What possesses you?

Mark 1:21-28

The first demonstration of power by Jesus in each of the gospels matters. They matter because they set out the theme of the Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus preaches a sermon about the law. In Luke Jesus resists the temptations before being rejected when he preached in his home town. In John’s Gospel Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding, an act full of meaning and symbolism of his coming death and resurrection.
But in Mark’s Gospel the first thing Jesus does is perform an exorcism.
So for Mark what possesses us matters.

That might sound like a really strange thing to say but as we work our way through this brilliant Gospel this year we’ll discover, I hope, just how true that it. And why it’s so important.

Jesus has ended up in Capernaum. It’s a little fishing village on the north shore of the Galilee but it’s one of those places with some pretty significant geography. Moving things by water was much quicker than by land so the lake was busy with cargo going north and south between Lebanon and Egypt. People passed through.

It was also just round the lake from the Roman garrison at Tiberius… just far enough away to not have to worry too much about the soldiers. In the other direction to the east of the lake is Gentile country. Capernaum is quite literally on the edge in all kinds of ways.

The other thing Capernaum is close to is some natural hot springs at Tagba. Hot springs were, and still are, a place sick people go to try to get well. To get rid of the things that cause them pain.

So place is important. Capernaum will become Jesus’ base for his ministry and it’s position will allow him to spend time with all kinds of people from all kinds of places. But what matters first here is even more important.

Have you ever had an ear worm? You know, a song that gets stuck in your head and just won’t go away? Annoying, isn’t it! But think… if something so silly and meaningless as a song can get stuck in your head, then imagine what it’s like when something more sinister gets in there and won’t go away.

Possession isn’t like the horror movies. Possession is an idea that takes over your mind. This man is in the Synagogue, among his friends and neighbours. He’s there at the time when he’s supposed to be worshiping God, but his thoughts are elsewhere on whatever desires or obsession fills his mind. He’s thinking about what he wants, what he can have, what he can control.

The use of power and violence has become acceptable. Encouraged at some levels even. But when someone challenges you, suggests there might be an issue, a problem, then the reaction can be pretty strong.

Let me give you an example about the use of power. In the TV debates we now get during elections Jeremy Corbyn when he led the Labour Party was asked a question that potential leaders have been asked for decades now. Would you press the button? Would you sanction the use of nuclear weapons? His answer caused shockwaves… He said ‘no’. And people were appalled.

Now there are plenty of problems with Corbyn, but not being willing to obliterate another country and cause what would almost certainly result in a nuclear war that would destroy the world was apparently something that meant he was unfit to be Prime Minister. Just let that sink in for a moment. Not being willing to take actions that would at the very least kill millions and leave vast areas uninhabitable for decades was a problem.

Or, to give a more current example, there is little doubt that what is happening in Gaza is an appalling use of force… and the world is standing by, allowing it to happen. To happen with bombs and bullets made here.

Isn’t it amazing how ideas take root. Isn’t it fascinating how power takes over.

Jesus’ reaction to what possesses this man is straight forward. Come out. Leave him alone. It’s a healing. The end of his torment. The triumph of God over evil.

But like most of Mark’s Gospel this is about more that one man’s problems.

Here, right at the heart of this religious country, in the very place and at the very time where God is supposed to be first in people’s thoughts, is an unclean spirit.

This story is the story of Israel. The religious authorities collude with the Romans and with their own local leaders to maintain their own status and power. The people are distracted from God by all the things that still distract us… worry, self-reliance, pride, arrogance, fear…

For the rest of Mark’s Gospel Jesus will battle with all of that. He will stand up against all of the things that possess people’s minds: power, corruption, greed, ambition, fear, domination… Mark sums it all up in the idea of Empire. A whole system created to keep people in line, to direct their thoughts away from their problems by providing small distractions.

The Romas called it bread and circuses. Make sure the people have just enough to eat to keep them working hard. And when times get tough and they start to complain you give them some extra along with some entertainment. Some kind of spectacle to distract them. Add into that the idea of a threat to your way of life from ‘outsiders’ which only we can keep you safe from and you have a pretty heady mix that’s hard to resist… especially when there is also severe punishment for not towing the line.

But it’s all a lie. A great big illusion. It’s an idea that possesses us. So much so that 2,000 years later we still can’t imagine another way, even though we know it’s not right!

Our religious life is often no better. There’s a man with an unclean spirit there in the middle of their worship. He doesn’t turn up at the end. He’s there with everyone else. And they don’t notice.

