FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings for the Sunday:
Isaiah 40:21-31 | Psalm 147:1-11, 20 | 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 | Mark 1:29-39
This morning I want to tell you two stories. I guess you could say they are both about demons.
The first is my own. Five years ago, I spent the month of February in ICU at Swedish with my husband. After months of seemingly successful chemotherapy and finally a promising surgery, Chris developed sepsis from the surgery that we had prayed for him to have. Not long after being admitted to ICU, he was put on a ventilator and kept sedated. And for the month of February, I watched monitors and talked to doctors and nurses and I prayed a lot. I battled demons and I asked Jesus to battle them for me too.
As you know, Chris died in early March. So I get why you would gather around a door if you knew Jesus was inside and I get demons.
The second story is about a man, a surgeon who had a wife. His wife was in my small group months before the word cancer ever came into my vocabulary. One day when I shared a prayer request about Chris’ health, she reached in her purse and handed me his card. I slipped it in my purse and didn’t think about it again until the first day I heard the word cancer. And that’s how I came to know the man who would be our surgeon and share his own story.
Every morning that same February, when he made rounds he stopped in our room. He checked charts, looked at labs and then took a seat beside me. He listened while I read out loud to Chris; he listened when I sang to him and he sat quietly and listened while I prayed. Every morning and every afternoon he came. One day, after a couple of weeks, he came back in the late afternoon and said “I don’t think I could do this if I were you, I’m worried I can’t do this if my wife is ever in Chris’ place and I’m sorry.” And then he told me that his dad had died in ICU; that that was why he decided to become a doctor and then he left. The next day his colleague made rounds for him and I didn’t see him again until the afternoon Chris was taken off the ventilator. I don’t know exactly when he came in but I watched him at the foot of the bed, crying and being held by my pastor, who was also his pastor.
A week later at the memorial, he came up to me in tears and, as he hugged me, he cried. And I realized how much he also understood and battled demons.
In the gospel lesson this morning, Jesus goes to Simon’s home, heals Simon’s mother in law and in the evening people are brought to him… all those who were sick and possessed with demons. And he cured many of the sick and cast out many demons. And the gospel says the demons didn’t speak because they knew him. Jesus knows and understands demons.
Every Thursday I eat lunch with a group of people, folks I’ve journeyed with for the last four and a half years. We do our best to work through the lectionary each week. This past Thursday the consensus was “we’re tired of talking about demons.” I think I was the one who said, “Do you realize we’ve been talking about Jesus healing people of demons for three weeks?” To which one of my friends started laughing and said, “When you say it like that it seems pretty fast to me, I’ve been dealing with and battling mine for over thirty years.” Battling demons is part of the human condition.
Not only are demons a part of the human condition but most of us have to struggle not to feed them. And we are in good company. Take a look at the passage from Isaiah this morning. In it we hear the words of God to a people who are rediscovering over again the miracle of deliverance. This is an unexpected and decisive deliverance.
Many years and generations in exile have generated doubt and despair in the people of Israel. Doubts about God’s love and God’s power have fallen over them. They’ve forgotten. They were bound by an uncertain future in the hands of a foreign power. And they know and understand demons too.
It is into their brokenness the prophet calls out, Have you not heard? Have you not seen? Has it not been told you from the beginning? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
God drew the world into being from what was just void. This section of the Book of Isaiah loves to draw those links. Out of a situation where there was no identity, where there were no names, only the anonymity of slavery and the powerlessness of the ghetto, God makes a human community, restores the people and calls them by name.
And in the gospel passage Jesus does the same thing…restores people and makes a community. After healing Simon’s mother in law, Jesus spent all night with people at the doorway, all waiting for healing. When he woke up the next day, he found a deserted place and prayed. His companions hunted for him and, after they found him, said “Everyone is searching for you.” But listen to his answer: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” When we read this story, we see Jesus performing miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons but Jesus tells the story a bit different…he proclaims the message, that is what he has come out to do.
You have to look back up to verse 15 that we read a couple of weeks ago, to find the message. It was the good news, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The miracles that Jesus performed, the casting out of demons, they aren’t important because of their value as spectacle but because they symbolize the presence of the kingdom in human life. As Jesus moved into lives, so did the kingdom.
Jesus' words address the clear sense of purpose and mission that are already part of this gospel. It breathes of the power of forgiveness and healing that God has in store for the whole world. In just a few short verses the mission of Jesus goes from a mother in law’s sick bed to all of Galilee and the rest of the world. And that mission is about the kingdom of God. And that is still the mission of Jesus, even today.
We are being invited into a new understanding of trust and belief. In the same way that Jesus takes Simon’s mother in law by the hand and makes her well, he offers his hand to each of us. We’ve all got demons and some of them are more persistent than others. And Jesus isn’t afraid to take our hands just because we come with them. And there is no demon and no sickness that keeps us from the kingdom of God. Reaching out in faith to an unknown future is hard work but the good news is just as much for us today as it was for the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah or the people in the doorways in the time of Mark’s gospel.
We’ve got demons…we’re human beings, and they exist almost always through no fault of our own. And people get sick, jobs are lost, addictions take hold, self-doubt and insecurities are common, human life can be very hard at times.
I still think about my friend the surgeon and his wife. I see them occasionally and they still struggle with a lot. I still deal with my own grief and have questions about what we could have done differently. I still have demons, like everyone else. And into this life, the prophet still asks…Have you not seen? Have you not heard?
But we are called to believe and trust what Jesus said, that he came to proclaim the message. I do know this to be true, the real healing…is the presence of the kingdom in human life, it happens when we take his hand and let him walk with us on this journey.
“Even the youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Like you, I’m still looking for answers to very human questions, about life and death and why things happen in particular ways. I look on the face of injustice and feel sorrow and way too small. But I trust we are a part of God’s kingdom and that each of us is uniquely gifted and called.
Sisters and brothers, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Just let him take your hand. Life won’t be without a few hard moments but he won’t let go either, for that is what he came out to do. Amen.
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