St. Philips Episcopal Church, Marysville, WA
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Readings - Episcopal Church
First reading Duet 18:15-20
Second reading I Cor 8:1-13
Gospel Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Sermon - Rev. Karuna Duval
In the first book of the gospel of Mark, Jesus arrives at the Jordan river and is baptized by John. Then he calls his first disciples. Next in the story they go to Capernaum where Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and teaches. During his teaching a man with an “unclean spirit” enters asking if Jesus is here to “destroy us” and acknowledges Jesus as the “Holy one of God.” Jesus bids him to “Be silent.” The unclean spirit leaves the man’s body in dramatic fashion. Everyone is amazed by this healing. Thus begins Jesus’ fame in the region of Galilee. The rest of this first book tells the stories of other healings, and between the crowds Jesus retreats for silence for himself.
Much focus is often on the miracles and healings that Jesus did. I’d like to focus on the person he healed in this story – the man with the unclean spirit.
Who is this man, and what is the unclean spirit? Often this is read as a demon of some sort. Something that possesses the man, compelling him to fear, and interestingly through his fear, he still knows, deeply the holiness of Jesus.
This man is us.
Fear and knowing deeply….these don’t often live together very well, and if they do it’s often not for very long.
The “unclean spirit” I see as something that is limiting this man – limiting us, from the fullness of the deep knowing. It has been described as a demon, or a dragon needing to be slayed.
In more contemporary terms it is the false self. Richard Rohr describes the false self not in bad terms but as something that is a: “social and mental construct that starts us on our life journey. It is a set of agreements between us and our parents, our family, our [friends], our partner or spouse, our culture, and our religion. It is our “container.” It is largely defined in distinction from others, precisely as our separate and unique self. It is probably necessary to get started, but it becomes problematic when we stop there and spend the rest of our life promoting and protecting it.”
The false self is the part of us that likes to compare, contrast, compete and justify and defend. It is the part of us that likes to look good and feel good. That’s not bad. It is merely a beginning: our appearance, education, job, money, success, and so on. These are the trappings of ego that help us get through every day.
The reason it is called the false self is because it can pose as the truth. It pretends to be more than it is, and we often believe it. It is fearful it will be destroyed. When we identify and hold on to that false self too tightly, and experience (as we ultimately will) a shaking of our world: for instance when we grow old and we don’t look like we used to in our 20s; we retire or can’t work; or we get ill we become fearful (which is a normal human response). It is the false self that is compelling us with fear. It has done it’s job so well, that it can’t or won’t step back for fear our whole being will be destroyed.
The good news is the false self is not the end of the story. We are so much more than what we look or feel like, how we compete, what we defend and who we compare ourselves to. The false self is not the bad self, it’s just not our true self.
Our true self is that part of us that was already there when we came into being, before we knew who we were. Before we start forming the self that we present to the world. A time when we know intuitively how to give and receive love.
Our true self is always there, or rather here. It is our connection to God in whatever name or form we experience. It is the place where our loving our family resides and emanates. It is experienced in the times when we stand at the ocean shore, or hold a baby, or cry with another in grief; or when we are in silence in meditation and prayer: and for a moment, maybe just a moment – we forget our belief in our separateness from: the waves and the winds and the sand; and the baby and the tears; and all that is.
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
– Thich Naht Hanh.
Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus said that “the human person is not different or separate from Being itself—not the little being that we get attached to and take too seriously, but Universal Being or as Paul said to the Athenians (Acts 17:28). ‘the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being’”
Our true self is our soul—our deepest identity; it is who we are in God and who God is in us. Only our True Self lives forever and is truly free in this world.
In our second reading today, Paul recognizes this when he says; “we all know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
Our True Self is Life and Being and Love. Love is what we were made from and for. Love is who we are. When we can live from our true self the whole world opens up to us and we are opened up to the whole world.
The goal is not to get rid of the false self and live entirely in the true self. The goal is to not have a goal. To be, accept, acknowledge and live with whatever self we are in each moment. To awe, wonder and be still when we Know the experience of the true self. And to recognize when the false self is, at best, unhelpful, and to find compassion and forgiveness, to let go into the Knowing and into God in our true selves.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10
Meister Eckhart said that spirituality has more to do with subtraction than addition. The false self is fed by addition: more money, more power, earning more brownie points with our boss or even with God, attaining enlightenment, even achieving moral behavior. The true self is often realized in subtraction, by letting go.
One powerful way to enter into the practice of letting go is silence – meditation, prayer, or simply being. When we are most able to be in our true self, we are silent. When we are most near to God is in our silence. When Jesus wants to be with God, he goes into silence. In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t scold the man, but tells him to “be silent” and he subtracts what is in the way of the deepest knowing – his true self.
Let us take a few moments of silence now. If it feels comfortable, close your eyes and just breathe. If your mind wanders – and it will – just breathe, and if your mind wanders again, just breathe. [silence for about 30-60 seconds or so]
I leave you with a poem by Jan Richardson.
Blessing in the Chaos
To all that is chaotic
let there come silence.
Let there be
of the clamoring,
of the voices that
have laid their claim
that have made their
home in you,
that go with you
even to the
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.
Let there be
into the quiet
that lies beneath
where you find
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm