4th Sunday after Epiphany, January 28 2018, Mark 1:21-28
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
So I enjoy Social Media. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
I enjoy connecting with friends and family, sometimes with those I haven’t seen in person in many years.
I am entertained when these family and friends share creative memes and gifs.
I like to see what articles people are sharing and even what outrages people when it comes to society and politics.
I also use it as a ministry tool, to engage people where they are in their life and faith. I even use it in my prayer time.
Now I do know there is a dark side to social media.
The conversations and message boards can get rough.
It can be used to manipulate people and as a tool for bullying.
And people don’t necessarily always post cute pictures of puppies.
It can be a realm where “unclean spirits” thrive.
But Social Media is here, it’s a reality of life, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how we engage social media, and all media, in a healthy way. And rightfully so!
I think as a church, and as people of faith, we have a calling to be a beacon of light and hope in all areas of live, even Social Media.
So, I can engage social media in a number of ways. When I check my feed, when I view what others have posted…
I can scroll on past with no public reaction, read or see then move on.
I can throw a “heart” on it and move on.
I can “react” with a thumbs up, or a shock face, or laughing face, or a heart, or sad face, or an angry face.
Or my personal favorite, a well-placed gif.
I could even “share it” in my own feed, with my own friends and followers.
Or, on a whole another lever, I can enter into the conversation… As risky as it may be, I can jump into the comments and message boards to see if there is anything I can add to the conversation.
We have been in the season of Epiphany for 4 weeks and we are still in the 1st chapter of Mark’s Gospel. A lot has happened in one chapter.
Jesus has been baptized,
the disciples have been called,
Jesus has gone public, proclaiming… “the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near.”
And now we hear that Jesus goes to church – to the local synagogue – Jesus’ causes a scene with his radical teaching, and people are amazed.
Then… Bam! A confrontation between Jesus and a demon breaks out.
The disciples just dropped their fishing nets to follow Jesus, this new, young and hip Rabbi… and then demons? Unclean spirits start screaming at them? I’m sure the disciples are like… “oh boy, what have we gotten ourselves into?”
And so Mark catches this scene on his smart-papyrus.
And he posts it to social media.
He wants to share with us what is happening with Jesus.
So if we are “following” Mark’s feed, how do we engage with this post?
Do we scroll on past with no reaction? (oh well, another story about Jesus, move on)
Do we give it a “thumbs up”? (Neat! Good job Jesus!)
Or maybe we give it a weird face gif… (“uh? do we even believe in demons anymore?”)
Or an angry face. (Jesus who do you think you are just walking into church thinking you are all that and changing the status quo?)
When reading today’s story about Jesus, I couldn’t help but think about the complicated nature of social media, and all the conversations competing for our attention.
Within this story you have all the diversity of reactions!
People showed their “wow” face.
Some liked what Jesus was teaching, some were not so sure.
The “unclean-spirits” felt threatened so they lashed out with their “angry face”, and capital letters and exclamation marks, trying to derail Jesus’ mission and purpose.
So in this season of Epiphany, in this season of revelations, what does this gospel story about Jesus reveal to us?
I think it begins to show us what it looks like for the Kingdom of God to come near…
Demonic forces are shaken.
The status quo is turned upside down.
Authority has a new face in a young Rabbi from Nazareth.
This reveals to us that Jesus is willing to engage the conversation and proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom outside AND within the walls of the synagogue. Within the institution of organized religion.
And that no sacred space or place is safe from “unclean spirits”, of course even in organized religion.
And while Jesus teaches with authority, he also backs it up by driving the unclean-spirits away.
Jesus’ will not allow his mission and purpose to be derailed or compromised.
But notice Jesus doesn’t confuse “people” with unclean-spirits.
Jesus doesn’t kick the particular person out of church, “Hey, get that guy out of here!” or “Get that group that doesn’t agree with me out of here!” Rather he only drives away the unclean spirit.
