About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

START: Lord, Help Us Get Over Ourselves

 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1:21-28

Lord Help Us Get Over Ourselves

The scariest movie I’ve ever seen was The Exorcist. 

It wasn’t about an exorcist at all. 

There was an exorcist, but nobody remembers him. 

Except Rhenella, who shouted from her office across the hall: Max Von Sydow! (OK, she gets the Daily Double.)

What people remember, and what the movie was really about, was a young girl about 12 years old. 

The most terrifying thing the male studio executives could imagine. 

One morning this angelic little girl wakes up with the grossest acne, super ugly hair, and the worst case of lactose intolerance ever. 

Screaming obscenities at everybody. 

Hating everything. 

And all the mothers in the audience said, “Yeah, that’s about right.” 

All the men who saw the movie said, “Ooh, the special effects were awesome!” 

Yeah, that’s about right, too.

So, they call in a couple of Catholic priests, truly the humans who know the least about tweenage girls.

Standing at a distance, throwing holy water, they survey the situation and immediately declare, “She’s possessed by Satan!” 

Goes to prove the sayng, “To a man with a holy hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

So, sure, Fathers. Definitely Satan. 

We all do this, to some extent. 

Like bad exorcists. 

We all demonize what we don’t understand. 

We see people who aren’t like us, or we go visit strange, foreign places that aren’t like home – like, Las Vegas, parts of Florida – 

we see this scary, weird “other,” and instead of trying to get to know it (or know them), we immediately declare, “It’s of the Devil!” 

It’s dirty. 

It’s sick. 

At the very least, it’s unclean. Unclean, unclean. 

Don’t touch it. Don’t let them touch YOU. 

Sure, go to the tourist areas, but stay away from where the locals live.

It’s dangerous.

You’ll get cooties.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t touch today’s Scripture with a disinfected 10-foot pole. 

It’s all about what’s clean and what’s unclean. 

What’s safe to eat, 

Versus what’s from a roach-infested food truck, cooked by the guys from Breaking Bad, employees who do NOT wash their hands. 

It’s about what’s good for you and what’ll make you so sick you could fall over dead right there. 

What’s of God. 

Versus what’s of the Devil. 

It’s about standing at a distance and pointing at the gross stuff. 

But that’s not all. 

Because it’s also about Jesus confronting the bad spirits – the bad spirits in US – and saying, 

“Oh come on. Y’all get over yourselves.”

The Bible book of Leviticus is awesome. 

Tedious, but fascinating. 

At least to nerds like me. 

I give Leviticus two thumbs up. 

But I’m clearly abnormal. 

You should probably keep a safe distance. From any preacher.

Leviticus chapter 13 has all kinds of medical advice. 

Most of it makes Dr. Fauci look like, I don’t know, a highly trained scientific practitioner with years of experience. 

Back in Leviticus, the doctors were more like exorcists. 

Actual priests. 

Homeopathic, with emphasis on the pathic. 

If you’re into horror movies, Leviticus is your kinda book. 

It’s got all kinds of yucky detail about oozing boils and stuff like that.

Leviticus has a huge focus about what’s clean and what’s unclean. 

For instance. 

Good news for all of us who might feel embarrassed about moderate to severe male pattern baldness. 

Leviticus 13:40 says, that “If anyone loses the hair from his head, [he is not unclean.] He is just bald.”

Good to know.  

But, second opinion, it goes on. 

It says if the priest examines him (or her, because hair loss doesn’t discriminate):

if the diseased swelling is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, which resembles a defiling disease in the skin of the body, he is defiled…. The priest shall pronounce him unclean….

And the treatment is not pleasant.

Verse 45: “The person who has the defiling disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled (uh, the combover?), and he shall cover his upper lip, and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ …He is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Which reminds me of the one time when Emily was about 3 and we were in the grocery store in line to check out, and she points at the man in front of us and says in a very loud voice, “Why does that man not have any hair?” 

I wished I was dwelling outside the camp.

Again, and again, and again in scripture, we get long passages that these days we mostly ignore, because we’re so “evolved” and smart. 