Perhaps they don’t notice the unclean spirit because they all have the same issues. They are possessed too. They have all bought into the same lies.

Nobody can see the problem until someone so different, so outside of the system comes along. And as soon as they see Jesus teach with the authority, the power of God, they see the problem. It’s so obvious. The contrast is so great to what they have been told until now that they all see it.
And the man with most to loose reacts.

I think we all have a bit of that.
We know.
We know the things that get in the way of God. In the way of the world being how God intends it to be. And perhaps we are in our own ways possessed too by those things because we can’t or won’t stop. By a way of life that is absolutely and undoubtably destroying the planet.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

The Good News is that Jesus has authority over all of it.
We are not alone.
We are never alone.
Even when things seem at their darkest.
Even when things seem hopeless.
Even when it’s all to much…
God is there.
With us.
In us.
Loving us.

Scratching the Surface 6

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

What do you realise?

So as we listen to this week’s reading think about What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise?

Luke 9:28-43a

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 

As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.  They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.

Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.  A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.  A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.  I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’

‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’

Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise? I’ll post my answers in the comments.  I hope that you’ll be curious about the passage and that you’ll post your answers to the three questions in the comments too.

Luke 6:27-38 – Scratching the Surface 5

To help us to Scratch the Surface we are going to think about 3 questions:

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

What do you realise?

So as we listen to this week’s reading think about What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise?

Luke 6:27-38

‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise? I’ll post my answers in the comments.  I hope that you’ll be curious about the passage and that you’ll post your answers to the three questions in the comments too.

If you want to dig deeper then join us for our bible study on Thursdays on zoom!

Scratching the Surface 4

What do you notice?

I notice that Jesus seems to be dishing out blessings to those who never feel blessed and are never told that they are worth anything.

What do you wonder?

I wonder what those people felt when Jesus told them they were blessed?  Were they grateful?  Cynical?  Inspired?  Many of them had been healed in some way so I wonder if that made them more likely to feel blessed?

What do you realise?

I realise that we don’t treat each other like people who are loved and valued by God as much as we should.  We fall into the trap of valuing the things Jesus warns against.  We look up to people who are rich or successful rather than people who are kind and honest.  I realise that I probably need to get some new role models.

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise?  And what do you think of what I noticed, wondered and realised?

I hope that you’ll be curious about the passage too and that you’ll post your answers to the three questions in the comments.

Scratching the Surface episode 3

Our reading today is from Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding round him and listening to the word of God.  He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

What do you notice?

I notice that when Simon tells Jesus to go aways from him because Simon recognises his own failings Jesus tells Simon not to be afraid.

What do you wonder?

I wonder why Jesus said that?  I wonder if he knew Simon was afraid?  And what he was afraid of?  Perhaps Simon was afraid of following Jesus.  Perhaps he was afraid of being left behind.

What do you realise?

I realise that I spent a long time being afraid of following Jesus to where he was calling me to go.  I realise that mostly that fear was unfounded but there are days when I’m still afraid.  Simon Peter didn’t get over his fear that moment he followed Jesus.  Far from it.  He does loads wrong and messes up.  But he changes.  He learns as he follows.  I hope I can do that too.

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise?  And what do you think of what I noticed, wondered and realised?  Let me know in the comments below!

Scratching the Surface ep2

This week in Scratching the Surface we focus on Luke 4:21-30.

What do you notice?

I notice that the people are impressed.  I notice that Jesus is the one who starts the argument!

What do you wonder?

I wonder why he did that?  I wonder what he was trying to help them to understand?  I wonder why they got so angry and wanted to throw him off a cliff?

What do you realise?

I realise that we all like to think we’re on the inside, that we have special access, and that we can all get pretty angry when we realise that’s not the case.

We can’t keep God in a box or write a list for God of who we think deserves help or attention.  It seems like God’s list is made up of people who aren’t on the inside or on anyone’s list.

What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  What do you realise?  And what do you think of what I noticed, wondered and realised?

I can’t wait to read what you’re thinking so leave your 3 answers in the comments and remember to check back to see how the conversation is going!

Scratching the Surface

Scratching The Surface is our brand new video and podcast series where we will ask 3 simple questions of our reading from this week’s worship –

What do I notice?

What do I wonder?

What do I realise?

Join me on Tuesdays on st-ninians-stonehouse.org.uk/ or our Facebook Group to join in the conversation and share what you notice, wonder and realise.