February 1, 2015
The United Church of Christ has sponsored a rather extensive campaign to promote the gospel. The title of the campaign is “God is still speaking.” The statement asserts that God has a message and a meaning for our lives today. Another part of this campaign is a red banner on which there is nothing except one large comma. Now, of course the banner is meant to provoke our interest to ask, “What’s the comma?” The comma refers to a quotation from Gracie Allen. In one of her diaries she writes, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”
Often in our lives when we experience pain or trouble, we conclude that misery will last forever. We place a period and say, “That’s it. I’m finished.” The comma is a sign of hope, an indication that we will not remain where we are forever. God can move us forward. God can do something new.
Now new things are certainly happening in today’s gospel in the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus enters with a new teaching and a new authority. The man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit needs something new. The evil spirit that possesses him has robbed him of his freedom and of his joy. The man has probably concluded, “I’m done. This spirit will continue to enslave me for the rest of my life.” But then Jesus speaks and the spirit cries out. The man begins to understand that what he thought was the end was only a pause. Jesus drives out the demon, and the man enters into a new life.
When you and I feel that we have come to the end of our rope, that nothing new can happen, today’s gospel encourages us to hope that God can move us forward. When we find ourselves alienated from our friends, because we said something that was wrong, did something that was cruel, or tried to slip by with a lie, we can find our relationships in shambles. Today’s gospel encourages us to believe that estrangement does not have to be final, that apologies work, and that humility has traction. God can heal what is broken.
When we are dismayed because of the bad decisions made by our children or our grandchildren, we say, “Things could have been so well if they had used money responsibly, if they married somebody else, if they avoided alcohol and drugs. But now they are finished. They have no future.” This gospel asks us to believe that God can still surprise us. God can still move the people we love beyond their mistakes.
When we are devastated because we have lost someone that we love in death, and the hole in our heart is so huge that we are certain we will never recover, this gospel encourages us to believe that God can still save us, still move us to a new place.
Never put a period where God has placed a comma. Our lives may have ground to a halt. But where we find ourselves is not the end. We believe in a God who can do new things and is committed to save us. Jesus can drive the demon out. Our God can move us past the painful pause and lead our lives to a blessed conclusion.