Hello friends, This weeks post includes a playlist and a sermon given at East Side Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls on Sunday, January 31, 2021. The video recording will be added directly to this post within a day or two, but you can catch the service live on East Side’s Facebook page at 8am (central); it is typically added to YouTube by mid-Sunday morning, and SoundCloud, and it’s broadcast at 11am on Sioux Falls KSOO Radio (1000 AM).

Mark 1:21   They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

This weeks playlist and sermon are really intertwined. I’m not really sure where one ends and the other begins, but I know I woke up early a couple days back with this reading from Mark wrapped around a song I learned when I was maybe 5 for 6 years old. It’s called “Lord of the Dance”. Written in 1963 by Sydney Carter. It’s a song you may have heard before: 

Dance then wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the dance said he,
and I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.

I honestly haven’t thought of this song in years. I’m not surprised if the connection between this story from the Gospel of Mark and “Lord of the Dance” is escaping you, because at first it eluded me too. All I knew is that I woke up before dawn with this melody on my brain and knew that it had some connection to todays reading. When I was in college I sang in a choir which performed an arrangement of “Lord of the Dance” that shifted the song into a memorably minor key at the third verse. It was this third verse that was stuck in my head when I woke up:

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black, it’s hard to dance with the devil on you back…

It’s this arrangement that comes to mind now when I think of this song, and it’s this verse which brings the connection, at least in my mind, to todays Gospel reading. You might remember from last weeks service that Jesus, in the aftermath of the crisis of John’s arrest and imprisonment, has just called four disciples (Andrew, Peter, James, and John). And… 

these five guys, fresh off the boats and from the day-laborers lakeshore, walk into a communal life together and a synagogue where we’re told that Jesus begins teaching with an authority that turns heads. 

Jesus’ words are powerful, so powerful that we might get distracted by the actual words (which the Gospel of Mark does not report). Maybe this is intentional so that we do not fail to hear the powerful tones in which the words are set. Just like the shift to a minor key in the midst of a major song, the power of words is in how they convey the Spirit of God. The tone and embodiment of the Word is every bit as powerful and authoritative as the words being spoken. And in Jesus we have the one who practices what he preaches and walks what he talks. And for us and his first four disciples who were present on that day, he’s about to give a powerful lesson. 

First, let’s note that Jesus powerful teaching attracts attention. All kinds of attention: attention from the right and the left, attention from the high and the low, attention from the supposedly clean and the presumably unclean. Second, let’s note that neither man who is prone to powerful outbursts in the midst of the assembly is stopped at the door. There are two displays of power presented in this reading. Jesus is the Word embodied. He walks the talk of fullness and abundance for all. His is one display of powerful authority. The other powerful display comes from the unclean man. 

Let’s get to the core of what our scriptures are saying when they label this nameless man as unclean. There is a seemingly endless list of conditions which could earn the label of “unclean” in Jesus day. And, come to think of it, there’s a seemingly endless though different list today. The word used here in our reading can imply evil, but it’s more often used to describe something or someone who is foul or fouled or defiled or lewd.

Now consider how Jesus addresses this lewd heckler from the midst of the assembly. Jesus rightly sees this man not as his opponent nor as an untouchable who is ushered from the room, but as a fellow child of the same parent regardless of their momentary condition. Still, even though Jesus is about to heal the man without request that this man reform his life with clean living, Jesus also clearly commands the man to zip it. Jesus heals the man but also refuses to be defined or conditioned by this persons un-wellness.

Hear again the words of the unwell man: “Have you come to destroy us?” Do you hear these words in a major key accusing Jesus of the revolutionary acts which will certainly come or do you hear this as a minor keyed desperate plea for an end to suffering? Jesus, have you come to bring an end to my suffering at all costs? Hear now this good news that Jesus has, both for the lewd heckler and the silent sufferer observing from your pew or on screen or on the radio: Jesus has come that we may have life, not a life of only suffering, but a full life of closeness to God and one another. 

And while Christ can and does heal, Jesus isn’t an anesthesiologist. Living life together in Christ is not pain free, but it is potent. Our reading today says that what was unclean in the man made him cry out, convulsed him (and the word here implies that what left him torn him open as it made its exit), but it did leave him at Jesus’ firm request.

We don’t know what this mans life was like after his encounter with Jesus, but we know it was without that spirit which made him a tool for a perverse agenda and which separated him from genuine community.

That’s what Jesus does, he makes community. He flings wide the doors and says come in, find rest here in this place, and water to refresh you, and a meal to sustain you, and hands to hold you, to bless you even in the midst of your worst moments. And the same Spirit who was present to bless and heal the man in our story is here today to do the same in our midst. May we be as Jesus first disciples in this story with eyes to see and ears to hear Jesus in our midst, and then to go out and do as Jesus does with acts of love that bring healing to all.

In closing I want to return again to this musical metaphor. Music holds a lot of richness for me so as I was writing this sermon I assembled a playlist of songs that I think speak to the richness of this reading. This playlist includes everything from choral renditions of “Lord of the Dance” by The National Lutheran Choir to “Authority Song” by John Mellencamp. It has songs about convulsing by both Florence and the Machine as well as Taylor Swift, and a healthy dose of musical medicine from The Blind Boys of Alabama to usher in Black History Month. If you’re looking for a way connect to this scripture story in a new way this week then you can find the full playlist links at seasonandstory.com. 

You can get this Epiphany 4B playlist on YouTube, Apple Music, and Spotify

The Full 23-song Shake It Out and Shake It Off – Epiphany 4B playlist on YouTube