23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
This week, I was in Washington D.C. with Hilton Austin, Pastor Jonathan Trapp, and about 150 other Lutherans from around the country to meet with representatives to ask them to advocate for the protection of nutritional programs for the poor. It has been a whirlwind of training, prayer, worship, and lots of walking. While advocacy is sometimes a word that carries with it negative connotations, seeing advocacy in action through other Lutheran pastors and lay people from all walks of life has shown me that engaging in productive conversations about how to care for the poor is very holy work. I became aware of the holiness not because we’re meeting in a church, or because half of those in attendance are in clerical collars. I am aware of how this is holy work because our gatherings are steeped in Scripture, and the stories that we tell resound with the themes of the stories that we read every week at Redeemer; Ruth and Naomi gleaning from the fields, Joseph’s willingness to embrace the series of tragic events that occurred in his life, and see them as part of God’s purposes in his own life and those who he served.
And then there are the stories about Jesus…
This week we remembered that Jesus was born to poor parents in a dirty place, visited and worshiped by those that society pushed to the margins. We remembered that Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt to protect their child from violence. And in this week’s lectionary we read about Jesus’ first public act - freeing a man from the bondage of demon possession. The retelling of this act as first is specific to Mark’s Gospel. It was important to the writer of Mark’s audience to know that this act of authority, came first. Perhaps because the non-Jewish hearers were unfamiliar with the writings of the Hebrew prophets or the stories of the forebears of their faith. They were not familiar with Levitical Laws that provided for the care of the poor and oppressed. Mark’s “educational discourse” can be viewed as a succinct document that offers a quick history and some essential lessons through the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.
At the beginning of this advocacy gathering, one of the speakers reminded us of our connectedness in our struggles with oppression, even if we all don’t have the same struggles. She quoted Lilla Watson who said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
I believe that this is what Mark was trying to convey. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue (and trust me, no pastor likes to have their sermons interrupted), yet he stopped what he was doing, and spoke with authority to the unclean spirit that was possessing an innocent man. He spoke with authority as an example to us, to show us that we have the same authority to bring liberation from oppression and injustice.
We pray: Liberating God, all authority under heaven and on earth was given to you, and as your disciples, you have given us the same authority. Help us to do the work of liberation and even more, help us to see that the liberation of all of your children is connected. Amen.
Written by the Rev. Karen Slappey
Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism
Mission Developer - Atlanta Bar Church