Regardless if you believe in demonic forces or the devil or not…
You can’t deny there are “unclean-spirits” that attempt to confuse the message of the nearness of God’s Kingdom and God’s unconditional love for all people.
We continuously wrestle with the “unclean spirits” within ourselves, outside ourselves and within the institutions we are embedded in.
Demons of self-doubt, body image, comparing ourselves to others, the many and diverse demons of addiction (including technology and social media). The demons of racism and sexism.
These unclean spirits and demons hold us back from the life God intends for us… an abundant life of justice, love and grace.
Even in our baptismal liturgy we ask some counter cultural questions…
“Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?”
We are called to respond boldly as individual disciples of Jesus and as a community of faith, “I renounce them!”
And of course this isn’t easy and it’s not a onetime renouncement. These are daily questions we are called to wrestle with and engage in.
At our Stephen Ministry training in Florida a few weeks back I was reminded again what it looks like for the Kingdom of God to come near and the risky nature of engaging in meaningful conversation.
At the training we met others who were from different congregations and different Christian traditions all together, yet we were brought together to reflect on how we care for one another. While there were those there would may argue with one another about particular theological claims we came together acknowledging we are one in Christ and called to care for those who are hurting in this world.
And then apart from our conference group, one evening in the hotel bar our server asked us who we were and why we were there. We shared we were with Stephen Ministry and I even think Jane outed me that I was a pastor!
Our server then shares with us that when he was a youth, he spoke out against his church with how they were closed off to those wrestling with their sexuality, and because of that he was kicked out of church by his youth director.
It broke our hearts hearing this story.
Our group pounced and was able to share with him that we believed in a God of grace and nothing can change God’s love for him. I’m now Facebook friends with him, and we are sharing geeky books we like to read.
Then, on the last night we were there, again at the hotel bar (yep, Lutheran’s are not afraid to gather at the bar). We noticed two young ladies wearing Unicorn Onesies. So we had to know their story. I even think walked up to them asked literally asked “so what’s your story?” They were cousins on a Florida Theme Park trip and they were having some fun.
Then come to find out (again, I think after Jane outed me as a pastor)… one of the women grew up Lutheran and she asked us where she could find a good Lutheran Church back home.
The other one then begins to share that her parents disowned her because she wasn’t the type of Christian they were and they disapproved who she is and how she is living her life.
Again we pounced.
We were able to share once more that we believe in a God of grace and that God turns no one away.
This woman in a Unicorn Onesies holding a glass of wine began to cry at hearing this good news.
This is what… “Unclean spirits turned away” and “The Kingdom of God come near” looks like!
Now I’m not going to pretend our religious denomination and community of faith isn’t without our own “unclean spirits”. But the grace of God and the nearness of God will not be derailed or compromised.
As we continue to follow the gospel of Mark, and the gospel he shares, we will see that Jesus uses the phrase “be sill” or “be quiet” a few more times…
He will use it to calm the stormy sea.
He will direct it towards Peter when Peter tries to separate and detach the cross from the mission of the Christ.
And ultimately Jesus will show his authority over death and the grave when he is raised from the dead.
And so whatever “net” we find ourselves mending, my prayer and hope is that you will hear Jesus say to you and the unclean spirits you wrestle with to “be silent” to “be still”.
Jesus doesn’t want us to stay in our own protected algorithms.
Jesus doesn’t need fans or “likes”, rather he calls us to be followers. Jesus calls us to engage the conversation in a way that brings the Kingdom of God near to those who hunger for it.
I came across this prayer this week from Pope Francis when he offered a message for World Communications Day, on Jan 24th.
Drawing inspiration from the prayer of St. Francis, it is a prayer for how we interact in our relationships, and for how we interact in our relationship with any kind of media.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does to build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgments.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy, may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
Where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
Where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
Where there is ambiguity, let us offer solidarity;
Where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
Where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
Where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
Where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
Where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.