We are part of the Uniting church in Australia. We are a welcoming and respectful congregation with our developing Garden at the centre of our ministry and a broad and inclusive theology. We are on a journey that respects all faith journeys and are led by the teachings of Jesus the radical. We enjoy an interactive questioning style of worship.
It can be helpful to place the four gospel
writers side by side for comparison. What is Jesus’ first public act in his
ministry according to each Gospel? You want to know who Jesus is and not wait
until the end of the story? Then take a look at his first public act in each of
the Gospels and then ask, “according to that, just who is Jesus anyway?”
Matthew? The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, the amazing teacher! Luke? A
well-received sermon in his hometown until people realize to whom he was
actually referring when he talked about the poor and the oppressed and try to
thrown him off a cliff. John? A sign of God’s abundance. Water into wine 20-30
gallons, filled to the brim, of the best wine.
And Mark? In the gospel of Mark Jesus begins his ministry
with an exorcism. In the story in Mark 1:21-28 Jesus heals a man who is
struggling with a wounded spirit. When I read the story I struggle with the
language and the argument between the ‘evil’ spirit and Jesus, but underneath
that ancient understanding of mental illness is a deep desire of Jesus to bring
health and wholeness to a person in distress and pain. What does that say about
Jesus and about God? In Mark, Jesus is a healer. His authority and his holiness
is recognized in his desire to bring wholeness and to heal.
We live in a world longing for healing. Apart
from the obvious Coronavirus epidemic, we look for healing in many ways both
traditional and alternative. We seek healing for physical ailments, for mental
illness, for our griefs and distress and for a world torn apart by injustice,
by war and by environmental destruction. Jesus came into a time when people
also longed for healing and in Mark’s gospel he begins his ministry with an
exorcism yes, but more so by reaching out to a tortured soul and bringing
peace. And this healing is one that makes a statement and the statement is that
God is present to us in our pain. Even our brokenness cannot keep us apart from
Our brokenness recognizes the face of
God as the spirit in this story recognizes God in Jesus. And this spirit also
recognizes that it is the will of God to bring wholeness and healing. Jesus
sees a broken and painful life and brings health and wholeness.
Jesus the Exorcist seems the only
logical first ministry act for Jesus in Mark — not a sermon, not a miracle, but
a healing. Jesus steps into the world of other spirits, the potent power of
possession and saying, “God is here;” breaking through the barrier that separates
us in our brokenness from The divine presence. In the places where we feel God
can never be, God is.
Yet, perhaps this sounds good but is
rarely believed. You might say say “Preacher, that’s a load of crap. As far as
I can tell, God is nowhere to be seen.” And you may have every reason for
To tell you the truth, that is sometimes
how I feel. “Where is God in all that
possesses me? in my depression, my addiction, my disease? in my loss, my grief,
my sorrow? in my own attraction to other gods?
In the face of everything I understand
the disbelief. I acknowledge the doubt. I respect disappointment and despair.
Yet, somehow, in the midst of all that, this story of Jesus still faces me with
the knowledge that God is here.
I think I love this story.
I think it is at its most powerful when
it we see the deep symbolism present. Here is Jesus, in the synagogue (in the
church), when into the midst of the church comes someone who symbolizes the
reality of all our brokenness and pain. The man possessed of an unclean spirit.
And how does Jesus respond? Does he turn his back? Does he try to hide? No, he sees
the brokenness for its truth, and he brings new life and wholeness.
And today, here, the movement is the
same. We come into the synagogue and we come with our unclean spirits, our
pain, seeking wholeness and in our midst somehow is the Christ, moving us
towards wholeness and life.
Last week I found this beautiful
blessing by Jan Richardson which I think reflects this movement towards
wholeness that Jesus lived out and which we are called to in our lives. I love
the image she leaves with us of a God who, despite all our struggles and
imperfections, somehow ‘dreams us complete’.