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What to Do


 Mk. 6:1-13 

Do you  still  have  your  elementary school  report   cards?   My mother saved mine. You were rated as follows: Unsatisfactory, Should Do Better.  Excellent.  My parents were attentive to my progress and supportive, but  even  when  I  occasionally   got  an  "Excellent,"   the overall  message  was "Do better. Try Harder." Now that is not  a bad message. It worked well as a motivating factor  in my life. It certainly fit the  Protestant Ethic  of my Midwest  upbringing, and  it seems  to dominate much of the corporate world. "You increased profits by 20% this year?  Good. Next year increase them  by 22%. The year after  by

25%." "Do better. Try harder."


Wednesday I got a letter  from a bank that said, "You Are Preapproved!" Well, that works for Christians as well as homeowners. By that  I  mean  that  as  Christians we believe  in  a creator God,  in whose image we are made,  and  who created  the good earth. We also believe in a redeemer God who is compassionate and personally concerned about  each  one  of us. For the  Christian, history  is linear and our lives are always on a journey of faith, or a pilgrimage. We are always "moving  on." The Church's task is to prepare you and  me for the next stage in our life. Today's lesson from Mark  makes three suggestions about  what  to do as you and  I move along  on our faith Journey.


The commission given by Jesus in Mark 6:1-13 to His disciples is to 1) face the  unclean  spirits, 2)  urge  people  to turn  around from the direction they are going (repent), and 3) to cast out demons and anoint  and heal the sick. The disciples are told to take very little with them. Now much has been made about  the difference  between "plain" and  "fancy."  The  Puritans wanted   "plain"   and   the  traditionalists wanted   "fancy."   Cromwell   wanted   "plain"   and   James  I  wanted "fancy." The roundheads were for "plain" and the "cavaliers" were for fancy. Mennonites and  Quakers  were on one side,  Roman  Catholics and  Greek  Orthodox on  the  other.  Each  side  had  to  deal  with  this

passage.  Frankly  I don't  think  the  passage  is about  the  number of socks  you take  on your  Christian  Pilgrimage.  It is about  facing  the forces that are evil/destructive and seeking healing. It is about getting people to stop giving into false gods and spirits  and instead accepting the positive presence  of God in Jesus  and trying to cure physical and spiritual illness.



So here is the bottom  line. To live the Christian life is to 1) face unclean  spirits  and demons, 2) encourage others  to repent, and 3) to heal.  You and  I, as  disciples  of Jesus,  are  empowered by Jesus  to engage in these tasks. In fact, we are told so to do and He promises  to back us up. That is a lot different  from "Do better. Try harder. You're on your own, bud. I got mine, you can go get yours." To oppose  evil and  to seek  to heal  are  pretty  simple  injunctions. The living out  of them, the unwrapping of them, is very, very hard.



Now, let me sketch  out some assumptions. First of all there  is the  assumption that  the  world  and  reality  are  really  complex.  We know that  through  art,  through metaphor, through intuition as well as through reason  and empirical science. Within  this complex  world and  reality, there  is such a thing  as evil, or the demonic.  Look at the killing fields of Pol Pot, Rawanda  or Auschwitz. Look at a Jim Jones or a Charles Manson. Look at the slaughter in Syria. We can describe what happened in political, sociological and scientific terms, but to do so misses the total  atmosphere and impact  of what happened. Many atheists and agnostics will agree that evil exists and must be resisted.



Secondly,  people  are  possessed   by  unclean   spirits.   We  use different  terms,  but  the  end  result  is close, if not the same. When  I was  a  child   and   did   something  wrong,   my  father   would   say, "Whatever  possessed  you to do that? It could have been anger, envy, fear or jealousy. We don't  use the term, "possessed," much any more. But aren't we sometimes "possessed by our possessions?" Aren't some of  us   possessed    by  frames   of  mine   that   are   psychological   or pathological  and  are  skewered?  When  my mother  had  a "bad  hair day," her  black  moods  were high  octane.  Ninety-five  percent  of the time she was fine. It was the five percent  that you feared. So when the Bible  speaks   of  unclean   spirits   and  of  demons, the  world  of  the temple, the synagogue and of Jesus is not so far away.

Thirdly  it  is  possible  to  heal  people  and  even  to  cure  them. Medical practice  is becoming  more  open to the relationship between mind-body, spirit-body than it has in the past. Turn up the stress level and  you can  knock  someone into  a psychotic  state  or a stroke  or a heart  attack.  Is it so hard  to believe  that  if you bring  some  peace, grace,  compassion and  reconciliation into  someone's life that  their psyche  might  not  be  better, their  blood  pressure less,  their  stress factor  down  and  their  ulcers  quieter? My brother, age 82,  recently had  open-heart surgery.  He is a high stress  guy. Hence  he has been prescribed  physical   therapy  that   in  includes   message,   yoga  and prayer.



So  Christian living  means  in  your  own  corner   of  the  world facing those  things that  are destructive, divisive and debilitating. For some it is drugs, for others  alcohol, mental  illness or greed. For some it is resentment, bitterness, hatred or shame. You can parse those out for  yourself.  Your  task  as  a  Christian   is  to  seek  healing  and  cure through your  thoughts and  your  actions. That  means  being  positive and creative,  compassionate and fearless  in the pursuit of physical/spiritual wholeness. Some of you may lobby for better  health insurance, others for special classes, or attention to the pandemic illnesses such as AIDS, malnutrition, or cancer.



You know, when  you try to "Do better. Try harder," that  isn't enough,  because  you  will often  fail. And  then  what  have  you  got? Shame.   Guilt.  Despair.  But  if  you  place  your  life  in  a  Christian perspective,  you are "preapproved," "movin'  on" and  commissioned by Jesus  to do something worthwhile: face the  demons and  seek  to cure those  who are sick in mind  and  body. Often we are called to do something not only about  the physical body, but also about  the body politic, where  it is skewered  and  justice  and  fairness are  cast  aside. You and  I know that  we will be rejected  and  fail from  time  to time. (Failure is often, I think, my middle name.)  Jesus  knew that he would be  ignored  by his  kinfolk  and  ultimately be  was  rejected.  But  the message  of the  Passion  Narrative (which  dominates The Gospel of Mark) is that in His death and resurrection, Jesus  has shown that the forces  of  death   and  destruction  are  overcome,   principalities and powers,  the spiritual forces have ultimately lost. (St. Paul spells  this out  clearly  in  I  Corinthians  15:54-58. "Death   is  swallowed  up  in victory." 0 death,  where  is thy victory? 0 death,  where  is thy sting?

The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks  be to God, who gives us the victory thorough our Lord Jesus  Christ. Therefore,  my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the  work of the  Lord,  knowing  that  in the  Lord your labor is not in vain."



So, brothers and sisters, your and my labor is not in vain. Christ has gone before us and Christ is with us through the authority He has given us. In The Gospel of Mark you and  I are called to lives of high calling and  great adventure. We are given spiritual authority to cope with  serious  issues.  We are  given  difficult,  but  not  hopeless  tasks. Mark tells us that Christ walks with us; that we are not alone.



Moreover, in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which Jesus celebrated before Calvary, you and  I are given the presence  of Christ in our lives, and the assurance of the presence  of our lives in His.


Confront  evil, encourage repentance and  seek  to heal.  On my report  card,  that  is a lot  better  than  "Do  better. Try  harder." The Christian  life holds the promise  of challenge,  adventure and spiritual reward. Confront.  Repent.  Heal. Pretty elementary, my dear Watson. Amen. - Fr. Gage -

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