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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
4th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 1, 2009
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1st Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
At  Grace  Lutheran,  in  Houston,  we  decided  it  was  time  to  make  a  pictorial  
directory  of  our  congregation.  It  had  been  years  since  we’d  had  one  --  no  one  
even  remembered  when.  So  we  formed  a  committee  and  they   chose  a  company  
to  work  with,  picked  a  couple  of  Sunday  afternoons  when  pictures  would  be  taken  
(Grace  was  a  smallish  congregation,  like  Calvary)  and  set  everything  up.    On  the  
chosen  Sunday,  a  representative  from  “Great  Shots  Photography”  came  to  Grace  
to  sign  folks  up  and  take  down  their  initial  information.    A  committee  member  
showed  her  to  the  library  and  made  sure  she  was  comfortable.  Shortly  thereafter  
Ricardo  and  Miles  Rodriguez,  a  father  and  son  and  long-time  Grace  members,  
arrived  early  for  Church.  As  was  their  habit,  they  went  to  the library  to  see  if  
there  was  anything  they  wanted  to  read.   They  each  found  something  and  sat  
down.  

At  the  time,  Rick (who worked for NASA by day  and  was  an  artist in  his  spare  time)  
wore  his  black-hair  long,  which  brought  out  the  Indian  features  in  his  Mexican-
American  heritage.  Miles,  tall  and  slender,  was  still  in  high  school;  he  would  later  
attend  Harvard.  Both  of  them  were  always  dressed  nicely,  very  clean,  didn’t  even  
have  tattoos,  but  the  woman  from  “Great  Shots  Photography”  grew  anxious.   She  
asked  them  “what  are  you  doing  in  here?”  They  said  they  were  reading.  She  told  
them  they  had  to  leave.  They  said  they  were  members  of  the  church.   Becoming  
yet  more  agitated,  she  insisted  they  leave.  When  the  committee  member  was  
summoned  the  woman  from  “Great  Shots”  explained  that  two  Mexicans  had  
frightened  her  by  coming  into  the  library  and  sitting  down.   She  remained  adamant  
that  they  not  return  while  she  had  use  of  the  library.  We  were  all  perplexed  by  
her  behavior,  and  quite  dismayed  with  the  services  rendered  by  “Great  Shots  
Photography” -  (not  its  real name).

Jesus  went  to  the  synagogue  one  Sabbath  to  teach.  Many  people  were  drawn  to  
his  teaching  because  he  spoke  not  like  someone  well  educated,  but  as  someone  
with  a  genuine,  personal  knowledge  of  God.  The  people  hung  on  his  every  word;  
they  turned  to  their  neighbor  saying,  “did  you  hear  that?  This  is  amazing.”   When  
he  had  been  speaking  for  a  while,  a  person  with  an  unclean  spirit,  a  tormented  
soul,  approached  Jesus  and  abruptly  asked  him:  “what  are  you  doing  here?”    
There’s  a  conversation  stopper.    “Why  have  you  come  here,  Jesus?  Are  you  
looking  to  destroy  us?” – the  man  asked.    Hmmm  Who  is  this  person  that  
challenges  Jesus  so  directly?   What  does  he  mean  by  “are  you  here  to  destroy  
us?”   Destroy  whom?  The  unclean  spirit?   the  man  himself?   some  subgroup  of  
people  in  the  synagogue?   And  what  was  an  unclean  person  doing  in  the  
synagogue,  anyway,  right  there  with  everybody  else?  

Because  in  those  days,  in  that  religious  community,  to  be  “unclean”  was  to  be  
contagious.  A  person  who  was  unclean  in  any  way  (all  the  means  of  being  
unclean  are  spelled out  in  scripture  and  in  accompanying  religious  writings)  --  
anyone  who  was  unclean  had  to  stay  away  from  decent  people,  from  “clean,”  
wholesome,  regular  people.   If  folks  like  us,  who  are  “clean,”  who  live  ‘good’  
lives,  had  contact  with  someone  who  was  unclean  then  we  became  contaminated,  
too.   Being  unclean  was  serious  business.  Everything  you  touched  became  
polluted.  Therefore,  you  had  to  stay  away  from  your  family,  your  home,  your  work,  
your  friends,  the  synagogue,  the  Temple…  you  were  ostracized,  expelled  from  
daily  life  until  you  could  be  made  clean  again.    Only  then  you  could  re-join  
society,  enjoy  human  community  again.   

