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Discerning the Spirits

A Sermon for 10 June 2018 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Mark 3:20-35.  We continue to hear about the early days of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of Mark.  Listen for God’s word to us.

The words right before verse 20 read:  “Then he went home;”  and beginning at verse 20:  “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”  23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  28 Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

The novel The Girl Who Could Read Hearts:  A Family and the Power of Intuition is about six-year-old Kate.  Primarily written from Kate’s six-year-old point of view, the author records in the Afterword that while Kate and her family are fictional; the story is inspired by a vivid dream and influenced heavily by experiences the author has had throughout her life.  It all starts on Kate’s birthday when she accidently puts the candles of her cake too close to her beloved angel doll Etta Ebella.  Given to Kate by her dear grandmother who mysteriously has been left fully paralyzed and unable to speak, Kate knows what her grandmother too knows but no longer can communicate.  That Etta Ebella isn’t a typical childhood toy.  Which is kinda perfect because Kate isn’t a typical child.  The doll is an actual angel whose heart space sometimes turns into sparkly diamonds and whose topaz eyes captivate those in need of help and whose angel wings flutter every now and again to remind Kate to listen to what she hears with the ears of her tummy.  To trust her vision-like dreams.  To pay attention to what she sees when she looks out from the eyes inside her chest.  For Kate has the seemingly miraculous ability to read people’s hearts.

The description of what she sees when Kate looks at people is fascinating.  Like when her favorite Uncle TT takes Kate to the house of a woman friend she didn’t even know he had.  Kate is surprised to see beautiful little sparks coming out of the hearts of both Uncle TT and Dr. Angelique.  As she watches them animatedly talk, Kate sees the firefly-like sparks circling in one between their hearts.  . . .  When Kate looks at her mean-spirited Uncle Vaynem, she sees something else altogether.  There where his heart should be, Kate sees an ugly color.  A hole stockpiled with weapons that are just waiting to be used in stealth against his next target.  . . .  When Kate looks at the sneaky, bigoted nurse at the hospital, Kate sees the color of greenish-grey-black storm clouds.  A heart filled with bumps like warts on a toad.  Kate doesn’t want that nurse to come anywhere near her with her stone-cold, hard as ice eyes and her nasty, pitted heart.  Kate’s angel doll repeatedly tells her to note the gift of her amazing ability to read hearts.

It might be just a fictional story, but it’s remarkable that lots of people similarly see.  Sometimes referred to as empaths; all sorts of people today are paying attention to their ability to see or feel or intuit – as Kate would say:  with the ears of their tummies and the eyes of their hearts.  Thereby knowing just what is inside another person.  The gift might seem as much a curse as a blessing.  True empaths literally feel what others are feeling – often times taking in another person’s emotional energy (Empaths:  16 Simple Habits to Protect Yourself, Feel Better, and Enjoy Life Even If You are Highly Sensitive, Vik Carter, 2017, p. 5).  While it leads to an astounding ability to be extremely sensitive to other people’s pain, being an empath can be totally draining – especially for those who are unaware they are taking in other’s emotions.  Those with such intense empathy can be incredibly generous.  They want to help others, which at times leads to problems.  ‘Cuz empaths can over-give, while others can over-take until there is such an imbalance between two people that one ends up completely empty while the other never can get their fill.  In the story of The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, it’s helpful that little Kate has her Uncle TT with the very same gift, her similarly-gifted grandmother – even if she is incapacitated, and her angel doll Etta Ebella as her guide.  All helping young Kate to make sense of how valuable it is for her to listen to, and act upon, what Etta Ebella tells her are “the whispers of God,” there to guide her so she will “make choices based on what (she) hears and sees with (her) special ears and eyes” (The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, Sherry Maysonave, Balboa Press, 2016, p. 318).

Jesus is talking about the very same thing.  The gospel of Mark records that Jesus goes home – seemingly back to Nazareth – for the first time after he had set out to find John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry.  No sooner do people crowd around him than his family hears he’s back.  It’s noted by the gospel that they’ve grown worried:  Jesus’ momma, brothers, and sisters.  They’ve been hearing the rumors.  They see the mounting fear.  Scribes come poking around from Jerusalem, which can’t at all be good!  Attracting the attention of the spiritual authorities all the way up in Jerusalem means there’s bound to be trouble!  He’s been all over Galilee accomplishing miraculous cures, exercising a new kind of power, making pronouncements that ruffle the feathers of the religious and political leaders of his day.  We have the benefit of the full story as we read of Jesus.  We already believe him the mysterious mix of human and Divine.  His contemporaries did not!  They wanted to know just who he thought he was!

It’s fair to say Jesus was the quintessential empath – with a very special gift of reading the hearts of others.  Certainly, he was expert at listening to the whispers of God.  Paying attention to his vivid vision-like dreams.  Listening with the ears of his tummy and seeing with the eyes of his heart.  People couldn’t understand how he knew what he knew.  It didn’t make sense to them where he got what he taught and how he was able to heal as he did.  They claimed he drove out demons – unclean spirits that might have looked just like six-year-old Kate’s Uncle Vaynem’s ugly-colored, weapon-stockpiling heart; or like what Kate saw when she met the conniving, small-minded nurse with her storm-cloud, wart-bumped heart.  Somehow Jesus was able to discern the spirits of those who came to him.  To cast out the parts that were making the person ill and cure parts of bodies few others dared to touch.  He clearly knew what was of God and what was not.

What’s more, he proclaims that discerning the spirits is key for any who would be his followers.  All his talk about “Satan casting out Satan,” a “kingdom being divided against itself” never being able to stand (Mark 3:23-24).  Jesus knew the difference between that which was of the Holy Spirit and that which was not.  Messing up the difference between a spirit that was contrary to the Spirit of God would have eternal consequences, Jesus taught.  Trying to silence what was of the Spirit of God, as Jesus’ family intended to do to him on his first trip back home, would show one’s real allegiance – would reveal what really was within another’s heart.  Jesus would have none of it.  In word and in deed he proclaimed that being about the will of God shows the contents of a person’s insides.  Jesus teaches that if we want to discern the spirits, all we need to do is look.  . . .  Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul would give the helpful reminder to look for the fruits of the spirit.  We can distinguish between the Holy Spirit of God and that which is not when we see evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  The nine signs that the one we’re looking at is under the influence of the Holy Spirt; is up to the will of God.

It might be easier if we all had Kate’s remarkable ability.  Literally to see the colors and shapes emanating from hearts – our own and others.  It might be a welcome gift to be able to notice when fireflies are dancing or jagged ridges are shooting.  When the emotions of another look like turbulence or feel as delightful as a soft breeze caressing our cheek.  Surely then we could rightly see – clearly distinguishing so we’d repeatedly be on the side of God’s Spirit.  Nonetheless, even if all we have are the eyes on the front of our face; our Lord expects us to look.  To discern between the spirits.  To be sure we don’t mistake the work God is up to in the world today, be it different than what we’ve seen before.  So that when authorities question motives.  And families fear for lives; we are not deterred.  With the clarity of those who really know, we follow where blessed fruit grows.  Welcoming in our lives and others’ the evidence of the Spirit, wonderful signs, God’s whispers come to be our special guides.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)