Unclean Spirits

What do you think of when you think of power and authority?  Who do you think of?   Law enforcement, military leaders, your boss, national leaders…we can all think of people that appear as authority figures.  People that have power in our world.  People who can make things happen.  Or not.

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, but not the way those present were accustomed to hearing.  Most of the time after reading part of the Torah, the person reading would recite the words of part of the text that interpreted the Torah.

But here is Jesus, and he isn’t anything like they are expecting.  He reads the assigned lesson and then instead of reciting from the commentary, he begins to speak on his own.

He doesn’t quote other rabbis, he gives his own interpretation.

This was unheard of.  The members of the synagogue were amazed, this was not what they were used to hearing.  Jesus sounded like someone who knew what he was talking about, who had knowledge, who had authority.

Then there was the man with the unclean spirit.  He accosts Jesus “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 turns to the man and orders the spirit to leave him.  AND IT OBEYED.

Now that is power and authority.

Jesus had the power and authority to free a man from an unclean spirit.  Now there are many thoughts about what an unclean spirit is or was, but the point is Jesus had the power and authority to free the man and allow him to lead a normal life in the community.  He restored him to his place.

Today, we tend to use the words power and authority interchangeably, but there is a clear distinction between them.

Power is the ability to make something happen. The ability to call the shots.  To work your will in the world. By consent or by force.

Authority is being recognized for wisdom, skill, talent.  Being able to persuade people because people have confidence in you and support you.

In Jesus day the Temple leaders, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes were the powerful force in the Temple.  They called the shots.

But THEY couldn’t make an unclean spirit leave the man it tormented.

That spirit recognized Jesus’ power and authority.  The authority of the Son of the living God.

The authority that gave him power over death and the grave.  Gave the power to heal and make whole.  The authority to forgive sin and make clean.

Jesus had that.  All of it.  Power AND authority.  And it amazed the people around him because they had never seen anything like that before.

And the word began to spread. Throughout that region, that country, that continent, and beyond.  And beyond that time, for we are here acknowledging that authority today.  And we claim that same power today when we come with ourselves and our children to the font to be baptized and come to the table to share in the Lord’s Supper. The power of Christ’s body and blood cleanses us and reunites us with the community.

In our lesson today, an unclean spirit had taken over a man’s body and life and held him hostage.  Jesus used his authority over an unclean spirit to cast it out and free him.

We have our own kinds of ‘unclean spirits’ today.  Things that interfere with our living the life we are called to live.

Fear.  Anger. Envy.  Shame. Pride. Selfishness. Greed.

These all keep us from living as Jesus calls us to live.

Fear. Our fear of others keeps us from seeing them as they truly are, neighbors beloved by God.

Anger keeps us bound to old hurts, keeps us from the freedom of forgiveness.

Envy.  Wishing our lives were more like someone else’s, instead of using who we are and what we have to do God’s work.

Shame.  Hiding ourselves because we don’t think we’re good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, rich enough.  Not trusting that God has already MADE us enough.

Pride.  Seeing ourselves as better than others because they are poor, or strangers, or not like us in some way. Judging others as ‘less than’ us.

Selfishness.  Keeping what God had blessed us with to ourselves, not being willing to share what has been given to us.

Greed.  Wanting more than we need, which in many cases means that others don’t have enough.

All these (and I’m sure we could think of others) are things which keep us bound hostage. They keep us from living as God calls us to live.  They make our spirits unclean.

Do we recognize Jesus as the authority in our lives?  Do his words and teachings guide how we live, no matter where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with?

If we claim Jesus as our ‘authority’ – as the one whose teachings we live by- we can be cleansed from these kinds of unclean spirits.  When God’s love and grace fill our hearts, things like fear, anger, envy, shame, pride, selfishness and greed, can’t take hold in us.  We are living in the moment, focused on what we are called to do in this world as children of the living God.

Is Jesus the authority in your life? Do his teachings guide your choices, your actions, words, thoughts?

How do you know?  How would someone else know?

Pastor Kris Ross