So  this  man  confronts  Jesus  in  the  synagogue  asking  “what  are  you  doing  
here?”   when  the  question  might  well  have  been  reversed.  The  unclean  man  was  
the  one  who  was  out  of  place.     You  can  bet  nobody  was  standing  near  him  --  
they  didn’t  want  to  catch  his  social  disease.    A  holy  person,  especially,  would  
have  avoided  someone  unclean;  contamination  would  render  a  holy  person  unfit  
to  perform  his  religious  tasks.  It  would  be  degrading.   Of  all  those  present,  Jesus  
should  have  given  that  man  the  widest  berth.     But  from  what  we  read,  Jesus  did  
draw  back  from  the  man;  he  did  not  react  with  fear  or  disgust.  Instead  he  
commanded  the  unclean  spirit  to  come  out  and  leave  the  man  alone.  The  spirit  
obeyed  and  the  man  was  released  from  his  captor.   We  don’t  know  exactly  what  
was  going  on  with  that  guy,  but  he  was  being  tormented  by  a  foul,  chaotic  spirit.  
Jesus  evicted  the  spirit  and  left  the  man  calm  and  right  with  himself.  He  was  well  
and  whole.  Not  only  that,  but  being  made  “clean”  he  was  able  to  return  to  his  
family,  his  job,  and  his  home.  He  was  a  member  of  society  once  more.  He  was  
restored  to  life,  to  the  human  community.       This  is  what  Jesus  does,  not  only  
heal  us,  but  give  us  back  our  humanity,   and  our  place – a  dignified  place – among  
our  fellow  human  beings.  

We  don’t  usually  think  or  speak  in  terms  of  “unclean  spirits”  today.  That  Sunday  
morning  at  Grace  when  the  representative  from  the  photographic  agency  insisted  
that  two  of  our  members  leave  the library,  no  one  said  of  it:  “we  encountered  an  
unclean  spirit.”   But  perhaps  we  did.  “Create  in  me  a  clean  heart,  O  God,  and  
renew  a  right  spirit  within  me,”  we  pray  using  the  words  of  the  51st  Psalm.   We  
are  not  unfamiliar  with  the  idea  of  unclean  spirits,  of  needing  God  to  break  into  
our  lives  and  clean  us,  straighten  us  out,  enable  us  to  see  correctly,  to  make  us  
whole  again  --  not  just  as  individuals,  but  as  people  in  relation  to  each  other.    
“Create  in  us  clean  hearts,  O  God,  and  put  new  and  right  spirits  within  us.”  

Imagine  if  Jesus  came  to  teach  here  one  Sunday  morning  (let’s  say  we  suspected  
it  was  Jesus,  but  some  of  us  had  doubts).  His  teaching  was  unlike  anything  we  
had  ever  heard.  New-comers  began  gathering  at  the  doors,  and  long-time  
members  mumbled  in  awe,  “who  is  this  guy?  He’s  amazing!”   When  he  spoke,  it  
didn’t  sound  like  something  he  had  learned;  it  came  from  within  himself,  as  
though  the  truth  resided  inside  him.   A  ripple  of  excitement  ran  through  the  
crowd  of  people  hearing  him  talk  about  God. Everyone  was  energized, and  yet  
some  held  back, unsure.   Who  among  us,  do  you  think,  would  be  the  one  to  say  
to  him:  “what  are  you  doing  here?”     Who  would  be  the  one  to  wonder  whether  
this  man  had  come,  not  to  save,  but  to  destroy  us?         Would  it  be  you?  

My  friends,  I  fear  it  might  be  me.      Sometimes  the  world  seems  to  change  right  
out  from  under  us  in  an  instant.   Change  doesn’t  actually  happen  that  quickly;  we  
probably  were  not  paying  close  enough  attention  as  things  happened  gradually,  
but  it  seems  like  we  wake  up  one  day  and  everything  is  topsy-turvy – doesn’t  it?    
Were  Jesus  to  show  up  and  start  teaching  here  at  Calvary,  undoubtedly  I  would   
be  the  first  to  question  him.  I  would  worry  that  he  was  challenging  my  position  as  
clergy,  making  pastors  and  rectors  obsolete,  nullifying  my  means  of  making  a  
living.  ‘With  Jesus  here  teaching,  who  will  need  me?’  I  might  think,  and  from  
there,  begin to  fear  for  my  job  security  in  these  tough  economic  times.   Such  
concerns  might   prompt  me  to  say,  “what  are  you  doing ?”  before  I  could  think  
better  of  it  and  shut  my  mouth.

