Sunday at Scarboro – January 28, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Out of the Deep I Called Unto Thee - Anyone Listening?

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore what we are being called to. Are you listening?

There will be an Indigenous & Non-Indigenous Women's Talking Stick Healing Ceremony in the Social Room at 1pm.


Out of the Deep I Called Unto Thee
January 28, 2018
Rev. Erin Klassen

We are still in the first chapter of Mark and already so much has happened:

  • John the Baptizer has appeared in the wilderness, calling for repentance and proclaiming the coming of Christ;
  • Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan, and declared beloved by God, only to be driven into the wilderness and tempted;
  • John is arrested;
  • Jesus travels to Galilee, proclaiming the good news, where he calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, then James and John.

All of this in only 20 verses. Which is the way that this Gospel is written, with a sense of urgency and immediacy - with lots of uses of words like immediately and suddenly. What takes place over several chapters in other Gospels, occurs over only a few verses in Mark. So the fact that we have this detail and description here, tells us that this is something that Gospel writer wants us to pay attention to, this is important.

This is the launch of Jesus’ public ministry, and his first time teaching in the synagogue. He begins by breaking boundaries and claiming his authority. His authority is different, not like those already teaching in the temple.

What is this authority and where does it come from?

It would seem that authority can be both earned and granted - through study, through experience, through age…  Jesus doesn’t have any of this and yet he speaks with authority. I imagine that the people were astounded not by his authority, but by his nerve. We can be fairly quick to dismiss God-given authority. One of my colleagues, the Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, makes a really interesting point here, she says:

We assume lack of experience, which in reality is lack of someone with our experience.[1]

When I read this sentence, I had one of those “aha” moments. It took me straight back to my candidacy days when in my early twenties, discerning and working toward my call to ministry and couldn’t get through a single church meeting or interview without the topic of “life experience” being raised. I think it was equally frustrating for the people on another side of the conversation. I was young, I was rash, I didn’t always think things through, but that didn’t mean that I still wasn’t called. Now I feel the need to note, I’m not saying that I’m like Jesus, but I’m saying that this description of him beginning his ministry really resonates with me.

Jesus came from the people but didn’t speak like the teachers and prophets that they were used to. He didn’t behave in ways that were expected of him. He broke boundaries. He wasn’t in the synagogue in any official capacity, but here he was reforming it from within. As Rev. Welton-Mitchell goes on to note:

Being open to the Spirit requires us to experience God-given authority from people we are not used to, especially when we are used to being in power, determining who speaks on behalf of God.

As is the theme today, it requires a breaking down of barriers. It requires change.

Ugh, change.

Our response is much like the person with the unclean spirit.

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?

Which might be a bit of an exaggeration, but still, we resist.

We don’t want to know what we already know. This is the Holy One from God, calling us to be different, to break boundaries, within our own hearts and then in our society.

He’s not just calling, he’s rebuking us. Rebuking the evil that has taken hold of us.

Yep, evil.

In the United Church, we like to talk about that even less than we like to talk about change.

Different translations use different descriptions, of an unclean or evil spirit or even a demon. Now, a lot can be made of demons. Are we talking about actual, literal, spiritual beings? Are we picturing some terrifying being with horns and wings and fangs? Are we talking about figurative demons in the same way we still talk of demons in a psychoanalytical way?

What, exactly, is a demon? What do we mean by an evil or unclean spirit?

I appreciate the description/definition provided by Rob McCoy and Eric Fistler on their Pulpit Fiction podcast. It is, they say, a manifestation of that which is ungodly. A destructive force that somehow holds power over us. Examples could include: gun violence, racism, or addiction. It is difficult to both unpack and understand, and even harder to counter against.[2]

Which is where Jesus comes in.

He doesn’t ignore the evil, hoping that it will go away, or leave him alone. Rather, he calls it out. He claims his authority, his prophetic voice and speaks the truth. And he demands that we recognize our own complicity in presence of such evil. Jesus is the one with the authority to make the reign of God know - a reign which breaks down barriers which have done nothing but restrain God’s creation and prevent it from flourishing. The people (including us) look on in awe and fear.

Because we know that the short answer to our question: Have you come here to destroy us? Is yes.

Jesus has come to break down the barriers that we have put between ourselves and others, ourselves and God. What he wants from us is to acknowledge that which has power over us, so that we can be freed from it. It is going to be hard and messy work. The unclean spirit did not go gently, it convulsed violently and shrieked loudly. Unpacking and dismantling oppression is not easy. But we already know this too. Which is why we have allowed so many systems that deny the dignity of our fellow human beings to flourish for far too long.

For a very long time, there have been voices crying out for justice. Voices that we have systematically ignored or dismissed or oppressed. That can’t happen anymore. We need to listen. We need to listen to families who want answers, for their mothers and daughters, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. We need to listen to the pain and harm that has been caused by government and church sanctioned residential schools. We need inform ourselves on issues of racism, sexism, and intersectionality. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions or inactions, to acknowledge wrongdoing and work toward what is right.

Rachael Denhollander is a strong and resilient person, who spoke truth to power. In doing so, she claimed her own authority and broke down barriers, leading to a reckoning in the international sports community. She speaks with a prophetic voice when she called us to action:

Far too often, our commitment to our political party, our religious group, our sport, our college or a prominent member of our community causes us to choose to disbelieve or to turn away [from the victim]. Far too often, it feels easier and safer to see only what we want to see. Fear of jeopardizing some overarching political, religious, financial or other ideology — or even just losing friends or status — leads to willful ignorance of what is right in front of our own eyes, in the shape and form of innocent and vulnerable children.

Ask yourself: How much is a child worth?

Every decent human being knows the answer to that question. Now it is time to act like it.

Those are powerful and convicting words.

As decent human beings and as followers of Christ, we are called to reform, and to change - ourselves and our society.

The work will be the casting down of oppressive structures, the casting out of evil.

The result will be liberation for all people, ourselves included, to be who and how God made us to be.

It will be nothing short of a miracle. It will be the work of God in us and through us.

I invite you to take a minute to consider what boundaries need breaking in your own heart or life. How, and for what, are you being freed?

We know who you are, O Christ. You are the one who silences demons.

You are the one who casts out evil. You are the one who creates new life out of chaos.

Forgive us when we act otherwise and set us free to follow you.

[1] http://rev-o-lution.org/2018/01/19/worship-resources-for-january-28th-2018-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany/

[2] https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/epiphany4b


 

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