Not bad for a first day of public ministry — teaching and exorcising a demon

What if you’re a victim of evil, and you scream—does anyone hear?

Mark 1:21-28 [Jesus has begun recruiting disciples. “Immediately” we find him in Capernaum’s synagogue, teaching in word – and deed:] On the sabbath day he went right to the synagogue and started teaching. They were astonished at his teaching, since he would teach them on his own authority, unlike the scholars.

Now right there in their synagogue was a person possessed by an unclean spirit, which shouted, “Jesus! What do you want with us, you Nazarene? Have you come to get rid of us? I know you, who you are: God’s holy man!”

But Jesus yelled at it, “Shut up and get out of him!”

Then the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions, and letting out a loud shriek it came out of him. And they were all so amazed that they asked themselves, “What’s this? A new kind of teaching backed by authority! He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him!”

So his fame spread rapidly everywhere throughout Galilee and even beyond.

–Capernaum’s little synagogue had a busy day. Audacity of hope invades when Jesus takes the teacher’s chair. He’s interrupted, but he’s already said enough to amaze people. He doesn’t quote historic theologians; he offers instead a kind of wisdom and authority that will be sought after from that day forward, sometimes, and finally, by enemies.

The interruption appears to come from someone the local people know, or so it seems. But the voice is not human. It’s the voice of evil, of a demon in possession of a human victim. The evil spirit knows Jesus, and Jesus knows what’s going on. His command to be silent is not honored; but his command to the evil spirit to be gone works. The victim’s place in the community is restored, which is a kind of healing—not just the healing of one person, but the return of wholeness to the group. They had not realized the devil lived among them.

Here, at the very beginning of Mark’s version of Jesus’ life and mission, is the model that we say we want to emulate—the model of loving what is lovable in everybody; the model of replacing the demonic with God’s intended wholeness.

Might there be demons in many congregations? Would we know? Would we want to know? Roy Oswald, an “inviting church” expert, suggests we watch people at a shopping mall. Might you see some who would amaze, astonish—and scare—some “warm and welcoming” members? What if some of the people you see in the mall were to show up for communion? What if one might be a uniformed officer carrying a weapon? Would the autistic youth make people disturbed? Or a Down syndrome woman with an unruly child? If you’re not sure they’d be welcomed, are there demons somewhere? And if so, in whom?

–In online scripture study last week someone commented on the “silent” screams from many of the world’s people that we don’t even hear. I want to tie to this morning’s gospel lesson a witness to what hundreds of thousands of ecumenical American congregations do in mission, hearing silent screams of people trapped in hopeless because too many of us never hear their shrieking. Mission agencies exist to banish evil and foster wholeness. I’m giving you handouts which, first, I want to summarize here.

–Some mission is just plain simple. When the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America convened in Montreal last summer they heard a story about a child laborer overseas who spends every day, sewing hides onto baseballs in a sweatshop — all so that we in North America can buy baseballs that are $2 cheaper than the competition. This is a huge problem worldwide. The peace fellowship gathering heard the story. What then?

“We were invited to come forward,” a reporter said, “and sign a banner with a pledge of how we would walk the path of peace in the coming year. Someone before me [in the line] had written, ‘I will pay $2 more for a baseball.’ I was caught by the power of that simple pledge.” Hearing the scream is one thing; doing something oneself about it is mission.

–Some mission moves in a wider circle. The World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches [the UCC is a member of both bodies] are addressing problems of economic justice in the world’s rush to “globalization.”

Their vehicle is a little-known project called “Global Oikonomics.” ‘Oikos’ in Greek means household, as in God’s community. ‘Onomics’ is short for economics.

“It’s really a hinge discipline,” retired Presbyterian professor Lewis Mudge says. It can “help us all sort out the post-economic-meltdown world economic order from a moral and ethical standpoint as well as from economic and political ones.” [Prof. Paul Krugman of Princeton recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics for work he pioneered long ago, which finally factors into one-dimensional economic decisions a whole range of social-psychological considerations affecting how, when, and why people spend or save.]

–And still other modern ecumenical mission efforts are even more globally audacious. Right now, media are flooding us with reports from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where economics and politics are discussed, too often without realistic, hefty moral, ethical and even spiritual dimensions.

An alternative conference is convened every year at the same time, usually in Latin America, to bring those overlooked considerations to the public.

That World Social Forum gets very little publicity. The world’s ecumenical mission organizations, led by the World Council of Churches, are very active in the World Social Forum. I encourage you to look for the few mentions the alternative forum gets in our media. Googling the World Wide Web is a great way to listen for silent screams.

Gifts to our church in the mission part of our envelopes find their way, in part, to all these ecumenical mission efforts I’ve mentioned here. So the background material you now have I urge you to share with friends and church members because it is really important. Bob Cramer, “Cramer’s Corner” adult class, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Santa Rosa, California, 1 February 2009.