Rev. David Wheeler on Mark 1:21-28


Dear Church friends and family,

This week, at worship, we will be looking at what, for many mainline Christians, is a difficult text: Mark 1:21-28. In this text, Jesus performs the exorcism of an “evil, unclean spirit.” This text can create difficulties for “thinking” Christians because, well… demons. What do we believe about demons?

I long ago gave up seeing these types of passages as literal or historical in nature. I take the Bible far too seriously to read it all literally. I prefer to read it “literately”— understanding the culture in which is was written and attempting to find a very real application tied to the “spirit” of what was written, to today’s world.

I’m sure we’d have dozens of different opinions on demons even among our own congregation. But, my encouragement to each us, when reading this text, rather than writing off demons altogether, is to take a deeper look at our lives and at the world in general. Instead of looking for the manifestations of evil in the forms of things we might see in a horror movie, we need to look much closer to home.

Demons, in the broadest use of the word, are manfestations of evil. When people or groups of people allow manifestations of evil to exist, persist, or worse yet, when we deny the existence of systematic evil— what we are in essence doing is allowing evil to grow and fester. Take, for example, child abuse. Let’s say I have a suspicion that a child may be getting abused at their home, but I choose to not take steps to learn more about their situation— there is a great chance that this manifestation of violence and evil, the “demon” of child abuse will continue to infict harm upon both the child and perhaps even upon future generations of children (since child abuse is typically something that can easily be passed on generationally).

Racism, sexism, and all the “isms” you can list, are, along with all manner of chronic violence (like child abuse) are not only isolated instances of mistakes by individuals; they are also a part of a systemic, related “web” of violence and injustice. Some might say, they are “demonic” in nature.

In the text from Mark 1:21-28, the author notes that Jesus, when he spoke at the temple, spoke as one “having authority,” and not “as the scribes.” We’ll talk about this too on Sunday. But, without saying “too much,” what I think this means is that Jesus EMBODIED the teaching he was giving, whereas, the “scribes” were a bit detached from their more “lecture-like” teaching methods that were likely more about ideology than their own personal behavior.

Think about this for a minute: the greatest way to honor any teaching is to do it. It’s nice to be able to talk about a teaching, but it is just so much better to embody a teaching you truly admire. When we embody the spirit of one of our mentors in our own daily lives, we are honoring them with the highest compliment that exists. When we live out the deeper truth of the scriptures in our daily lives by loving God, loving neighbor as self, standing against evil and injustice, becoming agents of God’s healing for creation— this sort of “embodiment” has a much more profound effect on the world and on us, for that matter, than being able to quote thousands of bible verses from memory— and then living lives void of love.

The best part about being “the church” together is that we can form a community of companions and friends who strive together, however imperfectly, to more fully EMBODY the teachings of Jesus. Speaking truth to power, loving and bringing healing to the broken, finding strength when we ourselves are weak— this is the beauty of the Beloved Community we call “the church.” We don’t always get it right. We don’t always fully EMBODY the teachings of Jesus. We don’t always stand as strongly as we should or speak up as loudly against evil as we should. But, when we do, even when we get it “mostly” right, not only do “demons” run in fear, not only are our own hearts and lives enriched, but the world is formed more fully into the Beloved Community Jesus not only taught about, but EMBODIED for his followers.

I hope to see you Sunday. Don’t forget that our worship time is 4pm, followed by Adult Ed!

Authentically yours,

Rev. David Wheeler