This Sunday’s Lectionary Passage: Mark 1: 21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Can you hear me now?…Can you hear me now?…Can you hear me now?…Remember that Verizon campaign with that now famous slogan. It lasted for nine years and always showed a guy going to different places with his cell phone to show what fabulous network reception Verizon had. He’d be out in a field or down in a hole or in some sort of tunnel and with those words, would test out how well his phone worked. I suppose it was a fairly clever advertising campaign for the phone itself. But it also acknowledged that there are other factors in play when it comes to trying to hear someone. There’s the instrument of hearing itself. There’s the distance between the hearer and what he or she is trying to hear. And then there are those things that get in the way, whether they are physical impediments that stop the sound or other sounds and voices that interfere. As we know, hearing is not that easy. It involves listening and sometimes that’s not as clear as it sounds. Sometimes we, too, have to hone our reception capabilities.
But how do you hear the voice of God in the midst of this noisy, chaotic world? Jesus…Jesus showed us that. If we just pay attention, Jesus taught less about how to act and more about how to listen to the voice of God. At first reading, our Gospel passage for this week seems to be about some sort of exorcism of demons or some sort of evil spirits. Now, admittedly, that’s just downright odd for us. But before we relegate it to the status of a B-rated horror flick, let us look at it from the standpoint of the one who Jesus healed rather than the demons themselves.
Think about it. I don’t think this was what we think of as “demonic possession”. This is not “The Shining”. This person was an interruption. He didn’t fit. He didn’t belong. He was in the way of proper society and right religion. But not only did Jesus acknowledge him but he also welcomed him and healed him. Yes, the world as it was known with its comfortable rules and its “right” ways of being was ending. Even that which doesn’t “belong” is being redeemed. God is gathering everything in so that it can be re-created—even, I suppose the demons, whatever those might be.
We are told that Jesus brought an unquestioned authority to his teaching. What was that? Well of course, it was the Word of God. But what does that mean? It was not an overpowering; it was not a violent overtaking; it was a silencing, a silencing of the powers and voices of this world that are not part of that vision that God holds. The Greek word is the same one used to depict the way Jesus calmed the storm, created order out of chaos. Maybe that where we’re called to be. Maybe that’s how God speaks—in the silences, when we’re listening. You see, Jesus’ teaching was not just about words; it was about transformation. It was about taking that which did not belong and speaking it into being again. It was about silencing those voices that were in the way of hearing the voice that we’re called to hear. It’s about clearing those things from our lives that are so loud that we can’t listen to that which we’re supposed to be listening. Shhh! Can you hear me now?
Listening is about more than just words. A listening faith affirms that God sees more than we see, imagines more than we imagine, and believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. We’d like this voice to which we’re called to listen to be clear and concise and controllable. If we’re honest, we’d like to be able to turn it off once in a while when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. But that’s not how it works. Changing the world (and changing ourselves) is sometimes messy and wild and even dangerous. Living into God’s vision might sometimes mean that we have to speak the voice of God and probably more likely that we will actually be called to silence our own perceptions and desires and fears that the world might not be what we think it should look like so that we can hear God speaking our Creation into being once again. Our main work is listening, rather than speaking. In fact, on some level, we have neglected to perfect the language of listening. We have not learned to empty our filled-up lives so that God can speak them into being.
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a little book called When God Is Silent that is so full of words and thoughts that we people of faith need to hear. In it, she quotes French philosopher Max Picard who claimed that silence was the central place of faith, the place where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation. We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again. She speaks of silence as the womb from which we came and so returning to it, is to allow ourselves to be recreated.
We need to remember that faith is not about affirming our old shopworn lives. It’s about newness; it’s about re-creation; it’s about following God down pathways that we’ve never walked before. Faith is drifting off a little in a sermon and then finding yourself in a new land. Faith is about singing a song that you’ve never heard before and realizing that in the deepest part of you, you already know the tune. Faith is about hearing unexpected voices say things that we never thought we’d hear. Faith is listening and learning when to speak and when to hear. And the more faithfully we listen to the voice within us, the better we will hear what the world is trying to tell us and what God envisions that we should hear.
So where are those voices to which we should be listening? I think they’re here, all around us. They are out there on the street. They’re on that chaotic mess that we call television and they are all over the internet. They’re in the sanctuary and they’re on the Zoom call and they’re in the streaming worship to which you’ve become so accustomed. They are there. But we have to learn to hear the voices that God is calling us to hear. God is not silent. God is straining to be heard by us above all the other voices. But knowing which voice is one to which we should listen is deep within us. In the moment of silence when we begin to hear, the words settle into our hearts and begin to be claimed and shaped into who we were meant to be. And, through it all, we “unsay” ourselves so that God can re-create us. So, can you hear me now?
God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)
Grace and Peace,