Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1: 29-39
There is a beautiful promise in this Scripture from Isaiah- those who wait in the Lord will not just get more tired, more weary, and stop. Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. Will find energy to not just keep moving but fly. Like that smooth-winged eagle flight, pushed up by the drafts.
That is a promise I think we all need these days. There is a lot to be weary of. Weary of this pandemic and its restrictions and the grief for loved ones lost, weary of the interruption of the economy and mounting need for so many, weary of inequality and all of its consequences, weary of waiting on politicians to do the right thing… weary of not being able to gather as a congregation. Yet here is our promise: Those who hope in the Lord will not grow weary.
What does it mean to wait on the Lord?, well I think that is a deep question with more than one simple answer. I think one first answer is to be a person of prayer, and not just the kind of prayer that recites some known phrases and stops, but the kind of prayer that bares our soul to God and then stays open to what God would say to us.
And it’s clear that Jesus had this kind of prayer life, we hear from the gospel today that he spent a whole evening doing healings and throwing out demons, from when the sun was setting until who knows when. But then in the morning he got up and went on his own to pray. And when the disciples found him, he knew he could not heal those who had already started coming to him in that place, Capernaum, but had to go another way. He heard that direction in his prayer time. He was ready to keep going because he put in that time with God.
But I think there is even more to waiting on the Lord than just prayer. I think it refers to an orientation of our whole lives to what God wants and dreams for us, as individuals and as community. I think it has to do with paying close attention to what we know about God from Jesus and all of the bible, and trying at all times to live that out. And Jesus is certainly our example for that also.
From personal experience, When I know God is calling me to a certain thing and I answer, there is a peace and empowerment that comes with that. I have also experienced the opposite- seeing a way God is calling me, and turning away, and that strips me of energy.
But then we get up and try again, try to wait again on God. Try again to see, hear, discern how God is calling us forward.
And sometimes that comes in prayer, and sometimes it comes from listening to other people. And sometimes just the listening is the holy work we are called to do.
Last week I preached to you and let you know a story from my past ministry, in which I came close to being called to perform an exorcism. And I wondered with you about the effects of abuse and trauma and being silenced all somehow being related to a festering of the spirit, which manifested in what some call a demon possession. In the telling of what happened and being believed, there was healing and I believe a demon cast out.
I must start by confessing that I am not an expert on these things and I hope I did not say or won’t say today, anything that was harmful to anyone, especially any survivors of abuse. My goal is to help us turn from all ways that enable harm, abuse, in all its forms, to ways that are in line with what Jesus showed us, healing and wholeness. I am not perfect so please do let me know if there are ways I can speak better. But this week I want to continue to wonder about some of these things with you. Please let me know if I am missing the mark or how I might adjust my words in the future.
So there is a second part to this story that I didn’t share yet. Soon after I was almost called to do an exorcism and listened to the woman’s story and prayed with her, I had to go to a clergy gathering. I was still processing what had happened and I told two male colleagues about it. I had begun to wonder about connections of what some used to or still call demonic possession, with a psyche grappling to survive abuse, and being silenced. I was apprehensive about how my story would be received, for up to recently for me this was beyond my experience and only happened in the movies. I was relieved to hear their affirmation of such things really happening, that I was believed and taken seriously in my own pondering, and not dismissed.
I was a little surprised. As a woman, throughout my life many times men simply doubted things I said, disagreed or put their own ideas on a higher level and dismissed me to greater or lesser extents.
That my two male colleagues listened and affirmed me was a moment of healing for me. It was a sort of removing layers of misplaced shame from me, restoring honor to me. It helped to undo the lie I had lived through of my female perspective being less valuable. If placing shame where it does not belong is cooperating with demonic forces, then removing it is cooperating with Jesus’ ministry. Showing the truth of our equality is cooperating with Jesus’ ministry.
Because as a female, I was used to having my ideas dismissed by men. Not always, but especially when saying something a little novel or not widely accepted, males usually stuck with their own viewpoints and dismissed me to greater or lesser extents. It was not even something I was entirely conscious of, perhaps, until after this happened- where I wasn’t just repeating accepted theory but working my way through something, and was happily surprised to be listened to. By males. And reflecting on it now years later I remember that feeling of empowerment that was so different than what I had grown accustomed to. Being dismissed, silenced more often than not, having my opinion put in a lower place than a man’s.
So- I know it’s not the same. It’s not even close.
But I’m wondering today if maybe how Jesus cured all of those demon possessed people wasn’t always like we suspect from the movies. Because in the gospel for today, there are more demons. Now it is not just one, but many demons. Jesus performs healings and they are not all of bodily sickness- he heals people and expels the demons. And they are not just in that one place wherever he goes, there are many more demons to be thrown out.
I’m wondering, Did he look at the people who came to him with demons in a way that did not dismiss but welcomed them as whole, but wounded persons? Remember I talked last week about how with demon possession there was probably some stigma- some wanting to avoid someone with an obvious problem in their being. And how Jesus never paid attention to those things. How Jesus always saw the person first.
Did his accepting posture invite them to confess not what they had done but what had been done to them? Did having someone listen carefully and take them seriously allow some of the trauma to heal, enough to not constantly be acting as “not themselves?”
Maybe and maybe not. But we do know that those who have been through hard experiences, traumatic things, need to talk about those experiences, need to have a safe space to do that. We do know that we all have a need to tell our story, and to be listened to.
So yes I do think there are many demons around today. Not to give them power, but to name them for what they are. Forces that might be hard to pin down but that take away fullness of life. And to name that Jesus has authority over them, has given us that authority, and we have a part to play in ending their power.
So it make take an act of bravery on your part, but as a disciple it is your job to be a listener of stories. To commit to listening and invite others to tell their stories to listen carefully, empathetically, and never belittle or ignore others.
Listening to the stories of brothers and sisters who have experienced discrimination, harm and abuse is a step towards defeating unclean spirits. taking them seriously is a balm, a first step.
A raising up of someone’s honor and dignity by listening carefully to them can be a strong antidote against evil powers.
Throwing out demons is not something we talk a lot about in Methodist churches perhaps but I don’t think it is something to shrug off or be afraid of. Casting out demons was woven into the ministry of Jesus and it is woven into how we follow as disciples. And here is the thing. I think this is part of waiting on the Lord. It is part of where we gather strength. From listening to each other well. Providing that honor and care like Jesus would.
Beloved, We have been living in layers of trauma in this life under a pandemic. The Results of discrimination in our society are becoming more plain than ever- I heard a report last night that to be an essential worker and person of color in Central valley means to be dying at 40% higher rates than other groups from this virus. The same populations are receiving less vaccine. So yes there are layers of trauma for all of us but not equally.
If ever there were a time that merited growing weary, this could be one of those times. Our patience is being stretched to the limit. Tend to those times of prayer, remember that God hears you, so you can hear others.
Jesus is our example for waiting on the Lord. It is a combination of active reaching out to people, a consistent empathy and care for others, times of prayer and renewal and acting on God’s prodding.
May we have this deep relationship with God to pour out God’s love to others. May God renew our strength to soar on eagle’s wings together, Amen.