Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent

Mark 1
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted[g] by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The red carpet is set to be rolled out, the statuettes are being polished one last time, and your are wrestling with a number of questions, like ‘should I bother watching?’

I can’t answer that question, but I can answer several film related questions that fill the mind and make it difficult to sleep. For example, in Frank Sinatra’s version of Oceans 11 (1960) crime doesn’t pay, but in George Clooney’s version (2001) suddenly crime pays. Why is that? It’s the Hays Code.

Or Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Hitchcock’s film Notorious (1946), kissing for two-and-a-half minutes, but never locking lips for more than three seconds? The Hays Code.

And what happened to Betty Boop? Carefree and dressed like a Jazz-age flapper, then suddenly a career woman with a suitable dress, and a boyfriend named Freddie. That would be the Hays Code.

Now, the Hays Code, or more formally the Motion Picture Production Code was in force from the mid-30’s to the mid-60’s and some of the provisions are quite sensible. For example, it was forbidden to ridicule the clergy. So far so good. Or not allowing crime to pay, which forced screenwriters come up with more imaginative endings, like 1969’s The Italian Job (not the abomination made in 2003). Or by furthering the delightful stork and baby myth, since married couples were required to sleep in twin beds.

On the harmful side, it banned any suggestion that blacks and whites might have a romantic relationship, it banned any depiction of a foreign country that might cause offense (hence the rise of Hitler was largely ignored by Hollywood) and then there is poor Betty Boop, who went from saucy to staid overnight.

But before that happened, she starred in the first animated version of Snow White (1933), still in her Jazz-age attire, with an evil queen who looks suspiciously like Olive Oyl, and Cab Calloway’s soundtrack that includes “The St. James Infirmary Blues.”

Now, without giving away the entire plot of a seven minute cartoon, I can tell you that the evil queen’s guard is tempted by Snow White and searches for her, set to a song that became synonymous with temptation. And that’s why we heard it today.

The St. James Infirmary Blues is a very old folk song, made and remade since it was first written, likely in the 1700’s. It was written as a cautionary tale for young people facing the temptations of an adult world, and has been transcribed for sailors, cowboys and young woman like Betty Boop. The temptation changes (cards, gin, and whatever sailors do) but the outcome remains the same: a young person cut down in their prime.

Notice that in our temptation story this morning, found in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is not cut down in his prime, at least not yet. In fact, that’s about all you might notice about Mark’s temptation story, because our evangelist-in-a-hurry gives us no real details at all. Instead we get one-and-a-half verses of not much that reads like this: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” (12-13a)

That’s it? Remembering that Mark writes first and is part of the source material for Matthew and Luke, it becomes even more puzzling the way no detail gives way to the most elaborate duel between Jesus and Satan, a duel that includes bread from stone, the threat of great harm and the offer of earthly power. And these are all fine and good and worthy of our time, but Mark says nothing.

So what do we do with a temptation story that includes no temptation? Might we be tempted to fill in the blanks? Matthew and Luke more than make up for this economy of words, but they hardly give us 40 days and 40 nights of temptation in any case. So where’s the rest? And what if the temptation of Christ were something less than world-domination and magically turning bread to stone? What if it was something closer to cards and gin?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was burdened with the label “friend of sinners.” Listen to just a small sample:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Mt 9.11)

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Lk 15.2)

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. (Lk 5.29)

[Then Jesus said] “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Lk 7.34)

If the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were to tell the story, they might point to the things sailors and cowboys do, all the while suggesting that Jesus is little more than a cautionary tale. They might fill in the blanks of Jesus’ time in the wilderness to portray him as the person they saw—given to temptation and befriending the worst sort of people. And they might even suggest he would come to no good.

The great irony is that Jesus gave into the temptation decried by the religious ones—eating and drinking with sinners—and for this he was cut down in his prime. He took God’s great love for all people to the very people considered hardest to love, and that’s good news for you and me. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Transfiguration Sunday

2 Kings 2
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

It’s an unlikely thing really, having a stained-glass copy of of one of the greatest paintings of the Italian High Renaissance hanging in your narthex.

