Sermon on Mark 1:21-28

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

On a cold January morning a few years back, a man in a baseball cap stood in the bustling corridor of a metro station in Washington DC. He opened up a violin case and started to play. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their morning commute.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, a man leaned against the wall to listen to him, but then he looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year-old boy. His mother hurried him along, but the kid stopped to look back at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed a little harder than usual and the child continued to walk while constantly turning his head. Several other children repeated this action. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped to listen for any amount of time. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and the usual sounds of the morning commute took over the corridor, no one seemed to notice. No one applauded, and there was no recognition.

What no one seemed to know, was that the violinist was Joshua Bell, a child-prodigy violinist and one of the most renowned classical musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. 

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the cheap seats went for $100 per seat.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about the perception and priorities of people. Some of the questions asked were: in an everyday environment at an unexpected hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it?[1]

This story illustrates something that Mark is getting at in today’s gospel reading. In our story for today, only one person recognized Jesus for who he actually was. A lot of the people in the synagogue merely thought he was an authoritative teacher. They knew that he was different than the scribes, but they couldn’t put their finger on exactly why. Then a man in their midst, a man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Quite the confession we have here.

The unclean spirit is the only person in the entire synagogue to recognize the Word made flesh in Christ. No one else recognizes who Christ truly is. Mark’s story presents us with the fundamental question that asks if we are even capable of recognizing God in the world? Much like the Washington Post experiment asked us if we recognize beauty in the world, Mark asks us if we can do any better than the man with the unclean spirit.

     So how do we recognize God in our midst today?

I read a story this past week about a family in California. A mom and her two kids, an infant son and a 10-year-old daughter were driving across a bridge on the 101 when they were accidentally rear-ended by a semi. The semi went through the railing and fell a hundred feet to the creek below. The car teetered on the edge of the bridge – not quite off the ground, but not quite on it either. When the emergency vehicles got to the scene, they wanted to maneuver the car back onto solid ground so they could rescue this family. Almost every attempt was met with the car teetering even more – threatening to drop them to creek as well. About a half an hour later – many attempts tried and failed – a group of Navy men and women came up to this scene and said they had a vehicle back in line that had a crane that could help bring the vehicle back onto solid ground. After a couple hours of being trapped in this vehicle, the mother and children were back on solid ground and emergency crews were able to get them out of their car. When news crews were interviewing some spectators of this whole thing, one woman called it a miracle and said God was here helping them the whole time.

I think it’s easy for us to see God in stories like this, stories of the rescued family with a renewed sense of life. Stories of blessing are often closely tied to God’s presence. But how can we recognize God from the perspective of the trucker’s family? Where is God for them? Where is God in our suffering?

I’m sure these disciples of Jesus are perhaps a bit confused that the first thing Jesus does after calling them to be his disciples is goes into a synagogue and encounters this spirit. The first act of Jesus’ ministry – following his call to the disciples – is to point out the suffering and evil that goes along with our life in this world. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying to his disciples, this road isn’t going to be easy. As we inch closer and closer to Ash Wednesday, we can begin to feel this move toward suffering. That even in the midst of this suffering, there is transformation.

This suffering from unclean spirits isn’t something that’s relegated to stories in the newspaper or on television or in the dusty hallways of Mark’s time. We know these all too well. We all hear those voices in the back of our head – the voices that tell us we’re not good enough, that we’re unlovable… Those voices that creep in on those lonely, sleepless nights. These are the voices of the unclean spirits. We know this suffering all too well, don’t we? But the good news is that even in the midst of suffering, there is transformation.

This is the main point of this gospel text. Until we face the evil and the suffering in this world and in us – until we name the forces that seek to destroy us: addiction, loneliness, depression, sin – it’s only in naming this brokenness and acknowledging its power, that we open ourselves up to be healed. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. My friends, we have a problem. We have a problem with brokenness. We have a problem with sin. We have a problem with selfishness. By acknowledging these problems, these shortcomings, we stop to see God’s healing presence in ways the commuters in the DC metro station that January morning did not. We stop to see God’s healing presence in the creek beneath the teetering car in the semi. We stop to see God’s healing presence in the man with the unclean spirit. And we stop to see God’s healing presence in us. Amen.


1. If you’ve ever taken a class from David Lose, you’ve undoubtedly heard this story — but it’s a great example of recognizing beauty.


  1. Good message Eric! Its true in this ever busier lifestyle we are in we forget to stop and take in all the beauty around us. We tend to take way too much for granted or simply dont bother and miss it all. And when we have unclean spirits, it seems to be the thing to complain about it or use it for excuses instead of owning it, acknowleging them, and taking it to the lord. I know for myself, at times I feel so overwhelmed with things or situations and sometimes fiqure Ill deal with it later or thats the way it is…which is plain wrong and the hard way when the right and easiest way is to admit and take it to the lord. I cant fix things or even make them better on my own…its only with gods love and care that the situations can change and make a difference. theres a point when you gotta throw your arms up and say god, I cant deal with this on my own I need your love, guidence and support. When you come to that point , you immediately feel rellief and know youll make it thru. gods promise that he will never give us more then we can handle is true if we always include him in everything. And he does make miracles happen all the time… People say its hereitidy, my problem, theres nothing i can do about it..they have to remember to take it to god…some of it is just unclean spirits and they actually can be from our past , we need to stop and think about it and ask god to rebuke them. Alot of things popped into mind reading your sermon…I liked it and hopefully my responses made sense to my line of thinking…Anyway, hope you and Megan are enjoying your life and experiences there . Have a blessed day. Love aunt Vicki

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