A Sermon on Making More of the People We Meet

Mark 1:21-28

What do you see?

As a child, I used to leaf through the pages
of the Magic Eye books in wonder.
Each book contained the promise that the pages within its covers would
reveal a 3-D image not noticeable at first glance
To perceive this promised image, it instructed you to take the page,
hold it up to your nose,
and slowly draw it out until the 3-D image appears.
As a kid, I would take the pages, moving them in and out,
turning them this way and that,
waiting for the moment in which I would perceive what was already there.

The Magic Eye books taught me that there is more
to a picture
or a scene
or a situation
than I originally perceive.
They taught me to look at life more deeply and ask:
Is there more going on here than meets the eye?

Is there more going on here than meets the eye?

This is the question on my mind when I read today’s scripture
about Jesus’ encounter at the synagogue with a person with a unclean spirit.

Unwelcomed.
One of the things that strikes me about this story initially
is that the person with the unclean spirit
would have been unwelcomed in their place of worship.
After all, in that day, strict lines were drawn between insiders and outsiders,
those deemed clean and unclean.
People considered sick, lame or otherwise unclean
were not permitted in the holy temple.
Likewise, this person with an unclean spirit,
who we will call Danny for the sake of giving him a name,
would have been unwelcomed in their place of worship.

When I hear about Danny, I become curious about his life.
Take a moment to imagine silently with me:
What was that like for him?
What was his life like?
What did he look like?
What kind of friends or family did he have?

In the story, Danny suddenly appears in his place of worship.
When Danny showed up:
What do you think the people around him saw?

Share your answers aloud: What did they see?

[Potential answers might include nuisance, outsider, them, problem, etc.]

These were their first impressions.

Yet there is a depth to Danny not initially perceived.

Danny comes in addressing Jesus,
because he knows when Jesus looks at him,
he sees immediately there is more to Danny than meets the eye.
Like the Magic Eye pages, Jesus sees beyond the one-dimensional picture
to the full image that is great and lovely.

Through Jesus’ perception of Danny, Jesus is teaching us about faith.
American Baptist minister Bob Beverley writes:
“Faith is our creative ability to see things as lovely,
as important,
as having far more potential than we usually think.”

Faith begs of us the question: What do you see?

Faith invites us to turn the page that we might see anew
an image richer and more robust.

In the Scripture today, what do you think Jesus saw when he encountered Danny?

[Potential answers might include: beloved child of God, courageous man for entering synagogue, hungry for healing, resilient, person in pain, etc.]

Another way to frame the question is to ask: What does Jesus make of Danny?

I think Jesus makes a lot of Danny.
Jesus sees the unfairness in which Danny has been kept out of the synagogue;
Jesus sees Danny’s courage and resilience;
Jesus sees the pain that has haunted Danny.
Jesus hears the unclean spirit that has told Danny that he doesn’t belong
and that he doesn’t measure up.

Now, I must confess, I don’t know much about unclean spirits,
or demons as they are sometimes called.
I don’t know where they come form, whether they come from within or without.
I don’t know if they are actual demons or human darkness.
Yet, I know things like anxiety and despair, compulsion and dis-ease,
can take hold of us
as we make choices that hurt and harm.
I know evil and destructive forces are real.

And to these forces that belittle Danny, Jesus says: Be quiet.
Actually, Jesus uses much stronger language,
saying something along the lines of: Shut up!
Jesus is telling our demons to: Shut up and take a hike!
Initially, I am surprised at the intensity of Jesus’ language,
and yet, when I look closer,
I see that it is because Jesus is uncompromising
when it comes to seeing the loveliness of all people without exception.
To each forces that seeks to make people small, Jesus says: Take a hike!
To the forces that dehumanize and degrade, Jesus says:
Be silent for your words are deceit!
To the forces that harm and seek revenge, Jesus cries out:
Be gone for I am calling my people to something better!

The word for “shut up” here is the same word used
when Jesus “shuts up” the storm on the sea.
Jesus “shuts up” the forces of destruction
because he makes more of Danny and sees his potential;
he knows that this demon is not Danny but a force telling the story of Danny’s pain.

Shut up and take a hike.

It fascinates me that in the book of Mark, this is Jesus’ very first act of ministry.

It is as if, right from the get-go, Jesus wants us to know
that the ministry of God is about making more of each person,
no matter their life circumstances.

Throughout Jesus’ life, Jesus makes more of those
who are in prisons,
who are hungry,
who are sick,
who are unwanted,
who are in pain.
With each person we encounter, Jesus asks us, what do you see,
and invites us to turn the page, in and out,
until at last we are able to perceive what is always there.
Perhaps we need to turn the pages more for some than others,
but the image remains: for it is the image of God.

Jesus’ invitation to look closer is one of the reasons
I love reading stories that Jesuit priest Greg Boyle
tells about the gang members he works with.

Through his stories, Greg teaches me how to see,
in their face,
the holy face of God.
Greg teaches me how to make more of people.

This was particularly apparent to me in one story of Greg’s I read last week.
Greg tells the story of a sixteen-year old gang member named Mando.
Greg describes kindness as Mando’s hallmark.
Greg experienced him as such a compellingly gentle soul that,
in one phone call with Mando, Greg said,
“Mando, it’s a privilege speaking with you.”

“You?” Mando exclaimed in genuine surprise, “Me! I’m on one knee.”

Then one day, Greg is riding his bike through the local housing project,
struck by how deserted it is, and spots Mando.
Greg rolls up to him on his beach cruiser bike,
and asks: “What are you doing out here?:

“Praying,” Mando replies, matter-of-factly.
“In fact,” he continues, “I asked God just now to give me a sign
that He’s as great as I think He is. Then you showed up. Proof!”
Mando, on his porch looking for moments of spaciousness and calm:
What, Greg asks, is more holy than that?

When you hear the story of Mando, what do you see?

What does God see?

Look around.  I really mean it, look around right now.

What do you see?

What does God see?

[Loveliness, someone worth making more about]

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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