When LIfe is Interrupted

When LIfe is Interrupted

Pastor Mitch Coggin January 28, 2024 Epiphany 4B

Where is God this morning? What is God doing?

Is God as absent, as uninvolved as we sometimes feel? Do we often find ourselves surprised by unexpected thoughts or feelings that, upon closer explanation, could only be described as God’s touch or activity?

What is God trying to say to me, to us, to the church?

We listen to today’s scripture from Psalms and the Gospel of Mark as we listen for God’s presence and action in our own lives.

The drumbeat of God’s activity through Jesus’ ministry in Mark is steady and constant. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, Jesus called his disciples. Next, they ventured 40 kilometers to Capernaum on the Sabbath and they entered the synagogue to worship.

Jesus began to teach and the people were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” But, the content of his teaching gets little attention. What did get people’s attention was an unusual interruption. A man with an unclean spirit interrupted Jesus’ with an outcry that was troubling, “What do you have to do with us?”

The word in Greek for ‘unclean spirit’ literally means impure spirit. An impure spirit implies it is contrary to what is sacred. Jesus engages that unclean spirit and orders the spirit to be silent. That is the key for me, rendering silent whatever is the opposite of the sacred. We will not give our power or our attention to anything that keeps us away from God’s best for us.

Let’s play with that idea of our holding on to those impure spirits. The impure spirit doesn’t go away quickly even when we want to silence it and move on. The unclean spirit shows up in the newspaper, it gets talked about in conversations between family members, church folk, and throughout the community. It gets perpetuated by allowing the impure spirit to interrupt, to cast doubt and blame, and cause breaks in families and faith communities.

Jesus dealt with the man with the impure spirit when he silenced the storm within the man. Then, Jesus returned to his teaching. Teaching and healing were central to his ministry. The crowd moved on from the interruption and were, again, amazed at Jesus’ teaching because he taught with authority. These interruptions, instead of pulling us away from God, are an opportunity to return to God’s presence.

In Psalm 111,we see a larger world that opens us to something greater and better as we become mindful of a God who made a covenant with us and has kept that covenant. This psalmist introduces God’s presence and action in the world, in individuals, and in communities. This scripture from Psalms is about the reasons and the ways that God is being praised for his wonderful deeds; for the ways he is taking care of us, and the faithfulness of God over the generations.

The Lord causes his wonders to be remembered. He is kind and tender… He is faithful and right in everything he does. All his rules can be trusted.

At the end of the verses we read is, perhaps, the most well-known verse: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Fear is not fright in this context; fear is awe and reverence. It is that sense of reverence for what God is doing. Those who are in awe of God live in a larger world and allow themselves to be open to something greater, something better. God has made promises to us and continues to keep those promises. How are we known in the community in ways that reflect our awe and reverence of God?

There are seldom immediate answers, there are rarely quick fixes, there is not a 1-2-3 solution that will clear away the mystery and unrest we face. These require continuing open conversations.

In those conversations, we also have an opportunity to be silent and listen. In the conversation at St Andrews last Sunday, people were intentional about offering questions, expressing their confusion, and offering hope that God was at work in some way. I am often with people whose conversations are stuck because there is so much turmoil in their lives and hearts. We all face struggle, we doubt, and we are reluctant to be silent and listen.

In the midst of all these conversations, I keep hearing Jesus’ words to the unclean spirit, the impure spirit, “be silent.” There is a call and a challenge and an opportunity …in the face of either what we do not understand or what comes at us that seems the opposite of God’s best is an opportunity to be silent and listen.

At the end of Psalm 111 we hear, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We are invited into a sense of awe and wonder, when we can be silent, embrace the unknown,and understand that God is with us. I don’t know exactly what that means except that we are okay, and we will be okay.