Mark 1: 21 – 28 Under New Management   Sunday January 31, 2021


Under New Management

Mark 1: 21 – 28


(preached January 31, 2021)


For people in Jesus’ day, evil spirits, sometimes called unclean spirits or demons, were a real and lively presence in the world.  People believed that those unclean spirits could invade a person’s mind and take control of their actions.  Unclean spirits could fill someone full of rage; they could make someone want to harm others or themselves.


In our passage for today from Mark’s gospel, we find a man, full of rage, who confronts Jesus when he’s preaching in the synagogue. It’s as if some strange and powerful force has taken hold of the man.  He shouts, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know what you’re up to!  You’re the Holy One of God and you’ve come to destroy us.”  Today we don’t talk much about unclean spirits.  Today we might understand the man’s behavior as a form of mental illness.  We see the man’s inner torment as a medical problem.  Generally we look for medical solutions.  And medicine has done a great deal to alleviate this kind of mental anguish.  But many people today are still in mental anguish, or what we might call spiritual pain.


Maybe you know a man who’s addicted to painkillers, but hides his addiction behind a wall of denial.  Maybe you know a young woman who’s obsessed by a quest for the perfect body: so obsessed that she nearly starves herself to death.  Maybe you know a neighbor who seldom leaves the house as she slides more and more deeply into depression.  We know people in spiritual pain.  We may number them among our friends.  We may see them across the kitchen table.  We may see them in the mirror.


We may not talk about unclean spirits, but you and I know the torment that can ravage a person’s life.  We know about spiritual pain.  Because of Jesus, though, we also know that lives of spiritual pain are not what God intends for of us.  And we know that in Jesus, God has come with power to heal that pain.


As you listened to Mark’s account of Jesus in the synagogue, did you notice when Jesus is first called by name?  Did you notice who is the first to recognize him?  As he preaches in the synagogue, the first person to call him by name is the man with the unclean spirit.  He cries out, “I know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth!  You are the Holy One of God!”  The spirit that possesses that man understands what Jesus is all about.  That unclean spirit knows who Jesus is: the Holy One of God.


He’s right: Jesus, the Holy One of God, has no patience for spirits that harm.  He says, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”  Jesus is not intimidated by the rage that screams from every fiber of the man’s being.  He’s not afraid.  He is convinced, despite the screams, that this man is a child of God.  He’s convinced that this spiritual pain is not what God intends for him.  With that conviction filling his voice, he commands the spirit to depart.  “Quiet!  Get out of him!”  And the spirit departs, leaving the man calm and at peace.


Jesus has come to the synagogue to share his message: “Now is the time!  Here comes God’s Kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust this good news!” The good news is that God does not intend for any of us to endure lives of spiritual pain.  The good news is that God longs to heal our wounds, of body and of spirit.  The good news is that God has come in Jesus to turn us from the ways of death to the ways of life.


Jesus shares that message with confidence and conviction, but he doesn’t leave it at that.  He heals the man.  By healing the man he shows that the Word of God is more than words written in a book.  He shows that the Word of God is more than words.  The Word of God is a living presence, alive in him.  The Word of God isn’t just something to be talked about, it’s something to be lived out, in acts of courage and love.  As we might say today, Jesus has come: not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk.  The walk he walks is for the healing of humanity.  His actions as well as his words show that he has come to turn us from the ways of death to the ways of life.


A man who had served in the military turned from the ways of death to the ways of life because of his walk with Jesus.  He was an Army man, but he had been angry, very angry, for a long time.  He had been angry at everyone and everything.  He had also been a heavy drinker for thirty-five years.  But one day, he encountered Christ.  His whole life changed.  He began to travel around the country, speaking to groups about the changes in his heart and life.

One day he was speaking to a group of medical professionals.  He told them about his personality change: how he had once been a drunk, but now was sober.  He had once been critical and severe, but now was considerate.  He had once been selfish and self-serving, but now he was concerned for others.


That day a psychiatrist was in the audience.  She had been convinced by her training that personalities are firmly set in early life.  She had been convinced by her training that fundamental change is not possible.  As she listened to the army officer’s talk, she was skeptical; she couldn’t believe it.  Finally, she spoke up.  She protested to him that at his age it was impossible for anyone to have such a radical transformation.


“Well,” the man replied.  “That may be true.  But I am under new management.  I answer to another authority – the highest and truest there is.”


I don’t know just how it happened.  I don’t know the details of the man’s transformation from drunk to sober, from angry to calm.  But I have a hunch that it was more than words that made the transformation.  In fact, I’m convinced that it was someone eager to share God’s healing power, someone eager to live out the love of Jesus, walking the walk, leading him out of the ways of death to the ways of life.


In the synagogue that day, Jesus restored a man to the peace of mind that God intended for him.  He showed that the Word of God is more than words.  The Word of God is something to be lived out in acts of courage and love.  In those acts of courage and love, Jesus proclaimed that the world was under new management.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany 4



“The Little Road to Bethlehem” Michael Head

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist