Category Archives: Sermons

Being overwhelmed by wrongs done to us and wrongs we have done can help us

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Advent 2, December 5th 2021

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, so we continue to reflect on the theme of the Coming of Jesus, and how to prepare for it.

Our gospel reading introduces John the Baptist, who lays the foundations for the ministry of Jesus. We are given a quick overview of the political scene to see the whole world as the context for what Jesus is and what he will do. At the same time we are shown that those in power have no idea about what’s happening out in the wilderness of Israel where the real action is. It’s a reminder that what really matters in the world may have n0thing to do with what’s on the front page of the newspaper.

Then John the Baptist appears, describing himself to be like a road construction worker, who prepares the way for those who lay roads. When it comes to laying roads, preparation is half the job, so John is worth paying attention to. His ministry prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry, and the name of that preparation is a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.

Baptism literally means ‘being overwhelmed by, or immersed in water’. The experience is one in which a person is submerged under water symbolising death to their old way of living, to then break free from the water into a new way of living. That’s a good explanation of the action of baptism, even if it’s only done symbolically, but it’s the second part of the phrase that’s most interesting: repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s something we engage in Sunday by Sunday as a means of constantly being reborn to a new life.

The term translated repentance literally means ‘going beyond the mind’. Forgiveness of sins occurs when we are able to go beyond the mind. What is it about the mind that we need to go beyond? It is its tendency to hold onto sin. And what is sin? A good description I read was to think in terms of sinful experiences, and then to think of wrongs done to us and wrongs we have done to others.

Our minds tend to hold on to wrongs done to us and wrongs we have done to others. This is especially so with wrongs done to us because often these experiences fire up the brain’s defensive responses. If we have been significantly hurt in a particular way, our brain can be hypersensitive to anything which touches on that, and so re-engages your whole self again with that experience. In that way, our holding on to sinful experiences is reinforced.

There are other ways our minds hold on to sinful experiences, because there are plenty of critics around, who feed off the strength they get from putting others down, and our own doubts can make us vulnerable as well. One thing for sure is that our memories are very good servants when it comes to holding onto wrongs done to us.

As far as wrongs done by ourselves to others, guilt is the most powerful driving factor, and we’re all blessed with varying amounts of it. In small doses it’s a good servant if it drives us to do what we should, within the commitments that are important for us, but it can also be detrimental when it becomes too powerful.

The truth is we have been wronged and we have wronged others, and in the varying ways we have each experienced that, we have to come to terms with it in our own ways. Unless we face up to what has happened and what we have done, we can be out of touch with parts of ourselves, and thus block God from them. The problem is when the wrongs done to us and the wrongs we have done to others become elevated to ultimate status in our lives, so that we identify with them. In this way we see ourselves primarily as victims, who have been wronged in particular ways, or perhaps we wallow in our guilt over wrongs we have committed against others. Our self-image becomes one of being a bad person, or a wounded person. In this way, our sinful experiences shape and direct who we are.

The problem with either of these states is that we cannot become the people we are meant to be when we are like that. Jesus describes himself as the vine of life, of which we are the branches. In other words, creative life is meant to flow through us. Our being is meant to flow from Christ, not from the wrongs done to us or the wrongs we have done to others. Jesus also describes us as the ‘salt of the world’. Salt adds flavour, it makes food more special, more appealing. That’s what our lives are meant to be like. It means we bring something good to others. Like everyone else, we are a blessing for others. It’s easy to see that being true for others, but does it feel true for ourselves? Just the presence of a baby in a room is a blessing for everyone else (until it delivers gold into its nappies). Can we see ourselves in that way? Without getting too big headed about it, that is the spiritual truth about ourselves. The deepest truth Jesus knew about himself was that he was a son of God, and it is what he wants to convey to us more than anything else – that we are offspring of God. if we don’t know that and feel that, we need repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness meaning ‘letting go of’.

How can we let go of our experiences of being wronged and the wrongs we have committed against others? Two ways (John Shea The Relentless Widow). The first is to recognise that it is in the nature of the mind to cling to sinful experiences. We need to be mindful of this. Just noticing it and being mindful of how it works means we are already beginning to move beyond it.

The second way is to remember our sinful experiences are not ultimate, but God is. The world only exists because God allows it to. It cannot exist of it’s own power. And neither can anything in it. So if only what God ‘holds onto’ continues to exist, and God does not ‘hold onto’ sin, then the ongoing experience of sin is only present in our lives because we are holding onto it. Contemplating that truth puts the responsibility for forgiveness of our sin onto ourselves, as we already have it from God.

In Advent we are given varying images of what the coming of Christ means for us. Today we are reminded that what Christ really wants to come and tell us is that we are blessings to the world, and that if we are falling short of that, it is a tragedy. Christ is with us all the time, but maybe too is John the Baptist, or at least his spirit of preparation, trying to clear a way within us for the Spirit of Christ to be able to flow through. Maybe John’s spirit is strongest of all in those areas of our lives where we are overwhelmed by our experiences of sin, and so they require our special attention.

It may be that we have no experience of Christ in our lives, but that could be because we are so focussed on wanting the ‘big thing’ that we don’t pay attention to our need for preparation. He can’t get to us if there is too much in the way. Fortunately, he sends before himself the one who can prepare us, if we cooperate. And if we do, then when he does come, his presence will be obvious. It will be within the energy set free within and through us.

Today we lit two Advent candles, reminding us of ‘God’s saving peace’. We are saved from our preoccupation with ourselves and from wallowing in guilt or victimhood, by God’s peace.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Advent 2: Luke 3:1-6, Malachi 3:1-14, Luke 1: 68-79 (Song of Zechariah)

There are voices who cry out within our wilderness

for the sake of Earth and desperate refugees,

for the dispossessed First Nations still without redress

and the women with no voice to frame their pleas.

Like the Baptist at the Jordan, they cry out “Repent!

Turn from exile, seek to set the crooked straight!

Now prepare the way for One who surely will be sent,

who has come, and will be coming, soon or late.

Every valley shall be filled and every height stripped down,

and the lowly and rejected find their place,

while the proud and mighty tumble from the heights they crown,

and the slow and steady tortoise wins the race.

Who can stand when they are tested by refiner’s fire

that will burn away the dross and leave the gold?

Then self-satisfied oppressors see their power expire,

and the ones who spare no warmth will feel the cold.

