Of Medicine, Miracles, & Magic

Mark 1:21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Epiphany4 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 1-29-11

Children’s Time: Do you like to play games? You should read the rules first, right? Who makes up the rules? Whoever thought up the game, right! But, what if someone doesn’t play “by the rules”? How does that make you feel? Not very good, right? When Jesus came to teach in his place of worship he showed them the rules (The Bible) but acted like he was the one that wrote it! And, since we believe he is God’s son, then yes, he can change the rules. He taught as someone who had authority – who was in charge. God gave us the Bible so we would have rules for living a good life. Let’s thank God and pray that we too can live by the rules. (Source: Sermons4Kids.com)

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What’s your favorite commercial for medicine? Some of the ones I remember are:
“I’ve got a headache this big… and it’s got Excedrin written all over it.”
Halls cough drop lozenges: “Duthing can penetrate dis stuffy dose!” Well, sure enough it did!
Or, for allergy medicine: “I found peace after I took Allegra!”

We always give so much authority to our doctors – and that’s okay, to a certain extent. They’re the ones we should trust when we get sick or injured. And pharmaceutical companies are a close second – marketing directly to the consumer through advertisements on TV and in magazines. “Don’t take Glupitor if you have a history of high blood pressure, nausea, paranoia, yada, yada… Some side effects may occur, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, blah, blah, blah…”

We know that there’s more to healing than just the body. There’s the mind and the spirit at work in a person. There’s stress and anxiety to take into account. Prayer and a higher power all play a part in our overall wellness.

In fact, in our gospel lesson for today, we witness the healing of a demon-possessed man. That sentence alone tips us off that we’re not in Kansas anymore. I mean, how many times do people turn in a prayer request: “Please pray for Irene McDonald who is oppressed by the Devil”? That just doesn’t happen… but when we open the pages of the Bible, we enter a different time and place.

According to Howard Clark Kee, there are three kinds of healing in the Bible: medicine, miracle and magic:
He defined medicine as “a method of diagnosis of human ailments and prescription for them based on a combination of theory about and observation of the body, its functions and malfunctions.” Miracle claims “that healing can be accomplished through appeal to, and subsequent action by the gods, either directly or through a chosen intermediary agent.” Magic is a technique that utilizes words, actions, or the inherent powers of certain objects to achieve a personal desired end, good or ill. Each phenomenon presupposes a certain view of what causes sickness and how it is to be remedied.

The predominant view we see in the Bible is of miracles. Sickness was often considered a punishment for sin. Or, a result of demonic forces. Evil within or without is what caused illness. What they needed was a miracle. Casting out Satan or confessing one’s sin was as much a remedy then as Tylenol is today. With magic there was, perhaps, a curse that needed to be purged and some spittle and mud will do just the trick – or some words uttered over the lifeless body of a little girl, “Talitha Cum” before she could rise again to new life.

In fact, in our second lesson for today you have Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. On the one hand, he admits that it’s no big deal. “We know these aren’t really gods at all… there’s only One God!” But on the other hand, “There are people who are really worried about their eternal souls if they should eat that food. You and I may not have a problem with it, but because it’s causing them to stumble, I’ll pass on the Idol Buffet.”

Clearly, back then, the one people looked to for healing was “the man of the cloth” (their priest or rabbi). Today we still talk to our priests and pastors when we are in need of healing. But more often, it’s the man or woman in the white lab coat that we turn to when we are sick. I did a quick Google search for the phrase “ask your doctor” – it turned up 50 million websites, compared to “ask your pastor” which came in at about half of that: 25 million.

Still, there is a spiritual key to healing and wellness. Sin and the powers of darkness are no less potent in their ability to drag us down into doubt and despair. Prayer and meditation still play a role in bringing about healing – and yes, miracles.

It does matter that we offer a hand of touch on the shoulder and a prayer for a miracle.
It does matter that we say ‘the right words’ in praying the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Ps. together.
It does matters that we pay attention and listen to one another.
Medicine, miracles and magic are still all around us.

The healing of Paul’s community happened when people looked past their freedom to eat that food and looked into their neighbor’s eyes with love.
“So, you have this liberty, great, but don’t flaunt it for the sake of those who don’t yet know.”
“Love builds up,” says Paul, “but knowledge puffs up. Love trumps knowledge every time.”

No one likes a know-it-all. The Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper into a private party, where some were getting drunk and others were going hungry. Paul called them on it. He outlines for them what true love is (1Cor. 13) – Love is, patient and kind – it’s a love that never ends… They had been so caught up in being right – that they missed out on being faithful and showing love.

So Jesus redefines the rules – he teaches with authority and they are both amazed and outraged. Nothing would ever be the same again because he questioned the status quo – their status quo – and called them to a new way of living in freedom and in love.

My prayer for us all is that we can be open to healing in new ways in body, mind and spirit – that we might build up in love rather than puff up with knowledge – so that true and lasting healing might come to this place – through this place – in Jesus’ name.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds together as one in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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