It wasn’t the first epiphany of who Jesus was, but it was his first public act of speaking and enacting God’s kingdom come. Jesus goes into a synagogue. He teaches “as one with authority” in a way that surprises the religious commentariat. And he bounces a demon out of the place. With a clear and confident sense of his mission, Jesus’ first public act is to confront evil. When Jesus comes into the building, Jesus takes charge.The onlookers asked “What is this?” and “by what authority?” For my part, if I saw something holy happening, like a liberation from evil, like something that was promised as long ago as from Moses, would I simply stand there, ask “what is this?,” ask further about what authority he has to do this, maybe even have him show me his credentials? Would I do that instead of shouting “thanks be to God!”? I must confess, rational-culturally-accommodated Duane could play the doubtful spectator, and maybe even capitalize on the occasion by publishing an editorial that gets me thirty seconds on a cable news show. Oh, wouldn’t I feel fulfilled then! How proud I could be of my passivity and my cynicism!
Of course, it is easy to stand apart and throw verbal stones. It is even comedic to pretend we have objectivity about events that, were we actually able to understand, change lives and all the world from the inside out. A favorite professor used to say it can be so fun to consider God as if one were a British movie version of a spy standing by Calvary in the fog, trench coat collar turned up, looking at the cross, stroking his goatee and saying, “My, how interesting!”.
But, really, it is not funny. There is danger in standing apart from God’s work around me. What makes me quiet when evil appears to have free reign? Why do I suppose that my faith is a separate matter from my daily public and economic and political life? You who know me know that I work hard not to let such spiritually fatal divorces happen in me. But, I confess there are times when it is easier to go along to get along, to avoid conflict, easier not to confront the evil that comes insidiously into my daily business.
What do I mean by evil even in my “daily business?” Did you hear where Jesus first confronted evil publicly? In the synagogue! Of all places! Where impurity was not supposed to enter! But there it was. A demon-possessed guy disturbs the peace in the synagogue. I mean, whoever heard of sick people going to church?! Answer: after the abnormal psychology part of a pastoral counselling class, another professor remarked that now we could recognize the psychopaths on our congregation councils.
I believe that our council is unusually healthy (really!). I also believe that I speak for more than myself when I confess my reticence not only to confront evil, but to claim my freedom in Christ! Jesus entered into where demons dwell, where life was not happening the way God means it to happen. Are we willing to go there with Jesus? Can we say that we believe in Jesus and yet just watch? After his healing and teaching and crucifixion and resurrection, do we not believe that God’s power is greater than all the death dealers; greater than racism, greater than misogyny, greater than xenophobia, greater than the structures of selfishness, greater than even self-hatred? Isn’t God’s power greater and God’s truth truer than any earthly claim to authority, which never will show the proof of itself? Adding injury to insult, maybe another demonic-like power has clogged my own throat and fogged my own eyes. We know of people who confess Christ but show no love. As St. Augustine said, even demons recognize the authority of Christ, but they lack compassion. That is why they are demons.
We differ from demons insofar as we know that the good we would do we do not. The happy news is that God has come into the house to be on the side that does not get to choose sides. Christ goes into those very places where justice, dignity, and freedom—in short, life abundant—are withheld. Christ’s authority goes into places where lesser authorities claim their own empires. Self-proclaimed authorities today who live knowingly or not by unholy powers will be upset when Love capital L comes marching in to the synagogue or church or anywhere and orders the demons out. They don’t like the news that everything belongs to God and that God by love will rule everyone. God’s rule means that the voices of the suffering will be freed and the banquet table opened to all and the master of the table will not look at all like those who think it is “their” house into which they presume to welcome “their” God. God’s rule means that all of us will be liberated into joy.
Here’s a true story, a small foretaste actually, about such liberation. On MLK Jr. Day about 30 of us from CTK marched in the Grand Parade that started over by HCC. It was a first time for many of us to show this kind of simple public support for Brother Martin’s dream. Council President Lee Thweatt and I led with a banner identifying us. Some of us rode in a fine convertible. The rest of us carried signs of different colored hands joined together with the words “The Color of Unity is Love.” The other side of the signs said who we were. We were amazed that the onlookers, smiled, applauded, gave thumbs up, and shouted thanks to us for marching. Smiles filled our faces. We were a hit. We never expected that walking in a parade could be so much fun and so celebrated. Later we learned why. We were the only mostly white contingent in the whole parade. All we wanted to do was to say that we and this church are committed to full and celebrated lives of everyone else there along the parade route and beyond. It is sad, actually, that we were the only predominately white group to participate. We shouldn’t be proud about that! But we did discover by such real and small steps that following Jesus to where life is to be restored in full brings great joy. And it equipped us, I am sure, to do much harder things when some will scorn those who celebrate.
Notwithstanding humanity’s historic accommodations to inhumanity, our sincerest desire is to be with God on the side of those who do not get to choose sides. Also, we already are often there. God’s first act is to come into our house and to throw out the demons that pretend to be from God and to speak for God. If we find ourselves standing by, or worse, possessed by inhumanity, Jesus still unclogs our throats and opens our eyes and, while he’s at it, he clears out all graves.
Jesus Christ is in the building, people! What is it that we who trust in the all-powerful love of Christ cannot do for healing each other and this world? And God is with all the sides that don’t get to choose sides. We are blessed to be there too!
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX January 28, 2018