Then the dawn that is God’s mercy will break out on high,

and all loving souls will worship without fear.

There’ll be freedom with no clash of arms or battle cry,

in the peace that shows God’s kingdom has come near.”

Barbara Messner 1/12/2021

The ‘Son of Man’ is us and our hope

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Advent 1, 28th November 2021

Someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of western civilisation. He said it would be a good idea. If someone asked God what he thought of humanity, I think God would also say itwould be a good idea. There’s a little clue to support that view in today’s gospel reading, where Jesus refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man’, which is usually translated as ‘ordinary person’. It’s an incomplete translation though, probably because translators have had trouble translating what Jesus really said, which is ‘the Son of the Man’, or the more contemporary, ‘the Son of the Human One’.

To understand what that means we have to know who ‘the Human One’ is, and that requires going back almost six hundred years before Jesus was born, to a vision received by the prophet Ezekiel, as he stood by the River Chebar in Babylon. He was there because the Babylonians had conquered his people and transported many of them back to Babylon. There, by the river, Ezekiel had a vision of God, which would give his people hope in their time of hardship.

Reading the account of his vision at the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel, we find it’s pretty weird, because Ezekiel is trying to convey in words, something which is virtually incomprehensible. It is a vision that is so grand, that the full implications of what it conveyed are still not fully expressed and may never be. It may be an inexhaustible vision! That’s why, in ancient times, rabbis would only allow this part of the Book of Ezekiel to be read by mature Jews, if they were accompanied by older and wiser Jews! The vision is so profound, that according to Jewish folklore, four Jewish mystics ascended to heaven and there they saw what Ezekiel saw. Of those four, one went mad, one became a heretic, one died and one returned in his right mind.

What was so profound in Ezekiel’s vision is that in the midst of the amazingly complex description of the divine, God is human! God is named as the Human One, seated on the heavenly throne.

Ezekiel is blown away by his vision of God and so falls to the ground, but God tells him to stand up because he wants to give him a message for his people. From then on, God, the ‘Human One’ addresses Ezekiel as the Son of the Human One (or the Son of the Man in the old language). He must stand when God speaks to him because God doesn’t want him to grovel. Rather than shrinking away, God wants Ezekiel to deliver his message as himself, in his own right, in his own way. Ezekiel then, becomes an intermediary between God and his people. When Jesus later describes himself as the Son of the Human One, he too is ‘passing on’ God’s message in his own way, so much so, that his entire life becomes an expression of God. He is fully God incarnated.

There is another important development in the religious thinking of Israel about the time of Ezekiel’s vision, and it was written into the first creation story of Genesis. It is that human beings are created in the image of God. In the Babylonian creation myth, and others too, only the king is in the image of God. In the Israelite myth, every human being is created in the image of God, which implies that God is human. And that is exactly what Ezekiel saw in his vision by the river. Of course, God is not just human, in the ordinary sense of the term. God is more than Ezekiel’s vision could contain, however, the purpose of Ezekiel’s vision was to inspire humanity (through the Israelite people) to become like God, as revealed in his humanity.

Jesus then, as the Son of the Human One, is the absolute emulator of God, and his mission can be thought of as inviting and empowering us to become fully human too. In some ways, we are not fully human. Rather than emulating God, we run away from our humanity through our fear and selfishness and lust for power and so on. We don’t trust that being human is enough, and yet God revealed to Ezekiel that being human is enough.

As we begin Advent today, we find that the Son of the Human One plays a central role in the meaning Advent. Our gospel reading today conveys a sense of impending disaster, referring to all sorts of terrible occurrences, things that make us feel the world is ending. They are like some of the actual events that are going on in our lives and in the world around us, which can make us feel like our world is ending. That can be literally the whole world, ‘the way things are’ at present (e.g. the ‘status quo’ – our social order, or our value system), or our personal world. When seemingly solid economies collapse or weaken. When the arctic ice, which has been there forever, is melting and looks like it could disappear in our lifetime. When people suffer from war and starvation. When people we love die, when we lose jobs, when the church diminishes, and so on.

Some of those are situations which need our help. Other situations may not be able to be fixed by us, but still need a human response. When the gospel writers present scary circumstances, as in today’s example, they’re trying to provoke a response, like advertisements telling smokers they will die. They’re not imparting information about what’s going to happen; they’re trying to motivate people to stop smoking. Similarly, these stories are to motivate us into being more human. In that way, they can be considered words of judgment, for they ‘judge’ any present lack of humanity on our part.

Today’s gospel says that in the midst of feeling like their world is ending, people will see the Son of the Human One coming in a cloud. At face value, that seems to suggest that our super-hero Jesus will come back and fix everything up for us, but that’s the opposite of what the coming of the Son of the Human One is about. The final implication of Ezekiel’s vision is that the coming of the Son of the Human One is really the coming into human fullness of all the children of the Human One (God). Ezekiel’s vision is not really about God. It’s about us, it’s about us becoming what God made us to be, which is like God, in terms of creativity and love.

An example of that is found in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there’s a scene in which Harry is attacked by dementors (spirits that suck life out of people). He is rescued by someone summoning a patronus (magical animal) to protect him. Afterwards, he is convinced that his dead father was watching over him and had summoned the patronus. Later, however, Harry travels back in time to witness the event once more. He remains at a distance watching the dementors suck out his life, confidently waiting for his father to appear and save him, but he doesn’t, and Harry begins to die. Confused, the Harry who has travelled back in time and is observing, realises that it is he (time-travelling Harry), who must summon a patronus to save his past self. No-one else is going to rescue him. In doing so, Harry becomes more of what he was born to be.

This is the purpose of Ezekiel’s vision. When first revealed in Babylon to the Jews in captivity, it showed them that their God was not stuck back in Israel, but was very much with them in their circumstances, and then it took hundreds of years for someone to embody the meaning of the vision in their life, and that was Jesus, who understood the conditions of his time as ready for the breaking down of belief in God as a power above, who had to be placated, and replaced it with his example of and a universal invitation to becoming God-like, in creating love.

And now Jesus invites us to live out the meaning of Ezekiel’s vision, which is to fulfill our responsibility to be human; to not be afraid, but to trust, to have faith, and accept the burdens that our time and place put upon us, which are also opportunities to expand what it is to be human and continue to make that a gift to the world.

There are many challenges in the world at present and some are frightening, but God has created us with the ability to take them on, and through our successes and failures, God will give life to the world.

