Prayer of the Day
Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
[Moses said:] 15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This 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.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I 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. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But 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.” 21You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a word that the Lordhas not spoken?’ 22If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps. 111:10)1Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are your works, O Lord,
pondered by all who delight in them.
3Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever.
4You cause your wonders to be remembered;
you are gracious and full of compassion.
5You give food to those who fear you,
remembering forever your covenant.
6You have shown your people the power of your works
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
all of your precepts are sure.
8They stand fast forever and ever,
because they are done in truth and equity.
9You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever;
holy and awesome is your name.
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.
1[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Van Limburg brothers 1375 – 1416
The Healing of a Possessed
illuminated manuscript — 1413-16
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
At the heart of today’s gospel passage is Jesus’ first public act. We should take note because this is his first. It might seem strange to our 21st century ears and eyes when we first hear or read about Jesus’ exorcism of the demon. I have done lots of blessings, but no exorcism. But let’s not let that fact distract us.
What is Jesus really doing to this man? He is liberating him. First Jesus rebukes the demon, “Be silent.” Then he casts the demon out, “come out of him!” And the unclean spirit comes out. The man if free and his life is changed forever.
We can barely count the ways that Jesus has changed this man’s life. His physical body is changed, no longer possessed by the demon. Yes. Jesus cares about actual physical bodies. The man’s social standing is forever altered, for the better. This means his mind and spirit are going to be changed as well. He can be part of community now. Through the exorcism, Jesus has liberated the man in so many ways.
In Jesus, God is doing something new, but it is not entirely out of character. Remember that the central story of Israel’s past is the liberation from Egypt, through the Red Sea. The Passover is still celebrated by Jews every year. Each year, on Maundy Thursday, Christians remember Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover.
Then, on Mount Sinai, God gave the 10 Commandments to the liberated Israelites. We think about rules confining us, limiting us, but these rules were given so every single person in the community could live an abundant life. Over and over, God has been a God of life and liberation for all people.
The story of the exorcism continues this theme and makes it new. As one pastor said, “Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God desires for all of us.” Let me say that again, “Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God desires for all of us.”
Is that not a message we still need to hear? Is it not a message the world needs to hear? Of course, it is, because there are still forces that bind us, forces that keep the world from experiencing the abundant life God desires for all creation. Such binding forces include systemic racism, polarized worldviews that demonize one another, and environmental disregard, just to name a few big ones.
What does this look like for our personal embodied lives? Each one of you can probably name forces that bind you. I know that some of the strongest forces in my life that go against God’s desire for abundant life, are simple and every day. Chiefly, these forces include the deep need to continually produce and the desire to be perceived as excellent or perfect.
I do not mean to imply that productivity and perfectionism are inherently bad, but when they are not checked, they can bind me and others in destructive ways. I believe we are pushing our individual selves, our systems, and our natural resources too hard and too fast. It is unsustainable for our communities, the earth, and our embodied selves.
“And yet,” those are our words of promise and hope. And yet, the kingdom of God breaks in through Jesus Christ and offers a new way—a way of abundant life and liberation. And Jesus comes as one with authority. As we hear in our scripture passage from Mark this morning, this authority seems to permeate everything he does and speaks. Jesus’ authority, I would contend, comes from those two things aligning. His actions align with his words.
The scribes, who Jesus is contrasted with, depend only on words and teaching. We read that Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum and taught. The text says, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus is not teaching something new. He comes from and follows the same tradition as the scribes.
But he is giving a different interpretation. The scribes’ teaching has not liberated the people. It has, instead, oppressed and enslaved them. Jesus brings a new interpretation. And Jesus not only teaches this liberation with his words. He also pairs it with his actions by exorcising the demon.
Where does this leave us, those of us who are trying to faithfully follow Jesus today? Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney says, “We can no longer pretend that we can follow [Jesus] without following him into the broken places of the world. We can no longer pretend that we can follow Christ without paying an exorbitant price at some point. We can no longer claim we follow Christ if we never leave our places of safety and never raise the ire of those who construct and benefit from the systems that impoverish and imprison.”
After worship, members of Trinity Lutheran will gather on Zoom for our annual meeting. The annual meeting packet includes many words attempting to tell the story of how individual members and our entire congregation tried to follow Jesus and bring life and liberation to the broken places of our community.
Certainly, we have brought life to the broken places in our community through the ministry of Trinity New Hope affordable housing. Trinity Community Gardens and our food pantry continue to feed people, some who have experienced food insecurity for the first time this year. Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids is another collaboration Trinity is a part of—a ministry valuing each and every youth who participates, equipping them to be peace makers in their communities.
We may not be changing housing and food access systems across the Treasure Valley, yet. But we are impacting people’s lives. And the exorcism in our text shows us that Jesus himself found value in changing one person’s life, giving liberation to one person. We can receive courage and assurance from this story that giving new life, one person at a time, if being faithful to the life of Christian discipleship.
This text today about Jesus liberating the one man, making a difference in this one embodied person’s life, also had me remembering the many ways our members follow Jesus beyond the ministries of our congregation. Last year, shortly before the pandemic hit the Treasure Valley, we captured many of the ways our members reach the community with your actions, either through dollars given or through volunteer hours.
Amongst our membership are people dedicated to young people who serve as youth coaches, tutors, and mentors. We have people who have served meals at the Nampa Salvation Army and others who volunteer through the senior center meal program. Collectively, you support all sorts of feeding programs locally and nationally. We have members who register people to vote, ensuring that barriers do not block people from participating in the voting process. Members care for the environment through simple things like recycling and reusing but also through trail maintenance.
A year has passed since we asked for the many ways you serve beyond the ministries of this congregation. I wonder what is the same and what has changed because of this most unusual year. What healing ministries are you part of now? How are you reaching out to people bound by the forces of this world? Where are you bringing life to another’s body, mind, or spirit?
Jesus’ authority came because his actions aligned with his words. This year, more members and friends of Trinity have found their voices. We have regular contributors to tvprays.org, lay people witnessing to the liberation and life God desires for all creation. We had a record number of contributions to our Advent daily devotion—more stories of God arriving in your life and/or sending you to serve others.
Addition members and friends have grown in witnessing to God through simple interactions within your families or circles of friends and neighbors. It might be mentioning a book you or reading or telling someone you will pray for them or sharing a personal story about how the Holy Spirit buoyed you when you felt broken.
The world, our neighbors, our family and friends need healing that comes through both our actions and words. When we are wavering about what to do, where our own authority comes from, we need only look to the life and ministry of Jesus, who came “to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God desires for all of us.” Amen.
Prayers of Intercession (for service of healing) from ELW
Let us pray. Loving God, our source and our final home,we give you thanks for the gifts of life on earth, for our human bodies and all you have created. In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Merciful God, by the wounds of your Son we are healed. Bring your saving health to all people.In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Holy God,your Spirit came upon us in the waters of baptismand brought us into the communion of saints. Renew in us the grace of baptism, by which we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Mighty God,your Son Jesus brought healing and wholeness to all. Bring your healing presence now to all who are sick or in pain. Grant hope to all who are discouraged or in despair.In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Compassionate God, the strength of those who suffer,bring hope and peace to all who are in mental, physical, or spiritual distress. In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Almighty God, source of human knowledge,give skill, wisdom, and compassionto all who provide medical care.In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
Loving God, our creator and redeemer, give gentleness and courage to family members, friends, and caregivers of those who suffer. In your great mercy, hear us, O God.
God of great and abundant mercy, with your presence sustain all for whom we pray. Drive away their suffering, give them firm hope, and strengthen their trust in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.