You passed it on your way in, framed and placed against a frosty window, showing Jesus with his arms in the air. And until you see it alongside a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration, you might not immediately see the inspiration for the design. (In other churches, this would be the moment that we show the painting on a screen, but since I’m convinced that PowerPoint in church is the Devil’s work, that won’t be happening).

So we use our imagination. It’s a tall painting (around 13’) with the Transfiguration in the upper frame, including Jesus, Moses, Elijah and the cowering disciples. In the lower frame is a portrayal of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy (Matthew 17), a healing that was initially botched by the twelve and then successfully completed by a clearly annoyed Jesus. It seems Raphael was doing a little visual preaching, but more on that in a moment.

The other interesting parallel between our High Renaissance Jesus and the one in the Vatican Museum is the all the traveling that took place before each work found a home. Our narthex Jesus began at Silverthorn, lived happily in Mount Dennis for many years, and eventually found refuge here.

Raphael’s great work was commissioned in Rome but meant for a French cathedral, until the artist died during the last stages of completing the painting. The grieving Romans decided to keep it, but the French didn’t forget. Napoleon did what everyone does when they try to take over Europe, and moved the painting to Paris. It was such a favourite that Napoleon had his wedding reception in the same room as his stolen Raphael. And after the Duke of Wellington persuaded Napoleon to see the error of his ways, the painting went back to Rome.

And while the Transfiguration was Napoleon’s favourite, most art historians agree that The School of Athens is his greatest work. Completed when he was just 28 years of age, this fresco ‘embodies the spirit of the High Renaissance’ and made his contemporaries more than a little jealous. The older (and established) Michelangelo even claimed that the younger painter was copying his work in the Sistine Chapel. Such is the tension between generations of artists, one attempting to claim the mantle of another.

Going back then to Raphael’s Transfiguration—his visual sermon—we see some of the same tension. He represents the fear of the disciples, shielding their eyes from the great light above, and then the eye moves to the chaotic scene below. The scene is prompted by the father’s plea, saying “I brought [my boy] to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” Then Raphael gives us a visual representation of a moment in time, the conclusion of the passage:

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus said, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Our theme, it seems, is problems with succession, with artists fighting, disciples cowering before Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and the disciples failing to do the work of healing and casting out demons that they were called to do (Luke 9). Transitions are indeed difficult, with none better described than that other story of Elijah, the story of his departure.

But before we see the chariot of fire that carries Elijah away, we should do a George Stroumboulopoulos-type recap of Elijah: Regarded as one of the greatest prophets in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Elijah stands for powerful opposition to other gods. His defeat of the priests of Baal in 2 Kings 18 is perhaps the most conspicuous example of calling on God to make a point.

And his legacy doesn’t end there. Elijah is equal to Moses and Jesus at the Transfiguration, demonstrating the great light of God’s abiding presence. And in the Jewish faith, Elijah is seen as both the harbinger of Messiah’s arrival, and an ongoing witness to the faith of Israel. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah complains to God that he is last living person of faith. Rabbis down to today set out to prove that this is not true—that they are keeping the covenant—and so they set out “Elijah’s chair” at every circumcision just to prove it.

We also begin to see some of the pressure on poor Elisha as the mantle is being prepared to pass. It is obvious that the end is coming for the great Elijah, and he embarks of a bit of farewell tour. And in a passage that is somewhat reminiscent Ruth and Naomi, Elisha is staying close in a way bordering on clingy:

Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

And between each of these pledges of loyalty is a reminder that the end of the road is coming: “The company of the prophets...asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

This will not be an easy transition. Elisha is anxious and angry, afraid to lose his mentor and perhaps equally afraid to try to live up to his example. This becomes obvious when we get to the three-wishes part of the story, which sadly for Elisha is only one wish:

Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

The outcome of the passage is unclear, but the rather cryptic “Elisha saw him no more” seems to indicate that he saw Elijah taken up and consequently inherited the double-portion. But this too is unclear, based on the narrative that follows. Elisha does some important things—things long remembered—including the healing of Naaman the Leper, but he is a shadow of his mentor Elijah.

And maybe this simply part of the overall story of succession. Raphael, dead at 37, never fully approaches to great Michelangelo. The disciples, cowering and confused, thinking first that they will make shrines to Jesus, Moses and Elijah, never fully grasp the Transfiguration, that powerful demonstration of God’s power. And later, unable to fulfill the promise of healing, the disciples fall into confusion and suffer a harsh rebuke.