Season of Despair or Hope

Advent 1, Luke 21:25-38

Yes, now there’s distress among nations on earth,

and signs in creation that few eyes dare see.

There’s fear and foreboding, and pain before birth,

but hidden growth waits in each season-bared tree.

Apocalypse now or the kingdom come near?

The promise of summer or portent of hell?

Humanity’s poised with the future unclear:

wake up, be alert to the climate change bell!

It may be in crises the Human One comes,

with power to awaken compassion and awe.

Then out of our discord, new harmony hums,

and hope can make music that opens a door.

Come out from possessions; stand up and raise heads!

Redemption comes near out of ruin and tombs!

The roaring of chaos that everyone dreads

precedes new creation undaunted by dooms.

Don’t weigh down your heart with the worries of life!

Don’t turn to addiction to deaden your fear!

In prayer and awareness, see change come from strife,

for seasons in God’s hands reveal a new year.

Barbara Messner 25/11/2021

The kingship of Christ is an assertion against domination

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Christ the King, 21st November 2021

Here we are once again at the end of the church year, and as is often the case when things are winding up, it’s a chance for a final statement. In the church then, we say that Christ is king. As the image of king isn’t really appropriate for Jesus, the preferred term for today’s celebration might be ‘the reign of God’, however, it’s worth knowing why Jesus was given the title of king.

Calling Jesus king is not to do with him being like a king. There’s nothing about him makes him like a king. He’s more like the opposite of a king, for example, when he washed his disciples’ feet. It was a task considered so degrading, that a master could not order a Jewish slave to perform it. So whatever the early Christians meant by calling Jesus king, it wasn’t what was normally meant by the term. And if the early Christians saw themselves as followers of Jesus, who themselves were meant to wash people’s feet, they could hardly have been using the term to convey a sense of the kingdom they belonged to being superior to others.

To understand why the early Christians spoke of Jesus as king, we need to go back to ancient Judaism. What we find there, is not a historical development that paved the way for the title of king being given to Jesus, but evidence that kings were thought about rather negatively, so in Jesus’ day it was unlikely the term would have been used to convey glory and honour.

It was about 5,000 years ago that kings were invented. They were the rulers of the powerful empires which emerged throughout the world. Those empires were characterised by hierarchical social systems, economic inequality, oppressive politics, patriarchy, ranking, aristocracy, taxation, standing armies, and war.i Israel was different though. For a long time they rejected having a king. The reason being that they had had enough of kings during their time of slavery in Egypt. Instead, they opted for more egalitarian economics and politics. They did so especially through their adoption of the Sabbath year and jubilee laws. Under the Sabbath year rules, every seven years, debts were cancelled so that families would not have to sell their land, slaves were to be freed and the land was rested from being farmed. Every fifty years, any property which had been sold to pay debts had to be returned to its ancestral owners. Often these rules were not kept, but the intention was to prevent political and economic inequality developing.

For a long time then, Israel resisted having a king; instead, they had Yahweh who served as their king, although until they did have kings, he was never called king. Eventually over time, pressure grew to have a king. The Israelites wanted to be like other nations. The prophet Samuel tried to warn them what it would mean: an aristocracy, military conscription, a standing army, military-industrial complex to manufacture weapons, taxation to support it all, enslavement or forced enrolment of sons or daughters to serve the king, and seizure of land under royal pretext.ii The people were still keen and so they got their kings, and so began years of power politics and all the naughty things kings get up to. Over time the prophets hoped for a return to the time of no king, or at least a descendent of King David who would be nothing like his ancestors.

The source of the kingly title for Jesus then, was not the Jewish kingship of ancient times. It was the Roman empire. The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ was rare in the Hebrew scriptures, but among those following Jesus, it was a very important phrase. It was important because Christians wanted to encourage each other to stick to their ‘Way’, AGAINST the Roman Empire. Calling Christ king and speaking of a kingdom of God was a way of saying no to the Roman Empire (and later to all empires and Domination systems like it). Jesus’ message was not just a general message for all times and places. It was preached in a particular context, which was the Roman Empire, a classic case of a political-economic system which existed and flourished through domination. We can say then, that following Jesus goes hand in hand with resisting domination and transforming it.

Jesus wasn’t trying to set up an alternative kingdom to the Roman Empire, of which he would be the leader. All he wanted to do was show people they had the power to stand up to the empire and all empires or domination systems. He didn’t have an alternative to put in its place, but just showed people how to live in a way that allowed proper relations between people to emerge. It was sort of like: act with love and justice towards other people (and the earth), and God will look after the rest. Jesus showed people how to create the conditions in which life, as God intended it to be, could flourish. That’s what he called the kingdom of God, or the reign of God. If God reigns, it means there is no dominating power. And it’s certainly not a case of one dominating power, i.e. God’s power, replacing another one, for God’s power is the power to give life, the power to set free and the power love. That means that to see ourselves (i.e. Christians) as superior to others, or to discriminate against others (e.g. deny marriage or ministry roles to some people) is to be functionally atheistic, in other words, to act against the God in whom there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Our worship contains many references to the ‘second coming’ of Christ, also known as when the kingdom, or the reign of God shall come. Examples include: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. And from the Creed: ‘we believe in Jesus Christ, who will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come…’ We can see this from two perspectives. One is in terms of the future, and take it to mean that the future has already been unfolded for us in the resurrection of Jesus. The future being, that in time, all creation will be Christ-like, and that future is kind of reaching-back towards us, pulling us forward, beginning to transform the world and us already. The other perspective is to see it as already here. That’s what people saw in Jesus: the reign of God was present already and available for all to participate in. The church holds onto both of these perspectives at once.

Where is the reign of God for us to participate in? It’s within us and around us. It’s within us when we

are set free, or set ourselves free, from burdens we have carried from our past. We’re in it when our sense of family or clan is not limited to blood relations. It’s between us when we replace competition with cooperation. It’s among us when we forgive our enemies. It’s within us when we are more satisfied by helping others, than being praised and honoured by them. It’s among us when we share power, rather than use it to secure ourselves. We participate in the kingdom of God when we do something as simple as sharing bread and wine in a ritual that is open to all, regardless of age, political persuasion, belief, sexual orientation, gender, level of education and intellectual or physical ability.

