Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Men Who Fear Demons See Demons Everywhere

The title of this blog post comes from the character Brom, the mentor (the Obi-Wan!) from the popular book, Eragaon.  I chose it because it was selected as a quote "For Further Reflection" in a UCC.org contemplation over the focus scripture for Sunday.

And I can immediately see why.  It immediately reminds me of the religious authorities who have been observing Jesus doing what Jesus does:  healing folk and kicking demon butt.  (No wonder I always enjoy playing the cleric.)  And they come to the conclusion that the power that Jesus has over demons must be...


"Men who fear demons see demons everywhere."

I try very hard not be judgmental.  After all, Jesus rightfully points out that the act of judging invites being judged yourself.  But wow, Jesus sounds pretty judgmental himself in this story, doesn't he?

This is maybe one of the most human moments in the story of Jesus.  And in all honesty, I find a lot of comfort in that.  Jesus has been walking long miles and working long, exhausting days.  His fame has spread.  He is beset on every side by people needing his help and he is too good to say "Not right now, come back tomorrow when we're open."  He's too good to say "I'm sorry, it's the Sabbath.  I'm sorry, you're unclean.  I'm sorry, I shouldn't."  And so he is also beset by rulers and authorities who are afraid of the chaos that follows Jesus wherever he goes.

The poor man doesn't even have time to sit down and eat.  Have you ever had a day like that?  I know I have.  Are you at the top of your game on those days?  Or do you get a little...  cranky?  I know I do.  The fact that Jesus was human as well as divine--the very idea that maybe on a day like that he might have gotten a little cranky, too.  Well, maybe I can forgive myself for that failing every once in a while.

There's so much going on in this passage.  It's so chaotic that it's hard to parse out.  Jesus is cranky, yes, but he's still making a point that we need to hear, if we can just listen.

So what does Jesus say?  My power is not demonic.  It just doesn't even begin to make sense that the good things I do come from an evil place.  Everyone will be forgiven the blasphemies they utter--except for those spoken agains the Holy Spirit.  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

What do all these things have to do with each other?  Is there a common theme in all this chaos?  I think maybe yes.  I think it's all a question of drawing lines, and drawing them in the right places.

The truth is that we were all made in the image of God, inherently good, but capable of going astray.  One of the ways I witness this truth in humanity is that nobody sets out to be evil.  The most believable villains in storytelling are the ones who honestly believe that they're doing the right thing.  It's all a matter of drawing lines and drawing them in the right places.

As a geek, this process of drawing lines makes me think of the Harry Potter series.  So much of that story was about trying to figure out when to follow the rules and when not to, what makes an act good and what makes it evil, what makes a person a hero or a villain, who you should associate with and why...

These are the same issues that the religious authorities I mentioned early were struggling with.  And the answer they seemed to come to is that you always follow the rules.  A good act is a lawful act.  A good person is one who always follows the rules.  A villain is a rule-breaker.

Lawful Evil
The opposite of Law is Chaos.  Chaos is the enemy.  Dungeons & Dragons actually has a great concept that'll help here.  They used to describe a character based on two axis.  One from Law to Chaos and one from Good to Evil.  What I'm trying to point out is that the struggle against chaos and the struggle against evil are not the same thing.  You can get so focused on suppressing chaos that you lose track of being good.  There's such a thing as Lawful Evil.  And it looks like Deloris Umbridge.

Or maybe Caiaphas.

Jesus is redrawing the line, drawing attention to the other axis, uplifting doing good as more important than suppressing chaos.  When he says that blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable blaspheme, it's like saying that the only unforgivable sin is the rejection of forgiveness.  It feels really obvious when you put it that way, and I think that's what Jesus was trying to accomplish.  These good things I'm doing can't be evil because they're clearly good.  And the only true evil is intentionally confusing the two.

And of course the question, "Who is my family?" will always make me think of Harry.  We don't know what became of Joseph by this point in Jesus's life.  Only his mother and his siblings are mentioned here.  We also don't get to know if they ever actually get in to see Jesus.  I suspect the answer is "yes."  Jesus clearly loved and respected his family.  Mary is the recipient of one of the Seven Words from the Cross.  And his brother James would continue Jesus's work on behalf of the poor with such devotion that he became known as James the Just.  So when Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother," is not a rejection of his family, but rather a broadening of it.

The family you build.
It's like Harry obsessing over discovering who Lily and James Potter were even as he formed his own family, Ron and Hermione, Ginny, the Weasley family, Sirius Black, Dumbledore...   There's the family you're born with and the family you build.

I think maybe we can all identify with that, right?

But what Jesus is doing here--and Jesus is want to do--is a little more extreme.  And it is something every church should be challenged by as it draws its lines.  The lines that dictate who is "in" and who is "out" of the house, so to speak.  Because if we're honest with ourselves, in many cases, "church family" ends up being code for "impossible for new people to belong."

But what Jesus says it that everyone who does the will of God is family.  Everyone.

How do we know if our neighbor is doing the will of God?

Come on now.  I think if you search your heart, you can tell.  You know instinctually when the Spirit of Truth and Light and Forgiveness is at work in a person.  You can tell when the Spirit that scatters rows of ducks and turns your expectations upside-down is at work.

Because good things happen.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Lectionary texts

Genesis 3:8-15

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The Lord God said to the serpent,

"Because you have done this,
   cursed are you among all animals
   and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
   and dust you shall eat
   all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
   and you will strike his heel."

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
   O God, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive
   to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O God, should mark iniquities,
   who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,
   so that you may be revered.

I wait for God, my soul waits,
   and in God's word I hope;

my soul waits for God
   more than those who watch for the morning,
   more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in God!
   For with God there is steadfast love,

With God is great power to redeem.
   It is God who will redeem Israel
      from all its iniquities.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — "I believed, and so I spoke" — we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Mark 3:20-35

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" — for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."