January 31, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Just then there was in their synagogue a man 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.
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.
| Centering Prayer |
It is so easy to dwell on the negative impact of the pandemic and
Completely overlook some of the positive benefits.
We’ve learned that science is able to accelerate vaccine development.
Thank you, Lord, for all those working to vaccinate the world.
May the knowledge and practice employed today
Benefit future generations tomorrow.
We’ve learned that social distancing, mask wearing, and attention to cleanliness
All contribute to lowering the risk of disease transmission.
Thank you, Lord, for everyone making their contribution to reduce everyone’s risk of illness and disease and keep each other safe.
Because of these commonsense precautions
It is reported that even influenza transmission is down this year over last.
Who would have imagined a year ago:
- A dedicated effort to sanitize the sanctuary and meeting spaces after every use?
- That I’d be sanitizing my office desk, chairs, door, and switches after every visit?
- That handwashing instructions would be in every bathroom and hand sanitizer gel would be on every shelf or counter?
Generations have known that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
While this exact phrase is not found in the Bible,
The importance of cleanliness is clearly expressed.
Judaism at the time of Jesus emphasized purity and cleanliness.
Think actual dirt conflated with spiritual dirt.
Think polluted water, contaminated food, and e coli.
Think temptation, sin, evil; both personal and corporate, both intentional and unintentional.
All of us become dirty periodically.
Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.
A little soap, water, and scrubbing and presto: you’re clean!
Confess your sins during worship, repent, and ask God for forgiveness.
Boom! you are clean!
Judaism had a way to make people clean.
Before one could enter the Temple to make an animal sacrifice and tithe,
The faithful were required to bathe in one of dozens of public baths,
Usually at a price.
(Image us having a dozen bath tubs at the church entrance
With the expectation that
All who enter are required to
Pay an established fee and take a dip!)
Ideally, the faithful emerged from the ceremonial bath physically clean.
But, what about becoming spiritually clean?
Sacrificing a bird or lamb on the altar cleansed the faithful of their sins.
Jews called the cleansing of impurity “atonement.”
It was believed that atonement also prevented God from leaving the Temple.
(For Christians, Jesus Christ himself becomes the atonement.
He is the atoning sacrifice that cleanses us of our sins,
Reconciling us with God.)
Being made clean was a process, both actual and symbolic,
That cleaned the body and the soul.
Jesus was newly on the job,
When an unnamed man with an unclean spirit
Interrupted Jesus, who was
Teaching with authority
Astounding the crowds
In the synagogue
On the Sabbath.
There is a lot of material here to unpack;
Too much for one setting.
What draws my attention is “unclean spirit.”
What does “unclean spirit” mean?
Does it mean this man was possessed by a demon or demons?
Did he have a medical condition that religious leaders would have judged him unclean?
I’ve wondered a lot this week about the meaning of “unclean spirit.”
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about people today with “unclean spirits.”
I’m asking myself, what makes me unclean?
In the Greek New Testament
πνεῦμα comes first.
In English it is pneuma,
Meaning breath, human spirit, soul, tempter or disposition of the soul, separate from the body.
Ακάθαρτος comes next,
Modifying what comes before it.
In English it is akathartos (ak-a-thar-tos)
Meaning unclean, impure, filthy, defilement, of evil spirits, lewd.
(With thanks to the “Interlinear Greek-English New Testament”)
Put them together and the meaning becomes crystal clear.
This man’s soul was filthy, rotten dirty to the core.
Perhaps Mark doesn’t identify him by name to spare him from future embarrassment.
Anger and rage defined his character.
He was obsessed with evil memories and thoughts.
His heart was at war with God.
As a result, he was at war with others and at war with the world.
The man with the unclean spirit was trapped in impossible bondage.
He was a slave to sin,
Incapable of saving himself.
He was fighting the very one who had the ability to save him.
The problem with having an unclean spirit
Is there isn’t any room for the Holy Spirit.
For God to enter in,
The dirt needs to get hoed out.
Living with or accommodating an unclean spirit is not sustainable.
Quality of life suffers.
Families and communities suffer.
Fear, intimidation, and threats of violence becomes the new normal.
Paranoia flows like mighty rivers where the righteousness of Amos once did.
Time eventually runs out.
Raging people are at risk of ending up prematurely dead,
Emotionally dead, spiritually dead, even physically dead
Due to a heart attack, stroke, revenge, or karma.
“All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” Jesus observed.
Jesus rescues this unnamed man from his impossible bondage
Created and imposed on him by his unclean spirit.
“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus rebuked.
Jesus rebuked not the man, but his unclean spirit.
All that was unclean about that man’s spirit
Submitted to the command and authority of Jesus.
Jesus silenced it.
Jesus exorcized it.
Out it came.
All the dirt.
All the sin.
Everything came out,
Making room for the Holy Spirit to fill the void.
The point to be made
Is that Jesus, and only Jesus,
Has the ability to exercise and destroy unclean spirits.
Christ alone breaks the chains of sin and death.
Christ alone rescues us from impossible bondage.
Christ alone can save us.
Each of us harbor unclean spirits from time to time.
Think of it as a sliding scale between zero and ten.
We oscillate somewhere between wholly sinful and complete perfection.
Dwelling too long or too deep
In impurity, defilement, and filth
Hardens one and
Makes it more difficult to break out,
To break the will of the unclean spirit.
Don’t allow yourself to become a chronic case of anger, rage, or obsession.
Resolve to break free of every unclean spirit,
Great and small, in your life.
Some, you may be able to break free on your own.
There may be some sins or impurities in your life so great that
It becomes impossible to free yourself.
That’s why we have a Savior.
Ask Jesus to rescue you from the impossible bondage of sin and death.
And he will.
Allow the Holy Spirit to replace the impurity that once polluted you,
To take up residence,
To abide in your life.
Peace replaces the war that raged in your heart.
Love overcomes hate.
Faith wins over fear.
I invite each of us to self-reflection,
To ask, “what defiles me?”
“What makes me unclean?”
“What does damage to God?”
I think of messages of hypocrisy,
Such as road rage perpetrated by a driver of a car covered with Christian bumper stickers.
I think of inconsistency between what is said and what is done,
Such as the leader of a morality caucus being caught in a moral scandal.
I think of the athlete who thanks God for a good game on Sunday
Only to be arrested for illegal behavior on Monday.
I think of renouncing racism on one day and
Not challenging a racist comment the next.
Are there places in my life of inconsistency or hypocrisy
That need to be exercised?
“What makes me unclean that needs to be exercised out of me?”
I think of the seven deadly sins;
Behaviors or feelings that inspire further sin.
There is much to be considered here.
I temper what I can,
And ask Jesus to help with the rest.
In my experience
Jesus rescues me when I’ve been caught in impossible bondage
Just as he rescued the man in the Capernaum synagogue.
I just need to ask him for the help.
What do you say?
Can you ask Jesus for help?
Will you allow Christ to rescue you, too?