The reign of God is what we are invited to participate in and offer for others to share in too. It is also what we are called to be a part of transforming the world into.

i Walter Wink When the Powers Fall

ii Walter Wink When the Powers Fall

Being lost can help us find our way

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Pentecost 14, September 29th, 2021

Have you ever been lost? When I was young, I was lost at the Royal Adelaide Show. I told the policeman who found me what clothes my parents were wearing. Fortunately, I was reunited with them, despite
the fact that my description of them was way off. I have no memory of that event. It’s just what I’ve been told.

Usually our memories of being lost are frightening.
We can be lost because we don’t know where we are. We can also be lost because we don’t know why we are, i.e. why we are here – what our lives are about. Or we don’t know what we should do. We’re
out of our depth. Being lost involves lacking, being without, loss, emptiness. In our culture those are things to avoid. Not that we need much persuading. It’s hard to live with such things. When it comes to
a life of faith though, being lost is not a bad thing. Usually we describe being lost as not knowing where we are, but when it comes to faith, if we’re lost, we do know where we are – we’re in the wilderness,
the desert. In fact, there are a whole variety of terms we use for the state of being lost.

John of the Cross, who lived about 450 years ago, and one of the great spiritual writers, spoke positively about being lost. If you were going through a difficult time in life and asked him what was
wrong with you, he would say something along the lines of:
There’s nothing wrong with you; indeed, there’s a lot right with you. You’re where you should be right now: in the desert, letting the merciless sun do its work; in a dark night, undergoing an alchemy of soul; in
exile, lamenting on a foreign shore so that you can better understand your homeland; in the garden, sweating the blood that needs to be sweated to live out your commitments; being pruned, undergoing
spiritual chemotherapy, to shrink the tumours of emotional and spiritual dead-wood that have built up from wrong-turns taken; in the upper room, unsure of yourself, waiting for Pentecost before you can set
out again with any confidence; undergoing positive disintegration, having your life ripped apart so that
you can rearrange it in a more life-giving way; sitting in the ashes, like Cinderella, because only a certain
kind of humiliation will ready your soul for celebration; and undergoing purgatory, right here on earth, so
your heart, soul, and body can, through this painful purging, learn to embrace what you love without
unhealthily wanting it for yourself. (Ron Rolheiser)
John of the Cross sees being lost in terms of God re-directing you to something better. Today we might
question that. Often, it’s just circumstances that force us to look at life in a new way, and sometimes it’s something, or someone, nasty. It doesn’t seem like God, but then it depends on how we perceive
God at work. How does God lead us to still waters? How does God raise us to life? How does God heal us? Or teach us? None of us probably likes the idea of God manipulating circumstances, such as people
who suggest that God made something bad happen, so they could learn a lesson. If things go wrong, can that be God at work? That doesn’t seem right. Is God’s part just kind of lurking in the background,
or maybe more like an orchestra conductor, instructing each element of our circumstances when to play its part? In the past, when people were less interested in how things worked, something was
thought to be God’s action if it brought about what God would have wanted. If someone was healed, it must have been of God. That makes sense, but today, knowing that drugs may have done it, or the
body’s normal healing power, means we can be left seeing no place for God in that. There is a way that’s helpful and it’s really a tweaking of the traditional approach, which is to think of God as working
in a multi-dimensional fashion. There is usually more than one way to accomplish something. Think of how a nail could be moved across a table. You could push it, blow it, throw something at it. You could pull it by a magnet. You could tilt the table. You could get someone else to do it. You could go back in time and design the table with a slope, or if you were God, you would already be back in time. I am not suggesting that God operates in such mechanical ways, but just there are so many influences which can be at work for an event to occur. When it comes to God and the world, there always has to be the preservation of freedom too. Even if we say that God worked through someone, it must be entirely
their choice too. But that’s not a problem for God. Or another way of understanding what we describe as God’s action in our lives might be just to say that in everything and every moment, God is pouring
out his love and drawing us towards him.
Why I’m trying to give you a way to think of God being at work in the circumstances of our lives, is that it gives a purpose to our struggles when we are lost. In other words, we may be being led somewhere,
we may be having our eyes opened, we may be being ‘pruned’, or something else. Maybe God has not engineered your being lost, but God is definitely at least involved in helping you get on your feet again.
Having said all that, it doesn’t make being lost easier. In today’s gospel story we heard Jesus condemning the Pharisees for focussing on the observation of ritual practices. The problem is they
have lost touch with the original point of those rituals. It’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law that counts, when it comes to religion. Jesus’ criticism, and that of the prophet Isaiah regarding similar
behaviour, centuries before, is telling the Pharisees they’re lost. It would have been hard to take. Of a similar magnitude would have been the destruction of the Jewish temple, which would have occurred
shortly before today’s gospel was written. The Jews would have been so lost without what was at the core of their faith. But they found a new way forward.
Today the church is lost. Changes in society have left it struggling to express what it once did in forms that are relevant. Moral failures, manipulation of people and other flaws have damaged it. In terms of a
success-oriented culture, its current status can only be seen as hopeless. But from a faith perspective, it’s not all bad. On the periphery, humbled and insecure, is being in the desert. It’s where we can find
God again, find our way, get in touch with core issues again, go deeper, grow, become better at what we’re meant to be doing. And, remembering what I said about how God works, our lostness may not
be all our own doing, or all the result of external pressures. If God is God, then maybe we’re right where God wants us. Remember when Jesus went out into the wilderness for forty days, it was
because the Spirit drove him there. Maybe he did like a challenge, and certainly, the devil was always looking for someone else to tempt, but there was a greater purpose at work.
As church, we can’t change our being lost. We have to accept it, especially because somewhere in our
lost state is the way out, and the way out is to let go of what we have to let go, learn what we have to learn, humble ourselves in ways we have to humble ourselves, and so on. The real disaster would be to
fail to attend to what needs attending to. The author of the Letter of James encourages us to be not hearers of the word, but doers. It’s the same as the gospel writers who tell us not to marvel at Christ
but become him, let him live in us. That’s the real call in our present lostness – to become more Christlike.

