January 28, 2018 – 4 Epiphany B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
The Rev. Jamie Osborne
There’s a saying that goes like this: “Showing up is eighty percent of life.” I’ve seen it attributed to different people, and in slightly different ways. But the heart of it seems as true to me as any other wisdom. I find it a helpful reminder that the key to success in most of life is just showing up, when we’d rather stay in bed at home. We need to engage life rather than avoid it. We need to put ourselves in places where life can happen. And I think it’s just as true for the spiritual life.
Showing up is at least eighty percent of the spiritual life. Because at its very core, the spiritual life is about intentionally and consistently putting ourselves where life can happen. Being intentional and consistent about it is the key, because the spiritual life is about knowing we are loved, and that’s the one thing we most forget about ourselves as human beings created in the image of God.
Knowing we are loved is a different type of knowledge than any other type of knowledge out there because it’s the one thing about ourselves that we just can’t seem to remember. And it doesn’t matter how long we’ve been following Jesus or how many times we’ve heard the good news that God loves us. It can go in one ear and right out the other.
Think about it. You may or may not remember the first time you were told that two plus two equals four. But I’m almost certain that you were told it one time. That’s all it took. You were told one time and for the rest of your life you just knew it. You never doubted it. Were never unsure. Never had to be reassured that it was true. But it’s different in the spiritual life of knowing we are loved. We have to be reminded over and over. We have to hear it and see it and act it out together. Because we can’t remember it to save our lives. That’s a large part of what being the church is all about–showing up. Intentionally and consistently coming together to remember who we are and who’s we are. We are loved and we belong to God.
And maybe unexpectedly, I think we can learn a lot about showing up in the spiritual life from the man with the unclean spirit in today’s Gospel from Mark–he shows up. Sometimes, we mistakenly think that we must beat our demons before showing up to church, but like the man with the unclean spirit we make ourselves available to the healing authority of Jesus when we gather with the people of God.
We are still in the beginning of the first chapter of the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus has been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, announced the good news of God’s kingdom, and called disciples to follow him. And then we get to today’s gospel about the authority of Jesus. Mark wants us to see that Jesus has the authority as the Messiah and God’s son. Jesus can teach with authority because in him we are living in a new time when God’s kingdom is made available to us all, And we can seek to live within the saving rule of God here and now, praying: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Mark shows us even unclean spirits are subject to Jesus’ authority.
Jesus is with others in the synagogue. The synagogue was the place where the people of God gathered to hear the word of God and be taught about it. It was a place to remember who and who’s they were. There is a man there with an unclean spirit and Jesus casts the spirit out of the man. I wonder how long that man showed up? How many years did he show up at the synagogue to gather with the people of God and hear the word of God read and taught, while he suffered under this spirit? Were there other people that day at the synagogue who also had unclean spirits? Maybe they saw this man healed by Jesus and were encouraged to keep showing up and bringing their whole selves to be with the people of God to remember who they were, even as they struggled with their own unclean spirits.
We may not know exactly what to do with talk of demons and exorcisms and unclean spirits. But we do know what it feels like to not be in control of our lives and ourselves. To be overcome with depression, or anxiety, or anger. To feel that sometimes we are driven and controlled by urges, and desires, and ways of thinking that are destructive to us and the people we love.
And when we are honest about these struggles we can fall into the temptation to think that we probably shouldn’t show up to church and be with the people of God. That we’re hypocrites or somehow don’t belong. And this temptation is a sure sign that we’ve already forgotten who we are. We need to be reminded that especially in times of failure and struggle, the church is the place where we most belong, because it is where we make ourselves available to the healing work of Jesus by remembering who and who’s we are.
That’s the beauty of our common worship together in story, and song, and scripture, and the Eucharist. No matter what may be going on in our lives, we continue to gather and remember. Our worship of God together is a way of remembering. The whole Eucharist can basically be summed up as remembering and giving thanks to God.
Listen to all the remembering language that we will pray before receiving communion:
“And did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice.”
“Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.”
“The memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make: having in remembrance blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.”
“That we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.”
We gather together as the church, not because we have conquered our demons, but to remember that God loves us.
You may be going through hell right now. In a community the size of ours, there are all kinds of things we could be struggling with. It could be depression, anger, violence, broken relationships, sickness, addiction, anxiety, loneliness, and a whole host of other issues. It’s quite possible that this morning you could be dealing with something that no one else in your life even knows about yet. You are not alone.
Like the man with the unclean spirit, we just need to keep showing up with the people of God. Our healing may not come all in one moment like it did for him. Most likely it will be a lifetime journey. And it can happen through all sorts of ways. Through therapy. Through recovery programs. The healing of memories. Confessing our sins and taking responsibility for the ways we have hurt ourselves and others. Through friendship and community. And consistently and intentionally putting ourselves where life can happen, in the community of faith gathered to remember the one who will always meet us, especially in our struggles and failures with our own personal demons.
We are all in need of the healing that Jesus offers. No matter what you are struggling with, you belong here, and like the man with the unclean spirit, the good news is that we don’t have to beat our demons before showing up to church, we just need to continue showing up and making ourselves available to the one who has authority even over unclean spirits.
And remember: You are loved and you belong to God.