STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FEBRUARY 2, 2015
DEUTERONOMY 18: 15 – 19; 1 CORINTHIANS 8: 1 – 6; MARK 1: 21 – 28
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Funerals have changed since the time I started ministry to the present day. Back in the day funerals were held on the 3rd day after death to remind us of the resurrection of Christ; they were preceded by at least 3 visitations, there was usually an open casket, and on the day of the funeral people came dressed in their best conservative clothing to worship God in a service where scriptures were read and hymns were sung. Recently, I decided to look up on the internet the most frequently used pieces of music for funerals today. I had expected Amazing Grace to top the list, followed perhaps by How Great Thou Art. Do you know what #1 is? “I did it my way”. #2 is “Always look on the bright side of life” which is from a Monty Python movie which is a satyr of the life of Jesus; the song is sung at the end by people hanging on crosses. I never found Amazing Grace, although grace was sorely needed. These two songs are very telling. People want to do life our way and no one, not even God, will tell us differently. And even in the face of death we are quick to thumb our noses at Jesus. Although this may offend us, it shouldn’t surprise us.
One day Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. His words were so profound and his demeanour so authoritative that the people listening to him were quite impressed. They were beginning to wonder if Jesus was the promised “prophet like Moses”. Could he be the Messiah? While this was going on, a man entered the room. Since this was a synagogue in Capernaum, it’s pretty safe to assume this man was Jewish – he was one of God’s covenant people. We’re told his spirit was “unclean”. He was possessed by a demon or by a spirit that was anti-Christ. He was against Jesus. Listen to the hostile words this man spewed at 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.” (Mark 1: 24) Put in more modern language he said, “What business do you have in my life, Jesus? Stay away because you’re out to destroy me with all your holiness. I know you’re the Messiah.” This was the type of man who would leave a note among his papers that said, “At my funeral please sing, ‘I did it my way’ and don’t mention Jesus.”
This may have been the first person to express this attitude towards Christ, but he certainly wasn’t the last. I could easily make a whole sermon about how people outside the Church live their lives on their own terms without regard for Christ; we could all go home feeling indignant and that would be kind of fun. But a more relevant approach would be for us to ask: Do we share any of these attitudes? How deep do these run within each one of us? Are we any different from the world around us?
In the brief passage we read from 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded his fellow Christians that regardless of what others say or do in life, we are to be different. He wrote, “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.” (vs. 6) If others want to live their lives ignoring the One True God, they’re free to do that; yet for us things ought to be different; for Christians in a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, there is only one Triune God and we are to live to honor our God. The passage from Deuteronomy takes this up a notch. Here God promised to send his people “a new prophet like Moses”. This is one of the earliest references to a coming Messiah. But this promise comes with a warning, “Anyone (meaning anyone from among his own people) who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.” It’s clear in these two passages that God has a different standard for his covenant people (first Israel and then the Church). The rest of the world is free to sing “I did it my way” but God has a different standard for his covenant people – we are to heed what Jesus says; we’re to be singularly devoted to him; we are to do it his way and bring him honour.
On one level, as Christians, we are quick to accept this but we need to ask is this what really happens or are we a little like Bobby who arrived late at a football game? “Why are you so late?” asked his friend. “I couldn’t decide between going to church and going to the football game. So I tossed a coin,” said Bobby. “Well that shouldn’t have taken too long.” said his friend. “Ya,” said Bobby, “but I had to toss it 35 times.”
It’s doubtful that Bobby is the victim of actual demon possession but he clearly has what we might call “his own personal demons” – attitudes and desires that are “anti-Christ”. There is something in Bobby that wants to break loose of Jesus’ authority and as much as we hate to admit it, each of us have times when we desire to break loose of Jesus, to “do it my way” and to thumb our noses at the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Even though we believe in Jesus and belong to Jesus, all of us have “personal demons” that pull us away from Jesus. All of us have areas in our lives where we don’t want to let Jesus in. These personal demons inevitably make our spirits “unclean” or unholy. These personal demons are often things we think we can master, but in reality they master us. They own and control our souls. There are many behaviours that can hold us in their grip. Things in life which may otherwise be spiritually neutral or even good – like having a glass of wine or love – become “unholy” when they possess us. The most obvious of “personal demons” are our addictions and obsessions; and not just the familiar ones like alcoholism, drugs, gambling or sex. There are others. For instance, some people have repeatedly fall in love with people who treat them badly; some people are fixated on their children – as they live through their kids, their desires and agendas order the family in unhealthy ways. Other people are obsessed with outward appearance – clothes, make-up, even surgery; many people are consumed by consumerism or are held in the grip of gripping tight to their money. These are areas of our lives that can possess us, but there are also areas of our souls where evil things have taken up residence – anger, bitterness, hatred, envy, pride; even something as “justified” as our role as a victim. I could go on, but the one thing all of these “demons” have in common is that we don’t want Jesus to touch that part of our lives. This is the one little corner of our souls we want to keep for ourselves. Jesus can have the rest of our lives, but when it comes to our self-indulgence, self-abuse, self-image, self-pity or self-aggrandizement we want to do it “my way.” Part of the problem is that when such things possess us, it feels stimulating. I’ve never spoken to anyone entangled in an extra-marital affair who didn’t enjoy the emotional roller-coaster of guilt, ecstasy and devastation. Before we know it, these areas of our life and soul become the places where we draw the line and say to Christ, “What have you to do with this, Jesus? What business do you have in this corner of my life?” We move from being possessed to being rebellious. Wanting to “do it my way”, inevitably means we must thumb our nose at Jesus. We become more defiant, like this guy __ or more obstinate, like many guys __. Albert Camus said, “Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that in some way you are justified.”
Rebellion gives us a false sense of power. A battleship was at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather. One night, the thick fog made visibility was poor, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain asked. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant they were on a dangerous collision course. The captain called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'” Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.” The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.'” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” The battleship changed course. Our rebellion may be as great as a battleship, but Jesus is the lighthouse. He is “the one with authority” – grounded, steady and immovable.
One way we identify “personal demons” is by the fear we feel when we consider Jesus’ involvement in a particular area of our life. Whatever the area, we always fear that if we let Jesus in he will destroy the rebellious way of being that we find so delightful. As sick as that is, we will do all we can to defend our unholy guest. We bury such secrets in layers of excuses. We shrug it off saying, “This is just the way I am” or “It’s a good thing there’s grace”. We become aggressive in order to protect them. And what are we protecting it from? Jesus. We know that if Jesus finds this private indulgence, this personal demon, if we show it to him or if we let him in, he will destroy it. We know that Jesus, the Holy One of God, has the authority and the desire to destroy that which is unholy in us, just as he did to the man in the synagogue.
What area of your life is marked with a “no trespassing: this means you, Jesus” sign? What part of your life is none of Jesus’ business? What things do you insist on doing your way? What are you keeping from Jesus in the fear that he will destroy your pleasure? How have you broken loose from God? Just as the demoniac in the synagogue discovered, Jesus is the one with authority, whom even our personal demons obey. When Jesus comes into the areas of your soul where evil is strongest and where iniquity is in control, he will destroy them. All the things which urged you to break loose from Christ, are the things from which Jesus will break you loose. He will set you free. And that’s why, at my funeral, we won’t be sin