One of the classes that I’m taking here in my last summer as a DMin student at the University of the South, is taught by the Rev. Martin Smith called “Implanting the Word: Skills for Helping People Internalize Scripture’s Transformative Symbols” The core thesis of the class is that through imaginative engagement with the symbolic world of the Scriptures, religious leaders can help their people make the transformative work of God in their lives more of a living and active thing. With my fears that the class would be nothing be spiritualist navel gazing suitably dispensed with, I’ve found this class to by actually quite a lot of fun. We’ve made deep cuts into developmental psychology, symbology, and hermeneutics. As we now turn our attention to the role of symbol in the sermon, today we spent time brainstorming the symbol of exorcism in Mark’s version of the story of demoniac from Gergesa.
What struck me in the work of my small group was a) how much I miss my long-lost lectionary study group, and b) how my engagement with a symbol from my particular context can inform and be informed by the engagement of another from his/her particular context. As we bounced ideas around, we alighted on all sorts of profound images and symbols in Mark’s story, many of which make their way into Luke’s version which will be heard this Sunday. I would encourage you to read this lesson aloud a few times and to let the various symbols sink in through mediation. (I know what you’re thinking, can Steve Pankey possibly be writing this? To paraphrase Paul, “I type with my own hands).
Of particular interest to me is the image of binding and loosing. Maybe because it took me back to the first few days of my seminary experience and Tony Lewis’ brilliant teaching of Greek for dummies, but this idea of being loosed, one that has very little standing in contemporary American idioms, is a powerful one. To what am I being bound by outside forces? More importantly, to what do I bind myself? What his holding me back from a full relationship of love to God and neighbor? And, in light of the story, what is Jesus doing to loose me from those bonds? What does it feel like to be set free? I’m once again finding myself drawn to music, and specifically to Chris Tomlin’s work on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace” for a recent film on William Wilberforce, a man who worked to set people free even as he struggled to be loosed from the confines of his position in English Parliament. The preacher might engage those thoughts imaginatively in sermon prep this week. For me, even thought I’m not preaching, that work has already been fruitful.