[Story of Dad taking a picture of Micah yesterday face-to-face with a snake near the Cabrillo Historic Lighthouse in Point Loma.]
Unwilling (or unable?) to look up, smile, and look beyond his immediate situation.
That simple image strikes me this morning as particularly illustrative for our Gospel reading. Except take away the sweet little boy Micah and a harmless garden snake and replace them with a man possessed by an unclean spirit. Eyes and body locked up, like a snake has actually coiled around him. And is squeezing him, and has him crying out strange things. And like Micah, he is unwilling or unable to look up and see anything else.
There was an older woman at a church I used to serve…who had some wonderful gifts for ministry. She was a teacher and a friend of the youth, she was creative and insightful at times. But every time I went out of town, I would get this email from her, that was like another person. Her words were mean and nasty, like venom. It took me a while to figure out that there was some history and chemical dependency and an imbalance of medication in the mix here…that it wasn’t just me causing this outburst. But it was as if something had been punctured, and this deep-seated anger and brokenness inside of her, which she normally kept neatly concealed, was bubbling out all over the keyboard, poisoning the airwaves. Sometimes she’d even copy her notes to others.
When I’d return, I’d immediately make an appointment, but she’d assure me that everything was fine. It had blown over. Sometimes she’d even deny or forgot the whole thing even happened.
But something was gripping her. Something was coiling around her, keeping her from looking up, from seeing beyond, causing her to cry out strange things. [pause]
There was a nation once, whose military industrial complex was unreal. This country made our harbor full of artillery look like nothing. Everything was secure and sound in that nation. Walls were perfectly erected designed to keep out any invaders and foreign contaminants, even biological. Weapons of mass destruction were hidden with strategy and precision inside every mountain and under waterways. And they were always ready for any kind of attack. Ships and tanks and fighter jets were stationed in every town and a patrol officer at every corner. They spared no expense in training their soldiers. In fact, they start training their children when they’re old enough to carry a weapon, so that by the time they’re teenagers they are like Navy Seals. And their intelligence agency was the sharpest the world had ever seen.
But something was gripping that little country. For behind all the weaponry and the walls was a fear. Deep in the caves of the people’s hearts…was a sadness and a pain. For in no God could they trust….only in their machines. Something was coiling around that whole nation, keeping it from looking up, keeping it from seeing beyond, causing it to cry out strange things. [pause]
There was once a young man, who was afraid to speak. He thought he wanted to be a preacher. But he was so overcome with fear and guilt and a crippling self-consciousness that even after he had taken the class and gotten the accolades from his preaching professor, when he climbed into the pulpit for the first time, his mouth went dry. His heart sank to his feet and he was struck dumb. The sweat pounded down from this forehead and onto his manuscript, and his hands shook uncontrollably.
It was as if something was gripping him. Something was coiling around his voice box, keeping him from looking up and crying out beyond himself a Good Word to a people in pain. [pause]
Today Jesus enters the temple, sees a child of God possessed by an unclean spirit, and he crushes that demon!
You have to understand something about the Gospel of Mark as a whole: This book is not gentle spiritual guidance, graceful suggestions for the Christian life, sweet stories of our Lord. No, Mark tells of a Jesus who crushes that demon. Mark reeks of radical in-your-face good-crushing-sin Gospel! We’re only in the first chapter here. And Jesus is casting out a demon in the temple on the Sabbath! Jesus doesn’t gently brush shoulders with challenges, float past opposition like a holy leaf in the breeze, bestowing peace and security and happiness to all. No, Mark is all about Jesus going head to head with the forces of evil.
Jesus actions and words are as swift and as audible as one of our fighter jets tearing across the San Diego sky: Deafening and striking awe in everyone.
Every story in Mark is a cosmic clash with Satan. With those powers in our world that coil around us and deteriorate our hope. That cripple us with fear, anger, pain and sorrow.
Jesus stomps on the snake’s head. He crushes the oppressors rod. A modern-day Isaiah would say that he bends the AK47 into a gardening tool…
So that at last the man can look up.
Jesus reaches out to that angry old woman with her vitriolic words and snaps the neck of the snake that has coiled around her. And she can look up at last.
Jesus reaches out to that warring nation and rebukes the demons, “Come out!” Jesus says, “Be silent, and come out.” And the scripture says that the unclean spirit of a whole people, after convulsing and crying out with a loud voice, finally leaves. And. There. Is. Peace.
And to the young man who was struck dumb in the pulpit, Christ comes and opens the mouth of the prophets. To preach release to the captive, hope to the oppressed, forgiveness to all, and love. The demon is crushed and love wins the day.
To you…Christ comes. To you he reaches out and takes your demons and your burdens and your sorrows and your guilt and your anger and your pain…
And he crushes them. Look up. And live. For Love is on our side. AMEN.