So what do we learn from these examples, as heirs and successors of the disciples of Jesus? What hope do we have to harness the power of God and transform a weary world? More hope than it would seem at first, mostly because God continues to do the work.

No, we can’t call down fire like Elijah, and we can’t drive out demons like Jesus, but we can witness to the light of the Transfiguration, and we can proclaim the words God spoke that day: "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" (Mark 9)

Our succession story is pointing to the transforming power of Jesus the Christ in the heart of every believer: the power to forgive, the power to challenge those who oppress others, the power to live with love and mercy. We received this gift from imperfect vessels and in our imperfection we pass them on. And through it all the Transfiguring light of Jesus shines through, casting pure light in the shadow places of our lives, now and always, amen.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

1 Corinthians 9
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

You can try to explain, but it won’t make any sense.

First, you took a pad of very thin paper, and inserted a lined writing guide under the top sheet. Then, using a pen, you would compose ‘a letter.’

Very thin paper, of course, kept the weight down. There was a limit in the number of pages you could include in the letter, but that would be jumping ahead. You took the sheets and folded them, inserting them in an envelope (which itself was really just folded paper) and penned the address.

The process gets harder to explain at this point. Recipient’s address in the centre of the envelope horizontally, and just slightly below centre on the vertical. Return address in the upper lefthand corner (or the back, if you were some kind of rebel) and then, the stamp.

You could get distracted at this moment with philately, trying to explain why it’s called a first-class stamp, but you need to keep your focus. I say this because the next part is hard to believe: you tore along a series of perforated lines and put the stamp on your tongue! The taste was semi-sweet, you will recall, and left a bit of an after-taste.

Positioning the stamp at the upper-right corner, and you were ready to go for a walk. At this point, your student of ancient history will be incredulous. ‘You went to all that trouble and now you need to walk it somewhere?’ You try to explain the postbox, but now you’re getting tired of the endless questioning. Yes, you put it in the drawer, and yes, you always checked it again to make sure it dropped, and so on. Wait until you tell them about home delivery—that will really blow their mind!

I share this to point out an undeniable fact of life: when it comes to letter-writing, many of us are closer in experience to St. Paul than we are to the kid who has only ever sent a text message. The result was the same—someone received a written message—but the means couldn’t be more different.

Of course there is one critical difference between our experience and the experience of St. Paul, and that would be audience. For you see, Paul expected that his letters would be read and then circulated—shared with a wider audience—while we generally do not. Ironically, with the advent of email and the ‘reply all’ function, we may have finally come closer to Paul’s practice of expected letters to be shared.

And the proof of Paul’s desire for sharing comes from Paul himself. His practice was to dictate his letters to a scribe and then write the last portion of the letter in his own hand, adding the personal touch. In Colossians 4.16 we read the following:

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans (Lay-a-da-seans) and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

O the Laodiceans! They cause nothing but trouble. First, the letter that Paul mentions, presumably an epistle that he first sent to Laodicea, is lost to history. Forgeries exist, with one famously translated by the St. Jerome, but the scholarly consensus is that the Epistle to the Laodiceans is pseudepigraphical, or written in Paul’s name. If you don’t want to call it pseudepigraphical, call it pastiche, because French never fails to impress.

Back to the trouble-making Laodiceans, they’re also mentioned in Revelations, this time in the most unflattering way: “I know your deeds,” John says “and that you are neither cold nor hot.” (3.15)

And according to Merriam-Webster you can be Laodicean too, if you are neither hot not cold in the topic of religion or politics, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because Paul wants to be all things to all people, which is another matter all together.

But there are interesting parallels. Like being laodicean (nether hot nor cold), being all things to all people is rarely considered a good thing. Quite the opposite, really. And despite Paul’s strong endorsement of the idea, it continues to fail to impress. So why did he say it?

