HOMILY FOR JUNE 10, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
Pentecost 4, June 10, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“The Power to Frame Reality”
I speak to you as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God through the mercy of God. Amen.
Those of us who live on this side of the Rocky Mountains may not have noticed much, but there was an election in Ontario the past week. The result is a dramatic change in government, but the implications depend with whom you speak. The winning party was able to build a convincing narrative for enough of the population of the province to vote for it, or at least against the former party in power. Whether people’s hopes will be fulfilled by the vague promises of prosperity and security without cutting services or benefits remains to be seen. Sometimes it is easier to choose who will have power than to understand the consequences of that choice.
Interesting that this Sunday gives us the Hebrew Scriptures story of the decision for a first king over Israel. Here is another tale of people wanting prosperity and security: to be “just like the other nations”. The loose confederacy of tribes had been relying on the charismatic and strategic strength of a series of judges. Their current leader, the prophet Samuel, was old and his sons were corrupt. These potential leaders were rejected in favour of a more centralized authority. Although Samuel tries to warn the Israelites how they will trade their obedience to God for servitude to an earthly ruler, the people refuse to listen. In their minds, they have the power to shape the future. What they are setting up is an economy that will both exact tithes and obligations from its citizens and binds them in a political system that takes its authority from God.
By the time of Jesus, there had been many political changes in the landscape of the Middle East. But social control was still exerted through both kinship and the religious establishment. Within the Jewish faith, your family and the Temple held power to shape your life. You were expected to be a part of the community according to the clan and the social position you were born into. And you were expected to be both a good citizen and a good Jew, living quietly and hopefully unnoticed under the current regime of the Roman Empire. This is not what Jesus was doing.
By the third chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus has just appointed the twelve apostles to be with him and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Then, it is written, “he went home”, presumably to Nazareth in Galilee. But instead of taking up his role in the family and his job, he is inundated by the crowds who have come to hear him preach. His family tries to physically restrain him- the word used is “bind” for they believe what others are saying, that Jesus is crazy. Then the religious authorities denounce him, saying that he is possessed by a demon. In the gospel story of the One who has come to change everything, the forces of his day attempt to reframe the reality. He is not God, they say- he is mad and he is evil. The ploy of power is to neutralize opposition and prevent change by dehumanizing the individual. If you cannot take Jesus seriously, then you don’t have to listen to what he has to say.
Jesus seizes the moment by telling a parable:
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end is come. No one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying up the strong man.”
Both Beelzebul and Satan were titles for evil beings in Jesus’ time. Beelzebul, which translates “Lord of the Heights” or “Lord of the Flies” was a derogatory name for an aspect of the ancient Semitic god Baal, who Jews imagined as surrounded by the flies of the dung heap. Satan, or the Accuser, derives from the fallen angel mentioned in the book of Job as testing and tormenting humans. Both are used as personifications of evil. One who is possessed by a demon can be said to have Satan or Beelzebul in him, or to have demonic power as a result. If you are possessed by a demon, then you can’t possibly have anything to do with God. The corollary, as Jesus points out, would then also be true. If you are casting out demons, then it cannot be by demonic power.
The trouble is, you can’t reason with unreasonable people. You have to exorcise their narrative. It’s time to show up the outcries of family and religion for what they are: myths that cannot stand up to the deeper reality. Jesus binds up the argument of the scribes from Jerusalem, and he throws it out. His job is to clear the lies and the evil and the madness from those who listen in reminding them that there is a power that is greater than their fears. God’s forgiveness and love is stronger.
To negate this is to assert that the Holy Spirit has no power. The sin against the Holy Spirit, the only thing that cannot be forgiven, is to say that forgiveness is not possible. If you don’t believe that God loves you and has the power to forgive you, then you are not able to accept the gift that is offered. You have closed the door to the possibility. When the scribes say about Jesus, “he has an unclean spirit” then they are saying that they don’t believe God’s love and forgiveness can flow through him. And in denying the working of the Spirit’s power, they have taken God’s holy name in vain. YHWH- “I Am that I Am” is diminished because they have not allowed God to be who God is in the healing of the world.
Jesus has the power to forgive, and the power to frame the reality of the gospel. He is the One who is stronger than the strong man of this world- the myth that exacts obedience from something other than God and creates a dependence on material things rather than the Divine. And we have the choice to join with him in resisting the false narratives that so many in our world would like us to buy into. There are politicians and corporations and organizations that exploit people’s need to capture the moment in catch-phrases. “Make America Great Again” is a myth we can accept or reject.
When so much of the world seems determined to call each other “mad” or “evil”, we can either assist in binding or loosing others for the gospel. Are we complicit in the larger narrative or can we resist with the good news? There is a wealth of values, principles, and sacred stories that we are able to share with our neighbours that can combat the lies of hatred and scarcity. Our families are important. Our society is important. But we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced if God is going to use us to define, to change, and to release our world. That means stepping outside of our expected roles at times. And it means resisting the temptation to demonize or dehumanize others.
Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister”. That does not mean rejecting those whom we are related to by blood. But it does mean expanding our understanding of who is able to join with us to bring down the strong man of this age. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018