There was a woman I knew a long time ago who used to wrestle with bad dreams.
She’d come to work so many mornings and talk about her nightmares.
She was always trying to interpret them.
Do you know anyone like this?
Her dreams always seemed to be about some devil figure trying to break into her house and get her.
Or they would be chasing her down a dark alley where she was really vulnerable and alone.
Awful dreams to have.
Maybe we have those dreams too, but when she talked about her dreams, she would always say this:
“I think Satan is out to get me.”
Now, my friend grew up in a family that had a dad who was Catholic and a mom who practiced Santeria, which was like Catholicism and Voodoo put together, if you can imagine that…
And she loved watching horror movies — the really horrific ones about demons and zombies…
So thoughts of evil spirits and forces for her were a little more “accessible” than maybe how we Christians think about it.
Especially when it comes to dream interpretations.
Regardless, one day, after rehashing one of these dreams, I said to her:
Do you really think that Satan is trying to scare you into following him?
When has that ever worked?
Can you scare someone into loving them?
Real, true, Biblical love…
You see, Satan doesn’t walk around trying to scare us into joining him;
Satan blurs God’s reality so that we think the bad things we do are OK.
Evil recognizes God’s authority and challenges it.
We know that in every instance of when we sin.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of that.
But Satan wants to blur those lines and those decisions for us.
To distract us into a certain complacency or acceptance.
And when we do accept sin and engage in it, we break our covenant with God.
God cannot possibly bless or sanctify these decisions we make or these actions we choose to engage in.
And when we do, we lose our connection to God.
We are what I refer to so often here from the pulpit as broken.
Our relationship with God is severed.
And when that happens, we must seek forgiveness, otherwise, we remain broken.
We do this only through Jesus Christ, who made a way with his death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb in order to take our sins away by paying a blood price for them, and then showing us the proof.
Satan is trying to break us from that relationship.
And there’s no way we’re going to be bullied or scared into relenting to it; that’s just silly.
No, Satan’s offers are always covered in fool’s gold.
I wanted to lead into today’s sermon with this thought in mind:
How does the power of evil challenge Jesus’s authority — that might seem obvious, but it really isn’t always (otherwise, why would we still wrestle with it)?
and so also what does that mean for our lives in the world today?
Because surely, in our reading today in Mark Gospel, 1.21-28, we see Satan’s challenge to Jesus and we watch and learn from Jesus how we stand strong against evil.
If there’s one thing about Mark’s Gospel — it’s short.
And because it’s so short and tightly packed, we don’t see a lot of dissertation and commentary about what Jesus is doing;
we learn from Jesus’s examples.
In other words, Jesus’s teaching in Mark’s Gospel is on what Jesus does more than than what everyone else says about it.
I like reading Mark for this reason.
So what do we see here?
Jesus is in Capernaum, which is at the top of the Sea of Galilee.
So we’re north of Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown, and we’re far north of Jerusalem.
Jesus is beginning his ministry.
He’s gathered his disciples, and he’s been teaching in and around Jerusalem, and now up in the greater Galilee areas.
The word is spreading slowly.
And so Jesus is in the synagogue up there.
The synagogue is simple a building or probably a larger house where Jews gathered to worship God and to learn the Law.
And so it makes sense that the Pharisees were there, since they knew all the Jewish laws and would teach them.
But Jesus is teaching today, and those gathered — including the Pharisees — are amazed that Jesus isn’t just teaching the Law, but his authority in the character of God is off the charts…
And it’s while they’re all intently listening to Jesus that a man with what we call an unclean spirit shouts:
“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.”
Again, it’s early in Jesus’s ministry, and Jesus doesn’t want to get the ball rolling so quickly on his crucifixion, and he doesn’t want a whole lot of fame…
Remember that word, fame, because we’ll come back to it…
And so immediately, Jesus silences the man, and the unclean spirit comes out.
Everyone’s amazed and turn to each other and ask about this new teaching.
And, in the last verse, we see these words: “At once his fame began to spread through the surrounding region of Galilee.”
The cost of following
I like that this is the first healing we read about in Mark’s Gospel.
Because it shows us a few things, and in light of what we’re talking about today, it shows us specifically:
There is a cost for following Jesus; and
That cost is our willingness to approach the people and places we want to avoid at all cost — what we might call the unapproachable.
You see, Jesus could have easily just ignored the man with the unclean spirit.
What am I saying here: Jesus could have showed us that we should just avoid evil.
Remember, Mark doesn’t have commentary here; Jesus’s actions are his teachings.
That’s Jesus’s lesson to those in the synagogue then, and it’s a lesson to us in our synagogue today…
Jesus doesn’t walk away from this evil in front of him; so let’s look at what he does:
So he doesn’t run or even turn away; instead, Jesus is compassionate.
How? He listens.
He lets the man — or unclean spirit — speak, even though Jesus doesn’t want this “fame” right now.
Then, Jesus heals.
He approaches, he listens, and then Jesus heals.
This isn’t just some sick person in a hospital or even a dying person on their deathbed.
This isn’t even a drunk out on the street or a drug dealer in prison.
