Monday, February 2, 2015

Healing Community

February 1st, 2015            “Healing Community”    Rev. Heather Jepsen
Mark 1:21-28 with Psalm 111
          As I mentioned last Sunday, most of our scripture readings for this year will come from the gospel of Mark.  Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, and scholars believe that it was the first gospel that was written.  It is believed that the authors of both Luke and Matthew used Mark to write their gospels.  In fact, pretty much the whole gospel of Mark can be located in each of those other gospels.  As we journey through the text this year, we will become familiar with Mark’s sparse writing style and his very human portrayal of Jesus the Christ.
          This morning’s reading follows directly after our reading from last week.  Jesus has just begun his ministry and he has called his first disciples; Simon, Andrew, James and John.  The group heads away from the Sea of Galilee and into the city of Capernaum.  When the Sabbath comes they all head to the synagogue where Jesus begins his teaching ministry.  During the service, a man possessed by a demon begins to cry out during worship.  The demon appears to recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God, and Jesus demonstrates his power and authority by subduing the creature and healing the man.  The gathered community is astounded and shaken by this experience.
          Any scripture involving exorcism is a touchy one for a modern pastor.  I have to admit that when I first saw this reading, I was tempted to just avoid it all together.  There are too many questions that come up when we look at these demon stories.  Folks can’t help but wonder, “Are there still demons today?  Should the church be performing exorcisms?  Did this person just have a mental illness?  Are mentally ill people demon possessed?  Is this even a true story?”  The questions we can ask are numerous, and the answers we have are few.
          Regardless of what you think about demon possession, I think all of us can safely assume that this man was ill and in need of healing.  Where did he go to receive the healing he needed?  Well, he went to church!  The church is the community of healing for this man, and I would venture to say that it is the healing community for us as well.
          Sometimes I think we get in the habit of thinking that only good and healthy individuals make up the church.  I mean look at us; we are put together, we are presentable, we are all upright members of the congregation.  I think we often forget all the broken pieces of us that are here as well.  Under the thin layer of presentable dress, the church is a place of broken people, a place of sinners looking for salvation, a place of hurt people looking for healing.
          I want to step back and look at the psalm for a bit.  The Psalmist writes, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”  Where does the Psalmist give thanks?  In worship!  It is in the worshipping community that we are able to praise God and give thanks.  It is in the church that we are able to worship.  Sure it’s great that you can connect with God in nature, but nothing challenges and heals you like connecting with God in community.
          This is a little bit like preaching to the choir this morning, for all of you are here today because you know the power of the community of faith.  This is a sermon for those outside our doors, for those who want to try to go it alone.  The message I have today is that you can’t go it alone, you can’t worship by yourself.  You need to be in the community of faith to learn, to praise, to be challenged, and to be healed.  Playing golf on Sunday morning just won’t cut it, you need to be here instead.  We all need to be here.
Do you ever have one of those Sundays where you don’t feel like going to church?  Do you ever have one of those weeks when you don’t feel like praising God?  I know I certainly do.  Sometimes we are in a darker space, sometimes we are struggling.  During those difficult weeks or even months, it is imperative that we come to church.  This is the place where we raise voices in praise.  This is the place where we learn and grow in our faith, the place where we remember who God is.  This is the place to come when you are in the shadows of doubt and depression, for when you aren’t feeling it, I can praise God for you.  When you are feeling down, your neighbor in the pew can praise God for you.  And when I am not feeling it, you all can praise God for me!  Together we can do it.  We praise together, we worship together, the church is the community of healing and love.  We need this community.
          Returning to our friend in the gospel of Mark, we can imagine that a pretty large part of him was not feeling it that Sunday.  He was reluctant to be in worship, and he was threatened when he realized that Jesus was there.  Though he was seeking healing, he was also afraid of what the healing may bring.  “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”  Part of this person was seeking healing, part of this person wanted to turn around and run away, and part of this person had gathered to praise God in community, for that is the purpose of coming to worship. 
          Like our friend, all of us are bringing a rough edge with us to church today.  We may not be possessed by demons, but we all have dark places that need Jesus’ healing touch.  I’m talking about those little secrets that are a part of our lives, those things we don’t talk about in polite conversation, even here at church, or perhaps especially here at church.  I am talking about those things we hesitate to mention to anyone ever. 
Everyone here knows what rough or dark edge I am talking about in your own life.  It could be a drinking habit, it could be the urge to smoke, it could be excessive spending and debt, it could be gambling or pornography addiction, it could be that way we like to try to always keep ourselves a little bit ahead of everyone else, it could be the way we enjoy gossip so much.  It could be any number of things.  You know what it is for you, but I know that all of us, me included have one. 
Everyone here has a dark spot, a rough edge, a thing that makes them bristle a bit when they sense the power of God in this place.  “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”  Yes, yes he has come to destroy those parts of us.  And we don’t like change, and we don’t really want to let those things go, and so we struggle to be here in community.  But we come anyway, because deep in our core, we want to be healed, and this is the healing community.
          It is our faith, and it is our presence in this worshipping community, that gives us the power and authority over these little demons we all have.  Jesus has power over the darkness, binding the evil spirit and giving the man new life.  The faith community recognizes the power, and it is a new teaching.  The healing that Jesus brings is new, and it is challenging.  We want to change, but we don’t really like it.  Jesus will gain popularity in this story, but it won’t be long before folks decide they would rather stone him than be healed.
          This morning I want to encourage you to bring the whole of who you are to worship each Sunday.  Let us praise God in community, even when our hearts aren’t in it.  Let us allow the dark places of our lives to be here, as well as the shiny images of ourselves that we offer up to each other.  Let us give our demons to Jesus and ask for healing.  Let us be honest about who we are, about why we came, and about what kind of people we want to be.  This is the community of power and authority, this is the community of healing.  Thanks be to God for this healing community.  Amen.

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