In our personal lives too: we have our good seasons, but also seasons where we lose relationships, lose health, lose friends, lose spouses, lose children, lose jobs, lose prestige, lose our grip, lose our dreams, lose
our meaning, and end up humbled, alone, and lonely on a Friday night. But that’s a place too, a valid and an important one. Inside that place, our souls are being shaped in ways we cannot understand, but in ways
that will stretch and widen them for a deeper love and happiness in the future. (Ron Rolheiser)

Allowing our hearts to open to God’s love helps us come alive

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 5th September 2021

A woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon came to Jesus for help. She wouldn’t have been the first parent believing her child had a demon in them. She must have loved her daughter very much
to seek Jesus out like that though.
Let’s put some flesh on this story about a demon being cast out, which is the way such things always are anyway. There are no such things as demons flying around the air, taking over people’s lives. It’s
more a psychic pattern in someone’s life, which takes a particular form and exists only in particular circumstances.
So, let’s suppose that the name of this demon possessing the woman’s daughter is called Johnny. The
mother doesn’t like Johnny. He’s a few years older than her daughter, he comes from a rough family.
His father is in trouble with the law, he drinks too much and is lazy, but what bothers the mother most of all is he doesn’t respect women, and in particular, doesn’t respect her daughter. Johnny thinks he is superior, because he’s a man and he likes to be in control. The daughter doesn’t see this, because she is infatuated with him. Almost the only time she leaves the house, is to go out with him, otherwise she’s texting to let him know what she’s up to. She’s possessed by him.
The mother finds Jesus and asks him for help. It seems that Jesus can sense what the woman has come for, so he provokes her, hoping to illicit the response she needs to make. He calls her a dog. That’s the
sharpest, most offensive and personally critical word he can use to describe her.
In Jesus’ day, the word dog was used in a derogatory way for women, as is the word ‘bitch’ today. Men who called women dogs believed their intelligence was on the level of an animal. They considered men
to be rational, whereas women were simply reactive, like animals. But for this particular woman, this
mother, it was personal, because she’d been on the receiving end of that term too often. She’d had a husband who called her dog one too many times, so now she was a single mother, trying to raise her
daughter, who now had got herself tied up with someone just like that nasty man who had made her life a misery for years. And now, the very person she went to for help, had called her a dog! (Actually,
he didn’t specifically call her a dog, but suggested she belong to the groups who are dogs.) With that one word, the lid on her pain had been opened, she was back where she was years ago, and in danger
of becoming unhinged. At that point, she realised she hadn’t really come for her daughter, or rather, she had, but she had also come for herself. She had wounds that needed healing too. And at the very
moment she realised that, she knew she had to choose what mattered most to her – her pain and anger, or her strength and wholeness.
She chose strength and wholeness. She was not going to let this guy calling her a dog get in the way of what she wanted, not just because she wanted it so much, but because the strength of her conviction
was so strong, that she knew it didn’t just come from herself. It seemed so right to her, something
which should just be, and something which she perceived in the one calling her dog, i.e. Jesus. It was a conviction that her daughter mattered, as every person matters, and so herself included. She had seen
evidence of that conviction in the way Jesus treated people and spoke up for people. And even though he was goading her, she felt deeply valued by him, and that he was trying to get her to value herself in
that way too. When she did, when she chose strength and wholeness over pain and hurt, they clicked, for there was divine love within each of them and between them. That released the Holy Spirit into the
world and so the woman’s daughter was healed.

The mother goes home and finds her daughter, alone, sitting at the table, with freshly baked scones and a pot of tea to share with her mum. ‘Where’s Johnny?’ she asks. ‘I sent him away’, the daughter
replies, ‘he was no good for me. I think I just liked him because you didn’t, but I’m over that now’.
We read in the gospel account that when the mother returned home, her daughter was ‘lying on her bed’, but the correct translation is she was ‘reclining at the table’ which is code for being restored to
her place in the world. It means she was fully herself once more: whole and flourishing.
Sometimes problems of those we care deeply about can be resolved after we attend to what are really our own concerns. Dealing with our own anxieties or frustrations about their life can set us free, which,
in turn, can have consequences for them. Finding our own strength can release the Spirit for them too.
In his usual pattern of inclusivity, the writer of Mark’s gospel adds to a story about a young girl, one
about an older man, as a way of saying that healing is available to all who connect with Jesus.
The man was deaf, with a speech impediment. We can think that Jesus’ cure enabled his ears and
mouth to work properly, but that would be failing to see the deeper action here. When it comes to
hearing God and speaking what God tells you, it is the ‘heart’ that counts. His deafness was symbolic.
Like many Jesus came across, the man couldn’t hear God’s loving voice speaking to him, so
consequentially had nothing original to say. His opinions were nothing more than those given to him by
the world around him.
Blocking the man’s ears, Jesus blocks out the various voices which prevent him hearing God’s loving
words, words such as Jesus speaks. In responding to this man, Jesus is channelling divine love into him.
But he can only receive it if he opens his heart, just as the mother with the possessed daughter opened
her heart to God through the strength of her love (for her daughter and herself).
There is no magic at work here, Jesus simply commands the man to open his heart to God and so receive the divine Spirit within himself. Jesus can open any of our hearts to God, if only we are willing to
get close to him.
This willingness, which we call faith, may seem beyond our grasp. But that’s only when we get it the wrong way around. Faith is more to do with God, than us. It’s not so much about how much we believe,
but about trusting that God is what God claims to be. Faith is letting go in a way that lets God be God for us and do whatever God will do for us. A good image of that is the trapeze artist. One person swings
out and lets go of the swing, with nothing more they can do. From then on, it’s totally up to the other trapeze artist to catch them. The catcher is the active one. In the same way, faith is putting ourselves in
a position for God to catch us, or opening our hearts for God’s love to pour in. Sometimes we must follow the strength of our instincts to where our soul knows it needs to go, and other times we just
need a little help opening our heart, before we feel the love that is trying to get in there or rise from within there.
Healing isn’t always straight-forward, mostly because we tie ourselves up in knots and hide in our complications, but at least the good news is that Jesus is always close by, wanting to do what is lifegiving to him, which is to give life to us. His love is as persistent as the woman he called a dog, his strength is as gentle, and his commitment to our well-being, as deep. That means he will always be there for us, but will look nothing like a celebrity healer, nor act like a magician to wave away our problems, or the problems of those we love

Standing against oppression transforms it

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Pentecost 14, August 22nd 2021

Today’s N.T. reading is from a letter of St. Paul, written from prison in Rome, or more precisely, under house arrest, with a guard. He ended up there because of a conflict with religious authorities in Jerusalem, over taking a Gentile friend into the temple, which was a crime punishable by death.

