Sermon–February 1, 2015


4 Epiphany

February 1, 2015

William Bradbury

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

My father had an easy landing on Normandy beach because it was over a month after D-Day. For those who landed, however, on D-Day itself, June 6, 1944, it was a horrific scene as the allies sought to reclaim Europe from the evil of Nazism. It is always hard to take land occupied by the enemy.For the first 30 years of his incarnation Jesus grows into manhood and probably does the things carpenters do: he makes and fixes things, like tables, houses, and synagogues. During this time as far as we know, Satan, which means ‘the accuser’, leaves him alone.

But then Mark says after his baptism in the Spirit in the River Jordan Jesus is attacked by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus then calls his troops to follow him—Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and the game is on.

Jesus announces: The time is fulfilled! God’s kingdom is arriving. Change your mind, and believe the good news is true even for you!”

In today’s gospel Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum is part of his three year long D-Day, landing on the beach of a world held captive by evil and suffering.

Those most afflicted by the evils of sickness, poverty, and exclusion are overwhelmed with joy that in Christ God has come to free them.

Others in positions of power and prestige aren’t so eager to give up control. Jesus is an enemy who threatens their world. This meddler claiming to be God’s man bringing God’s kingdom, is upsetting the delicate balance of power with the occupying Roman Empire and the social status quo. This Jesus is going to get them all killed, so in the end it will be better for him to die than for all of them to die.

But Jesus’ main concern is not with either the Roman or the Jewish leaders who oppose him. They are in the way, but they are not the problem. The problem is the power of evil, sin, and death which is oppressing the people and keeping humanity from fulfilling its mission from God which is to run God’s creation as God’s image bearers, reflecting into the world God’s wisdom, non-violence, forgiveness, and healing.

St Paul at the end of Ephesians puts it this way:  “For our[b] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

From the beginning of his ministry the evil spirits understand that they are under attack, so in today’s gospel there is an explosion in a pew as Jesus preaches about God’s reign: “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.”

Jesus rebukes it, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

I usually think of demons, not as little furry creatures that smell of sulfur, but as destructive thought patterns that lead people to dehumanize themselves and others.   

Our compulsions and addictions are examples of this as they produce neural grooves that generate thought patterns that claim to offer life and joy, but which only deliver separation and suffering.

What are we to make of the sudden rise of heroin addiction among those living in upper middle class comfort? Jesus is not against the controlled use of medications, but he is against their abuse which destroys his creatures.

What are we to make of gambling addiction? I don’t think Jesus gets too upset when a bus load of seniors from the Catholic Church goes to the casino for two hours on a Sunday night twice a year, but he’s certainly against the spirit of addiction that robs families of their homes, jobs, and self-respect.

What are we make of a compulsion to watch pornography? Jesus is not against pornography because he’s a prude but because it can denigrate people and hurt relationships—it can make us less able to love.

I remember the newly minted orthopedic surgeon who came to my office one day years ago to get help because he couldn’t stop watching it even though it was hurting his new marriage.

What are we to make of the near universal addiction to war?

I’m reading a book called Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and The Conquest of Everest. The author says that “for those men [who survived World War One] England offered only a memory of lost youth, betrayal and lies, and the residue of “four years of repression, casualty lists and mass murder sanctioned by Bishops.”” Page 107 Wade Davis, quoting Paul Fussell

These evils, along with the evil of poverty, racism, sexism, classism, and all the others continue to destroy lives.  If you want to understand these evils in strictly medical, psychological, or sociological terms that’s fine with me, as long as you don’t pretend they are not really evil.

Earl Loomis, a retired New York psychiatrist teaching at the Medical College of Georgia was in my Education For Ministry group at Saint Paul’s Church in Augusta, Georgia back in 1984 and he said that the unclean spirit language of the New Testament was metaphorical language that communicated about as well as the language of psychiatry the profound sense people sometimes feel when they are fighting a mental illness that there is an alien presence in them that is persistent, destructive, powerful, and evil.

Jesus has landed on the beach of this present darkness—not to condemn, not to point fingers at us for being so weak and susceptible to such things, but to liberate us!

Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit: “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.”

This is a sure sign that God’s Kingdom is arriving.


What voices out of your darkness are attacking you?

One thing all these voices have in common, in addition to being against us, is that they make us feel hopeless. They tell us no one cares about us and they tell us we are beyond help.

But Satan, in addition to being the accuser, is also called the Father of lies. For these are all lies: we are not alone—ever. And there is One with the power and authority and the will to help us, who is interceding for us at all times.

Jesus landed on the beach of our suffering 2000 years ago, entering into our fallen humanity and taking it all the way to death on the cross so that on Easter Day our fallen humanity becomes redeemed humanity in Christ.

Your life IS hid with Christ in God—and so is mine. The strife is o’er, the battle won.

At past Super Bowls there was always a guy with a multi-colored wig holding a sign which says: John 3:16.

You remember that verse: God so loved—Americans—that he sent his only son….No, God so loved Christians that he sent his only son…

No, God so loved the world….that he sent his only begotten Son….

Dr. Bruce Wauchope uses this riff in his talk “The Gospel and Mental Health” which may be ordered from the store at

Jesus is Lord whether we bow to his lordship or not. If we don’t, then we continue to live in contradiction to our very being, for our very essence as creatures is to be in obedient fellowship with our creator, who is Father, Son, and Spirit.

We can continue to rebel against our own best interests like the angry child who chooses to pout in his room, rather than join the family around the dinner table at Christmas or like the addict who is just not quite ready to admit her powerlessness and surrender to Christ’s healing.

Sin by definition means “missing the mark.” The mark we miss is living a fully human life. Sin is that power that traps us in the persistent belief that we are not loved, not forgiven, not seized by the power of the great affection of the Triune God.

Jesus’ D-Day is over though the mopping up continues in our world. Our lives become immeasurably richer when we wake up to our liberation and follow Jesus Christ who is leading us into abundant life in God.