GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Loves Every Body - 01/28/2018

Last week I tried to set us up a little for some of the major themes and literary techniques used in the Gospel of Mark.

I talked also about how Jesus' first public sermon in Mark serves as the central truth to everything that Jesus says and does from that moment on.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (1.15)

And I highlighted how this gospel also finds ways to speak directly to us and ask us to follow as Jesus' disciples, just like those first people he called; and to tell everyone we can the story of Jesus and how it changed humankind's prospects forever, something those first disciples could not do as they ran away from the empty tomb silenced by their fear.

While last week's text and sermon served, hopefully, to set the tone and the thesis for Mark's version of this story, this week's reading sets the scene – the place where Jesus' earthly ministry will take place.

This is Jesus' first public deed of power in the Gospel of Mark and it is set up like a battle scene in which Jesus, who has just been filled by the Holy Spirit as John baptized him in the Jordan River, comes face-to-face with an unclean spirit.

 “They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught... There was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit and he cried out 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.' But Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be silent, and come out of him!' And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” (1:21, 24-26)

Now in terms of where this story – where Jesus' earthly ministry – takes place, we may first look to where he is most obviously. He is standing in the synagogue at Capernaum.

If you were to go there today you'd see modern buildings among the rubble of ancient ones. It is right on the shore of the sea of Galilee, much like we are situated here. In fact one time I put a picture of the see of Galilee on Facebook and somebody commented they just loved the views you getting living along South Bay here in Munising.

But back to Capernaum, the site these days is a mix of materials that Jesus likely stepped on or saw with his human eyes and materials added by Christians who continue to come to this place in the 2,000 years since.

It is significant – I would say – that the scene of this battle is in Capernaum, in the synagogue. Jesus is bringing something new to this community. “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (1.22)

The way Jesus is opening up the Scriptures is powerful and very different from what the scribes taught the people. It showed the people how God's law was actually their freedom from what they could never escape, their sins and the sins of others. When Jesus spoke to the people they could see that God's love was constant and unfailing and that when they turned from God, God would relentlessly pursue them and bring them back into that loving relationship. That was a far cry from what they typically heard from the scribes and priests who left them feeling they mostly obeyed God's law in order that the priests could grow fat on their sacrifices and that they should place allegiance to Rome over allegiance to God.

So, it is meaningful that Jesus is in this place preaching and teaching, but it was not necessarily unusual to have a guest speak at the synagogue. It sill happens in many places in the world. I'm told, for instance, that pastors from our synod who visit Tanzania are wise to go with a  few sermons in their pocket because they will be asked to preach at impromptu moments as they meet gatherings of people from the Tanzanian Lutheran churches.

So this place of the synagogue is significant as the possible setting of this scene in Mark's gospel – we could probably work with that … but ….

… really, this scene is just a pile of rocks on a rocky sea shore. It's kind of like when we talk about “the church.” Often we picture a building, but the “church” isn't really just an organized and engineered pile of beams and drywall and stones – church is the people who happen to gather in that building. You can hear it in our language. “Eden is where I go church.” Not quite. It's more like “Eden is where I go to be church.” Church is all of you, all of us.

And also, we know that Jesus ministry doesn't stay put here in Capernaum. Jesus will take his message that the Kingdom of God is near, repent, believe and follow, throughout the region and even to non-Jewish people, before he is done.

So, no, I don't think I'd settle on the synagogue at Capernaum as the scene the gospel writer is trying to set. I think the scene of the mighty battle is the body of the man with a unclean spirit.

First, let me say that this scene is not an easy one to take in – we have to do some mental acrobatics to pull what happens in our story into our 21st century understandings and sensibilities.

When we hear this story it may bring to mind people who deal with brain health issues like anxiety and panic disorders, schizophrenia or substance abuse and addiction. Or we might think of people whose brains God wired a little differently when they were lovingly knit together in their mother's wombs.

The writers and first audiences of our Scriptures knew very little of brain health or brain diversity – heck, we've hardly scraped the surface in these fields of study 2,000 years later.

I think it's helpful to think of this man as representing something the people could not understand or control, and so he was something that should be feared.

I would venture to guess we can all think of more contemporary examples of this. We still do view many people with brain health issues in this way – like that person so many of us know, or is maybe one of us, who were shunned after they screwed up big time as a result of addition to drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, sex …

Perhaps when visiting a city you found yourself trying to put some space between you and a group of young black men because their skin tone is so unfamiliar and you are confused by their bold demeanor and you cannot understand the words they use.

Maybe you've experienced something like this with people of different abilities – people in wheel chairs, who cannot speak or see or hear, people who cannot bathe or feed themselves.

Or perhaps you think of someone who makes you feel uncomfortable because he is so deep in grief he cannot seem do anything but eat, breathe and even sleep in a puddle tears; or that kid who so wants your attention but smells like her hair hasn't been washed in weeks; or that person who seems to disagree with everything you say.

I think this situation we have in this story happens to us a lot, whether we are the people gathered at the synagogue trying to figure out how to be near this man, or we are the man with the “unclean spirit” ourselves.

And right there is where I suggest we recognize where the scene is being set – a human body embroiled in something that has made it untouchable, an object to be feared, shunned, vilified. It's a battle scene.

By setting the scene here, the gospel writer is showing us just how far God is willing to go in Jesus. Right to the individual human body. Can it be more personal than that? Can it be more cosmic than that?

We act that reality out quite particularly (Sat night) as we welcome Benjamin Raymond Miller into the Christian community. This holy ritual centers on the action of water and God's word changing and claiming the human body. The prayer following the baptism itself speaks to this act of inviting God through Jesus to inhabit our bodies, to go with us throughout our lives. “We give you thanks, O God,” we pray, “that through water and the Holy Spirit you give your children new birth, cleanse them from sin and raise them to eternal life.” These are all promises we associate with our bodies as well as our souls.

And this story in Mark helps us understand that it's not just any body Jesus goes to. Jesus tends to the body of someone who was probably an outsider to outsiders. And if that's where the Kingdom of God come near is willing to show itself – where isn't it willing to go? What body is exempt or discluded or dismissed as less than beloved? The answer based on this story is that no body is exempt …

… not the body suffering from addiction or depression

… not the black or brown or female or foreign body

… not the body in a wheelchair or the one who needs help using the toilet

… not the body of the widower or the neglected kid from the wrong side of town

… not even the body of your enemy

And once we understand this, I think we can more fully understand and maybe even feel in our bodies the very end of our gospel reading for today. “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “'What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (1:27-28)


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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