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Person of Interest

Mark 1:21-28 (CEB)

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
“Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!”

The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

January 28, 2018
“Person of Interest”
Mark 1:21-28

Until we get to the season of Lent in a few weeks, we remain in the season after the Epiphany. This is a season of discovery in which our Scripture readings shed light on the life, teaching and witness of Jesus, and encourage us to put our faith and trust in Jesus the Christ, who the Scripture calls the ‘Holy One from God.’

The scripture I will be reading, comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. A lot happens in this opening chapter and things move quickly. Remember, Mark has no birth story or childhood stories of Jesus. Instead, the writer begins with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
Then in this first chapter, we have the baptism of Jesus, followed immediately by Jesus being driven out into the wilderness where he was tempted for 40 days. Then mid-way through the first chapter Jesus begins his ministry by calling his first disciples.

Now, we find Jesus with his disciples on the Sabbath in the city of Capernaum. Jesus had a custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach. His newly called disciples accompanied him there and listened intently to his teaching. That is where we pick up the story.

(Read Mark 1:21-28)

When we hear that someone is a “person of interest,” it usually means that they are wanted for questioning by law enforcement in relation to a crime.

Or, perhaps you have seen the television series called Person of Interest that ran for five seasons until a couple of years ago and can now be seen in reruns.
The storyline centered around a mysterious billionaire, who had developed a computer program that predicted violent crimes and determined who would be involved in those crimes. The computer showed the Social Security numbers of those who would either be victims of crime or the perpetrators. The inventor hired another highly trained person to be the investigator and help stop the crimes from taking place.
The point was that if your number came up, you became a “person of interest.”

Jesus was a person of interest in his day, not because he was wanted for questioning related to a crime or that his social security number had come up in some computer program…No, Jesus was a person of interest based on how he taught in the synagogue with authority.

When you hear the word ‘Authority,’ what comes to your mind? Do you think of someone with strict commanding power, or someone in the position of making decisions?
If you are young, or when you were young, you might think of a parent or teacher as an authority. Or maybe you remember the bumper stickers and t-shirts from the late 1960’s and ‘70’s that are now coming back that say, “Question Authority.”
The word ‘authority,’ of course, has many meanings and there can be many sources of authority in our own lives.

I remember the day I was invited to leave a little league baseball game by someone with authority.
It was many years ago now when a young friend and neighbor of mine was playing summer little league. I was at a game sitting with his parents and other family and friends in the section right behind the home plate fence.
Colin had stolen second base and had made it safely to third base on the next hit. He was poised to score with the next crack of the bat. Well, the next hit did come and he raced for home and had to slide into home plate as the outfielder’s throw was coming in.
The call by the home plate umpire was “out”…Well I was standing right there behind the home plate fence and clearly the boy was safe!
In an out-of-character moment of being perhaps possessed by an unclean spirit, I verbally made it known that the boy was safe and that the umpire had made the wrong call.
Well, the umpire turned, walked over to the fence, took off his mask and said, “He was out!” then gave me the ‘you’re out of here’ gesture and said, “You have no authority here!”
We need to know when to take authority and what type of authority is ours to take. Then we need to ask ourselves…Are we claiming the kind of authority modeled by Jesus that is based on wisdom, integrity and compassion that positively impacts the lives of others?

When I think of positive authority, I think of the many wonderful teachers I’ve had through my years of schooling who taught with skill and confidence. I’m amazed at the way good teachers continue to feed us long after we have left their presence.

Wednesday night, our Confirmation class went to Temple Beth El, one of the Jewish Synagogues in Madison. The woman who shared with our group about Temple practices and the Jewish faith was a fabulous teacher. She was not a Rabbi, but she taught with a confidence and an authority that captivated our group.
There was an intimacy to her teaching that came not so much from her head as from her heart. She spoke with an authority that showed her knowledge came from spending time with God.

It is into this world of wonderful teachers that our Gospel story calls us.

We are never told the content of what Jesus is teaching, but from the culture of the day we do know that the synagogue was the place of teaching and prayer and that the usual method used by the Scribes, who were the educated ones, was to teach by reading the text aloud and offering commentary. Jesus; however, had a style that was based on talking directly to people in a way that valued being in relationship.
Jesus was changing the way things had always been done, and in him the people witnessed the very presence of God breaking into their midst in word and action.

What happens next with Jesus in our story is that he confronts a man with an unclean spirit.
In the Bible, to be ‘unclean’ or have an unclean spirit means to be cut off. Cut off from family; from friends; from community; and above all, cut off from God.
We do not know if the man was a regular part of the congregation, or had he wandered in looking for help, or to challenge Jesus; or was he desperately ill?

It’s interesting; though, that no one in the synagogue that day except the man with the unclean spirit knew who Jesus was. He says, “I Know who you are, the Holy One from God.”
Then Jesus speaks to what was deep within the man and rebukes the unclean spirit saying, “Silence!…Come out of him!” The man convulses and screams and the unclean spirit was gone. The people in the synagogue were amazed and astonished, but were not sure what they had witnessed and could only say, “What is this? A new teaching with authority!”

The Good News of the Gospel is that when God breaks into our lives and does away with the unclean spirits, we are no longer cut off. What God is doing for us is reestablishing relationships with family, with friends, with community and with God.

If we take time to think about it, we could probably all recognize unclean spirits that possess us or overwhelm us, and get in the way of our relationships and our faithfulness to God.
Those unclean spirits may be prejudice, greed, jealousy, anger, possessions, envy, an unforgiving spirit, anxiety, worry, addictions, or cynicism. There are any number of things that possess or consume us and need to be cleansed from within us in order for us to live as the people God created; and intends and hopes for us to be.

Jesus rebuking the unclean spirit from the man in our story seems quick and dramatic, but probably more common is the revealing of hope and transformation that happens over time with the help and support of others.

God is still at work casting out the unclean spirits, and God is giving us the authority to continue that work. That work of hope and transformation may be seen through the steady support of a team of medical and professional counselors, or a grief support group, or an AA group, or a Stephen Minister, or a prayer group, or the consistent support of a faith community.
God is at work in all these ways and many more to free us from the unclean spirits that possess us.

Author Anne Lamott tells a story about her son Sam and why growing up he was the only kid he knew who went to church, or in his words was “made” to go to church.
She says that he would never tell you that once he was at church he enjoyed himself because he got to play with the other kids and eat snacks. All that mattered to Sam was that he alone among his peers was forced to spend Sunday morning in church.
His mother says that you might think, given the bitterness and pouting, that he was being made to sit through a six-hour Latin Mass. Then she says, if you were to ask me why I make this young, exuberant boy come with me to church most weeks, this is what I would say: “I make him because I can. I have the authority and I outweigh him by nearly 75 pounds!”
Then she says, “But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by.” She goes on to say that during a time when she was possessed by many unclean habits and was at the end of her rope, the people at St. Andrew’s Church tied a knot in it and helped her hold on.
She says, “The church became my home in the old meaning of ‘home’—that is where, when you show up, they have to let you in and they help you clean up the things that need cleaning up in your life.”

In our Gospel story, Jesus’ authority came from God’s very presence so that Jesus could command, he could instruct, and he could rebuke. As disciples of Jesus, we have that same kind of authority. It is not the kind of authority that uses oppressive power, or fear, or intimidation, but authority that is compassion and grace and justice that opens others to the transforming love of God that makes all things new.

And it is together as we follow Christ out into the world that we…we of all people…are given the authority to speak, and to give; and to offer hope, and help and healing to a hurting world…that makes all of us persons of interest!

This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God.