Following that he was imprisoned by King Herod (Jewish ruler and Roman puppet). After two years without resolution, he appealed to Roman law and so was taken to Rome.

Paul became subject to the oppressive power of his religion, and the Roman Empire. With insight reinforced by that experience, he writes to Gentile Christians how faith in Christ can help them not only
survive, but triumph over oppressive forms of power they encounter in their lives.

Like in Paul’s day, we are subject to power exercised by organisations, institutions, nations, cultures and other collective bodies. That power can be and is often used for good – to create, build up and help
people flourish, but it can also oppress, de-humanise, control and even destroy human beings.

In general then, the nature of collective and corporate entities shows that humanity is created good, but fallen: there is a certain goodness about us, but we are imperfect.

Some forms of Christianity are very individualistic, with a focus on whether individuals are right with God, meaning whether or not they are ‘saved’ and going to heaven.

The New Testament writers however, are not only interested in individuals, but are also concerned with collective and corporate
bodies of people, such as nations, cultures, organisations, companies, institutions and their relationship with God.

These are created good, but fallen.

Describing them as created doesn’t mean God personally sculptured each one out of the earth, but that they are not divine, so their power is limited, their ability to create what is truly human or define what that means, only comes from God, as does any ability to speak of act with authority about what is right or how things should be.

Being created also means that their power is dependent, relying on public support or on force. The most significant factor in all that is they can be challenged. This insight and the freedom it gave to people, was one of the great attractions of early Christianity. It meant people living under the spell of the Roman Empire, believing it to be the divinely-sanctioned, permanent power controlling and determining their lives, having ultimate say over the way things should be, were given an alternative. It’s like the realisation decades ago that women
didn’t have to accept the role society had given them, or slaves in the US realising they were not inferior human beings created by God for service to others. In today’s passage, Paul talks about various forms of power and describes them as the ways of the devil. He then goes on to list rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. In listing them, he’s really alluding to the bigger list which includes all suprahuman powers. That means all forms of power which are humanly created, but kind of have a life of their own.

Culture is an example. We generate it, but it also shapes us, so it’s more than human, it’s suprahuman. Some suprahuman powers are good and some are not. Many are both. Paul refers to suprahuman powers that oppress as spiritual forces of evil. They are never disembodied spirits, but always express themselves through material form, so, for example, there is no such thing as a spirit of racism flying around the air causing trouble here and there. Instead, racism presents in people’s attitudes and actions, as well as laws and traditions.

Sometimes we come across individuals who are hostile, but there is much to be said for Paul’s view that our real struggle is not against what he calls ‘blood and flesh’, in other words, not against individuals.
So, for example, if you are just one day late paying your car registration and have to pay a fine, and go into a government office to do so, your struggle is not with the person serving you, but with the big,
impersonal bureaucracy they work for, that has little or no interest in you.

Some years ago, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse exposed how institutions such as churches can use their power against individuals in order to protect themselves.
Created good, but fallen.

Virtually every day we are subject to destructive spiritual forces which oppress or undermine our humanity. Again, I must stress that it’s so important here to get rid of any idea that spiritual forces are disembodied entities floating around doing what they do. They are never separate from physical, concrete, aspects of daily life. They are just their inner aspect.

As Christians, Jesus calls us not to fight, but to transform things that oppress and diminish humanity, into things which uplift and nurture humanity. And to do it, Paul suggests using what he calls the whole
armour of God. Not our strength or amour, but God’s. In other words, not fighting evil in the way people usually do.

So, what does it mean to use the armour of God?

The first thing is we need to stand firm when we are attacked. That’s one of the first lessons in wrestling – stand in a way that you can’t be knocked down. Then Paul says to put on the ‘breastplate of

Righteousness is to do with ‘being right with God’ and God assures us we are, so we have that as a foundation upon which to stand against attack. No matter what we are told, in God’s eyes, we matter. We are not just economic units, potential sources of income. We are not just voters to
manipulate allegiance from. We are not just how society defines us. We are individuals, loved by God, in our complexity.

Then Paul says to fasten the ‘belt of truth’. Truth is one of the greatest weapons against spiritual forces
which oppress. Naming the bully, naming the truth, exposes them. That occurred during the Royal
Commission into Banking and Financial Services. No bank, company, nation, church, organisation or
institution, ever wants to appear self-serving, because it will lose support.

The most powerful support is that which is unconsciously given, and better still, is when that support is given in the belief it is in the
interests of those who give it. Most people caught up in buying more than they need, for example, would believe they are satisfying their own desires, oblivious to the influence of the spirit of consumerism driving them.

Paul also suggests wearing the ‘helmet of salvation’. One way to think of that is to protect yourself against destructive messages we’re sometimes fed, such as those telling us the future is hopeless, security should be our main concern, scarcity demands that we hoard as much as we can at other’s expense, or the more we adopt the American way of life, the happier we’ll become.

Spending time in silence, away from such messages helps, but also does celebrating and living in accord with the generosity and grace of God, who never abandons us.

Paul calls us to wear for shoes ‘whatever helps you proclaim the gospel of peace’. Learning to make peace is a powerful weapon against oppression. Skills of non-violently asserting yourself and standing
up for others are needed here. There are alternatives to violence for resolving conflict and violence doesn’t actually solve conflict anyway.
The ‘shield of faith’, which Paul encourages us to employ, involves orienting ourselves towards God,

instead of towards how we are being told to live, if it is oppressive. An example would be being grateful for what we have, which counteracts the drawing power of forces which drive us to want more, or to resent what we don’t have. Paul’s images are drawn from Roman fighting units, whose shields overlapped, providing extra protection. In the same way, finding support from each other’s faith, makes us much stronger and able to withstand attack.

The ‘sword of the Spirit’ is the only active weapon Paul refers to. As we listen to the Spirit of God, who dwells within us, one thing we hopefully hear is a constant encouragement to love ourselves. The Spirit
may ask us ‘what are you doing to love yourself today?’ That’s not about feeling nice about yourself, but, for example, how are you preventing yourself from being a victim in your current circumstances?
Lastly and no less important than the rest, is prayer. Pray in the Spirit at all times, Paul encourages us. It means opening ourselves to the Spirit who is already praying in us: spending time to allow the Spirit
who dwells in us to attend to what oppresses us and guides our response to it. One writer on prayer suggests clergy should spend an hour a day in prayer, and if we’re busy, longer.

