January 29, 2012 Gospel: Mark 1:21-28 Psalm 111
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20 2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
When I was in High School, our Sunday School teacher was Mike Fish. Each Sunday my mom would ask us what we learned in Sunday School we’d tell her that we didn’t do our lesson. Instead we went out for donuts. My mom thought we were taking advantage of Mike. Certainly it cost him a few bucks to buy us all donuts. This was hardly Christian Education in my mother’s mind. But if I had known my Bible better, I would have been able to quote to her what it says in 1 Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
Our outing to Dunkin Donuts was more than just an exercise in poor eating habits and more than just taking advantage of poor Mike Fish—it was a time of building relationships. Mike wasn’t just driving us across town, he was conversing with us about our week. He was helping us make the connections between our lives and our faith. He was helping us to see that our faith helped us make decisions in school and at home. He helped to see and name God’s grace in our lives. And he was showing us that he cared and that didn’t take any kind of curriculum at all. We didn’t know it, but we had learned something in Sunday School on those days we went out to donuts with Mike Fish and he was building us up with his love for us. I have to say, I think he was as relieved as we were that he wasn’t teaching that boring curriculum.
I want to encourage you to share a time someone built you up. Maybe it was a compliment or some assistance of some kind or just someone loving you. Please turn to someone near you and share a time when someone built you up. Would anyone be willing to share with the whole group?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this morning, he tells us that what matters most is what builds people up, and what builds up the body of Christ, the community of believers. Even though all things are lawful and God will love us no matter what, we still need to be careful of what might lead another astray. We need to love one another and do what is best especially for the most vulnerable members of the body who might misunderstand. Thankfully we don’t have this issue anymore about eating food offered to idols because it sounds a little contentious. Much of the food in the marketplace would have been first offered to idols. There was also the issue of eating in the temples of idols. You and I and Paul know that these idols don’t exist and don’t have power, but a new believer might not know that and might follow the example of a more experienced believer and get led astray.
Even though we don’t have this specific problem in our context, we can still learn something from this reading and that is that all our actions ought to be based on what is loving, especially to the most vulnerable. The loving thing to do for someone who is just coming to faith or weaker in the faith is what is going to be most helpful to them to help them keep on track. It isn’t just about my faith, or what is lawful or helpful for me, but we have to look out for others.
This reminds me of how young people often fall away from the church, but when they have kids, sometimes they come back. They look at these new little people and want to share something of what they had when they were a kid. They want to give these vulnerable little children a foundation for their faith. Even though they didn’t choose for themselves for several years to go to church, for these little ones, they go out of their way to go to church and often take what they learn there into daily life—into prayer, into service, into interactions with the homeless or elderly. Sometimes we get to put aside our own preferences in favor of love and relationship.
In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus finds himself in the Synagogue. This is one of the first things he does in the Gospel of Mark. Suddenly there was a man with an unclean spirit. If Jesus hadn’t been there, certainly the people there would have thrown the man out. That seems like the right thing to do because it is what is best for the community. This man is disruptive. No one can hear or pray because he’s interrupting the service. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t just go right on with his teaching, either. He stops and acknowledges the man and the spirit within him. But he thinks creatively. He needs to value the man—he is one of God’s children. He is one of the vulnerable that needs protection. But he also has this unclean spirit. It may be disruptive to the community, but think what this poor man is going through. The spirit is ruining every minute of his life, not just during church hour. So Jesus uses his authority to separate the man from his demon and get rid of the one causing the problem.
When we read this, we may believe that this man had schizophrenia or another mental or physical illness. It might mean addictions. It is hard for us to interpret “demons” on our own context. There are evils in this world that we can name—oppression, injustice, greed, etc. Maybe Jesus cast them out. Maybe the man was a victim of other people’s rumors and bullying. Maybe Jesus cast that out just by valuing him with his time and helping him. What bad things could other people say about him after that?
We, the church, believers gathered together, are Christ’s body in the world. Jesus had the authority to value and love people and so do we. He had authority and he used it to help people, especially the most vulnerable, and that’s our job, too. We are so used to a majority-rules perspective, but God’s way is counter-cultural so that we are especially called to look out for the minority and the weak.
On Reconciling in Christ Celebration Sunday, we remember our welcome statement that we welcome all people regardless of any differences. It is written there at the beginning of your bulletin. A couple of years ago we added “regardless of sexual identity” to our list. Fifty years ago, race was a bigger factor in what divided us. Today, perhaps income is one thing that is dividing us. So many things can divide us. But God commands that we love, that we be united, especially with people we might especially like not to be. It isn’t just about feeling good, but about being honest about how we participate in oppression and how we do let our prejudices keep us apart. A word from God isn’t always easy to hear, but we can be sure it is based in love and all about building up which is good for everyone. If we are members of the body of Christ, we want the weakest members to be strong, too, because that is good for everyone.
What is Jesus casting out of your life? What is Jesus casting out of our community? Are we ready to let it go? What is life-giving in our world? What is death-dealing and how do we participate in it? Let us instead participate in Jesus’ building up work of love.