January 31, 2021
I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
- Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
- Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
- Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I hope these words are familiar to you. We hear them every time we affirm our baptisms or celebrate a baptism in our congregation. As the presiding minister asks these questions, the expected response following each one is, “I renounce them.” The liturgy of the baptism reminds us of the saving grace found in God and that Jesus Christ has authority over all things that pull our attention from God. When we come to the affirmation of baptism with weary souls, Jesus can heal us and liberate us from anything luring us away from God. We get to witness such a healing in today’s gospel.
Immediately following the call of the first disciples, Jesus and the disciples travel to Capernaum. For many of us, moving into a new house, starting a new job, or becoming part of a new community, requires time for adjustment and to get our bearings, Jesus has no such thing in mind. His ministry has been laid out for him from the very beginning and he is prepared to teach the Word of God and heal those in need.
Jesus’ words in the synagogue stop people in their tracks. They are amazed. They are astonished. They are in awe of the teaching that Jesus is laying out in front of them. Even before the man with the unclean spirit enters the scene, we are told that he teaches with authority, not like the scribes. Now, the scribes were intellectual folks and prominent teachers in the synagogue. However, when listening to their teachings, it was probably more like a lecture as they referenced scripture quite often. Jesus, on the other hand, spoke with an authority that no one had witnessed before. No other prophets had taught like this. He was teaching from his very being and with such emotion and passion that people were drawn into every word coming from his mouth.
Jesus was preaching a message that the people were longing to hear. They not only heard the words coming from his mouth, but they also sensed the divine nature of Jesus before the man with the unclean spirit even called out and said Jesus was “the Holy One of God.” At this moment, Jesus takes his teaching to an entirely different level as he addresses the man and the unclean spirit within him. “Silence,” Jesus speaks, and Jesus’ words are enough for the man to be healed.
What was this unclean spirit or demon that Jesus ordered to leave? I encourage you to let go of the images in your mind from any movies or television shows you may have seen that depict demons or unclean spirits. It is our tendency to equate these images with scripture. However, the man with the unclean spirit may have most of the time seemed fine. Perhaps in this interaction, he was letting his anger get the best of him as he cries out to Jesus. The man may have had a deep-seated fear that Jesus was going to stir things up and make life extremely uncomfortable for the people in Capernaum. Remember, the area was under Roman rule, and at any time Rome could decide that their patience had worn thin with the Jewish people.
Jesus is not concerned with this notion, because he knows the ministry which he has been called and he is using this first teaching in Capernaum to set the tone for his and the disciples ministry over the next three years. It is a ministry that will proclaim the Word of God and bring healing to the oppressed. Jesus is emphasizing his ability to provide healing to weary souls.
Many of us can empathize and/or relate with those having weary souls. We are now well into our tenth month of a pandemic that has changed the way we do everything. For the love of our neighbor, we have maintained physical distance and donned face masks. Many businesses are still finding new ways to stay afloat in this time of COVID. Our restaurants are excited that they will once again be able to open their doors to limited capacity this next week. It is nearly impossible to visit friends and family in the hospital at this name and that makes not only us weary, but also the individual under care in the hospital. This is just naming a handful of things that are currently making our souls weary.
In that weariness our lives can seem void of purpose. It is also weariness that can open the door to the demons and evil that pervade our society. Remember, a demon or a thing of evil is anything that has power over us that is not of God. It could be depression that is brought on by isolation over the last ten months. It could be the unhealthy use of alcohol or drugs being used to mute the outside world. It could be the anger and resentment that has built up when realizing some things are out of our control. These circumstances can lead us further from the liberating word and healing of Jesus Christ.
To breakthrough the weariness, we get to acknowledge Jesus for his healing and being the Holy One of God. The man with the unclean spirit did not have it wrong. Jesus was just trying to slow the flow of information coming out of Capernaum so that he could reach more people before the authorities confronted him. To acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One of God, means that we have to give up some of our own control. Coming to terms with the knowledge that we do not always know better is not an easy talk to have with ourselves.
Yet Jesus invites us into his teaching. It is a new teaching that opens our hearts to the wonder of God that is bound in love for each and every one of us. A God that wants us to renounce the evil in our lives and be vulnerable to God’s unending love. We do this by renouncing the evils in our lives. By naming our fears and demons which have entangled our very being, we begin to unbind the evil that has infiltrated our lives. By naming these evils we acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and we can fully experience the healing brought to our weary souls. This is a process that takes time and transformation as we continue to sit in God’s Word and listen to how it is calling us personally. It is a healing which takes place from the inside out and begins to liberate us from those forces that pull us away from God.
If only we could allow ourselves to be astonished and amazed at the teaching of Jesus, as those gathered in the synagogue were nearly two thousand years ago. Jesus’ new teaching ushers in a reformation for those whose hearts are moved to follow him. May you be open to the vulnerability of naming your personal evils and those forces that have power over you which are not of God. May the Word of Christ liberate you from any bondage you may find yourself in as you renounce the evil in your life. May you be healed by the presence of Jesus Christ.