All of this can seem rather heavy, but each day we engage with oppressive spiritual forces, encountered in individuals, collective and corporate bodies, such as institutions and their rules or traditions, in social, economic and political practices. We can counter their negative influence upon us by remembering who the true Power to give life is and by living in ways that affirm the life that Power gave and continues to want to create with us.

Fear of the Lord as our starting point

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Pentecost 12, 8th August 2021

From Psalm 111 – ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. Is that an instruction about how we should relate to God or a description of how do we relate to God? It’s both actually. First let’s consider the fear of the Lord as something helpful. A couple of years ago an American
theologian was speaking in Adelaide. In one of her talks she spoke about when her husband died. His funeral began with his coffin being brought into the church and she walked in front of it, carrying her grandchild. She said that as she led his coffin in, she had no faith. But it didn’t matter, because everyone else there did. Her statement reflects how much Christianity is a communal faith. The significance of
your personal beliefs and doubts belongs in the context of the community. What matters most is the faith of the community. That’s what it means to recite a creed for example. So, when in our Sunday
Eucharist, we are instructed to together affirm the faith of the Church, we are not being invited to recommit ourselves to what the church tells us we have to believe, nor are we all claiming that what the
church says is right. Rather, we are affirming that it is the corporate belief of the community and therefore, as the communal faith, it is something we are part of, but don’t have ownership of. So, today
I may disagree with a line of the creed, or not even understand a phrase, but that doesn’t make me a hypocrite, because I am affirming the faith of the church, not my personal faith that I alone came up with and have spent years refining and perfecting so that it perfectly captures who God is. That’s why for that woman, the American theologian, her faith, or lack of it, while grieving her husband, doesn’t matter – because it’s something that she can come and go from. She can pick it up and put it down, and
that’s okay. Obviously, if every week, you object to saying the Creed, or part of it, you have some spiritual work to do, unless you’re one of those people who come for reasons other than belief.
What this points to is that faith is something bigger than yourself and the notion that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom is also about that. You can see it as referring to awe – being in awe of God, and everything else falls into place. It’s a bit like the feeling a person might get before taking on a leadership position: they feel the weight of what they’re about to take on. It’s not that they won’t be able to do the job, but just that it’s something bigger than themselves.
During the Second World War, some of the Jews in Auschwitz concentration camp decided to put God on trial. God was supposed to look after his people, to be full of compassion for the human race and to
be all-powerful. Looking at the horror around them, they judged God guilty of failing to be that and worthy of death, so they put God to death. Then the rabbi announced ‘God is dead, and now it is time for prayers’. (From Karen Armstrong A History of God.)

That’s an amazing ability to critique God and hold faith in God at the same time – an ability that is only possible for people who hold God to be bigger than what their religion tells them and bigger than what their own thoughts can manage.
The institutional element of religion is important, and applying our critical minds to it is too, but beyond those, lies adult faith, which is mystical and open to what no-one can fully grasp, and no-one has a
monopoly on. In fact, the mystical involves allowing God to grasp you and begin to shape you. In this context, the fear of the Lord is respect for what we cannot grasp or control. I have that experience
when I gaze at the stars at night. I can’t draw them into myself as something to make sense of, rather, I am drawn into them and see myself as part of them (the universe), which is incomprehensible and
beyond my grasp.

The other way we can think of the fear of the Lord is that it’s a good description of how we often react
o God. It makes sense if we think that God comes to us disguised as life. I don’t mean that everything that happens to us is God manipulating things to test us or get us to do something, for example, but
that in the ordinary events of our lives, God is present, inviting us to grow in some way. If we are made in the image of God, as we are told, then it means we are made to be like God, in the sense of being
loving and compassionate, finding joy in life and connection with other people and the world around us. As none of us have fully got there, it makes sense that God is always offering us the opportunity to
become more loving, to find more joy and to grow closer to others and the world around us in our own way. That’s how we become co-creators with God, creating a world of love and goodness together.
When I failed a subject at university, because I hadn’t actually done what was required for my final assignment, God didn’t make that happen, but there was something of God kind of stirring me up to accept my failure and have another go, resulting in a better outcome than I could have imagined. God doesn’t necessarily want us to get A’s on our report card, but God wants us to become fully alive. St
Ignatius says that the glory of God is humanity fully alive. It means God finds joy in what is best for us.

This is where the fear of the Lord comes in though, because it is at those points of possible growth that
fear often arises. It could be a nervous breakdown, in which there is also the opportunity to become a
stronger person. It could be a new friendship or a friendship moving to another level, inviting us to
open our heart or move closer to another. It could be a death of someone close, inspiring us to realise
our own mortality and consider anew what matters most to us. Even in hardship and challenging times,
God may be offering us some new way of growing or stirring us to extend or deepen ourselves.
Wanting to grow and become more than we are, would seem to be an attractive thing, but we don’t
always see it that way, because it involves giving up control – at least to some degree. It requires going
into the unfamiliar or going into what we may have previously been afraid of or rejected. It might mean
doing what is frowned upon by others – maybe leaving a relationship, or rejecting a job with good pay,
or it could mean doing something socially questionable like following the path of someone who is said to have risen from death. In this way, we often begin our path to wisdom (growing into what we can
be) by being afraid of the opportunity being presented to us.
The story of Jonah is a story of someone who was invited to undertake a task which, if fulfilled, would make him more of the person he was made to be, but he was afraid of it, because there were
consequences he didn’t like, so he ran away and ended up being swallowed by a whale. God always has Plan B. When we run in fear from an opportunity to grow, God will offer something else, at some point,
because God wants the best for us.

When we do run away from the God who comes to us disguised as life, it doesn’t matter too much, because there is something bigger than ourselves, something bigger than our faith, or our fear (which
is the opposite of faith) and that is God, so we just have to accept our failure to respond and take it up next time.
Jesus is always calling us to die to our false selves, that is, die to the life that is anything less than we
could be, so we have this ever-present invitation to grow, but also sometimes circumstances thrust upon us the chance and often the need to grow, such as when we lose something or someone. We may be afraid at first, but the important thing is to remember that God is bigger than our fears. The power behind us is always greater than the challenges we face.

