TEXTS for Preaching
Gospel of Mark 1:21-28
by Jane Hershfield
There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of kiln.
The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying drum-skin of the room’s air.
The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it —
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.
Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
It cannot be after turned back from.
Do you know when
that moment thin as a patina
came and went?
Not an exile, not a hope,
simply the change
between then and now?
Do you know when it was for you?
Do you know when it was for us?
Not that it really has anything to do with you or me,
but I think we know that moment for Jesus –
that instant in time as narrow as the thorax of an ant,
when the shape hardened
and the color was set.
History is helpful like that,
as long as it is kept
and we can look back over it.
Actually for Jesus,
we have to notice two distinct moments
when past and future went through the deli-slicer
and were separated forever from the loaf.
The first moment was when it all changed for him;
and the second, was when everyone else recognized,
because of him, life would now be different.
In the Gospel of Mark,
just before the reading we had today,
there is a little throwaway line few people notice.
It is the next paragraph after Mark describes
Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.
It says simply, “After John was arrested,
Jesus went to Galilee…”
The moment before and after
was severed by the arrest of John.
For Jesus it is was Herod arresting John the Baptist
that made all the difference.
That was it.
He had heard enough.
He left the house and walked into his future.
But no one else noticed until…
until that moment we read about today,
when he encountered the legion of demons.
“What have you to do with us?”
Not one demon but a cohort, a gang,
a festering minion.
“Have you come to destroy us?”
Did you know, that according to
the Mental Health Foundation (in the UK),
as many as “28% of the general population
hears voices that others do not.”
And that three-quarters of those
who hear such voices,
do NOT have any kind of psychotic
or schizophrenic disorder?
In other words, just because you hear voices
doesn’t mean you are crazy!
And guess what, every single one of us has demons.
Even if the Mental Health Foundation
hasn’t realized it yet,
all of us suffer from angels of our lesser natures
that work like hell to get us doing things
the angels of our better natures
would never want us to do.
Most of us probably do not spiritualize those demons
as if they have a life of their own,
but sometimes they can be so pernicious
that is sure feels like it.
But whatever was going on in that story from Mark,
resolved the schizophrenic episode
faster than an intravenous dose
of the antipsychotic Asenapine.
It was that moment,
a single break between seconds
that split the before and after, for Jesus.
The next story in Mark
is about how the whole city lined up at his door
begging to be fixed or healed or otherwise improved.
For Jesus, personally,
it was John being arrested that changed everything.
For those inhabiting the world with him,
and the rest of us since,
it was that single moment
with the crazy guy in the synagogue
that changed everything.
Do you know when it was for you?
Do you know when it was for us?
This is the Sunday of our Annual Parish Meeting
and so it may be a good time to look back
and notice when that moment was for Trinity.
When was that moment,
thin as a patina,
before the shape was hardened
and the color of the present set?
I can’t answer that because I wasn’t here then.
I can tell you about another such moment
that congealed in my throat
and whirled in my stomach.
It was the day they put up the words, “Trinity Place”
on the windows of 78 Castle Street.
“Uh oh,” was my feeling, “the die is cast.”
It may feel like we are betwixt and between
because we are worshipping here
and beginning to meet down there.
But we are no longer in between –
we are there, at Trinity Place.
Even though we worship here
on Sunday mornings, now,
the building is no longer really ours.
It belongs to the future
and it belongs to what it will become,
not by our hands but under the control of others.
Even though we will eventually
be able to worship here again,
in the future sometime,
when the peeling plaster is repaired
and the leaks and heat are overhauled,
we will be visitors.
It will have changed.
It has changed already.
Do you know when it changed for you?
Do you know when it changed for us?
In Biblical history,
there was a marked difference
between the generations that sojourned
and infiltrated the Promise Land,
and all that came after
once there was a throne and a temple.
In Christianity, the first
three to four hundred years,
were markedly different
from the centuries when the faith
became one with the empire.
That is how it has always been.
We flow toward constancy
and the permanence of stone and monolith,
then ebb out again into sojourn
and the mobility of tents.
In and out it goes, wave after wave
of history, sometimes tossing us
and sometimes lulling us.
We are in the flow now;
a time of creativity, mobility, impermanence,
and really, who knows what?
Like Simon and Andrew
and the Zebedee brothers,
we had only just caught up with Jesus
when all hell broke loose.
Now we will see what happens.
The ending has not been written –
so far as we know.
But we can be brave,
and faithful, and listen for the voices
not everyone hears.
I think one of the voices we hear
from this, and other stories, in the Gospel of Mark,
is that our demons,
the very voices we fear the most,
have something to tell us that we need to hear.
If we think of the demons
as that part of ourselves we are afraid of,
what might we discover if we ask, “what”
are our demons afraid of?
It is a bit like a double negative:
If we identify what our demons fear
will it lead us to something good?
I tested it out.
One of my demons is the voice
of the “Critical Parent.”
The Critical Parent is fault-finding
and never satisfied.
It is a voice that rains on our parade
when positive feedback or affirmation arrives:
“Yeah, but he or she didn’t see what you
missed, or what you could have accomplished,
if you had done it right in the first place.”
I suspect this Critical Parent
may be one of the voices you hear
that no one else does at the same time.
It may be a quiet little voice in your brain,
or, as in mine, it may sometimes grow
to Halleluiah Chorus proportions.
So I asked this Critical Parent of mine,
the one inside, “What are you afraid of?”
This hyper-critical voice
that I am calling the Critical Parent,
generally operates from a rigid world-view.
There is usually a recognizable prescription
being issued for how to do something.
What prescriptive thinking fears most,
is its own undoing.
Think about this now.
To accept that we are loved and affirmed
with all our imperfections
is to unravel the brittle mold
of right and wrong,
good and bad,
perfect and incomplete,
demon and angel.
What the Critical Parent fears
is the loss of control and security
glued in place by its own prescriptions,
or those prescriptions it inherited
from generations of critical parents.
To listen to what the Critical Parent fears
gives us a hint of where we might need to walk.
If our demon fear the light,
then perhaps that is where we need to go.
If our demon demands we stand in the light
because it fears the darkness,
perhaps we should enter the shadow.
In the Gospel of Mark,
it is the demons and bad guys
that guide us to discover who Jesus is
and what Jesus came for.
It is an ingenious literary device Mark employs.
But low and behold,
in an odd and sneaky way,
that may be true for us as well:
Our own demons,
by knowing what they fear,
can lead us to know ourselves better
and what we are really here for.
So that is just an example
of listening to our demons,
and seeking to know what they fear
instead of fearing them so completely.
It is the kind of paradox
that gospel wisdom often rides on.
So I asked myself,
standing there on the outside looking in
at Trinity Place, what are you afraid of?
“Failure,” came the answer loud and clear.
“So what,” I replied, “you’ve failed before, and
no doubt, you will fail again?”
“Then we will just have to learn from our failure,”
came a chorus of voices in return.
They were too loud and too many
to decipher angels from demons,
but I suspect it was both.
Truly, I do not know what the future is for us,
but I do know, that the moment
the shape was hardened
and the color set,
has come and gone.
We’re moving on.