Mark 1: 21-34, NRSV
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, throwing him into convulsions 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.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Preached Sunday, July 30, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
Today, in useless trivia about your pastor, I’ll share with you this little tidbit: I play the violin. In fact, I took twelve years of violin when I was younger and, for a time, thought about pursuing more formal training. The reason I decided against that route was simple: I didn’t want to play the violin. I wanted to fiddle. I can hear you asking, “what’s the difference?” Trust me when I tell you, there’s a big one. Fiddlin’ isn’t the scales and rote memorization of my childhood lessons. It’s something that boils up in you and flows through your fingertips across the strings. It’s real and volatile and vulnerable. I loved the idea of sitting around fiddle in hand going nuts with other musicians.
But more than that what I loved was The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Do you know that song? It’s by the Charlie Daniels Band and tells the story of a young boy named Johnny (there’s my first connecting point to this song) who lives in Georgia (Second connecting point) and takes the Devil’s bet that he can fiddle better. And throughout the song Johnny has a turn and the Devil has his turn and its ends up that Johnny is indeed better and whens the shiny fiddle made of gold. When I think about that song beyond its kitsch and catchiness, I realize that it’s a part of a larger story, a larger lore, we have when it comes to how evil interacts with this world.
Now, I’m not big on demons. What I mean is, I’m not too convinced that there are the little guys with horns and pointed tails running around trying causing anything from mischief to downright torment. But I do think Evil exists; I think it’s real. And in our gospel lesson today, we encounter it.
Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, his home base in Galilee. And the scriptures tell us, he wasn’t just teaching, he was teaching with authority—that is, he was teaching like he knew what he was talking about—because, the implication is, he did—because, he’s God. More on that later. He’s teaching in this synagogue when he’s interrupted by a man with an “unclean spirit.” Now, in Jesus’ time, the spiritual world wasn’t some far off, distant place above us. It was right beside them, co-existing with the physical realm.
And so, I don’t think the fact that a man with a “unclean spirit” was present is a shock to anyone. What’s shocking is what he reveals: “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!” This is the first time in the gospel of Mark that we are formally clued in to who Jesus is. But Jesus rebukes him and says, “‘Be silent, and come out of him!” This is something we’ll see time and again in Mark. Jesus does something remark—-get it?!—able, and instead of taking credit, tells people to keep it quiet. But despite his best efforts, news travels.
Jesus leaves the synagogue, knowing that people have just seen what happened, and goes to his friend, Simon’s—soon to be Peter’s—house only to find Simon’s mother-in-law ill. Mark puts it plainly: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
There are lots of questions about that last line: Why did she have to get up and serve them? Is that all they expected of her? We could spend hours on that line alone. But today, I want to look at these three different snippets as one story that reveals to us what is means to live a life of faith.
We meet Jesus this morning as he’s teaching—and not just gabbing on and on about this or that or what he thinks makes sense or is right. He is teaching with authority—like someone who knows, like no one else can because no one else is Jesus. That could’ve been it. That could’ve been all he did. The scribes and the pharisees that we’ll encounter time and again in the gospel all do just that—teach and interpret the law and make sure people abide by it.
But Jesus doesn’t just teach. He teaches, then acts. He teaches and heals. And did you notice where he heals? Where he takes action? Yep, in the synagogue. But also at Simon’s house. And we’ll soon see that he takes action wherever he meets people—in their homes, in their synagogues, in the street. I think that should mean something for us today: that our work here isn’t just to come on Sunday morning and learn about who Jesus is and who God is, but also to go and care for people, to take action.
Last week, I told you a little about our Every. Single. Other. campaign. It started with the giant banner on the front of the church that lists out a few of the “others” we’re called to love. But we didn’t talk about how that would actually happen. Because, as Jesus shows us in this morning’s scripture, talking about love and love in action are two different things. Later, in James, we’re asked, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
For a while now, we’ve been upping our game when it comes to caring for the heart of Killingly. For a long time, we were working just to survive. These last few years, we’ve shifted our focus from surviving as a congregation to thriving as a congregation. And the good news is: we made it! It worked!
And now, it’s time to take the next step. And the truth is, that’s nothing new for us.
How many of you have heard about Westfield Village? It’s a senior housing complex just up Broad Street from here. Westfield Village gets its name from our church because our church saw the need for affordable elderly housing and did something about it. This congregation spearheaded the effort to build and sponsor Westfield Village which to this day provides affordable senior housing. That’s what it looks like to love every. single. other.
In your bulletins today, you’ll find a blue slip of paper with some ideas listed on it. None of these are things we have to do. All of them are things we could do. I need you to do two things with this. In a few minutes, we’re going to have some reflection music. During that time, I’d like for you to check the ones you think we should pursue, as a congregation. Then circle the ones you’d be willing to be a part of. Circling doesn’t mean your in charge of it or that you have to plan it. It’s just a indicator for us that you’d be willing to help us take action on that front. At the bottom, you’ll see a spot to add options, feel free. And a place to put your name. Please do that so we can follow up with you and ask more specific questions about how loving every single other looks.
For a while now, we’ve said that we are called to care for the heart of Killingly. In fact, I would say it’s our legacy. Now, we’re making our vision, too.