WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Barbara Donohue, liturgist
For people with darker skins, or of a different religion, or a minority sexual orientation, there is always the threat of violence that is bred by hate.
We must stand up to that and say, “no more!” We Americans must develop better hearts and minds in our common civil life. If not, the axe of hate will be laid to the tree of liberty.
A Meditation on Martin Luther King Day 2020, Old Verger
CALL TO WORSHIP from the Iona Community
O God, who called all life into being, The Earth, sea and sky are yours. Your presence is all around us, Every atom is full of your energy. Your Spirit enlivens all who walk the earth, With her we yearn for justice to be done, For creation to be freed from bondage, For the hungry to be fed, For captives to be released, For your realm of peace to come on Earth.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
SERMON Transformation or Destruction Rev. Kim P. Wells
Date: January 24, 2021 Outdoor worship Scripture Lesson: Mark 1:14-28 Sermon: Transformation or Destruction Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
This exorcism is Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of Mark. His first sign or act of power in the gospel. And it’s not some tame healing. He’s not giving people food. It’s not water into wine like in the gospel of John. Mark, the first gospel, the shortest gospel, gets right down to business. Jesus’ first flashy coming out is a confrontation with a manifestation of the power of evil.
Now, today when someone in authority confronts evil, real or perceived, their instructions and training often dictate that they eliminate this evil, often through an act of violence. They gun someone down who is perceived as evil. We see this in the movies over and over and over again. And sadly, in real life, too. This is our culture. This is the water in which we swim. When Dr. Martin Luther King was reflecting on the people who bombed his house, and could have killed his wife and his child, he concluded, “ . . . these men are not bad men. They are misguided . . . they have been taught these things . . . So these men are merely the children of their culture.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, p. 11] This is the world we are still in. Perceived evil or threat is met with violence.
But this is not the way of Jesus. What does Jesus do when confronted with the presence of evil in an individual? We see it in this story of the exorcism.
He uses the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, of God, of Divine Love, to reclaim the life of this person who is wracked by evil. The evil is exiled from the person. The person is saved. It is an act of redemption and love. The evil is depriving the person of wholeness and healing. It is covering up, masking, the good in the person. It’s tormenting the person. But Jesus disempowers the evil so that the good can come forth. He ends the suffering of the person. What he does is transformative. He eliminates the evil and saves the life of the person. He doesn’t eliminate the life of the person. As we know from the powerful hymn, ‘Amazing Grace,’ with God, the wretch is saved, the lost are found, the blind see. There is redemption and transformation. Jesus wants us to be whole and joyful and to live abundantly. He loves us so much he wants to rescue us from evil and restore us to the image of God within us.
And Jesus doesn’t just talk a good line, he delivers. And the people in the synagogue notice. Jesus has power and authority. And he uses it to drive out what is harmful and what diminishes life. He uses it to save life. Not to take life.
So in our society in recent days and years we have seen many manifestations of the power of evil. And how are these confronted? Are they confronted by the power of love with the confidence that the power of love can drive out the evil? That was the philosophy and strategy of Dr. King. Confront evil with love. That is how to redeem the soul – of a person, of a people, of a nation. To use violence is simply to fight evil with evil. And that cannot produce lasting justice and peace. Only love can do that.
King followed Jesus and counted on the power of love and he invested himself in the power of love to drive out the evils of racism and poverty from our society and the people in it. He did not seek to eliminate the individuals who are racist and invested in the current economic system. He sought to disempower the evil within them and to transform them with love. And we need to keep that in mind today. Now, we need to actively employ that strategy in our personal choices, our relationships and in our civic engagement.
We saw glimmers of this redemption and transformation this week. We saw the evil of climate change denial being cast out as the Keystone Pipeline was stopped, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was stopped, and the US rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. We saw the driving out of the evil of American isolationism – remember King’s image, we live in a world house.
The US is back in the World Health Organization. And we saw the driving out of the evil of ethnocentrism and jingoism, every person sacred, created in the image of God, with reforms to the US immigration system and the end of the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.
