Epiphany 4B 2021
Deuteronomy 18:15-20;Psalm 111;
1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
I was startled awake early this past Wednesday morning by the strong winds that buffeted the Central Valley this week during the winter storm. Trees were knocked down, and power lost by a force of Nature that is a curiosity in its own right.
You can’t touch the wind, if you think about it. It’s not a physical presence like water or dirt, but you can sense the wind by how it feels moving across you skin, or see the effect of the wind’s movement in the tree branches that sway, or a piece of paper blowing down the street.
In the first verse of the Book of Genesis we are told “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” That “wind from God” can also be translated as “The Spirit of God”, or in Jewish terms, the Ruach.
When I meditate sometimes I picture myself being carried along by the Spirit of God rushing over the waters at the beginning of creation. If your imagination is vivid enough you almost feel a need to grab onto the chair you’re sitting in as you rush over those untamed waters.
- It is that Holy Wind that displaces chaos to form creation;
- that same Holy Spirit that breathes life into the first humans;
- that Holy Wind that parts the Red Sea for the Israelites;
- that Holy Spirit that descends on Jesus gently like a dove at his baptism;
- the Holy Wind that filled the whole house at Pentecost.
My first Spiritual Director, Fr. Basil Matthews, observed that as humans our first physical act in life is to take in a breath of wind, and our last act in life is to let it out.
The wind can be a seemingly destructive force, like knocking down trees, but can also be a positive force, like pushing a sailboat across the waters. Even in its destructive mode, however, the knocking down of a tree opens up the forest canopy to allow new growth.
As I fell back to sleep that night, the image of the Holy Wind sweeping over the face of the waters and displacing chaos stayed with me.
Throughout the Gospels it is not Jesus himself that causes miracles to happen—he’s not a magician–but the Holy Spirit–the Holy Ruach–the Holy Wind—acting through Jesus that makes miracles happen.
In today’s reading we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue, astonishing his listeners, when he’s interrupted by someone with an unclean spirit.
If you sit and reflect on this passage, you may notice that while Jesus commands “Be silent, and come out of him!” it’s actually the Holy Spirit that displaces the unclean spirit, or the chaos within that person, and that chaos is replaced with the teachings of Jesus—the preaching of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
In other words, that afflicted individual’s mind, previously burdened by some idea of a self-loathing, is suddenly freed from this burden through Jesus’ teaching of this arrival of the Kingdom of God.
How often in life are we afflicted by self-loathing or apartness from family, or community, or faith?
For some reason my mind finds it convenient at 3 a.m. to review every derogatory thing said to me as a child, every wrong I’ve ever experienced, or every mistake I’ve ever made.
Yet as people of the Good News, we have the power to drive out the chaos of internal self-loathing when we grasp onto the Spirit we are given at Baptism, the Spirit that says “You, too, are my beloved,” “You, too, are special to me,” “You, too, are my son or daughter, the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Take my hand, let me lead you.”
Every one of us are God’s beloved. It is up to each of us to focus our minds on living into this Kingdom of God. We ourselves choose how we spend our time—how we spend our mind—in living into this new Kingdom.
Do we spend our day focused on the chaos of politics, or talking heads, or acquisition of things? Or do we focus our day, our time, and our minds, on living in the Spirit?
Each of the four Gospels have a unique perspective and style in trying to explain the life of Jesus. If you study the Gospel of Mark closely you find that it’s the unclean spirits who know who Jesus is, while his followers are puzzled and confused.
In Mark, you find a Gospel that’s in a hurry. It’s like Mark is running around telling everyone “You’ve got to hear this!” and you find many of his passages starting with “At once…” or “Immediately”. It’s also the shortest Gospel, as if he was in a hurry to send it out.
It’s the Gospel of Mark, too, that reads like a modern mystery novel in its oldest form. While the current ending of Mark is Chapter 16, Verse 19, scholars have found that the earliest manuscripts of Mark end with Chapter 16, Verse 8, but, just like a mystery story, I’m not going to tell you today what that ending is.
What I will suggest to you is an idea that was shared with us at the Advent Clergy Conference by a professor from Bexler-Seabury Seminary. The Gospel of Mark has only 16 Chapters. If you read one Chapter a day, you can read the entire Gospel in a little over a fortnight. If you spend time reflecting on each Chapter you’ve read, you will find yourself coming to a new way of living.
That is the goal of the Holy Wind—The Holy Spirit: To displace the chaos and give us a new way of life, freed from the burdens of chaos.
Focus your life each day on the idea that through the waters of Baptism, through the in-dwelling of the Holy Wind, God is saying to you “You are my beloved. You matter to me. I love you.”
(Perhaps you can consider this as your personal spiritual journey as we move towards Lent. If you don’t have one, try picking up a good study bible that has notes, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the New Oxford Study Bible, or the Harper Collins Study Bible. I’ve also found The Message Devotional Bible a compelling modern translation.)