The dog you feed
You see it whenever two powerhouses meet in a sports contest. Two unbeaten university football teams meet in a championship. As a matter of fact I seem to remember an epic game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech…Wow what a game. Who won that one? Or what about two dominating NBA teams that meet in the championship finals. There is a clash of powerful forces. The atmosphere is charged and emotions run high. Spectators love a clash of powerful forces. Then there is the more bizarre clash of powerful forces promoted by the World Wrestling Federation. Now that the State of Minnesota has elected a former wrestler, more people are familiar with the world of professional wrestling. Isn’t that right Dennis? (Many of us would just as soon not have become familiar with it!) In the strange world of professional wrestling there are a multitude of "good guys" and a multitude of "bad guys" and a charged-up stadium when there is a clash between a really notorious bad guy and a Mr. Clean type good guy. And as the times would have it -- you can now also see the "good girls" and "bad girls" throwing each other around the canvas. (Perhaps there's an argument to be made here that sometimes equality is regressive.) All of us could come up with examples of what we're talking about here... a clash of powerful forces.
In our war torn world, there are frequent clashes of powerful forces. During the Second World War, there was an incredible clash between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Things were clear. The Allies gathered to stop Hitler and his forces. And talk about powerful forces. Almost everyone on the planet has a picture of a giant mushroom cloud in his or her minds ever since the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Now that was a powerful force! The century we just exited spent half it's times in anxiety over the powerful forces that had the potential to bring our world to the brink of extinction. Today we will discuss external forces, but more importantly internal forces.
(Read Mark 1:21-28)
Sometimes we experience a clash of forces internally. We encounter this every time we hear ourselves saying,
"I shouldn't do this...
And it really strikes home when we are saying,
"I shouldn't have done that...
The Apostle Paul certainly understood the internal clash of forces. Remember his words in Romans 7:15,
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
In other words, Paul experiences a clash of forces -- a battle between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" inside -- and he acknowledges that frequently the "good guy" looses. Most of us have gone through the experience of losing an inner conflict of forces. There are things we would rather not share with any other human being that are a result of our inner struggles. With Paul we might say, "I do not understand my own actions... I did the very thing I hate."
The inner struggle is portrayed in countless scenes and various plots from film and television movies. When someone (usually a cop) says to someone who has been caught in a terrible crime,
"Why did you do it?"
The struggle between what is good and what is not good -- both in the outer world and in our inner world points to a deep and basic struggle between good and evil that has been a part of human living in all of recorded history.
Today's story in the Gospel of Mark is a story about a clash of powerful forces. In fact, it is the story of the clash of good and evil. The good news is that the kingdom -- or the reign of God -- is near and this means the right will triumph over wrong. Jesus' very presence makes the reign of God possible. Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum and teaches. His words are a likely commentary on the lessons of the day. But – there is a huge difference between Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of others. The gathered crowd is amazed at Jesus’ words because, “… he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Of course, we can guess but we don’t know exactly what the difference was, but perhaps too much human opinion or a sense of indifference and dullness had settled on the hearing of the people. Whatever had brought the teaching of the scribes into this state of low or no expectation – things were different when Jesus spoke. His intimacy with the word of God brought about a sense of the presence of God in so powerful a way that an evil presence or spirit could not tolerate the holiness.
Now Jesus’ words accomplish the work of God as he speaks “with authority” and even the unclean spirits “obey him.” The people call this, “A new teaching – with authority!” Certainly the content of the lessons for the day were not “new” – but the way Jesus brought about the connection between the word of God and the work of God represented the “good news” that the kingdom was indeed here!
The story is bizarre to our time and place, but if we try to enter the scene, perhaps we will understand a little more. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when all hell broke lose -- everyone seemed to be caught off guard… Except Jesus. Everyone was listening as Jesus was speaking. They were amazed and riveted to his every word. When he spoke, it was as though the Lord God was standing there in front of them. Somehow the truth came from this carpenter-preacher and what he spoke was more than words. It was as though assurance of the love and care of God came from heaven itself.
People are on the edge of their seats -- you could hear a pin drop when out of nowhere a tortured scream shatters the silence.
"WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US, JESUS OF NAZARETH? HAVE YOU COME TO DESTROY US?"
Startled, the people look around and this man is ranting and raving like a crazy person waving his arms as he shouts. You might imagine what it would be like if this happened here, today in our worship service. Out of a twisted mouth the man coarsely utters what sounds like a curse.
"I know who you are, the Holy One of God."
A chilling fear, almost panic grips the crowd. Jesus seems undisturbed, unmoved. He looks the man in the eye as though he had been expecting just this moment. The people who had come for what they thought would be a quiet Sabbath service feel themselves to be unwilling participants in a showdown. It is as though heaven and hell, light and darkness, right and wrong have come gathered for war.
