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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Binding the strong man
Date/time/service: Sunday 6th June 2021 Trinity 1 Eucharist
Passage of scripture: 2 Corinthians 4. 13–5.1 & Mark 3. 20-end
A Head teacher I once knew gave me some excellent advice. When preparing an assembly he told me that the most important question to have in mind is, ‘What does it look like in the playground?’ If, for example, you tell the story of the Good Samaritan in an assembly, you have to make it clear that knowing and understanding the story is important, but it is even more important to make its message real, which will mean, in the context of a school assembly, telling the children the story means that in the playground they should take care of each other, always help someone who has been knocked down, accept help from or offer help to, someone you don’t usually play with. I always have this in mind when I begin to plan an assembly and now I have it in mind when I am preparing a sermon.
There is a great deal of talk in church circles at the moment about discipleship. We should all be concentrating our efforts on discipleship, ensuring that we are enabling each other to deepen in faith and to discern how each of us can use our own particular skills and experience to be better and more useful disciples of Jesus. In the gospel reading this week Mark talks about what following Jesus means and what it might entail. I suppose you could say that Mark is helping us to see what being a disciple of Jesus might look like in the playground – and what he has to say is extremely challenging.
When exploring discipleship you might expect talk about kindness, compassion, gentleness and love as these, surely, are the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus. Things are never that straightforward in Mark’s gospel, he is always surprising, always shocking. He forces us to look at the world and Jesus in radically new ways. His teaching about discipleship is surprising, strange, radical and deeply challenging.
The gospel of Mark starts with Jesus healing lots of people and casting out demons from many. You would have thought that everyone would have been delighted about this. That in these remarkable events the people would have recognised God at work, evil being dealt with and God’s kingdom being established. According to Mark, this is not what happened. Having healed lots of people and cast out lots of demons Jesus returns home and in chapter 3 we learn that his own family try to restrain and stop him from speaking because they thought that he had gone mad. Jesus was giving them a bad name! In addition the Scribes and the Pharisees, the powerful, religious elite, began telling people that they thought he was possessed by demons himself. There is chaos and the people are confused. Then Jesus says this;
“ …. no-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” Mark 3v27.
We need to think very carefully about what Jesus is saying here and we need to be careful about how we understand the image he gives us. When Jesus says ‘no-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions’ perhaps he is saying that the strong man is the devil or force of evil, and the house, is the world. Jesus may be telling us here that the world is dominated by ‘the strong man’ evil, and we, as followers of Jesus, cannot simply ignore that and take possession of the world for God – we have to deal with evil, we have to tie up, or bind this strong man so that we can take possession of the world and make God’s kingdom a reality here.
If Mark were preaching here today I think he would be telling us that in order to be good disciples of Jesus the most important thing we have to do is to deal with the demons, fight against evil. In ourselves that means battling against our selfish instincts and in the world it means working for greater compassion and justice for all people. The only way this world is going to become God’s world, God’s Kingdom, is if people like us, disciples of Jesus, bind the strong man of selfishness and evil in ourselves and in the world.
It always strikes me as odd to see a smoking area just outside a Gym with people who have just worked out for an hour or so puffing away on cigarettes or vaping furiously. Clearly they aspire to be fit because they have just ‘worked out’ but then succumb to an addiction that mitigates against being fully fit. I think most of us are a bit like that with our faith. We want to be good and faithful disciples of Jesus but we regularly succumb to selfishness and greed. Mark is teaching us that we can’t do both, we have to deal with the selfishness and greed before we can be good and faithful disciples.
None of this is easy. It is much easier to be selfish, to only think of ourselves than it is to be selfless and to think of others. Being a baptized Christian, being a disciple of Jesus, is not just about being nice, I think St Mark would say it is also about fighting. Fighting against all that is destructive, negative and disabling in ourselves and in the world. It is only when we have engaged in that battle and won, it is only when the strong man has been bound, that we will be liberated to fulfil our lives in generous kindness, compassion and love. And in this way we will take possession of the strong man’s house and ensure the establishment of God’s Kingdom.
So what does all this look like in the playground? As we walk out of church today, we should commit ourselves afresh to dealing with those aspects of our character and personality we know are flawed, our demons of selfishness, greed, arrogance – so that we make space for selflessness, generosity, compassion and grace in our selves. And today we should commit ourselves to fighting the evils which belittle our world, the demons in people, communities and nations which result in poverty, injustice, conflict – so that all the little kingdoms of self interest in the world will be replaced by God’s one Kingdom of fairness, justice, peace and love.
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