January 23, 2018
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.
[Psalm 111:10]
Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 28, 2018 - The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Gospel readings for the next two Sundays will be bound by the common theme of health and healing. This coming Sunday's reading deals with the issue of mental health. Were I still in the parish and planning Sunday worship, I would consider scheduling a healing service either this week or next.
In Jesus' time, mental illness was thought to be caused by demons, or as our reading calls it, unclean spirits.  Today, we rarely attribute mental illness or epilepsy to demonic possession. 
Yet, forces of evil exist in other forms. I truly believe that there are demons or unclean spirits that possess us, and I use those terms interchangeably.
Here is my definition of a demon:  Any power that prevents a human from being fully free is a demon that possesses us. Some of these are social in nature and some of them are personal.
In ancient societies it was believed that people were possessed by demons that took over their lives and made of them a living hell.  Today, people are possessed by addictions, fears, and prejudices that have the same result - something else controls them and makes their lives unmanageable, unbearable, or unpleasant in the extreme.
The more obvious of those demons might include alcohol and drugs. We hear daily of the current opioid epidemic which is damaging lives in staggering numbers.
Others are more subtle. Out-of-control consumerism has given rise to predatory lending practices and lenders. The resulting debt can deter many of us from true freedom.
There are people who won't go out at night. There are those who put up motion lights, or signs in their windows stating that their homes are protected by alarms. Others avoid going into downtown Cleveland, or other urban areas after dark because it's not "safe."
Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't take precautions.  But when those become the overriding, overwhelming concerns in your life-those are demons.
We are still possessed, as a society, by the politics of fear - a fear of foreigners, racism, nationalism, or any other form of bias, the list is endless.
Many of those unclean spirits have also entered the church. The fact that Jesus does this healing in the synagogue demonstrates that. We're in the season of annual congregational meetings. Think of the issues that may arise in those gatherings and how potentially contentious they may become. It would be worthwhile to keep Jesus' words to the unclean spirit in mind: "Be silent, and come out of him!"
Perhaps that is what Martin Luther had in mind when he wrote the third verse to the well-known hymn, "A Mighty Fortress." 
Though hordes of devils fill the land
all threatening to devour us,
we tremble not, unmoved we stand;
they cannot overpower us.
Let this world's tyrant rage,
in battle we'll engage.
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.
The Jesus that Mark shows us stands up against demons. May we recognize the forces of evil and unclean spirits within and around us, and may almighty God be our sure defense against them.
This coming Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., I will be with the people of God at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Tallmadge to install their new pastor, the Rev. Deborah Wissner.
This week's blessing is borrowed from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal's healing service.
The God of all consolation bless you in every way, grant you hope all the days of your life, restore you to health and grant you salvation, fill your heart with peace, and lead you to eternal life.
 +Bishop Abraham Allende