Jesus issues a direct order. No fear,No trepidation no hesitation and no doubt about the outcome. Just the order.
"Be silent and come out of him!"
Notice what happened. Jesus didn't speak to the man really, but to something within the man. There is a struggle that convulses the man. A loud shriek.
The man stands there quietly… At peace.
And the gathered worshipers are all the more stunned. Jesus not only talks about God and the love and care of God -- he actually brings it about in someone's tortured life. Evil flees in the presence of purity! Faster than dark from light! The authority Jesus has is not the outward, "official" authority of the religious leaders of his time, but the inner authority, which comes from a pure and powerful connection with God, and having His Word. The Word of God is as good as the actions of God. When God speaks, the deed is done. Worlds are created and eternal covenants are formed. The Word of God in the hearts and mouths and minds of the people of God is also effective and powerful.
Moses brought the effective, powerful, people building word of God to the people of Israel and by that word held them close to the Lord. When the time comes for Moses to depart, the Lord promises through Moses that there will once again be a prophet like Moses who will bring the word of God.
“I will put my words in his mouth.” (Deut. 18:18)
There is an obvious link to the ministry of Christ in Mark 1:21-28 as Jesus’ words brings about the action of God in the life of the man who was possessed. The Psalmist says,
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” (Ps.111:2)
The word and works of God are intimately bound together. When we speak about someone being “as good as their word,” we have in mind the words and deeds of the person are consistent. So it is with the word of the Lord. Deuteronomy makes a strong point of how a prophet’s word must line up with what God has decreed. In fact, speaking other than what the Lord commands will bring about the death of the prophet. (Deut. 18:15-20)
When God speaks worlds are created, when Jesus speaks, the kingdom of God comes to a disordered life. All of this goes to the importance and even the gravity of the pastor’s task. But ultimately it speaks to all of us “regular Joe’s” and how we should match our lives and words. What do you think of the man who talks like he is the greatest fisherman God ever allowed on this planet, because, of course two or three like him and there wouldn’t be any fish left…But when you finally talk him into going fishing he can’t spell rod OR reel and he thinks touching live bait is…”Yucky”
Let’s bring this a little closer to home, because the story of Jesus confronting the evil spirit within a man at the synagogue almost 2000 years ago seems so out of place in our modern world. Demon possession is the stuff of horror movies. The devil is a funny little creature in red tights with pitchfork in hand. Yet if we look a little deeper, there are some powerful issues that speak to our lives today.
There have been times in my life -- and I suspect in your life too -- when it would have been a wonderful thing to have Jesus say to something within me... "Come out of him!" It might be as simple as wanting a desire for food loaded with saturated fat to be taken out of us. Or it might be as hard as wishing a craving for something destructive would be sent packing. For me I wish Christ would have ordered my desire for alcohol out and had it done with. But it didn’t happen that way, maybe it would have been too easy I don’t know, but the truth that emerges here is that Jesus Christ has power to overcome destructive forces in our lives.
Another part of the good news of this passage is that just as evil flees in the presence of purity, so also peace follows the presence of Christ. Although we may not experience the story Mark's gospel tells in quite the same way, the clash of powerful forces is as real in our world and in our lives as it was the day Jesus brought freedom to a tortured man.
Outward things have changed in 2000 years-- a lot. But inward things…I don’t think they have changed…at all. Like Paul we sometimes don’t understand our own actions. Like Abraham, we get impatient and want to help God out with the divine plan for our lives. With David we struggle with temptation. And even the Lord Jesus understands what it is like to wonder if God has forsaken us.
But the good news is... in this clash of powerful forces in our lives... the struggle of the right and the wrong... the presence of Christ assures us of the outcome.
How does it go? I don’t know what the future holds, but Praise God I know who holds the future. As we build our relationship with the One who loves us best, we build his strength into our own inner lives.
An old American Indian tale recounts the story of a chief who was telling a gathering of young braves about the struggle within. "It is like two dogs fighting inside of us," the chief told them. "There is one good dog who wants to do the right and the other dog always wants to do the wrong. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight."
"Who is going to win in the end?" a young brave asks.
The chief answered "The one you feed."
Can we relate to the clash of titans or the “Chiefs” dogs? “The one you feed”…you know being a Christian isn’t a “One Time All You Can Eat Buffet” it is feeding and nourishing ourselves for a lifetime! The “Bread of Life”, the “Water of Life” and our “DAILY” Bread. If you have never tasted God’s menu…the table is open, and if you have but it’s been a long time between meals…Jesus is reminding you now that you’re an honored guest at His table. Don’t sit in the back, come on down. God Bless.