First, some context. Paul is writing to a church he founded, and there seems to be some controversy about the leaders of of the church and perhaps Paul himself. In this part of the letter he is writing about his rights: to earn a living, to take a wife, to preach the Gospel. We can presume he is writing to guide others, to allow them to make faithful choices. Then he shares this point:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible...I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

In the most literal sense, Paul is talking about religious practice: when surrounded by those following the law of Moses, he follows the law of Moses. When surrounded by gentiles, he does as they do, most specifically, ignoring the law of Moses. All things to all people.

His final example is being weak to those who are weak, and then he makes his famous claim to be all things to all people. He concludes this with “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

So what happened? His intentions are noble, his logic is sound, but we recoil at this notion of being ‘all things to all people.” Where did this idea go wrong?

First of all, we need to acknowledge that we live in the shadow of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason that began in the 17th century and lives with us still. The idea that our thought will guide our actions, and not some outside force, takes hold in this era and remains with us still. Should we be ‘all things to all people’ or should be know who we are and act accordingly? Modern thought would dictate the latter.

Psychology, the great invention of the last century might chime in at this moment in the discussion. Intentionality, having ideas match actions or intentions becomes a touchstone of the science of the mind. Thinking one way and acting another is considered harmful, a sign of some disorder.

A final point on this, and related to Paul’s idea, is the notion of weakness. To the modern mind, the idea of ‘all things to all people’ points to personal weakness, since the strong know who they are and will only act from this. In this way of thinking, things like compromise and accommodation are less desirable, because they lack some kind of strength of conviction.

So how do we redeem poor Paul, and save his idea of ‘all things to all people?’ I think the answer may once again be found in weakness, and in the principles of pastoral care.

Imagine you are feeling somehow diminished, burdened with some difficulty, or care. Who will be the most effective caregiver? Is it someone who has experienced a similar affliction, or a person who has no direct experience of what you are experiencing? The answer, of course, is the confederate, the person who has experienced loss or hardship, even if that loss is significantly different.

So Paul is practicing good pastoral care, being all things to all people, weak for those who are weak, as just one example. But he is also pointing somewhere else, and this becomes the very centre of our faith. Paul shares a fragment of an ancient hymn in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Jesus too was all things for all people—even unto death on a cross. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Epiphany

Mark 1
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “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!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 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.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Imagine for a moment that your globetrotting friends are heading home once more and they ask you to pick them up at the airport. You head to Pearson and arrive at the appropriate terminal only to discover that their flight is delayed. What do you do?

For just this circumstance, I have developed a little game called Find the Spy at the Airport. Seems logical, right? It’s an international airport, and a major hub for people coming and going to Canada, so surely there will be a spy at the airport.

First off, don’t look for the most obvious ones. The guy in a tuxedo sipping a martini (shaken, not stirred) at the closest lounge is not the spy. The toddler in a trench coat, even though she looks suspicious, is not the spy. Anyone you see talking into a small electronic device—which is almost everyone—is not the spy.

You have to look more closely, and analyze a little more. Look for high-end watches that may double as any number of clever devices. Listen for posh English accents. Or see who moves when you page Natasha Fatale or Boris Badenav. This works every time.

And you don’t even need to go to the airport to try to see who’s undercover, you just need to read your Bible. Remember Pharaoh’s daughter, who finds a baby in the Nile and surreptitiously gives Moses back to his mother before adopting the lad and bringing him to Pharaoh’s court. Brilliant spy craft. Or that brilliant spymaster Rebekah, who coaches her son on how to steal Esau’s birthright, sets the plan in motion, cooks a savory meal, and even puts fake hair on her son’s arm and neck.

And then there is the undercover Jesus, revealed in Mark 1 and struggling to keep his true identity under wraps. Consider: Jesus is pretending to be just a wise teacher, speaking in the synagogue, amazing people with his insights, when the inevitable happens: the demons try to unmask him.

First he tells them to ‘keep quiet!’ In verse 34 of the same chapter it says “he wouldn’t permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” In Mark 7, he heals the man who cannot hear and cannot speak and then immediately tells the man not to speak about this miracle (34). In Mark 8, Peter and the other not-so-clever disciples finally figure out that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus immediately says ‘about time’ and ‘tell no one.’ (30)

So why try to stay under cover? What is to be gained by insisting that disciples and friends tell no one? It seems rather counter-intuitive, when Jesus is trying to introduce God to the people once more, to seek to conceal who he is and what he can do. Something else is clearly going on, since everyone knows that secrets are hard to keep, and compelling secrets—like Christ appearing—are impossible to keep.

