Rev. Alex Wilson
January 31, 2021
Rev. Alex Wilson

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Mark 1:21-28

What is authority and why do we seek it in our lives? Well the word authority is a noun which means a person or organization that holds power to direct decisions. The church is an authority, as are our elected officials, and even our public health officials. What makes them an authority however is the power we give them. The monarchy of France and Russia felt that they were untouchable and beyond the people they had authority over, both of which found violent ends when their authority was questioned and tested via revolutions. The Church and democratic powers have seen their authority questioned as well, like when the church turns a blind eye to human dignity or a message of radical inclusiveness, or when elected officials feed the engines of hate and violence through their silence in the face of recent tests on american democracy in particular among others. So, then, authority is messy because it is human and it is heavy because of the power it contains. We seek authority for clarity on expectations over us, it’s in our DNA, we are built for clear answers, and authority can give that to us. It's why we turn to our leaders in times of need/trouble/instability to help us see the wider picture. So today we hear of Christ’s authority and its impact on our lives, both in the way we see our lives and the way we are to grow in them because of what he accomplishes today.

The idea of this new kid on the block simply showing up, on the sabbath no less, and starting to go about doing the works of God would have been super challenging to the established world view of that time. Leaders were leaders because of established traditions, but Jesus was outside the established tradition and that made folks nervous. So for him to start with the heavy battles, exorcism, is a reminder of just how far he will go to save us. Now let's take a moment to pause and speak about exorcisms. Many movies have been written with one in it, stories have been told, and even questions about my ability to perform one have come up. Sadly, exorcisms have been used as weapons against mental illness, indigenous, and LGBTQ+ among many others. Demonic possession is no joke, but it is also not what we think it is. A possession is a process of inhabiting the other which is different from an attack. Think of a frame of mind rather than a way of being. So the exorcism today should be heard in the frame of Christ lifting the head of the afflicted to see beyond the trouble they are currently in, and into the freedom which is ahead of them- shifting the frame of mind from the darkness to the light. Mental illness, racial identity, who and how we love are not darknesses to be lifted or removed, no. What is darkness and demonic are the voices that tell us our mental health is wrong, our identity is flawed. It is these voices which Christ exorcises from us today, re-orientating our world view from darkness into light.

So you may be wondering if then I am suggesting that you and I need an exorcism. The question is valid and the answer is no and also yes. Do I believe we are being attacked by demonic entities, no. Do I believe we have the capacity to be possessed by them, yes. Conspiracy theories, fake science, anti-maskers, holocaust deniers, uniformed social media infleuncers, lies that degrade the humanity of another person, are some of the examples of demonic posession because of how it reorientates our minds into the darkness. We’ve all experienced some form of taking a nose dive into some black hole of information on the internet. We see a single story, read it and suddenly find a second, third, fourth, story in the same genre, questioning something we see in our world. Before we know it, all the media we are consuming is gathered around these false truths and we start to believe them more than the news or our friends and family. In some ways the rise of the internet and social media have taken away our ability to critically analyse what we are hearing. Few of us may have grown up in houses with encyclopedias, honoured texts that helped point us in the right direction for truth. Sure we know how to research, but the internet has made us all experts in everything and nothing at the same time- we can create our own truth like never before by simply googling. This freedom to create our own truth has dire consequences like the ones we saw in washington a few weeks ago. Beyond the nature of what that moment represented for the USA, what was more terrifying was just how certain those who attacked the capital were in what they were doing to serve the truth- a truth for them that they were ready to kill for. We all have the capacity to become slaves to the darkness in our world- to the lies we tell about ourselves and each other in order to feel accepted and safe- but Jesus comes to us and offers us his authority to lift our heads to see the wider view of the world. It is his authority, given and received from God, that calls us to listen to him- but we don’t because its challenging to our comfort. It's challenging because Jesus does not remove the possibility of evil from ever reoccupying us again- he's not a magician, God isn't a magic trick, but follows the harder road of reorienting our lives again by showing us the darkness that possess us and asks us again and again in love to embrace his light. To embrace his light that says we are more than our darkness. A darkness that will destroy us and our world if we don’t listen to his authority over it all today.

So how does Jesus display this authority, the authority which is questioned in our gospel this morning? Well he doesn't assume it, he communicates by revealing the intrusive nature of what he has come to accomplish- the reign of God's kingdom. Jesus didn't walk in and declare all the ways in which he has authority, he came in and showed them his authority by liberating them from the darkness that divides people, from the scarcity of traditions into the light of freedom which transcends all political and social boundaries. Jesus literally flipped their worlds upside down and revealed the characteristics of the kingdom he came to serve, showing them and us that this kingdom is actually possible and is currently coming in all around us. We just have to lift our heads to see it. This authority is central to Mark's narrative, and we would do well to memorize its importance as we travel with Mark this year. Jesus is here to liberate all of creation, the natural world and human world, from everything that holds us back. So today, for us, it's about seeing the authority he comes to us with to do this work within us, by seeing where he’s already working for that liberation among us.

The authority of Jesus revealed to us in this season we call epiphany is not just about something that happened yesterday, its about what is happening today. All over our world people are waking up to the systemic challenges of racism and white supremacy to change how they see the world to enable the fullest tapestry of God's kingdom to reign in all parts of our lives. That is an exorcism of the demons that allows darkness to grow between people of different races and abilities and lifts our collective heads to the light of our mutual thriving as one human family with equality under God. All over our city we are starting to ask questions about sustainable economic practices and ethical forms of consumerism. Of a living wage for all canadians and the mutual thriving of everyone, irregardless of their position in the world. We are asking about how our buildings can be green, how our carbon footprints can be smaller, how our finances can reflect the values of the kingdom of God. This is an exorcism of the demons that tell us that success is about power, money, and empire. That the world is here for us to consume without consequence, and that we have no agency over the impacts of our humanity on the world. This is the glimpses of the kingdom work taking place all around us, ushing in Gods kingdom of light and love for all in our time. Today we are called again to amplify those voices with out witness and presence to see them thrive and succeed like us.

Let me be clear church, you and I are not exorcists nor are we called to go and act like one today in our world. Only Christ has the power to remove the darkness that shaddows our lives  and replace it with the light of his presence- and we aren’t Christ. It is our job today to see his light for ourselves and invite others to see it as well, a light that is revealing to us all those places where this work of liberation is already taking place, and engage in the work it is doing among us again and again with our time and talents. Our dismantling racism work, our ethical investment work, our recycling, our fair employment practices, our living wages for employees, are all examples of the teaching Christ gives us today as he lifts our heads up from the shame and darkness that say the things that keep us apart are inevitable. They aren't inevitable because his light is shining brightly in those places and many more calling us all to live a life of light- not darkness, to live again this kingdom life for the benefit of all God’s children, without exception. This is the story we hear, that liberation is possible, this is the story we tell, that liberation is real in the power of Christ’s authority to live the kingdom life today because we are seeing it here and now. This life, this light, asks for our response church. How will we continue to live this kingdom life together, because of the freedom and light we are given by the authority of Christ today?