Sermons

Finding God in the Darkness

Finding God in the Darkness

    Feb 01, 2015

    Passage:Mark 1:21-28

    Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

    Series: Epiphany

    Category: Faith

    Keywords: faith, darkness, demons, hope

    Summary:

    Like the man described in the Gospel of Mark who was "possessed by demons," we all experience times of great difficulty, Even in the moments when we feel most lost and alone, we can find God in the darkness, because God is always there.

    Detail:

     Wow! What an exciting gospel lesson today! Jesus has just begun his ministry, chosen some disciples, and now this. It is the kind of story that would make for great cinematic drama.

    Picture the Scene! Jesus waits until the Sabbath. He walks into the synagogue. He amazes everyone with his teachings. And the people are all abuzz because this carpenter walks in and teaches as “one having authority, and not as the scribes.” You can feel the electricity in the air!

    Then, in the midst of all this excitement, there is even more. A man who is possessed by demons cries out to Jesus. The demons ask Jesus what he has come to do to them. Did he come to destroy them? The demons even recognize Jesus as the Messiah when it appears that no one else in the synagogue does. Then Jesus with all the power of the Son of God rebukes them, saying “Be silent and come out of him!” The man convulses and the demons cry out before leaving the man. The people in the synagogue are astounded and they recognize that this is something new, a “new authority” with which Jesus has acted. Even the demons obey him! And his fame starts to spread.

     Now this is an exciting story. Initially we, too, are carried away with the rising tension. Then comes the thrilling end. In 2015, we say: Now they all know! Look what Jesus has done—how can they not know that Jesus is the Messiah?!

     Then our questions start to rise. What does this mean he teaches with “authority?” Of course, Jesus teaches with authority. Why is it so important to Mark that he mentions this twice in just a few sentences? And then there is the man with “unclean spirit”—the one possessed by demons.

     Okay, great—Jesus exorcises this man and the demons flee. Jesus does this kind of thing all through the gospels. But the people in the synagogue seem as perplexed as we are.   And we have the advantage of knowing that Jesus is the Messiah and performs lots more miracles as time goes on. They do not. Really? Jesus just walks up to a man who is possessed by demons, says six words to him, and the demons leave?

     Although this is an incredible story, what are we to make of it today? I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I came home and responded to Robert asking how was my day with: “Well, pretty bad—I ran into a guy who was possessed by demons.” 

    And let me be clear, I am not debating whether there is a supernatural world in which demons exist. I am not debating whether this man was actually in the grip of mental illness. I am not debating whether this is merely a metaphor to address our “current day demons” which come to us in the form of idolatry. What I am asking here is: how and where do we find God in this story? How does Jesus illuminate God’s Kingdom in this passage?

     So, if we are asking where God is, let’s consider for a moment the man who was possessed with an “unclean spirit.” In the ancient world, people believed that demons were a part of every aspect of life. Jewish writings are filled with stories about a world in which supernatural beings set out to hurt or destroy men, women, and children. There were demons for everything, for every illness, every catastrophe, and every bad thing that happened to a person.[1]

     These spirits are considered to be the forces that act as barriers or obstacles between God and us. They try to separate us from God, to put us in a place that is so dark that we may feel as though we are possessed, as though we are completely and utterly alone.  Can you imagine what life must have been like for the man with the unclean spirit? How isolated and afraid he must have felt? How dark and hopeless life must have seemed? How it felt to not have control over his own mind or body?

     For this man possessed by demons, Jesus reveals something far more remarkable than his authority and ability to perform miracles. What is more amazing about today’s gospel is what Jesus was trying to demonstrate.

     It is a message that Mark’s audience had difficulty understanding. A message that we often forget today: God is with us even in the pitch black, the darkest of our moments. God is with us in those times when we may not even be able to feel God’s presence. God is with us when we feel like we’ve lost our way. God is with us when we feel that no one could ever understand what we are going through. God is with us when we are facing the most frightening and devastating of life’s circumstances. God is with us when we are so ashamed of our actions that we believe not even God could tolerate us.

     Jesus reminds us that God’s presence is there because Jesus experienced and recognizes our suffering. Jesus recognized the suffering within the man who was possessed. But here is the key: The suffering recognized Jesus. Then Jesus freed this man from his darkness and suffering. Jesus shows us that not even the darkest powers in all of creation can separate us from God. This is the new authority. This is the new message.

     There are times in our lives when we will be the ones living in the dark. Remembering that God is with us and looking for even the faintest hints of light will help us to move through that darkness. There will also be times when we are the ones who can be the reminders of God’s presence to those in the darkness. Not by lecturing or trying to convince them that God is still with them, but by being God’s presence with them and around them. 

    A few years ago I received a Facebook message asking for prayers for a friend’s 11-year-old son who was having surgery the next day for a nonmalignant tumor. Although surgery is always risky, his should have been relatively smooth with a full recovery within weeks. However, he ended up with multiple complications and multiple surgeries, lasting for over a year. For his mother, it was definitely a time of deep darkness. Days, weeks, and months went on. People from all over the world, some of whom my friend did not even know, began to post messages of hope and prayer on her page. These were truly glimmers of light to her as she faced the isolation and fear of being in an ICU unit with her son for months on end.

     What struck me most, however, was how she posted messages of hope throughout this ordeal. She shared her fear and desperation, but she also intentionally identified at least one thing each day which served to her as a small source of light in her darkest hours. She talked about the kindnesses that someone at the hospital performed. She commented on how friends brought food and messages from home. She wrote about seeing the rest of their family after long separations due to this hospitalization. Over that time, she posted countless instances of finding God in the midst of this nightmare. She frequently referred to passages from great works of literature, poetry, or scripture. In following her journey, I found that her heartwrenching entries also revealed the same message that we see in today’s scripture. The actions of those supporting her and her own responses bring to life the realization of God made manifest that we celebrate during this Epiphany season.  

     My friend knows and we know that this is the good news: That Jesus came with new authority, not only to tell us, but to show us that even in our darkest moments, those moments when we feel completely and utterly alone, God. Is. There. God will bring light and God will bring healing, in this life and in the world to come. Amen.

     

    [1]William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series (Edinburgh: St. Andrews Press, 1954).