The first theory is that they are simply not ready. Looking back two weeks, remember poor Nathanael and the news that Jesus could read his heart? He just wasn’t ready, and so some plausible alternative reason was given, and the story continued to unfold. And this happened, no doubt, because you simply cannot reveal God’s arrival all at once—it has to be revealed gradually. Lest we run away.

Imagine for a moment that you are at a dinner party, and you meet someone lovely, and then the host takes you aside and says ‘Betty, who you just met, she will be your wife, and she will give you seven lovely children, and she will introduce you to macrame, and it will become your life’s passion, and one day, during the Superbowl, you will choke on a baby gherkin and she will save your life.’ What are you most likely to do with this information? Seek out Betty, or get your coat and run out the door? And suddenly you hear yourself say, ‘sorry, which bedroom has the coats?’

Here, at the very beginning of the Gospel, Jesus seems very careful to share information on a need-to-know basis. And this may be because every new bit of scary or threatening information is another reason people will fall away. And while we know the twelve were mostly constant, we also know that the rest of his followers waxed and waned, based—I expect—on the personal cost of following Jesus. So that is the first theory.

The second theory is based on how the story is told, and how we as believers enter the story. So the second theory is a literary theory, one based on becoming an insider early on. In this theory, Jesus may well have told people again and again ‘tell no one,’ but the real audience for this message was not the disciples or the people he healed, but the reader.

You see, if you let the reader in on a little secret, you create a conspiracy. When you create a conspiracy, you make the reader a confederate, and a participant in the unfolding of the story. And when you become an participant in the unfolding of a story, your investment in the story goes up.

So Mark adds a line like this: The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (22) You the reader, already aware of Jesus and his identity, now say to yourself, ‘of course he taught with authority, he’s the Son of God.’ Right there in chapter one, Mark is already creating a bond between himself and the reader, letting the reader feel superior in the knowledge that they know Jesus when the others are just figuring this out.

And if you think Mark likes this literary device, you should re-read John’s Gospel, because he’s the master. Again and again John is flattering the reader, and like Mark he does it from the beginning: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (11, 12)

So that’s the second theory why Jesus was trying to stay undercover, but what about the third (and final) theory? Well, this one’s a little less comfortable, a little less neat-and-tidy, a little less user friendly. The third theory is related to the first, but more rooted in human nature and our inability to accept God in our midst. Let me explain.

At every turn, the demons understand who Jesus is. Here are just three examples, all found in Mark. Listen as the demons make their profession of faith:

From this morning’s reading: “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" (1.24b)

Or the time he was healing from a boat, the crowds on land too great: Whenever the evil[a] spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." (3.11)

Or the man with so many demons, that they began to call themselves Legion: “[The man] shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (5.7)

Time and time again the demons profess to know Jesus and understand his unique relationship to God, to understand the power he possesses and the ways he can transform lives. But the people do not see.

Now, you could argue that the demons had more to lose, that the threat to their existence was complete, that they possessed an other-worldly sight that the rest of the people did not, or you could conclude that the people didn’t really want to see in the first place.

For you see, it’s one thing to follow an itinerant preacher, gather up a few of his insights—maybe try to live a little differently—but it’s another thing altogether to be confronted by God. It’s easy to say ‘this guy has some solid thoughts, and some day we’ll quote him when we want to teach ethics,’ but it’s another thing altogether to meet God face-to-face.

For you see, when you meet God face-to-face, or ‘the visible image of an invisible God’ (Col 1.15) in the person of Jesus, then you need to bow down, or maybe fall down and worship. You need to drop everything and follow him. You need to extend to him the belief that in God all things are possible. Some wanted (and want) to reduce Jesus to a kind of spiritual fortune cookie, dispensing good advice or clever insights, when the demons know exactly who he is, and can’t help but proclaim it: “Holy One of God, Son of God, Son of the Most High God.” If the demons can see, surely we can see too.

May we find awe once more, and may we profess like-the-devil, as we meet God face-to-face once more. Amen.