Sermon at Madras United Methodist Church, January 28, 2018

Mark 1:21-28

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They 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.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.


The words of the late Leonard Cohen in his song “Anthem.”


Words of hope in a time of chaos.

Words of encouragement in a moment when it feels difficult to muster more energy.


At least, that is my situation.


I have been struggling with insomnia lately;

perhaps it’s my pillow,

or that I am known to check my email right before bed,

or that I carry excitement and anxiety in my body and my bones

as I and others begin to form a new spiritual community.


That is work that might keep one up at night.


And so Cohen’s words: that light comes from the hard, cracked places–

that feels like good news.

Cohen himself, a Jew from Canada,

said that that line was about resurrection.


And I dare say we have all known the cracked places:

the death of a parent,

the loss of a job,

the empty nest–

the everyday cracks and losses that accompany this human life,

and whose brokenness reveals some new grace to us.


Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.



Jesus’ first public act of ministry is in an encounter with man who,

coincidentally, ironically,

we today might call “cracked.”


The people said that he was inhabited by demons.

We might draw a dotted line between demonic forces then and

mental illness now.

We might best understand this man in today’s terms as one

who wrestles constantly with pure evil.

Mental illness,


a binding force that will not let him be free.


And yet he is not really broken.

This illness, this force, has so seemlessly taken over this man

that those around him cannot tell where one stops and the other begins.

Where human stops and demon begins.


He is probably someone in the community who people write off by saying:

“Oh, him, yeah: he’s cracked.”

His affliction and his self are united;

the man’s voice, the demon’s,

the demon’s body, that of a man.


They are one in the same.


Not so far from the writing off we do when we say, well:

he’s a felon,

she’s an druggie;

he’s a bum,

she’s a welfare queen.


Affliction and self are united in

the world as it is.

No one is better than the worst thing they have done.

No one is more whole than the most broken parts of them.


So many have accused the young women who stepped forward to

tell their stories of abuse as gymnasts at the hands of their doctor–

accused them of being in it for the money and the publicity.


And yet they have run the risk that whenever they


give an interview,

plan a playdate for their child–


“Oh yeah, she’s one of those victims.”


In the world as it is,

we are not able to discern where human stops

and affliction begins.



In the world as it was, in the cultural-political situation of

Caperneaum and the entire peninsula

where Jesus lived and did his ministry,

people may have been like us: not able to discern where human stopped

and affliction began.


But the original hearers, those huddled around the table,

listening to this new story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Mark,

were able to discern something else:

where human stopped and occupier began.


These are working-class and poor folks,

both Jewish and Gentile,

who knew well what it meant to be occupied.

They lived under the thumb of Caesar,

subject to high taxes and a life of hard physical work.

Their land was not their own.


They know what it is to be occupied by military forces.

So when they hear this story–

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”–

they hear military language.

They will hear it again several stories later when Jesus heals another man afflicted by demons.

The demons will call themselves “legion.”

What might be a personal story about the desolation of mental illness,

might also be a very political story about the desolation caused by military occupancy and

economic oppression.


Which may not be so different from mental illness after all.

We know that undocumented people in this country suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts more than others.

We know survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts more than others.


Fear makes us sick.


And, if I’m being honest, it makes us all sick,

whether we are safe and secure

or we fear each new day;

we are not all okay until we are all okay.


Both occupier and occupied suffer under systems

that do not let us see where

human stops and affliction begins.



There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.

And if there isn’t a crack there:

someone needs to make it.


We are reminded of this over and over again in Scripture:

as Jesus is being baptized, the heavens are “torn apart”;

as Jesus dies, the curtain to the temple is torn in two.


The Prophet Isaiah prays to God:

“oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains would tremble before you.”


There is a crack in everything–that’s how the light gets in.

And if there isn’t a crack there:

someone needs to make it.


You see, Jesus has come to do a new thing.

In the One wearing flesh, God making all things new.

Putting a crack in the system

that separates us from one another,

breaking open the system that makes us call one another names

rather than calling one another “beloved.”


God knows: that’s how the light gets in.


To the relational God–

the One who creates and calls us,

the One who heals and sustains us–

you are absolutely better and more beautiful than the worst thing you have done.

You are, without a doubt, more whole than the most broken part of you.

Jesus makes holy trouble in that temple–

puts cracks in the system–

for the sake of us all seeing that we are children of God,

when we are afflicted, and when we are at peace.


Your demons are but temporary.

Whether they occupy your body,

your mind,

your freedom.

They say nothing about who and whose you are.


Your belovedness cannot be put into question.



The belovedness of that possessed man–

for Jesus, there was no doubt.


And so his act of healing was an act of


Breaking the lie that says we are how we act,

we are what ails us,

we are mere canvases on which unjust systems can paint

the identity they wish us to have: felon, druggie; victim, illegal.


Jesus’ healing act

was an act of breaking.

The man was shaken.


This is what “exorcism” can look like: for individuals and for communities.

What withdrawal from drugs can look like.

What hard years of therapy can look like,

what the back-breaking work of revitalizing a town can look like.

What it can look like for a community to reclaim its identity after the occupiers leave.


We are shaken to the core,

weak and weeping,




God storms in to those places

that are desperate for it.

That need to be splintered, shattered, burst.

God goes into those places in our lives

that are desperate for the light.


So that we might know that we are made to be beloved,

and that there is no affliction–

personal or societal–

that can take that away.


God charges in to do the terrifying work of

healing us and our world,

over and over again.


So, there will be cracks.

Thanks be to God.

Because that’s how the light gets in.