Set Free

Jesus does not wait to confront what holds you captive…he moves to set you free.  Today.  Listen to this week’s sermon:


Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B) – February 1, 2015 – Mark 1:21-28

St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Set Free” – Pastor Evan Davis

[Much of this sermon was not strictly from a manuscript, but these are the essential points….listen for the real thing!]

  • Mark tells a story of conflict and confrontation…the “action movie” of the four gospels. John the Baptist calling people to repentance, the heavens ripping open at Jesus’ Baptism, Jesus being sent from his Baptism immediately into the wilderness into conflict with the devil.

  • That’s when things really start to get crazy. Jesus starts teaching, and apparently his teaching is not so respectful to the authorities of the day…as one scholar says, “it’s more declarative than deliberative.”1 And the unclean spirit, well, he knows there’s a problem here. Of all people, the unclean spirit knows it won’t turn out well for him. Jesus’ new way, the kingdom, is pushing out the old powers that be.

  • The people were astounded at his teaching….they were amazed at the exorcism….they’re not used to anyone teaching with authority. Not used to anyone having the ability to command the unclean spirits.

  • Up to that point, they just had to deal with it. Used to a certain order of things, certain people being in charge, that certain realities of life will never change, never get better. “It’s just the way it is, the way things are.”

  • Aren’t we used to the way things are? Resigned to the fact that life can’t change much, can’t get much better? That some will always be poor? That war will always go on? That our enemies can never become friends? If you have a chronic illness, that you will always be the sick one? The disabled one? The weird one whom no one likes? If you have lost the one you love, that grief and loss will always define you? That we can never overcome our failures or mistakes?

  • Are we used to seeing, much less believing that things can get better? That we can move to “the way things should be.” We’ve been disappointed so many times.We can’t believe it. Where in the world is God in my ___________? We don’t feel him, don’t see him – all we can see or feel is our pain. It sounds like such a lie, such an empty, sentimental promise.2

  • But the unclean spirit, again, seems to know more than we do…the question the spirit asks Jesus is really more like, “why are you picking this fight?” by merely entering the synagogue, Jesus has upset the established order3….. “Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds threaten other forces that claim authority over people’s lives. These other authorities have something to lose.”4 Hence immediate conflict between the old order and the new.

  • So what if he entered our church? What unclean spirits would cry out from us? Diseases, depressions, failures, losses/grief, addictions, possessions by greed, pride, power, fear, self-doubt? Jesus confronts all that possesses us….he immediately confronts our doubt…

  • This is who Jesus is – the one who doesn’t hesitate or wait, but immediately recognizes, opposes, moves to set us free from all that possesses us. Breaks through our expectations of what is possible in this life. All are amazed at what Jesus does. Jesus is the one who immediately upsets the order of things. Immediately declares that another life is possible. Another world is possible. That…it gets better.

  • Jesus frees us in so many ways. You can’t be possessed by greed if you can feel and recognize God providing everything you need. You can’t be possessed by pride, or racism, or hatred for any other group of human beings if you can hear and feel God telling you that all human beings are his children, if you can see the face of Jesus in the face of the other. You can’t be possessed by self-doubt or self-hatred if you know that God made you to be the person you are, that God died so that you might live….

  • You can’t be possessed by addiction if God enables you to confess that you are powerless without him, if you feel the power of Christ’s love which tells you have love and can have peace and wholeness without whatever substance it is…You can’t be possessed by disease or disability if God does not desert you, if God affirms you regardless of how you are abled, if God takes you as you are, not as society says you should be….

  • Although the pain never fully goes away, you can’t be possessed by loss or grief fully or forever if God gives you the hope of the resurrection, if God shows you that the ultimate reality is not separation but reunion, if your life with God continues with love and purpose and new relationships even as you mourn….

  • Notice that Jesus does not destroy the unclean spirit….it removes its ability to control our lives, to have any kind of ultimate authority over us. Then they’re not so scary.5 We see that their only real power is to inhabit, inhibit, and control us. When they are exposed by the reality of God’s love for us, God’s presence with us….they fade away. Their claims are no longer true, because God loves us and is with us.

  • All through the gospel, Jesus is the one present in brokenness and pain, all the way to the cross.6 This is just Act One. He will continue to go to the sick, the excluded, the lepers and paralytics, the sinners, racists, tax collectors, occupying soldiers, to the fathers whose children have died, to the bleeding woman, to the sheep without a shepherd, even to the disciples who do not begin to recognize that following him means the cross, not glory. He comes even to us.

  • I know, because I’ve seen it. I may not have seen an exorcism like in the movies, but I’ve seen a friend set free from the spirit of addiction. I’ve seen neighbors convulsed by greed and pride, set free to a life of generosity and humility and community. I’ve felt Jesus continue to set me free, little by little each day, from self-judgment and self-doubt. That unclean spirit will return, but so will Jesus, everyday…until the day when we will believe it, fully, and know it, as well as we are fully known. Amen.

1Matt Skinner, Commentary on Mark 1:21-28, (accessed January 28, 2015).

2Karoline Lewis, “Exorcisms for Our Day,” (accessed January 28, 2015). This whole point is inspired by her article.




6David Lose, “Epiphany 4B: First Things First,” (accessed January 28, 2015).