Sermon Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mark 1:21-28

“Feeding Wolves”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Hear the Podcast of this sermon here:  120129SermonPodcast

To watch a video of this sermon, go to:



In the great epic musical, Les Miserables, and the book by Victor Hugo upon which it is based (1), there are many themes of both humanity’s despicable nature, as well as humanity’s ever-present and very real possibilities for redemption.  One of the theses that has always rung true for me throughout Les Miserables since I first saw it was the premise that disease hates health.  It is a sad, sad fact about the human psyche that those who are sick, particularly those who morally depraved and mired in sin, often seek and spend their life’s energies dragging healthy people into their decadence and disease rather than to spend that very same energy lifting themselves up from the muck.

I know, it sounds terribly pessimistic for me, but it’s a sad reality that has been confirmed for me in counseling appointment after counseling appointment.

Fontine Derided, Hood River Valley (OR) High School Production

In Les Miserable, there are several characters who understand the goodness of life and are clearly “good at heart.”  Fontine, a woman we meet early on the story, who has a so-called “illegitimate child,” dreams of a life that is decent, kind, and hopeful.  And if such a world is not available to her, then she prays, perchance, it will be for her daughter, Cosette.  But all those around her insist that she is crazy in her belief in the goodness of life and humanity, and mostly succeed in dragging her into the mire of a desperate life.

Likewise, Jean Valjean,

Colm Wilkins as Jean Valjean

the protagonist in the story, who has committed a crime, a petty crime, done out of the desperation of poverty, lives his entire life on the run from his former prison guard and now bounty hunter, Javert.  Valjean, like Fontine, tries to live by the belief that goodness can overcome evil, if only people will allow it the chance to do so.  But at every step of the way there are those who, by their own evil intentions or even just the malevolence that comes from selfishness, fear, and greed, seek to remind Valjean that no amount of compassion nor consideration will overcome his basic evil self.

Haven’t you discovered the very same thing?  Sad, huh?!  For many of us who struggle with addiction, we find it hard enough to deal with the stranglehold that cocaine, or alcohol, or nicotine, or food, or sex, or work can have on us.  That’s a lifelong struggle in and of itself.  But then we are frustrated by the fact there are those who not only will not help us get better, but seem to actually find joy in our falling off the wagon!  And, if that isn’t bad enough, we are blindsided by those we call our “friends” who entice us, supply us, reintroduce us to our addictions, disease, and disorders!  It is one of the most twisted truths in life, that some of the most persistent pushers are family members and friends!  And this happens beyond addiction, whether we’re talking about greed, negativity, envy, anger, you name it.  Someone’s out there to help you stay stuck in it!

Jesus understood this better than anyone!  I am totally taken by this short story in Mark 1 about the man with the unclean spirit in Capernaum.  I take note of the fact that the story is set in the midst of the realization of Jesus’ power and authority by those with whom he worshipped.  Did you notice that?  The passage begins with Jesus entering the synagogue and teaching, and “they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority.”  Then the man is healed and the unclean spirit exorcised from him.  Afterwards, the folks around “were amazed and kept asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority!”  No celebration.  No victory party.  Just suspicion.

It doesn’t take but a second for one to make other gospel connections.  We recall Nathaniel’s pessimistic take on Jesus’ hometown, from last week’s sermon: “What good ever came from Nazareth?”  We recall what happened when, as recorded in Luke 4, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah about healing the blind,

The Exorcism, Limbourg Brothers, Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1416. Christus Rex.

proclaiming release to the captives, and so forth, and had the audacity to imply that he was the one who was going to fulfill these things.  They were “filled with rage” and drove him from the sanctuary prepared to kill him.  And, of course, we know that neither the religious leaders nor the political leaders could take someone (Jesus) actually making good on his promises of healing people, freeing people, teaching people, proclaiming God’s favor, and it would ultimately lead to his trial by a kangaroo court, his defamation, desecration, and his crucifixion.

But Jesus healed him anyway.  Even knowing that what comes after the healing is sometimes more difficult than what came before, Jesus healed.  He rebuked the evil spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit – with one last convulsion of spite – came out of him.  Even if we do not prepare a safe and ready place for healing, wholeness, compassion, and kindness, God provides for it anyway.  Even if we are as suspicious as the day is long that the person at hand is capable of being healed, God heals anyway.

As bystanders and onlookers, and especially as friends and family, we need to decide which wolf we are going to feed.  The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister & President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), told of a Cherokee fable that explains well how we have a choice in the way we respond to healing when it comes to one in our midst. (2)  The legend goes:

“One evening, a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.


“‘There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,’ the old man said.


“‘One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear. The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love.’


“The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: ‘Which wolf wins, Grandfather?’


“His grandfather replied, ‘The one you feed.'”

We do not always have choices when it comes to becoming ill, whether it is an illness of the body, of the mind, or of the spirit.  And we do not always have choices when it comes to healing.  God’s healing ways are still, and always will be, a mystery to us.  But we do have a choice in how we can respond to the healing of those around us!  We can choose to feed the wolf of depravity and selfish gain and drag our friends and family back into the dis-ease from which they are trying to escape, or we can feed the wolf of hope, possibility, and resurrection, allowing our sister or our brother to be freed from bondage and find new life.  AND we can feed the wolf of hope and possibility even if we are not healed ourselves!  For in our support of our loved ones, we plant the seed for our own healing!

God Created Us GOOD! Right, Kiasia?!

I do not believe for a second that disease, sin, and depravity are humanity’s “natural state.”  I believe our natural state is grace.  I believe that because I believe scripture when it says that God created us, “And it was good!”  We have been fed a lie, and it has been stoked by well-meaning Christian theologians and good-hearted church people, I am afraid to say, over millennia, that somehow we were born in sin and must always fight our way out of the muck and mud of our natal nature to become good.  No!  I believe we were created GOOD, and along the way we have forgotten who we were created to be!  Do we need God to help us?  Absolutely, but not to help us be something else, something other than who we were created to be.  We need God to help us be the very thing God created us to be:  good!

My beloved, choose this day whom you will feed.  When your friend, neighbor, sister, brother, lover finds God’s healing and empowering love and moves one step closer to wholeness, I invite you to feed the wolf of support, feed the wolf of celebration, feed the wolf of hope, feed the wolf of love.  And together, the power of Jesus and the grace of God will advance one step closer to that day when ALL of God’s children are healed!

May it be so.


(1) While I have seen the musical several times, I have never read the book, Les Miserable, I was reminded about names and plot themes by going online to:érables_(musical)

(2) A Cherokee legend, used by the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins at the Inaugural Prayer Service of President Barak Obama, quoted in Connie Schultz Opinion Columns – Which Wolf Will You Feed? January 28, 2009, found online at