February 4, 2018

Epiphany 5B

Caste Out Demons

 GOSPEL

 After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Mark 1:29-39

SERMON

 “They brought to Him all who were possessed with demons. He silenced those demons and cast them out.  And when questioned by His disciples He confirmed for them that this is what He came to do.”

 Yes, the action of God is very much directed to putting evil in its place; to calling it out when it shows its ugly face; and to casting it out, so that, as the Prophet Isaiah says, “Power might be given to the weak and strength to the powerless.”

This the Good News, that Paul, as a disciple of Jesus, clearly feels constrained to proclaim both in what he says and what he does, and Paul is quite ready to chastise himself severely if he were to shrink back from proclaiming it. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim it.”

 By now we are all familiar with the name of a group that identifies itself as Boko Haram.   It is the jihadist military organization that operates in Northeastern Nigeria.  We have had occasion to be appalled by news reports of the tactics they employ in order to maintain a reign of fear and to exercise their power, leverage and control over those whom they consider less them themselves.  Boko Haram has taken groups of young people hostage and holds them for ransom against their demands being met.

There is no question in our minds that whatever their cause, the tactics they engage are clearly and categorically evil.   To so violate the humanity of innocent, vulnerable, powerless people is that kind of evil, which like the blood of Abel, “Cries to heaven for vengeance.”

 Yes, holding people, and their lives and their futures hostage is unequivocally evil.  I am sure we can all agree with this appraisal.

I submit to you that such evil, and in some ways far greater in scale, is not confined to a nation as remote from us as Nigeria.   I further submit to you that hostage taking on a greater scale is the very tactic being currently employed by this administration.

In our time, in our faces, and before our very eyes, those in power, have with the greatest impunity and with no obvious remorse, decided to hold the lives and futures of no less then 1.8 million young men and women hostage against the ransom they demand.  It is a ransom that has been calculated to be no less than $70 billion dollars.  It is a ransom being demanded to satisfy the security fantasies and nativist impulses of the psychologically delusional and morally unhinged.

When compared to our own experience of hostage taking, the evil actions of Boko Haram pale in magnitude.  The fear that has been generated here does not stalk a few hundred families but rather hundreds of thousands of families.

It sometimes seems that we can be more readily moved to a place of moral outrage by the horror inflicted on these Nigerian children, and, of course, rightly so,  and yet appear to be somewhat cowed into a place of silence and paralysis in the face of the way our own elected officials are treating those innocent children identified as the Dreamers.  To take people hostage is to treat them as if they were disposable pawns in a game of chess.

At issue here is not just an evil outcome, the possible discarding of innocent human beings whose only crime is their wanting life, liberty and an opportunity to pursue their happiness, but the evil process that is being employed.  The outcome of that process could very well be their being driven out from among us.

Once again on Tuesday evening we were encouraged to identify these countless innocents, with a real criminal who murdered a young woman in California.  This was a gross offense, unfortunately one among many, against truth.

All immigrants are not murders, rapists and drug dealers.  The overwhelming majority of immigrants are not murders, rapists and drug dealers. As a matter of fact the majority of murders, rapists and drug dealers happen to be citizens.  To use a bereaved family and to exploit a tragedy so as to propagate and advance such a vicious and victimizing lie is to scape the bottom of the decency barrel.

If we allow the normalization of an evil process, if we accept such as an ordinary way of doing business, do we not do so at the the greatest jeopardy to our own integrity and wellbeing as a people?  You may believe so much in the need for a border wall that you are willing to incur a $70 billion debt to build one, but you cannot hold the lives of 1.8 million people hostage to get your way and have your highly questionable needs met.  And no one must be given leave to wantonly and casually brand the innocent as guilty.

For two years the self-proclaimed genius in the White House has worked hard to restore a virulent strain of nativism to the mainstream of American life. He uses every opportunity at his disposal to stoke those ugly fires.

Immediately after the mention of the word “immigration,” he spoke of “gangs” and “drugs” and “low-wage” competition for jobs. He spoke about “protecting” the American people from the ill effects of immigration and made no effort to praise the manifold contributions immigrants make to the fabric of our lives and culture.

So from what place do we address this evil?

When we were baptized we were anointed with the oil of chrism.  That anointing signified our being entrusted with a threefold ministry.  We were anointed to take our place within a company of priests, prophets and kings.  Yes, while we seldom think about it, we each, at our baptism, were called to that risen life that finds its realization in the expression of these three distinct but interrelated vocations.

As we each grow into our callings, Jesus remains the icon who reveals what it means to be a Priest; what is means to be a Prophet; and what it means to be a King.   We are asked and invited to contour our embrace of our vocation to the standard that He has set.

To realize our vocation as priests is to live our lives in such a fashion that we intentionally strive to embody, at every opportunity, that love which is self-giving even unto death.  Jesus was His most priestly self as He hung upon the cross.  When the priest Himself became the sacrificial offering He makes, the priest comes home to the fullest realization of his or her priestly vocation.

Remembering your baptism, will you strive to be as a sacrificial offering?  I will with God’s help.

To realize our vocation as prophets is to live our lives in such a fashion that we do not shrink back from our responsibility to speak the truth to power.  “Woe to me if I fail to preach the Good News.” Even as He stood hands bound, back whipped and head crowned with thorns before Pilate He spoke truth to the power that was Rome.  We realize our calling to speak the truth to power when we allow ourselves to become as completely one as possible with the weak and the vulnerable.  In this case when we affirm our own identity as immigrants.

Remembering your baptism, will you assumed a relationship of solidarity with the powerless?  I will with God’s help.

To realize our vocation as kings is live our lives seeking opportunities to serve the wellbeing of others.  “Where there is fear, let me sow faith.  Where there is despair, let me sow hope.”   Jesus was His most kingly self when He tied an apron around his waist, got down on His knees and washed the feet of His disciples.

Remembering your baptism, will you present yourself as a slave and conform your life to that of a servant?  I will with God’s help.

The crisis that has fallen upon our immigrant and refugee neighbors must be and remain very much our business and very much our concern.  It must always call forth a response from us that will be an expression of our baptismal vocation to be priests, prophets and kings – in the manner, style and persona of Jesus.  How we do this is for each of us to discern.  That we do this is no less than a requirement of our baptism.

Remember the questions and the response that we made and continue to make.  We are a people of covenant and promise.

Will you persevere in resisting evil?

I will with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News?

I will with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?

I will with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice for all people?

I will with God’s help.

Will you respect the dignity of every person?

I will with God’s help.

These remain the promises we make and the promises we are compelled to live.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

February 4, 2018