Jesus’ authority is the power to encourage us to create our lives with others

Jesus’ authority is the power to encourage us to create our lives with others

Sermon by Andy Wurm, Epiphany 4, 31st January 2021

Jesus goes to the synagogue and encounters a man possessed by a demon. This is not something that is easily accepted today. You may find talk of demons too disturbing, or ridiculous and so dismiss this story as belonging to another time, when people believed such things. At face value, Jesus comes across as a kind of magician, whose power is greater than the evil forces he battles with, which makes Jesus into someone who isn’t relevant to life as we understand it.

But ask yourself what you think demons are and how you came to that understanding. Do your ideas come from watching movies? If that’s so, then you can park those ideas as fantasy. Perhaps your ideas about demons have come from taking biblical stories literally. That’s equally unhelpful, because demons are really metaphors.

What I want to suggest to you is that talk of demons in the bible is actually a way of representing the power dynamics in human behaviour. The important issue regarding spirits of any sort whether they are life-enhancing or life-denying. As the gospels present Jesus as the ‘lord of life’, of course he is going to have power over any spirit that is life-denying.

That’s why the angels (life-enhancing spirits) are his friends and the demons (life-denying spirits) are against him. As ‘lord of life’, Jesus commands the spirits to do as he says. They do not have power over him, for he is God, who is not bound by the same power mechanisms. All of this is pretty grand and deep, but as we see in today’s story (Mark 1:21ff) it’s part of everyday existence. That in itself is a big claim, because we might think that power dynamics is only part of politics or where people are in conflict with one another, and so not to do with everyday existence, but the perspective the gospels give us is that power dynamics are integral to everyday existence, and if we are ignorant of that, then we will be subject to the control of those powers without realising it. One of the goals of the biblical writers is to wake us up, to reveal or unmask, the powers that can influence and control us.

In describing the demon possessing the man in the synagogue as an unclean spirit, the gospel writer helps us understand the power dynamic at work. If something is ‘unclean’, it can also be ‘clean’, so we must be talking about something that can be one or the other. When people are involved, ‘clean versus unclean’ is like ‘in versus out’ talk. It’s labelling things in terms of opposites, it’s the same as speaking in terms as acceptable versus unacceptable, righteous versus unrighteous, proper versus deviant. This is rivalry or judgement. In Jesus’ day, people were divided into acceptable versus unacceptable, such as healthy people being acceptable, lepers being unacceptable; Jews acceptable, gentiles unacceptable, women who remained faithful, committed and monogamous: godly, righteous and therefore acceptable, women who committed adultery: evil and to be cast out (i.e. condemned and stoned). This division into ‘clean and unclean’ is found in all cultures and subcultures. It is so pervasive, that even when we get it and choose to let go of seeing people in this way can soon find ourselves labelling those who continue to do it as unclean (of course we don’t use those terms though, we would more likely say they are judgemental or self-righteous.) And so we’re back in the game again.

Back to the gospel story – the unclean spirit reacts aggressively to Jesus.

That’s to be expected because they represent opposing power – Jesus gives life to people, the unclean spirit takes it away or controls it. Let’s say, for argument sake, that the bloke Jesus has met with the unclean spirit, was the synagogue treasurer and embezzled all its money. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that he isn’t its most esteemed member. No, he is its most hated member, and has been cast out – he’s not even allowed to step foot in the synagogue. Yet he has weaselled his way back in. Maybe he’s wearing a wig and fake moustache to disguise himself, so no-one noticed him. But his disguise doesn’t fool Jesus, because his being hated by the synagogue members and cast out has transformed him, so he now sees himself as they see him. That is what ‘being possessed by an unclean spirit’ means. This man, this ex-treasurer, feels he is a non-person, that he doesn’t count. He has lost his worth as a person. What does that do to a person? One thing is it may drive them to grasp for power from others, in order to gain a sense of worth. Such people will be attracted to those they perceive able to dish out power to them. Those people will be both attractive and a threat to them. Hence the unclean spirit in the man challenges Jesus –virtually saying ‘what the hell do you want with me?’ He’s sussing out whether Jesus is a threat or a possible source of affirmation. He decides Jesus might restore his honour, if he shows deference to him, which he does by honouring him as ‘the Holy One of God’. But that is a priestly title for one with a role in the temple cult, which is a sacrificial institution. In other words, he’s saying to Jesus ‘I see you are a man with power to include me or cast me out of this community (synagogue)’. Jesus rebukes him, commanding him to be silent, for that is exactly what Jesus is not, as he does not operate within the clean/unclean perspective of rivalry and judgment, which sacrificial cultures and institutions do.

Jesus operates within the perspective of divine love, which is unconditional, so yes, Jesus can grant this man life, he can give him worth, restore his sense of value, not by judging him, but simply by affirming him as worthwhile. And that involves discounting and so dismantling the mechanism of judgement which labels him as unclean. That is Jesus’ authority. He can author life, write life, create life, through affirmation, through unconditional love: the power to encourage a person to be themselves, to create themself, create their life. That is the power of the Creator at work.

The healing of the man with the unclean spirit is a process of him being enabled to move from being dependent to interdependent. He became subject to the control of the synagogue (community) by depending on it as the source of his worth. In other words, if he was accepted by the synagogue, then he was acceptable, worthwhile as a human being; if he was rejected by the synagogue, then he was not. Such dependence worked for him as a child, when he had to depend on others for safety, security and direction, but continuing to live that way made him subject to the power of rivalry and judgment which brews within communities. Often when people realise they are dependent upon others and so subject to how they value them, for example, they react by becoming independent. Hence, the possessed man acts independently of the synagogue’s rejection of him, dons his wig and fake moustache and attempts to gain kudos from Jesus, but such attempts to get free of dependence by acting independently are doomed to fail, because the dependence is internal – the individual has adopted it as a way of coping with life. He depends on how others see him and how others treat him as the source of his worth, or lack of it. Reacting to external influences won’t free him. In the same way, if we depend upon the circumstances of our lives to dictate our worth, we shall not be free.

Being freed from the demon is being no longer run by culture or institution or life’s circumstances. Something like Jesus identifying the unclean spirit in the synagogue and casting it out of our lives, occurs for us when following his Way allows us to see when our dependence on others’ opinions of us, or dependence on life’s circumstances as dictating our worth, means we are being driven by them and not by ourselves. In showing us how these mechanisms work, the gospel writers are giving us a way of breaking free of them, so that we can allow the true author of life, the One who writes our life, to create us, by encouraging us to create ourselves, within relationships that are interdependent.