When I was in high school, I had a political sticker on my car. And to me this sticker represented my identity. It showed the world that I was intelligent, engaged…even worldly. It proudly announced to the world that I was mature and smart. To me, this sticker and this affiliation reflected a clear-cut understanding of the world. Everyone should think this way! I would muse. These issues are just so clear! I imagined. How could any logical, thinking person think differently? So I zipped around Elkin, North Carolina with my Datsun heralding my sophistication for all to see, smugly maintaining that at 17 I had it all figured out.
Well as you can imagine, as my world expanded and my interactions with others increased, as I gained a little more real-world experience, I developed a more thoughtful understanding of the issues facing our country. I was confronted with situations and circumstances that challenged my neatly packaged worldview. It became clear that the issues and stances I once thought were so clear cut- were actually complicated and more nuanced. There were multiple perspectives to the issues and all of them from thoughtful, loving people.
It dawned on me that in my naiveté I had neglected to consider that there were always many sides to a story.
Recently our Men’s Group had a discussion about faith and its impact on the Civil War. One guy took the perspective of the South and another guy took the perspective of the North. And we discussed how the faith lives of the leaders in this war shaped and informed their decisions. It was a fascinating and eye-opening discussion. Because what we all learned was that historically, both sides felt God was firmly on their side.
We have a tendency to do this, don’t we? Become so entrenched in our own worldviews that we co-opt the divine to substantiate our perspectives. And this is happening EVERYWHERE. In our churches and denominations we all claim that God affirms our theological stances and surely disapproves of the others who might challenge these positions. But in the midst of this, we forget that oftentimes these issues are far more complicated and nuanced than we imagined.
In the gospel today, Jesus enters the synagogue- the establishment of the day–the center of the community—and began teaching in a way the prompted questions. During this time, rabbis would teach and often cite respected religious leaders with authority. But Jesus was doing something new. He was teaching a new message that hadn’t ever been cited before. We don’t know exactly what Jesus was teaching that was different, but it’s fair to conclude that something was different enough for them to ask the question.
And just after this, he’s met by what Mark describes as a “man with an unclean spirit”. When Jesus encounters the man, the demon speaks, “what are you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, Holy One of God” But Jesus rebukes him, and calls him out of the man. And with this the demon comes out convulsing and crying with a loud voice. And again, people are amazed and proclaim this “new teaching” and one “with authority! They’re amazed that even the unclean spirits obey this man. And Mark concludes that Jesus’ fame begins to spread.
There are many different ways to interpret this passage and all of them are compelling. We learn that Jesus has the power over the demons in our lives. Which I believe is true. We believe that Jesus’ teachings likely challenged the establishment of the day, which is also true. Especially since we obviously learn that Jesus’ radical ministry ultimately leads him to be executed. But what this passage saying to us today?
So as I was mulling over this sermon, prayerfully reading the text, trying to figure out what message God wanted me to lift from this passage and deliver to you folks today, I kept getting reminded of the heaviness I, and many people in our country feel today in light of this divisive political climate. And I couldn’t help but imagine the partisan division of our day as the demon in this story.
And maybe the establishment that is facing this new teaching is our political system?
So I’m asking- Has our partisan affiliation become an idol? Are we seeking first our partisan views prior to prayerfully inviting God’s perspective? Are we so entrenched with our political affiliations that we’ve convinced ourselves that only our views are sound? Whose authority are we seeking? And have we somehow convinced ourselves that God is on our side?
Because what I can say is that God is on the side of unity.
The world will always seek to divide.
But God is in the gathering. God is in unity.
As we walk through the Bible we consistently see this theme, don’t we?
The world through Pharaoh divided God’s people and what does God do?
Gathers them together. God liberates them and frees them, bringing them safely to the other side where they could convene and rebuild.
The world again divided God’s people, separating them from their land and their families. Sending them into captivity in Babylon. And what does God do? God brings them back together and unites them as one nation.
God gathers. God unites.
Jesus says in Luke, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.”
God is for unity.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
Now there are many passages in Scripture that seem to suggest Jesus divides.
For example, In Matthew, Jesus says, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
But a closer reading of this text shows that Jesus’ intent is not to divide, as one might think, but to warn that his message of love and unity might not sit well with some.
God knows this won’t always be easy. Jesus warns us that following him can be divisive for those unwilling to surrender to the unity; who are unwilling to allow their allegiances to take the backseat of a higher authority.
But ultimately God liberates us from those forces that are dividing us. God is always on the side of unity for the sake of the kingdom.
Our political climate has us so divided that many of us are no longer seeking understanding. We are drawing lines of division that are hurting us. People are hurting.
This is not of God. God is in the healing.
God is in the conversation that seeks first understanding.
The unclean spirit would have us separate into our corners and shut down discussion.
The unclean spirit would tap into our egocentricities and have us believe that only our way is right.
The unclean spirit would cloud our vision so that the other is seen as an enemy rather than a fellow child of God.
But Jesus calls out this demon.
Jesus rebukes this demon.
Yes, it comes out reluctantly- kicking, screaming, and convulsing.
But God in Jesus is the authority. And that authority is love.
God pursues us all. Until every knee should bow.
We are all in this together. For the sake of the kingdom.
As the body of Christ we are all equal members.
We might disagree but we must stay united for the sake of the other. In love.
I’m not saying it’s easy.
It takes work. But that’s the power of Christ working in and through us.
Look at us here.
All of us share different views but we gather together each week under our shared mission of spreading the love of Jesus Christ with one another, this community, and the world.
Let us be the example in a world needing it.
Let us, as followers of Christ, demonstrate what it looks like to have the real authority informing our decisions.
Not the authority of the Republicans.
Not the authority of the Democrats.
Or the Green Party, Tea Party, Libertarian party… whatever.
Folks we are the party of Jesus Christ. And that holds more power, more potential than anything on the face of the earth.
At the time I thought that symbol stuck on the bumper of my car said everything about who I was and how the world was supposed to be. But as I got older and as the Holy Spirit got hold of me- that’s when I realized that the true mark of identity. The true symbol of meaning. Was traced on my forehead as a baby. Sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.
And that’s real authority.