Strongholds

Mark 1:21-28

There is little doubt after reading today’s gospel reading that evil exists.  But if you take notice of what happens when Jesus speaks with authority, it also exits.  When Jesus tells the evil spirit to be quiet and come out of the man in the synagogue, it obeys him, it comes out, although with a shriek and not quietly.  But does evil still exist?  If we look around us in the world we can say honestly, categorically and perhaps even with authority that yes evil does still exist.

Now we may not see people like the man in the synagogue that Jesus encountered, but I’m sure you’ve all heard stories about people who have been possessed by evil spirits or demons.  There are accounts of things going wrong when exorcisms have been performed without proper authority and there’s an article on the Lutheran Church of Australia website that gives an account of an ‘unlikely Lutheran’ who has in his past experienced the presence of evil spirits.  So that kind of evil is still around today.  But on the whole we avoid talking about such things, they are perhaps taboo.  Even to the point that I’ve avoided a children’s address today because the subject matter isn’t necessarily ‘G” rated.

But there are some important things to notice about this account that Mark recorded for us as Jesus first act in his ministry that we need to hear about and understand.  This man while being possessed by an evil spirit was in the synagogue, not waiting outside, but inside, a part of the group.  Then when Jesus walked up the man called out to Jesus and said, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”  This evil spirit knew exactly who Jesus was, who he represented and what he was capable of, and it feared him and what he was about to do.

It’s important to note that Jesus had the power and authority over the evil spirit.  You may have also noticed that at the beginning of the reading the people of Capernaum were amazed at Jesus teaching in the synagogue because he spoke with such authority.  Jesus has authority over the word and over evil spirits and over us too.  He is after all the Holy One of God.

So what does this mean for us?  As I look around the congregation I see no-one who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit like the one in our gospel.  I can’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain.  What if we think of the evil things in our lives that are more insidious and hidden, that we might not even see as evil?

What about things in our lives that become strongholds for us, things that demand our attention night and day, things that we hide from our friends, family, workmates etc.  Are there things in your life that have become stumbling blocks to you and maybe even those around you?

For the Corinthians it was an issue of eating food that had been offered to idols.  If it led to confusion and caused others to sin, then Paul said to do away with it, stop, cease!

You could say that any addiction is a stronghold or a stumbling block to you and potentially those around you.  Let’s think about a few of those things.  Mobile phones have become a bit of an addiction haven’t they?  I challenge you to walk into any restaurant, fast food or otherwise and not see people sitting across a table from one another staring at the screen of their mobile phone.  This damages natural relationships, rather than interacting with those who are sitting right there with us we are distracted by the people within the screen or the games that exist on them.  And I’m not saying I’m exempt from this either, I’m as guilty as the next person!

This helpful and seemingly harmless piece of technology now rules our lives.  We feel naked if we leave home without them, we grab for ours when someone else gets a call and even if we know it’s not our ringtone we still take the opportunity to check ours anyway.  (I even found myself stopping as I was writing this because I ‘needed’ to check my emails and others messaging systems).

Then of course there are the more obvious things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, smoking, or even pornography those things that are addictions in the traditional sense of the word.  These too have an impact on our own lives and our relationships with others.  Some of them bring about deceit and lying, covering up the habit or addiction if someone else has a low opinion of it or might find out.  Maybe it’s because if others find out it could be a stumbling block and cause them to do it as well, but more than likely it is through a sense of guilt or shame.  We generally have a bit of an idea that something we are doing is either wrong or not good for us.

There are a few way of going about dealing with this.  Jesus said to the evil spirit “Be quiet” and “Come out of him.”  With God’s help we can do that too.  Some things like alcohol and drugs require professional assistance and a time of detox and rehabilitation to be free from them, others require admitting that they are a problem and then making a decision to say enough is enough.  It may surprise you but confession and absolution can have an amazing effect on the person who feels guilty for the things they have been up to.  Speaking the truth to someone in confidence and knowing that it is never going to be spoken about outside of that discussion has an amazing sense of a weight being lifted.  A problem shared is a problem halved is quite true.  Then to add to that the hearing of God’s forgiveness for you through his Son Jesus has the most power and authority of all, the result is as if a demon has been cast out of us.

It’s funny how little coincidences occur, but as I was writing this on Wednesday out there in the kitchen I was on shuffle on iTunes and the Tim McGraw song Angel Boy came on.  It goes something like this:

My mother said there’s only one way
Sweet angel boy, narrow and straight
Time it has passed, teachings they fade
Now her angel boy has gone astray

I’ve held the hand of the devil, felt his breath on my skin
Dip me into the water, wash me again
Can I still be forgiven for all of these things?
Or have I gone too far now
Have I lost my wings?

I found me a priest, I spoke my mind
Asked if I’d sinned one too many times
He said, “My Son, you’re only a man”
Then I said, “Sir, you don’t understand”

I’ve held the hand of the devil, felt his breath on my skin
Dip me into the water, wash me again
Can I still be forgiven for all of these things?
Or have I gone too far now
Have I lost my wings?

Here’s the good news, no matter what we’ve done, we don’t need to be rebaptised, once is enough for all time.  Jesus has all authority and he has passed it on to us.  Whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  There is nothing we can do to cause God to love us any less.  He wants to save us and forgive us.  He went to extraordinary lengths to achieve it.

He is the only true stronghold in our lives, cling to him, live in his love and claim that love and forgiveness for yourself.

Amen.

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