The Disciples and the Slayers
Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
February 7, 2021
Sermon on Sunday, February 7, 2020
Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
Mark 1: 35-59
Sometimes we are taken by surprise. Perhaps you go into a concert hall (or at least you remember going into a concert hall) and you pause as if frozen in time because you are moved by the architecture, the colors, and the splendor of the space. Maybe you drive by the house that you grew up in, the house that built you, and a flood of memories rush your heart. This week, did you look out the window and catch a glimpse of the sunlight falling just right on the snow, and ponder the joys of Christmases past?
We all have these moments: someone reminds us of a loved one who is missed, or we wish we could call that friend who left the world way too soon to tell them their team won the World Series. One of those reconnecting moments happens for me every time I hear the piece that Bill is going to play.
(Bill played “Colors/Dance” by George Winston)
The song “Colors/Dance” is from pianist George Winston’s Autumn collection and it transports me back to a formative place. Suddenly discussions with classmates that came from all over the world, lifting up elements of justice, kindness, humility, and fostering authentic and interdependent ways of living come alive in the music.
My hope is that today as we circle a bit of the world, we all will hear the echo of conversations that call forth our authentic selves as we relate with God and one another. When I revisit those intriguing conversations from the past, I don’t need all the details to recall the lessons from and power of those interactions. I imagine we have all experienced those “round table type moments,” if you will. Those exchanges, the reflections, the struggles, the clashes that shape who we become.
The Gospel of Mark highlights interactions that give us a window into developing relationships and ministry in Jesus’ day. Mark gleans from his experiences with, and what he heard about, Jesus to string stories together like a symphony rich with melodic sounds from descant to countermelody. In the first chapter one tale rolls swiftly to another and then another. In a period of a couple of years and in thirty-nine verses, Mark sketches multiple stories beginning with John the Baptist preaching and baptizing. He moves on to briefly tell accounts of Jesus’ baptism, temptation, calling the disciples, teaching, casting, healing, praying, and starting all over and learning again.
Like the scenes in the scripture, vignettes build our lives. We go through daily, monthly, yearly routines and then start all over again. If we practice intentionality, we learn from each chapter of life and grow in spiritual maturity. I appreciate Mark’s cascading reports. We witness the development of the wider faith circle as he paints with a broad brush. He offers an overall view of Jesus’ ministry during those days.
Today for First Church’s Annual Meeting, we are following suit. With a very wide lens, we will have a limited view of our extensive ministries during a pandemic. Committees, boards, members, staff, and clergy have been creative, flexible, determined, and intentional. Our goal has been to follow the footsteps of Jesus by prayerfully discerning how to both share and keep us connected to the good news of God’s love and grace. We have composed ministry as best as we are able, hopefully gaining wisdom at each turn. Every offering has been layered and consumed more time that we could have imagined.
In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and in our current ministries, there is much to take in, to pull apart, and to engage. As we read this chapter in Mark and dig into the possibilities, feel inspired, and discern the power of God’s love, may we do likewise with the book of annual reports. There is one word in Mark’s gospel (thankfully not found in our annual report), on which I I want to center our attention right now: the word is demon. Before we get too excited, in the Greek, demon is translated to unclean spirit.
Circle with me for a moment back to the 1990’s. In the television series of that bore her name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer confronted the unclean spirits of insecurity, ego, fear, prejudice, systemic evil, and territorialism. The show personified these elements in creature forms. There was one episode in which Buffy battled an unclean spirit and was injured. In her woundedness she gained a debilitating amount of empathy. She took on everyone’s pain and was rendered unable to function (not an unfamiliar feeling for many of us this year). Buffy’s friends took care of her and eventually supported her in training others to slay unclean spirits. In real life—our lives—we have injured bodies and hearts. Sometimes empathy impairs our ability to find the balance of caring for others and self. We, too, need to enlist a wider interdependent group to slay the unclean spirits that divide and separate us.
The snapshot of Jesus calling the disciples comes into play here. Like the slayers and the disciples, we too contemplate, gather, and prepare to teach ourselves and each other to build a group to see, name, and cast out the unclean spirits of insecurity, ego, fear, prejudice, systemic evil, and territorialism. In the few verses that Jake read, we know Jesus had to replenish himself by going to a quiet place to pray. He regrouped with the disciples and they continued their ministry with new folks.
We are in our quiet places of prayer right now facing some unclean spirits that we cannot easily slay. However, we will emerge and regroup, changed from this time. We will be ready to embrace Jacqueline Novogratz’s idea in Manifesto for a Moral Revolution. She declares, “What if our Golden Rule were not only ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you,’ but also give more to the world than you take from it?”
Let’s not only be taken by surprise by powerful memories or the flips and turns of our world. Let’s choose to live in surprising ways, casting out unclean spirits by living out the grounding principle of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.