Sermon for June 6th, 2021
Early in Jesus’s ministry he went to Capernaum, a little fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. When the Sabbath came he went into the synagogue and began to teach. And people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught “as one with authority.” He taught the scriptures like he really knew them. And if that wasn’t enough, while he was teaching, a man came up to him that had been struggling with an unclean spirit, a demon. We don’t talk a lot about unclean spirits or demons anymore. We like to dismiss these things as primitive superstitions or misunderstandings. I’m not so sure. I think demons are real. We all probably deal with demons more than we care to admit. But anyways, through this man the unclean spirit or demon cries 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.” And just then, Jesus says “be silent and come out of him!” And the man convulses and the demon come out of him. The demon is destroyed, but not the man. The man is saved. And people start to wonder.
Jesus walks out of the synagogue and heads just a few steps down the block to Peter’s house where his mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Jesus takes her hand and the fever is gone. People start bringing other folks to Jesus that are sick or struggling with demons and Jesus heals them all. The demons know who Jesus is, they know he is coming for them, so Jesus won’t even let them speak anymore, because demons are liars. Then Jesus takes the show on the road and starts casting out demons in other villages.
A leper comes to him. Jesus touches him and makes him clean. People start to flock to Jesus. They bring him a paralyzed man and Jesus not only makes him walk again, but very curiously the first thing that Jesus said to this man was “your sins are forgiven,” sort of like that was the most pressing issue and the greatest gift that he had to offer. Jesus is getting very famous and starts calling more people to follow him, and then one day, he heals a man on the Sabbath. Jesus does a good thing; he brings health and wholeness back to someone, but he does it on the Sabbath, and there are some people who have such a restricted view of what God allows on the Sabbath, that they completely turn on Jesus. This is just a bridge too far. Because he has broken one of their rules, or perhaps more accurately, because Jesus is questioning how some people are interpreting God’s rules, he has created some enemies. But he keeps going. He keeps healing the sick. He keeps teaching people and casting out demons.
Some of Jesus’s critics, even some members of his family, start to suggest that he is the one that is possessed by the demons. People start saying that Jesus is doing all of these good and miraculous works through the power of Satan. And Jesus points out how ridiculous this is: How can Satan cast out Satan? Satan doesn’t cast out demons and heal people. Satan doesn’t set people free, Satan binds people; Satan enslaves people. But Jesus is healing people and setting people free. Jesus is actually binding Satan up. Jesus uses this fun little analogy of tying up a strong man to plunder his property. Well Jesus is tying up Satan so he can take God’s property, that is you and me, back. Jesus is plundering Satan’s house and stealing us back for God. But you know, as much as that is good news, some people just don’t want to hear that; don’t want to believe it. Because if that is really true, then that means that we are really going to have to start taking what Jesus says seriously.
Jesus teaches with authority. And Jesus challenges some of the prevailing interpretations of God’s law. And Jesus is demonstrating such actual divine power that people are distressed and shocked and conflicted and maybe a little terrified, because if the power that is in this man’s hands is also in his words and in his teaching, if what he is saying is actually true, well that is going to re-order their world, and that’s scary. So we find ways of not believing the truth when we are confronted with it. We look for reasons not to believe God when God is speaking to us. Sometimes we will even go so far as to cling to the exact opposite thing because doing so keeps us in our fantasies; It keeps us from having to confront a truth we don’t want to confront. That is what is happening in the gospel today. People don’t want to accept that Jesus is teaching and acting with the power of God, because if they did that then that would mean their lives would have to change. So instead they try to convince themselves that the exact opposite is true, and that Jesus is, in fact, using demonic power to cast out demons. It’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t matter. Humans are good are believing ridiculous things if it keeps them from having to confront the truth.
I think that one of the most brilliant Dolly Parton songs ever, and this is really a difficult judgement, because most of them are brilliant, but one of the most brilliant at least in terms of lyrics is “The Grass is Blue.”
I’ve had to think up a way to survive
Since you said it’s over
Told me goodbye
I just can’t make it one day without you
Unless I pretend that the opposite’s true
Rivers flow backwards
Valleys are high
Mountains are level
Truth is a lie
I’m perfectly fine
And I don’t miss you
The sky is green
And the grass is blue
There’s snow in the tropics
There’s ice on the sun
It’s hot in the Arctic
And crying is fun
And I’m happy now
And I’m glad we’re through
And the sky is green
And the grass is blue
I mean, that’s not scripture but it might as well be, and not just because St. Dolly wrote it, but because it really speaks to a truth in the human condition. If there is a truth that we are confronted with that we really, really don’t want to accept, well sometimes it is easier to just turn the rest of the world upside down; sometimes it is easier to just hold on to the opposite of what is true, so that we don’t have to let go of our delusions. Dolly would sooner believe that the grass is blue rather than accept that her lover is gone. The Pharisees would rather believe that Jesus is using the power of the devil rather than accept that his authority comes from God. Adam and Eve would rather believe the serpent than trust in God’s goodness. Lies go down real smooth and easy. It is the truth that is usually hard to swallow.
But deep down I think a lot of times we know we are fooling ourselves. The sky isn’t green and the grass isn’t blue. And the devil never sets us free. Only Jesus can do that.