January 17, 2018
By Erick Olsen.
Scripture: Mark 1:27a (The Message)
Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity.
“What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says?”
Do you remember witnessing as a child the experiment
with pepper, water and dish soap? I do. I vividly recall the awe that I shared with others as we watched the drama unfold. The glass bowl half filled with water. Pepper sprinkled all across the water’s surface. The first finger dipped: nothing. The second finger, coated with a tiny amount of dish soap: Boom! Pepper scattered like magic to the bowl’s edge. Explanations about surface tension notwithstanding (or maybe even more so because of the science behind the spectacle), it was flat-out awesome. Still is.
The Scripture quote above comes near the end of a story from Mark’s Gospel wherein we are shown the fitting – and awesome pair of teaching and healing. Jesus is so fully present with grace and power and God-ness that the unclean spirit simply cannot stay. He embodies the Word with such authenticity that, like a soapy finger, he touches our center, and the unclean spirit scatters. Flat-out awesome.
To be clear, I have no delusions about an unclean spirit dwelling exclusively in one person. Epiphany-style disclosure of God’s essence is needed everywhere by everyone, perhaps more than ever within churches. Most especially, we need this Holy Poke that dispels our dusty, distracted practices, sending Holy Spirit waves out from our center. Each morning, I pray to be cleansed and cured of my own unclean spirits of fear, prejudice (and so on). I then ask to be filled and fueled with strength and grace to embody what I talk about each Sunday. Without doubt, we do not merely need to be cleansed of obstacles and bad habits. We need the void to be replenished with fuel and focus for this journey of faith, and Christ delivers in a way that is often surprising and – yes: Flat-out awesome.
Envision being part of a local church that is part of a wider Church that has folks buzzing with curiosity about the Word in flesh. What would our communities be like if we continued to strengthen the practice of Creation care along with our conversations about it, even challenging friends around us to do so? Imagine neighbors who are incredulous because we care enough for them that they can let go of even some of what torments them: scarcity, feeling judged (and so on). Flat-out awesome.
As Epiphany blossoms, Lord, may we as your church become ever more so a cause for true awe. May our neighbors and ourselves increasingly look to us and for us because we are embodying God’s Word with joy and purpose, bringing to life “a new teaching that does what it says.”
The Rev. Erick Olsen is pastor of Church of Christ, Congregational, in Norfolk, CT.
January 17, 2018