To so many of us, we’d rather not approach those situations.
This is a man caught up — possessed — in so much evil, that the unclean spirit refers to himself as “us” — verse 24: “What have you done with us?” he asks.
In our world today, this man would be unapproachable.
Remorseless murderer, or rapist or pedophile. Or all those things.
We surely wouldn’t approach him — even if he was in the midst of our church, our synagogue.
Instead, we’re the same people who might even want him executed.
I understand that.
Just watch the news on TV…
I understand that.
Yet Jesus approaches him.
He listens to him.
And he heals him.
A long time ago, I learned that it’s not what the person says or does, it’s why he or she says or does it.
We have created and passively endorsed systems in our society that, unfortunately indirectly and sometimes directly condone and even enable evil:
When we fail to rehabilitate people, and instead, just incarcerate them and then let them go after their time in jail as if they were children in a time-out;
When our churches fail to be strong Christian examples in the world by ministering primary to their own congregations or discriminating between who is and who isn’t worth our help;
Or when our helping them simply enables them to stay trapped in a system that they have no incentive to escape;
By continuing to elect and support lawmakers who create policies and laws that oppress people who are different than we are;
When we allow and condone systems that discriminate against women, people of color, the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, or when we put reckless value on idols of affluence, athletic abilities, and then condone rape culture and apathy.
When we do this, we are failing to approach evil in the world, and we are failing not only what Jesus models for us, but we are failing God’s will for our lives in this world.
We are noting helping to build God’s Kingdom; we are working to tear it down!
You know I love to preach about social justice — or maybe I just feel like I have to.
Somehow, you ended up with a developing Liberation Theologist leading this flock.
You hear me talk in so many sermons about these issues…
But that’s the Good News, isn’t it? Jesus came for the lost and lowly.
Everyone here, at some point in your lives, has to be able to define what the Good News of Jesus Christ is.
And I hope a lot of people ask you that — your family, your friends, your colleagues and just people you run into and ask because of something you did or something you said alluded to the fact that you follow Jesus Christ.
Because for me, the Gospel — this Good News — means that we have been saved from our brokenness and through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have been reunited with our Creator, who loves us so much that he would give his one and only Son for the forgiveness of our sins so that we all — all of us — could live the kingdom life, widen the circle of the kingdom and enter God’s presence eternally when our lives on this earth is completed.
Not because of the acts that we do, but ONLY because of God’s grace and endless love for us.
We don’t have to do anything to earn that.
We just have to say “I will follow.”
And — this is going to sound ridiculously simple — but that should make us joyful.
Imagine at the end of a long, hard day. Like the worst day that you’ve had in a long, long time.
On the way home, you’re just mad and sad, and you’re impatient in traffic. You avoid people. You might even be thinking some really bad thoughts, you are too bitter to even pray, and maybe that makes you feel even worse.
You get home, and there waiting for you is someone — a friend, a spouse, a child, a family member.
And they have a present for you.
It’s not a holiday, no anniversary. It’s not your birthday.
And it’s extravagant.
It’s what you’ve always wanted.
And the first thing you can say is “Why? What did I do to deserve this today?”
And the answer comes back, “Because I love you, and I think the world of you, and I just wanted to make you happy.”
This is the picture of grace.
This is God’s grace for you.
It’s an amazing and undeserved gift — even if we’ve just been rotten and ugly.
That doesn’t matter. God understands.
And says “I still love you.”
Can’t earn that.
And so because of this incredible and undeserved gift, how do you act?
Well, after the tears and the “I’m sorry’s” and all that, it’s joy.
And so do you go back to having a scowl on your face?
Aren’t all those things that wrecked your day just sort of overshadowed by this gift and love?
Doesn’t your very expression and perspective change drastically?
And you smile…
And you walk down the street, and you’re smiling now.
Because you know you’re loved.
This is what Jesus models.
How joyful is it to have your brokenness — your sins — wiped away and, instead, being given the most amazing gift ever?
Maybe we even take it for granted.
And so when we condone systems of oppression — systems of evil — in the world, we’re failing not only to be obedient to Christ;
we’re failing feel the joy of that gift of God’s endless love for us.
Those surrounding Jesus say in Verse 27, “What is this? A new teaching — and with authority!”
Jesus shows us this, because we can look around our world today in light of God’s amazing grace and totally walk past Jesus’s lesson.
We don’t approach evil in this world to fix it;
and when we see those good people who do dare to step into the trenches, we might say, ““What is this? A new teaching?”
Jesus says, “No. Remember when I showed you….? I did that for you.”
As we conclude this today, think hard about this:
We are here today because of the Good News.
God saved us through his Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
God saved us — when we didn’t deserve it;
when we sinned;
when we were broken from God’s covenant.
And you know what?
Jesus approached us first.
We’re all sinners; we all need a savior, amen?
Thank God that Jesus approaches us.
And let us never forget that as we leave the comfort of this place and head outside into cold, dark and seemingly unapproachable world.
let it be through God’s Spirit that we find the courage, the strength and the JOY to make that approach.