By

Epiphany 4B, January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from
among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is
what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the
assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God
any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then
the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will
raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I
will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to
them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the
words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold
accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other
gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not
commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Gospel of Mark 1:21-28
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, convulsing him 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.

In the Gospel of Mark, after being tempted in the wilderness, and then calling
Andrew, Peter, James and John to be his disciples, Jesus goes to the synagogue in
Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee.
As a rabbi or teacher, Jesus is given the opportunity to read from the sacred texts
and give his interpretation.
He teaches the gathering in an unfamiliar way. He teaches with authority, rather
than like the Jewish Scribes, who reflected on varied, traditional interpretations of
scripture. The crowd became uneasy.
Things really got ‘out of the norm’ when a demon possessed man yelled out to
Jesus. The idiom in Greek sounds like, “Why are you trying to pick a fight with
us, Jesus? We know who you are. Can’t you leave things well enough alone?”
But Jesus would not let the demon be.
He said to the demon, “Be silent, and come out of him!” The word used for
‘silent’ is the same word Jesus uses a little later to calm the raging sea.
The demon caused a disturbing commotion, and begrudgingly came out of the
man. Jesus had released a man from his demon.
The men in the synagogue were beguiled and confused. Nothing like that had ever
been witnessed in that synagogue. And, they were educated enough in Jewish
scripture to know the text concerning Moses’ prophecy of a coming prophet.
Let’s not get caught up with a contemporary argument about the validity of demon
possession. Rather, let’s realize that demons can represent anything that holds us
down spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. Demons can be drugs or
other habitual cravings, even societal injustices or norms.
In Jesus’ world, the occupying Roman army was a demonic power from which
Jews craved release.
Seminary Professor Matt Skinner reminds us of a foundational premise of the
Gospel of Mark. Professor Skinner writes:
“(Mark’s Gospel) depicts Jesus as the one uniquely authorized, commissioned, or
empowered to declare and institute the reign of God. Through Jesus, then, we
glimpse characteristics of this reign. It is intrusive, breaking old boundaries that
benefited another kind of rule. It is about liberating people from the powers that

afflict them and keep all creation — including human bodies and human societies —
from flourishing. It is about articulating God’s intentions for the world, defying or
reconfiguring some traditions to do so, if need be.” (From website Working
Preacher, Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St.
Paul, Minn., 2015)
So how has God worked in your life to give you freedom?
From what oppressive power have you or someone close to you been released?
Unless you’ve lived in a vacuum recently, you’re aware of the horrendous abuse
imposed on a staggering number of young girls by the USA Gymnastics sports
physician, Larry Nassar.
His incarceration and sentence of 175 years allows freedom for his victims.
These women are released from their silence, and common feelings of guilt and
shame. They can now move on in their healing.
From what have you, by God’s grace, been released?
While I don’t intend to make people uncomfortable, I’m aware that my presence
and my ministry challenge people’s prejudice.
I’m also keenly aware that because, by God’s grace, I’ve grown to be comfortable
with who I am, I am helping others who struggle with issues of sexuality.
While I respect differing, thoughtful and scholarly and interpretations of scripture,
I abandoned a religious tradition that does not take historical context into
consideration, rather choosing to interpret scripture blindly, incorrectly
and ignorantly to feed what has become normative religious and societal prejudice.
For many years that tradition caused me great personal pain, sadness and shame.
Now it angers me, as I know the hatred and demonic power of such traditions and
the unnecessary, underserved wounds it they create.
But today, I am released from bondage and know that I am worthy to be loved and
valued by God, self and others. I am a child of God.
There have been times when women and men and teenagers of both genders
have confidentially spoken to me about feeling different, unworthy and unlovable.

Many struggling with their sexuality do not find a supportive environment.
Some attempt hiding it. Many consider suicide.
Recently, after speaking in a public forum, I had one 17 year old girl approach me
with tears streaming down her face. She told me that her family and friends say
she is unacceptable and unworthy of their love because she is gay. She told me
that my story and my ministry give her hope. She hugged me tightly, almost
desperately.
I pray she finds the support she needs to know she’s valuable and worthy
of being loved. Hopefully, one day soon, this precious teenager will welcome the
incredible, unconditional love God’s has for her just as she is.
People in our world are hurting. People in our world are being held down by all
kinds of abusive powers that seek to destroy and strip away one’s worthiness and
humanity.
Jesus came to bring a new perspective of God’s amazing love. He came to free us
from anything that is holding us back from living as beloved children of God.
Jesus’ new way of teaching and his message made people uncomfortable to the
point of wanting Jesus dead.
But for many, it is good news.
Jesus brings news that gives freedom;
News that gives life;
News that empowers;
News that brazenly announces: “No matter who you are, You are love!”

 
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