These are much needed efforts at driving out the evils of denial, deception, and dehumanization. But Jesus shows us that this is not simply the work of public officials. He shows us that this is our work to do as well in our personal relationships and in our individual lives. We are to help bring forth the love and goodness in those around us by helping them to overcome the life denying forces that have power in their lives. Fear. Greed. Lack of self worth. Cultural messaging. These and many other forces are powerful in quelling love, goodness, and peace.
We are to be people of compassion and healing. People who, like Jesus, match our words and our actions. Giving up on no one. Reaching out in reconciliation and hope.
And as we look at the changes that are needed in our society, it is not only about the power of the gospel to transform the lives of other people, it is also about opening ourselves to being transformed by the power of love. The power of the gospel. Theway of Jesus. Allowing that which is evil within us to be driven out so that we might be transformed.
If Jesus were to come walking by and stand in our midst this morning, what evils might he see? What life sapping, tormenting forces might he be aware of? What would he find possessing us? Yes, right here. Among us. Within us. What would he want to drive out of us so that we might be healed and made whole?
In his commentary on Dr. King, noted scholar Cornel West observes: “. . .Dr. King understood radical love as form of death – a relentless self-examination in which a fearful, hateful, egoistic self dies daily to be reborn into a courageous, loving, and sacrificial self. . . The scandal of the Cross is precisely the unstoppable and unsuffocatable love that keeps moving in a blood-soaked history, even in our catastrophic times.” [The Radical King, p. xvi]
And if Jesus appeared here in our place of worship, in our holy hour of prayer, would we welcome his power and authority to redeem us? Are we open to allowing the racism within us to be neutralized? Allowing the white privilege to be driven out? Allowing the greed in us to be eliminated? Allowing the consumerism and materialism to be expelled? Allowing the violence in us to be driven out?
Allowing our apathy to be evicted? Allowing the fear we foster to be expelled? So that we might be transformed, made new? Or would we cry out, “What do you want from us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” If we want to see the world change, then as Gandhi said it, we must be the change we wish to see. Don’t expect it ‘out there’ unless you are willing to accept it ‘in here.’ (Gesture to the heart).
It’s interesting that after this story about the exorcism, people comment about Jesus’ authority. They see the power. But they are not raving about Jesus. It has brought him notoriety. Not necessarily popularity. That will come. With some of the people. Not all the people. Not the religious leaders who think they already have a monopoly on the power of God. They don’t need Jesus’ help, thank you very much. No evil in them or their system to be driven out.
It’s a gruesome scene, this exorcism. Jesus rebuking: Be silent, and come out of him. The unclean spirit, convulsing the person and crying with a loud voice. It is a struggle. A confrontation. Not at all comfortable for we who are conflict avoiders. We who are peace at any pricers. We who like our religion tame and serene. The elimination of evil, the freeing of life, can be a messy business. There will always be those who are threatened by redemption, by healing, by the power of love, by goodness, because these things cannot be easily manipulated or controlled. But make no mistake. It is clear in this story. Right upfront in the oldest gospel. The gospel is about freedom. Jesus frees people from the power of evil. Gives new life and hope. The gospel frees us from that which binds us, constricts us, limits us, and confines us. The gospel opens the door of the trap, the cage, and says, Come out! Be free. Be whole. Be well. And it is for us then to struggle for the freedom of others. To do the messy work. To use our power. The power of love.
We heard the powerful challenge of the gospel message spoken this week from the voice of Amanda Gorman, poet and prophet. In her poem at the inauguration, she began with this question:
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
And at the end of her eloquent epic she answers that question:
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
UNISON PRAYER Bill Wallace, Aotearoa/New Zealand
O God, who comes to us as disturbing comforter, shattering the rigid preconceptions of our minds and hearts, give us the grace to welcome your coming, to trust beyond where we can see, to have hope in the midst of chaos, to learn from our mistakes, to accept your forgiveness and to walk steadfastly in the way of Gospel gladness.
MISSION STATEMENT The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Prayer of Dedication Margot Arthurton
If you can give You can live, And not count Nor mount up Another’s debt – You can forget And let Be . . . For we All must Trust – And to trust Is to give . . . And to give Is to live.
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that ever shall be, Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven: The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth! With the bread that we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.