Old Testament: Deuteronomy (18:15-20)
Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’”
The Response: Psalm 111
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (8:1-13)
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
The Gospel: Mark (1:21-28)
Jesus and his disciples went into Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just 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!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Nobody knows for sure, but it was apparently either Mark Twain or his friend and editor, Charles Dudley Warner, who coined the expression “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I suspect that the people living in Palestine in the first century CE would have had the same attitude on the topic of unclean spirits – at least until Jesus came along. Everybody talked about them, but nobody had done much of anything about them.
At that time and place, when people knew nothing about the causes and nature of physical and mental diseases, they seemed to attribute just about any sort of human suffering to the presence and work of “unclean spirits.” At least that is the preferred term in rabbinic literature, as well as in the gospel according to Mark. The other gospels, more frequently, use the expression “demons.” Whatever term they used, everybody, it seemed, knew about them and talked about them; but nobody seemed to be doing much about them.
Then, along came Jesus. In his very first act after calling his first disciples, Jesus began to confront all those “unclean spirits”: all those things that caused human suffering or that kept those around him, friends and strangers alike, from living a fully human life. Over and over again, Jesus challenged suffering and death in the lives of others and brought them the gifts of inner and outer healing and of new life. We will be hearing several of those stories in the gospel readings that we will have over the next few months.
But several chapters into the book, in a passage that we will hear on a Sunday in early July, the story takes a decisive turn. In Mark’s sixth chapter, we hear that (vss. 7 and 13), “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits… They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Jesus, who had brought healing to those who would become his followers, then sent them out to bring the same sort of healing to others.
I doubt that any of us today would claim that we are afflicted by an “unclean spirit,” but all of us experience in life the effects of human suffering and the obstacles — some of them of our own making — that keep us from living the fully human life that God intends for us. Each of us, in different ways, is in need of God’s healing. And that “God of gentle strength,” of whom we sang just a few minutes ago, is still present to bring us that healing, just as God was in Jesus long ago.
But just as it was with the twelve, we, who have received God’s healing, have been sent out to bring that same healing to others. We, like them, have been commissioned by Jesus to go out and confront the “unclean spirits” of our time: all those things that cause human suffering and that hold people back from fully reflecting the image and likeness of God in which we were all created.
In our gospel reading, the unclean spirit asks Jesus: “Have you come to destroy us?” It quickly became apparent that that was exactly what Jesus had come to do. And it quickly became apparent that that is exactly what Jesus expected his followers to do as well. That is the mission of the church, and that has been and continues to be the mission of St. Mark’s Church.
This September, we will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of this church community: one that is dedicated to accomplishing God’s work in our place and in our time. And, from the very beginning, an integral part of that work has been not only receiving the gift of God’s healing for ourselves, but also going out into the greater-Dayton community and bringing that same gift of healing to others: confronting and destroying all the “unclean spirits” that still afflict the lives of our sisters and brothers.
As we gather today for our Annual Parish Meeting, we recommit ourselves to that sacred work for which we were baptized. And, as we will pray in our Prayer after Communion: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Send us out to confront and destroy all the “unclean spirits” that afflict the people of our community today: all those sources of human suffering. Send us out to bring to others the gifts of healing and new life that we have received from you. Send us out in Jesus’ name to continue your work in our time.