with his words.  In short, what really happens here is utter transformation at the hand – or should I say mouth? – of Jesus.  Transformation; I submit that is the key take away for us in this passage for today.  As such, it has its own power in our lives to guide how we shape our view of the Christian Life.  What is the Christian Life?  Faith seeking understanding and spiritual formation – which includes transformation of our very human tendencies to become focused on anything but God and returning us to focus on God.  Jesus of Nazareth, a very real man, showed us what true divinity in human form could look like.  When we focus on Jesus, in our witness to the world around us we truly become the body of Christ, reflecting the divine implanted within us and around us. It is how we can become Christ one for another.  The more and more we live into mutual Christlikeness, the more we are actively shaping our common Christian life together, and the more Christ lives again in the world.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Center for Action and Contemplation, in their email of Tuesday, January 16, 2018, to the weekly summary subscriber list (https://cac.org/who-was-jesus-2018-01-16/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-01-20%20DM&utm_content=2018-01-20%20DM+CID_46bfacc895f40dd8402fdfa535d6e734&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor%20Google%20Analytics&utm_term=Tuesday)

[2] Gerald L. Sittser, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007) 82

[3] Ibid. 82

[4] Center for Action and Contemplation, in their email of Tuesday, January 16, 2018, to the weekly summary subscriber list (https://cac.org/who-was-jesus-2018-01-16/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-01-20%20DM&utm_content=2018-01-20%20DM+CID_46bfacc895f40dd8402fdfa535d6e734&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor%20Google%20Analytics&utm_term=Tuesday)

 

[5] Gary W. Charles, “Exegetical Perspective, Mark 1:21-28” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Questions for Reflection

What is the name of the demon, the spirit, the idolatry you carry? If you can think of this answer as many “troubles,” try to find the root cause, a name to give to that which needs to be cast out. The answer may take different forms throughout the week. You may also consider the same question with regard to your family and to this nation. What is the Holy One casting out today in your presence?

Household Prayer: Morning

In the light of your new day, O God, I rise to greet you always on the path in front of me. Let me follow with integrity where you will lead. Give me courage to know the difference between what is false and what is true. Teach me to love my neighbor as you love me. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Heavenly Father, you are the power above all powers, the healer who knows our every need. You have guided me throughout this day and now give me sleep to renew my tired body and mind. Guard me and keep me in your care. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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