By The Rev. Sherry Deets
4 Epiphany – February 1, 2015
Possessed by the Holy Spirit, fresh from successfully confronting Satan in the wilderness, preaching the reign of God, and now in the company of at least four followers, it’s time for Jesus’ public ministry to gather momentum.
The man with the unclean spirit finds Jesus, initiating the exchange. His opening question, asked by the spirit that possesses him, is idiomatic and therefore difficult to translate. It conveys a sense of “Why are you picking this fight?” or “Couldn’t you have just left things as they were between us?” Jesus, by his sheer presence in this synagogue, has upset the order. He has crossed an established boundary.
Now I want you to look at the 9 dot puzzle handout. Some of you may already be familiar with this, but the instructions are to connect all 9 dots by drawing only four straight lines that are connected – that is, drawing the lines without lifting pen from paper.
This first time I tried this puzzle, I tried various ways, but just couldn’t do it. I figured it was impossible. Except that it’s not impossible. The key to solving the nine-dot puzzle is to refuse to see the outer line of dots as a boundary. This allows you draw above and beyond the rows and connect all four quite easily. (Like in the figure below.)
What’s interesting is how few people think of that. Why is that? After all, no one said you couldn’t draw outside the lines – or, literally, outside the box. So what makes us do it anyway? Well, by evolutionary design we are trained to see patterns, and part of seeing patterns is detecting boundaries. Much of the time, this is really valuable. Except when you’re trying to solve problems or see possibilities and suddenly those self-imposed but entirely artificial boundaries just aren’t helpful anymore.
I suspect that many of us do this same kind of thing in our roles – whether in business, the church, or our community. We assume there are limits and thereby restrict the possibilities we see by conforming to artificial boundaries. And I suspect many of us do this in our relationships, too, defining the possibilities ahead of time and not seeing the potential in ourselves or the people around us. How do we get around that?
There was a documentary on the life of Steve Jobs a few years ago. At one point Jobs said that his whole life changed when he realized that the “reality” he lived in had been created by people no smarter than he was. That realization gave him permission to “poke reality,” testing to see which boundaries were real and which were simply conventional.
That’s something we might try, as well. Testing the reality presented to us to determine whether the limits we see are actual or artificial, helpful or a hindrance. Can the church really not grow, whether in numbers or generosity? Can your child really improve his behavior, even if you change yours? Is a relationship with a loved one really limited by a past mistake? Can you really not find meaningful work, even if you redefined your sense of “work” – or “meaningful” – in the first place?
There are boundaries all around us. Some are real; some are helpful; and some aren’t either. And you’ll never know which is which until you poke them to see if they bend.
We would do well to remember how Mark’s Gospel starts — in the wilderness with the heavens ripping apart. Who is Jesus? A boundary breaker, which an exorcism confirms exponentially.
And Jesus reveals a boundary breaking God. We will see this all over Mark. Each and every boundary we try to put in place, we think is in place, even that which we perceive as impenetrable, God bursts through. Political, social, religious, racial, sexual, gendered, cosmic, even if we are honest, the final boundary we persist in thinking is beyond God’s ability to shatter — death.
As a result, Jesus the Exorcist seems the only logical first ministry act for Jesus in Mark — not a sermon, not a miracle, not even a healing. But stepping into the realm of opposing supremacies, the world of other spirits, the potent power of possession and saying, “God is here;” breaking through the barrier that holds at bay the unclean, the evil of the universe, the places and spaces where it seems God could never be, the very presence of the opposite of God.
Because what does the good news of Jesus Christ really mean (Mk 1:1)? Mark isn’t just making stuff up. Mark knows Isaiah. And what is the good news, the gospel in Isaiah 40:9 and 52:7? The herald of good tidings, that is, the one who brings good news says, “Your God reigns. Your God is here.” This is the good news. This is the meaning of the heavens being ripped apart, a suffering Messiah, death on a cross, and an empty tomb. When all looks like God is absent? God is present. Your God is here.
In dark times, we not only need light. We need to BE light for one another. That’s a message we take to heart in a world where darkness regularly descends on our individual and collective lives.
There are many kinds of light. There’s the light of compassion that comforts everything it touches. There’s the light that allows people lost in the dark to find their way home. There’s the light of truth-telling about ourselves that allows us to see what we are doing, or allowing, that has helped bring this darkness upon us. There’s the light that shows us the way forward toward a better world. There’s the light of courage to walk that path no matter who says “Stop!”
None of us can provide all of the light the world needs. But every day all of us can say, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” And every day, all of us can ask, “What kind of light can I be today?” What boundary will God burst through today?