Long and numerous biblical commandments about what’s clean, and about what’s unclean. 

The more you know.

But back then, in such primitive, unsophisticated times, those unenlightened peasants thought anything strange or new or weird or different or foreign or atypical HAD to be bad. 

Had to be unclean, at the very least, dirty. 

Maybe even… demonic.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul talks a lot about food. 

By the time of Paul, a few hundred years after Leviticus, by that time, people traveled more. 

They met strangers from all over. 

Some of these weirdoes had been raised with Jewish food cleanliness laws, so they weren’t outright scummy. 

But a lot of them were foreigners who ate disgusting stuff – octopus, chilled monkey brains – ew. 

Do you know – and I know this is going to sound really unholy – do you know, that until I came to South Alabama, I had never in my life eaten boiled peanuts? 

I thought, yuck! Who would want to eat those slimy, gross things?

And then, one year, Kristen dragged me to the Peanut Festival, and I ate some. 

And then, I ate some more. 

And now, I’ll stop anywhere along the road and get some. 

I have a theory that the nastier the stand, the better the nuts. 

Change my mind.

Paul, who had pretty much traveled the known world, realized that you’ll never know if you like something if you never try it. 

And not only might it become your favorite, like, boiled peanuts, you might realize that the food – and the people who eat it – aren’t of the devil at all. 

They aren’t possessed or sick. Maybe a little unclean, but Purell can solve that.

They just come from places and families where eating sushi or souvlaki or brains and eggs are normal.

Because we’ve seen so many movies like The Exorcist, or because we’ve been conditioned to think anything or anyone different is unclean or unholy, we read the Bible with that mindset. 

For instance, in the second passage, the man screams at Jesus from a distance, 

"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."

I don’t know about you, but I always think people with unclean spirits must sound like movie demons, orcs, or Gollum, or Darth Vader, or Thanos. 

But if you step outside of that bias, this scripture very well could be read as if the man is trying to protect Jesus from his disease. 

As in, “I have COVID, you might not want to come near me.” 

The demon-possessed man might be just a very kind, considerate nice guy who doesn’t want to share his illness.

Now in formal Bible-talk, it says, 

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"

That’s fancy seminary-trained professor translator language. 

Literally, Jesus says something more in line with someone rolling his eyes and saying,

“Oh, come on. Shut up. Get over yourself.”

And then, in Bible talk, it says, 

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

Maybe it was like a horror movie where the demon rises up in a green gas cloud after giving the guy one last good shaking. 


But maybe it’s like. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. 

Maybe it was like, when a little girl who’s been told she’s dirty and sick, gets taken by the hand by a school nurse and told, “Don’t cry, sweetheart. 

This is just part of growing up.”

Or when a boy gets told, “Dude, you’re no freakier than the rest of us.”

Or when a man is told, “You’re not ugly; I like smooth heads.”

It’s hard. 

It’s hard to get over ourselves when all our lives we’ve told ourselves we’re abnormal. 

Or if our parents have told us we’re worthless accidents. 

Or if people have told us we’ll never amount to anything because of where we’re from, or how we look, or how we talk, or the clothes we got at Goodwill.

You’re not sick. 

You’re not unclean. 

Sure, you might be abnormal. So was Einstein.

Most brilliant people are kinda abnormal. It’s what makes them stand out.

Most of us unclean goofballs just need a savior to tell us the earth-shaking, chill-giving, stomach-convulsing, mind-blowing good news that everybody’s like that. 

Some people are weird on the outside. 

And some of us are just better at hiding it. 

The cure is exactly what Jesus prescribed. 

The cure is getting over ourselves.

The cure is getting over what we’ve been told.

The cure is finding help to move our dwelling a few steps closer to the camp.

Or maybe going beyond the walls of our safe camp and inviting the weirdos in.

If we can’t get over ourselves – if we can’t get comfortable with ourselves – if we can’t  be loving to ourselves – we’ll never be over, or comfortable, or loving around anyone else.