It  is  tough  to  face  uncertain  times,  to  encounter  new  faces  --  such  things  
unsettle  us.   Right  now,  the  future  in  our  nation,  in our  world,  is  utterly  unknown,  
what  with  our  fragile  economy.  And  your  future,   here  at  Calvary,  is  in  a  state  of  
flux.   You  have  no  Rector  and,  for  a  time  at  least,  will  have  no  interim  rector  
either.   We’ve  built  some  good  momentum  lately  --  naming  Calvary’s  strengths,  
talking  about  aspects  of ministry  that  are  important  to  members,  dreaming  of  ways  
to  expand  what  is  good  and  make  it  better.  Can  that  momentum  be  sustained  in  
the  absence  of  a  Rector?  Will  Calvary  continue  to  see  and  believe  in  its  
strengths  and  abilities  until  it  finds  a  new  Rector?   Can  the  members  hold  
together  and  keep  moving  forward  without  getting  discouraged  --  by  the  
difficulties  of  a  parish  without  a  priest  and  by  the  difficulties  we  all  face  in  these  
tough  times?   This  is  a  period  of  great  uncertainty  for  the  world,  the  
neighborhood,  and  for  Calvary.   Surrounded  by  so  many  unknowns,  we  may  
respond  by  wanting  to  protect  ourselves-and-our-positions  a  bit  more,  by  
becoming  less  open  to  each  other,  by  exaggerating  the  differences  and  conflicts  
between  us,  and  by  bickering  over  trivial  issues.   Fearful  times  are  the  perfect  
opportunity  for  rancorous,  restless  spirits  to  come and  brood  within  us   --  
darkening  our  mood,  crushing  our  hope.    

But  we  are  not   forsaken.    God  has  claimed  us  as  God’s  own.    We  are  not  stuck  
in  the  misery  of  gloomy  thoughts  and  troublesome  spirits.  God  has  brought  us  out  
of  the  forces-of-death  to  live  in  the  brightness  of  his  Son.   Every  time  we  gather  
here  for  worship  Jesus  stands  among  us.   The  Holy  Spirit   brings  us  here  on  
Sunday  mornings  and  Jesus  is  present  from  the  moment  the  service  begins:   
“Blessed  be  God;  Father,  Son  and   Holy  Spirit  and  blessed  be  his  kingdom,  now  
and  forever.  Amen.”    No  clamorous,  judgmental  spirit  has  a  chance  when  Jesus  is  
here.     For  as  our  worries  crowd-around,   expressed  or  unexpressed,  asking  “what  
are  we  doing  here?  Nothing  is  changing?” … as  our  judgments  break  loose  and  
we  think  “what  are  ‘they’  doing  here?  They’re  not  like  us.”  …  as  our  impatience  
gets  the  better  of  us  and  we  snarl  “what  is  that  committee  up  to?  When  will  they  
get  us  what  we  need?”  … as  our  insecurity  intensifies  and  we  wonder  “what  is  
she  doing  here,  criticizing  me  again?  When  will  she  leave  me  alone?”  -- Jesus  
comes  to  us  and  says  to  those  bitter,  inharmonious  spirits:  “be  silent!    Come  out  
of  this  people!”     Jesus  restores  our  peace,  our  sanity,  and  our  right  relationships  
with  each  other.     Jesus  loves  Calvary  church --  look  at  the  evidence,  all  the  
wonderful  things  that  have  happened  among  us  these  last  five  months;  who  
would  have  expected  that?     Jesus  loves  Calvary  church  --  I  know,  because  it  is  
easy  to  love  you.    Your  Lord  who  loves  you,  will  not  let  you  be  overwhelmed  by  
difficulties.   Tried  and  tested?  maybe  so, but  overwhelmed  or  defeated?   No.  

What  we  have  gained  being  together  these  last  five  months  has  been  no  
accident.  Nor  has  it  simply  been  due  to  our  great  skill  --  yours  and  mine.  By  the  
grace  and  goodness  of  God  our  worship  has  been  enhanced  with  members  lifting  
the  cross  in  procession,  carrying  the  torches  and  the  Bible;  our  Sundays  have  
been  blessed  with  increased  participation  in  children’s  Sunday  school,  with  two  
baptisms  and  the  reception  of  new  members.  We  have  rejoiced  in  several  
weddings  and  have  partaken  in  a  fun-filled,  timeline  review  of  our  history  which  
brought  us  the  beginnings  of  a  vision  for  our  future.     God  has  been  good  to  us,  
bringing  us  countless  blessings  --  some  we  might  have  foreseen,  but  others  that  
were  a  complete  surprise.    Christ  is  everywhere  among  us  in  this  congregation.  
The  Lord  has  been  with  us  thus  far  along  the  way;  he  will  remain  with  us  as  we  
face  the  days  ahead  as  well.

Being  here  at  Calvary  has  been  a  blessing  to  me;  all  of  you  have  been  a  
blessing  in  my  life.   I  thank  God  for  you,  and  I  know  God  will  continue  to  make  
the   love  of  Christ  known  through  your  worship  and  your  witness.   Blessed  be  
God,  Father, Son,  and  Holy  Spirit,  now  and  for evermore.  Amen.