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A Painted Face on a Balloon

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  TITLE:  A Painted Face on a Balloon                 SCRIPTURE:  Mark 1:21-28

Some years ago, Max Lerner made this statement.  He said: 

Our demonic civilization is like a painted face on a balloon. As the balloon swells, the face becomes more and more monstrous. If we take it at face value we will be terrified.... But actually it is hollow within. One pinprick will destroy it.

I ran across this statement as I was preparing this sermon, and was struck by its appropriateness for the time in which we are living.  Not long ago, we were living in a world of endless wonders.  People were getting rich -- making millions or even billions of dollars.  All of us were watching the value of our houses soar.  We were spending money like crazy -- buying luxuries we never expected to afford.

But we failed to notice that the balloon was swelling -- and that the painted face on the balloon was becoming more and more monstrous.  We didn't see it, in part, because we didn't want to see it.  Nobody wanted to see it.  Business people didn't want to see it, because it would have required them to manage their businesses more conservatively.  Politicians didn't want to see it, because the raging fire was keeping all of us warm -- and who wants to yell "Fire!" and see the party come to an end.  We didn't want to see it, because we were making money and buying things and watching our retirement accounts soar.  It was a great life, and nobody wanted to see it come to an end.  

But it took only a pinprick to bring the whole thing down.  Just a pinprick! 

Now everyone is trying to figure out what happened and who is to blame.  Business people and politicians who were blowing up the balloon a year ago are now trying to paste it back together.  They are trying to get it to hold air again.  They haven't really managed to paste it together, but they are already pumping massive amounts of air (meaning our tax dollars) into the broken balloon to try to stave off disaster.

And so we are mortgaging our children's futures by throwing money at failed corporations in the hope that we can breathe life into their dying bodies.  It seems too much like putting a corpse on a respirator.

I must admit that I don't have all the answers.  My concern is that we seem not to be learning anything from this massive failure.  We got where we are by greed and excess, and we seem to be trying to repair the damage by applying more greed and excess.  The whole thing offends our common sense.

Once again, let me read the quotation with which I started this sermon.  Keep in mind that Max Lerner wrote these words long before the bubble burst.  He said:

Our demonic civilization is like a painted face on a balloon. As the balloon swells, the face becomes more and more monstrous. If we take it at face value we will be terrified.... But actually it is hollow within. One pinprick will destroy it.

What attracted my eye to that quotation as I was working on this sermon were the opening words -- "Our demonic civilization."  Our Gospel lesson today talks about an encounter that Jesus had with the demonic -- the Gospel of Mark calls it an unclean spirit.  When I saw that quotation about "our demonic civilization" -- and Max Lerner's image of a painted face becoming monstrous as the balloon swelled larger and larger, it spoke to me somehow.

We don't talk much about demons these days.  We've outgrown that kind of talk, haven't we!  But we have not outgrown the reality.  Max Lerner talked about "our demonic civilization."  He said that it was like a painted face on a balloon -- a face that grows monstrous as the balloon swells -- until a pinprick pops it.

If you think that the word demonic is too pre-scientific -- too extreme -- not in keeping with our modern sophistication -- just read your newspaper or watch the evening news.  If you can't find something demonic there, you need to get your glasses checked. 

Or Google "Zimbabwe" and read about Robert Mugabe, who has wrecked that country and blocked humanitarian aid for his people, who are starving and dying of cholera. 

Or listen to the tapes of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (bla-GOI-a vich) trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. 

Or consider the human wreckage caused by the recent collapse on Wall Street -- a collapse brought about by people who cared nothing about long-term consequences as long as they could collect their right-now paychecks.

Or remember the terrorists who killed thousands on 9/11 and more thousands since. 

Every new day brings new evidence of the demonic among us.

Whenever I think of the word demonic, I am tempted to talk about Hitler or Stalin.  Or I could talk about Pol Pot (Cambodia) or Idi Amin (Uganda).  Or, as I mentioned earlier, there is always Robert Mugabe.

But then I read a story about Maya Angelou, who went to a conference in Texas.  The theme was "Facing Evil."  A man stood up and said:

"I really have seen evil. I have felt its force. I went to Germany and I went into the concentration camps."

To which Maya Angelou responded (with an indignant tone):

"Do you mean to tell me that we've come from all over the world and we're going to talk nonsense? You had to go to Germany, you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote, you who don't want them to even live next to you, you have your own history of slavery --you had to go to Germany? I don't wanna hear it!"

Maya Angelou was right.  We don't have to look very far to find the demonic.  We don't have to go to Africa or the Mideast or the ghettos of our big cities.  How far from the doors of this church would you have to go to find a man who abuses his wife or a parent who abuses a child?  How far would you have to go to find a young person who is destroying his or her life with drugs or alcohol? 

As far as that is concerned, if we were to examine the depths of our own hearts, isn't there a possibility that we would uncover something demonic there -- something we really wouldn't want the world to know.

So we need to be careful when we read a story in the Bible about Jesus casting out unclean spirits.  We need to be careful lest we say, "How primitive!"  We need to be careful lest we deny the presence of evil in our midst. 

But Jesus walked about Galilee teaching and healing and casting out unclean spirits -- three things -- teaching and healing and casting out unclean spirits.  He took broken people and made them whole -- not just spiritually, but in every way.  He tended to their minds with his teachings -- and to their bodies with his healings -- and to their souls by cleansing them of the evils that possessed them.  And Jesus is still doing that today. 

- The stories are legion concerning men and women whom Jesus has delivered from alcohol and drugs and pornography and other addictions. 

- The stories are legion concerning men and women who have done monstrous things, but have turned their lives in a new direction after encountering Jesus. 

- The stories are legion concerning Christian men and women who have left comfortable homes and promising jobs to go to primitive places so that they could tend to people's minds by building schools -- and tend to people's bodies with medicine and food and clothing and clean water -- and tend to people's souls by loving them and by teaching them about God's love.

We in this congregation are involved in that soup mission, emergency fund, and fair share.

And it isn't just our congregation.  Churches throughout this community are involved in caring for people in a thousand different kinds of ministry.  Churches throughout this nation are involved in teaching and healing ministries.  Christians around the world are working with Jesus to cast out unclean spirits of every kind.

You don't need a theological degree to engage in these ministries.  There are hundreds of small but important ways to serve Christ and neighbor in this church.  There are hundreds of people in this and surrounding communities who need help.  We should all be engaged in prayer for people around the world who are suffering from hunger or disease or poverty or war.  There is no shortage of ways for you to make your life meaningful.

Our Co-Operative parish is requesting all church members to participate in a day of fasting and prayer concerning the situation in our county schools on February 25th, Ash Wednesday. They are suggesting that you EARNESTLY AND FERVENTLY be in prayer for the School System, the School Board, and The School Teachers.

Just love Christ, and let him show you the way. 

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name UMH #154-155

He Touched Me UMH #367

O How I Love Jesus UMH #170

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