Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 1, 2015Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried 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." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"
It begins with calling out the spirits. So it was with Jesus. So it is with us.
Jesus always put first things first. And in Mark’s Gospel, this morning’s story of Jesus casting out the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum is the very first thing he did after calling the disciples.
Jesus doesn’t start by going out into the world. Jesus starts at home with his community of faith. Jesus, a Jew, looks in the mirror first – looks at the synagogue – and names its own uncleanness, its own dysfunction, its own evil, before going out into the world to name it there.
Naming unclean spirits is not about creating one more us vs. them, not about dividing a community into good people and evil people or picking a few scapegoats to self-righteously cast out. For Jesus and for us, naming unclean spirits is about calling out behavior and ways of being that hold us captive. About naming the ways we act and the systems in which we participate that keep us fully from becoming the Body of Christ.
Naming and casting out unclean spirits is about renouncing ways of life that divide, corrupt and destroy, and instead, putting our whole trust in Jesus and following his example in living lives of bold truth-telling, deep integrity, and radical hospitality and love.
What Jesus tells us by putting first things first and marching right into the synagogue and calling out the spirits is that unless we first name and cast out the spirits in our own community, we will never be able to be the church in the world in ways that will bring in the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven.
This work is Job One. And like everything about following Jesus, we never do it alone. Like everything else about following Jesus, we name the unclean spirits and cast them out together, looking each other deeply in the eyes all the way.
That’s why even though we Episcopalians don’t like to talk about evil and darkness because it sounds so superstitious, we do talk about it in one of the most important places – in our baptismal service.
Everyone pick up the red prayer books and turn to the bottom of page 302. This is a part of our baptismal service we don’t spend a lot of time on, and yet it’s one of the most ancient and important pieces of becoming part of the Body of Christ.
It’s called the renunciations and the adhesions. Six questions we answer before we are baptized: Three ways of life we reject and three sacred vows we make. It is the liturgical embodiment of what Jesus did in the synagogue at Capernaum. It is us gathering as the community of the faithful, naming the unclean spirits in our lives and in our life and saying “we are not going to be about this” … and then turning to Jesus and saying “we belong to you.”
Now take a deep breath. And let it out. And let’s answer these questions together:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I asked us to take a deep breath before answering these questions, because if these renunciations and adhesions don’t make us tremble, then we simply aren’t paying attention. In making these promises, we are staring the worst of the world right in the face and rejecting it. Even more, we are putting our whole trust in the grace and love of one who has shown us that his grace and love leads directly to the cross.
If you want to know who we are as a Christian community, it doesn’t get any plainer than this. We are a community that openly names and calls out the forces of evil, the powers which corrupt and destroy and the temptations that draw us from the love of God. And we do not do it in fear but trusting that because of the surpassing grace and love of Jesus Christ those powers which for years have silenced us in fear will they themselves be silenced and driven out.
And this morning, Jesus reminds us that first things are indeed first. That it begins with calling out the spirits. With letting them know they cannot hide from us. With naming them without fear. With trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to strip them of their power and cast them out.
This morning, Jesus reminds us it begins with calling out the spirits. And that means it begins with us. Right here. Right now. That is the challenge before us. And it means even as we go out into the world to transform the world’s ills, we cannot neglect the work we have to do right here in our community.
And so, together, with Jesus by our side, we have some hard looks to give ourselves and some hard questions to ask ourselves.
As we offer space for AA meetings and as we lobby for greater services for people struggling with addiction and mental illness in the St. Louis region, do we look at our own history of alcoholism and addiction both in this Cathedral community and in our diocese? Do we see the ways we still live into the addictive family system model of “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.” Do we renounce that spirit and call it out with a renewed commitment to health in our relationships and in our communication with one another?
As we go out into the streets and proclaim that Black Lives Matter, as we demand justice and equality of opportunity for all regardless of race or class, do we look at the unwritten rules of the Nave of Christ Church Cathedral? The customs of where we sit when we’re in this room that perpetuate division in this community. That those of us of color tend to sit toward the back and those of us struggling with homelessness tend to sit on the margins? Do we renounce that spirit and call it out with a renewed commitment to dismantling our own “us vs. them” thinking and deepening our relationships with those who are most different from us?
As we go into the courtrooms and lobby our legislators to strike down laws that treat those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender as less than full members of society, do we look at how welcoming we truly are of people who are new and different to this Cathedral community once we get beyond the handshake and smile at the door. Do we hear that often the experience of people new to this Cathedral community is that we are initially warm and welcoming but then only talk to the people we already know? Do we renounce that spirit and call it out with a renewed commitment to treating the stranger as Christ and incorporating all people into the life of this community?
Addiction. Segregation. Inhospitality. These are powerful spirits to name. And undoubtably there are others. They are certainly not unique to Christ Church Cathedral but we can be unique in our resolve to face them head-on just as Jesus did that day in Capernaum.
And just as with this morning’s Gospel, we can be sure they will not go quietly. Like the man in the synagogue in Capernaum, they have been living among us for so long they have become our familiar friend. We will be tempted to deny that these spirits are among us because their existence does not fit with the image we have of ourselves. And as a body, we will convulse and cry out as we allow Jesus to name these spirits and drive them from us, so accustomed and even dependent have we become on them in our life together.
But that’s not all. There’s one thing more. For, just as with this morning’s Gospel, as we do this. As we with courage show ourselves and the world that we are not afraid to name the spirits in our community that corrupt, destroy and draw us from the love of God. As we with courage name them, look them full in the face and renounce them and instead embrace the bold truth-telling, deep integrity and radical hospitality of Jesus Christ. As we do this just as in Capernaum and the surrounding region of Galilee, the people will look at us with amazement. They will look at us and see Jesus. And there is no greater purpose for us than that.
And the good news is, with God’s help, we can do it. We can do it in here and we can do it out there. The spirits of addiction, segregation and inhospitality are strong. We have grown accustomed to living with them to the point where it is easy for us to deny they are even there. But they are nothing compared to the goodness of this Cathedral community. They are nothing compared to the past and present history of love in this Cathedral community. And most of all, they are nothing compared to the power of Jesus Christ.
The people marveled at Jesus because Jesus spoke with authority. And Jesus gives that authority to us. We have authority when, turning to Jesus and accepting him as our savior, we don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk. We have authority when, putting our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love, our integrity is beyond question and our motives are beyond reproach. We have authority when following and obeying Jesus as our Lord, in deep love for one another we simply name what we see, confess our own sin and proclaim our trust in the healing power of Christ to amend our lives.
And as it did with Jesus, it begins with calling out the spirits. With letting them know they cannot hide from us. With naming them without fear. With trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to strip them of their power and cast them out.
First things first. It begins with calling out the spirits. And that means it begins with us. AMEN.