Sunday Sermon – February 8, 2015

There was man who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. His routines and rituals were bizarre and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself from doing them.

He didn’t want to live that way, he wanted to live the free way he had when he was a child before these behaviors had bound his life in anger and frustration–he believed that his life was less than it was meant to be.

One day he to goes to meet with his psychiatrist. After his session, he walks out into the waiting room and stops, looks around at the other people sitting there. They make eye contact and he asks, Is this as good as it gets…?”

“Is this? As good as it gets…?”

You could hear a pin drop in the waiting room. After a painful silence, he turns and leaves.

Some of you will recognize this as a scene from a popular movie, but let go of that and imagine yourself sitting in that room waiting to see your therapist. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t believe there was hope of healing, but what if you had reached a place in life where you felt cut off from all hope?

When people truly lose hope, then I believe that they live in hell, not a place where souls are tormented for their sins, but an existence of complete desolation, isolation, and disconnection from the goodness of life, separation from the love that begins with and flows from God.

The passage read from Isaiah is a message of hope spoken to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. For the exiles, the kingdom of Israel had ceased to exist. Jerusalem, the monarchy, and the temple all were destroyed. To them, life was hopeless.

The great story of the people set free from bondage in Egypt had come to an end. They had returned to bondage. In a way, they asked the same question, Is this as good as it gets?

But God’s prophet Isaiah says: No! God is more than your heart and mind can conceive. God isn’t crushed beneath the temple ruins. The one who created the heavens and named the stars, who formed the earth and all life upon it; this is our God, who neither forgets nor grows weary, who does not break promises.  And so, you who place your hope in the Lord, he shall renew your strength so that you may live in freedom.

Last week Candice preached about how the power of evil undermines the life that God creates. And in our Gospel passage today, we heard that Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law and then proceeds to heal as many sick people as could be found in Capernum — and let’s not forget about the demons that he casts out.

Do you agree that evil exists?

To agree would mean that you do believe there is something real and present about Satan, spiritual forces of wickedness, and the bondage of sin. I don’t mind admitting that language like that makes me uncomfortable—-incidentally, those words–Satan, spiritual forces of wickedness, and the bondage of sin–come directly from our Baptismal vows in the Book of Common Prayer. Those words feels out of place to my 21st century intellect, and so that part of my mind would rather skip over or avoid them. Perhaps we  accept the idea that evil is a label we use to describe the terrible choices that individuals make, but they are choices, and we have control over our choices.

There is a problem with thinking about evil in this way. If what we call sin and evil were simply a matter of making choices¦well, then why are 27 million women and children enslaved in workshops and brothels from Atlanta to Guangzhou, China? Why were there so many murders in Montgomery last year? Why did you or I hurt a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend by doing that awful thing? By choice?

As much as I hate to admit it, my choices are not as free as I would like to think that they are. We bear responsibility, but we must also see that we are all part of a world struggling with the effects of evil.

It is this struggling, diminished world in which God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the season of Epiphany, we have heard stories that demonstrate the God’s manifestation in the world. In Mark’s Gospel, the first miracle that Jesus performs is to cast out a demon, which we heard about in last week’s Gospel reading. His second miracle occurred in today’s story¦ After Jesus amazed the people in the synagogue with his teaching and an exorcism, he and his new friends go to Simon’s house for supper, but Simon’s mother in law is ill with a fever”and so without being asked or saying a word, he heals her. The rest of the Gospel up to the passion story is more of the same: proclaiming good news, healing, exorcism. Each of these acts of power reveals who this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is, God incarnate. Proclaiming the good news gives hope to the poor and the oppressed and it subverts the systems that create those conditions. By healing, Jesus restores bodies from sickness to health, so that they are freed from that which limits life. In exorcism, Jesus stands face to face with evil. Wherever he encountered evil, he names it and overpowers it. But it is interesting to pay attention to the fact that Jesus doesn’t destroy evil, and in fact has compassion on some demons. Why? Why doesn’t God do away with evil? Because our God is the author of life, not the author of death.

Yes, evil is real, and we live in a world enmeshed in its effects. Sometimes we fall back into the bondage of sin, of placing our own desires ahead of God’s desire for us. You may be held by an addiction or an unhealthy relationship, or perhaps you do not believe that you are enough: not smart enough, attractive enough, successful enough, wealthy enough, loving enough, loyal enough¦ just not enough, and so you have returned to  bondage.

We have received the good news as it was handed down through the ages. We have a savior, The Lord Jesus Christ, who knows your true self, who sees you not as sin and this life have made you, but sees you as a redeemed child of God, both known and accepted.

So I ask you, is this as good as it gets?