One of the aspects of our Mark reading this morning that the commentators comment on is the reoccurrence of the word ‘immediately’!

‘Immediately’ brings a sense of urgency, of drama, to the story.

For example, if I told you that on Wednesday night, driving to a conference in Sydney, Rebecca Hilton and I were on the Westconnex, and Rebecca, who was navigating, said, “I think that’s our exit – over there!” and I immediately changed three lanes to exit. And how Aron who was in Steve Coster’s car behind (because its nicer!) had just said, “I think that’s our exit, but we mustn’t be taking it,” said, “Forget that! We are taking it!” And Steve also swerved but was immediately alerted (by his clever car) of a car in the lane and avoided it, while still managing to exit the tunnel immediately behind us!

‘Immediately’ appears three times in these eight verses in the Greek text and brings a sense of urgency and drama to the opening of Mark’s gospel. “Immediately, on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught….Immediately, in the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit cried out….[and] Immediately, news about Jesus began to spread throughout Galilee.”

Jesus strides into the synagogue, in verse 21, the centre of religious and cultural life, the centre of religious and cultural authority, and begins to teach.

And his teaching brings an immediate challenge to those who hear him, particularly to the pre-existing authorities in this space. Commentator Ched Myers writes, “Jesus has penetrated symbolic space acknowledged to be the domain of the scribes. No sooner has he stepped onto their turn than he encounters stiff opposition: “Immediately there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.”

And the man cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

“Upon whose behalf is the demon pleading?” Myers asks. “It can only be the group already identified in the conflict theme – the scribal aristocracy whose space (social role and power) Jesus is threatening.”

And in verse 25 Jesus rebukes this demonic voice and rebukes the structural power that authorises this demonic voice. He continues to teach, to preach the good news of God – that the time is now, that the kingdom of God is here, that here and now – immediately – everyone who repents and believes can be part of the flourishing, freeing and embracing nature and work of God’s kingdom.

As I mentioned, on Wednesday night, Rebecca, Steve and I were on our way to a conference. (Aron was just hitching a ride to Sydney!) And at that conference I heard several speakers tell stories that resonated with this story in Mark’s gospel.

I heard one woman speak about the challenge of being, particularly in the Sydney context, and in the Baptist context, a female Christian leader. And I was reminded of an event that took place at this woman’s church many years ago when a woman got up to preach. How a man had immediately stood up in the second row and begun to pray against what the woman was saying, to pray against her teaching having any impact on those listening, to pray against her and others like her stepping into this role again.

And I heard another woman – a queer woman – speak about a morning she came to church, to the church where she worshipped, where she was an accepted leader, where she had been given many opportunities to speak, even on the subject of human sexuality, but where she had always kept quiet about her own sexuality, but this was the first Sunday after the results had been announced of the 2017 marriage plebiscite, and she had been asked how she’d voted, and that news had spread. And as she walked into church that morning, immediately, people pointed at her, and a group of deacons gathered around her, and one said, “This woman has a demon.”

And I heard another story – from another woman – about a wonderful childhood in New Zealand and then Papua New Guinea where her parents, a Scotsman and a Torres Strait Islander woman, were missionaries, and how they returned to Australia – her ‘home’ – and went to church and how on the first day, immediately, the minister said to her, “When you come to church – you leave your ‘black’ at the door.”

It is ironic that in each of these stories, the accusation of being a demon, of being demonic, is thrown about. The indigenous woman told that smoking ceremonies and cultural knowledge were of the devil. The queer woman identified as having a demon. The woman preacher – on one occasion – having a male minister lay hands on her and pray that the demons of ‘challenging the system’ would leave her.

And this is what Mark tells us about Jesus’ ministry. That from the beginning it will be contested authority; that by proclaiming a message of human flourishing, of freedom from oppression, of the embrace of God for all people, that by being one who casts out demons Jesus, himself will be accused of being a demon.

Each of the speakers at the conference spoke about trauma. The woman leader said she realised one day that the three women she’d been speaking to on Facebook were all leaving Baptist ministry because of what they had experienced. The queer woman spoke about a study conducted by the University of Texas in 2018 with over 21,000 students looking at the correlation between religiosity and suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning to end your life). What it found was that, overall, religious people were 17% less likely to think about suicide. In other words, religion was good for you! Unless you identified as LGBTIQA+ and then your risk of suicidal ideation, instead of going down 17%, went up 38%. The indigenous woman spoke about the daily challenge of raising her son so he would never get into trouble – or be seen to get into trouble – so he would be safe in a country that was not safe for him.

Can you see and hear the convulsions – the crying out in pain – in all of that?

This pain is what Jesus comes to cast out. This pain is what the kingdom of God comes to heal. Jesus commands and the unclean spirit comes out and the man is set free.

And immediately we’re told in verse 28, immediately the news of this teaching, this freeing, began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. No wonder this news spread immediately throughout the region of Galilee!

And each of our speakers, too, recognised that they were part of this immediate work of good news, this here and now work that allows humans to flourish, that frees human beings, that embraces human beings whoever they are – because everyone – everyone – who repents and believes – is part of the kingdom of God.

The female Christian leader was committed to continuing to find ways to raise up women so the church could benefit from the gifts and abilities of all its members. The queer speakers were committed to fostering spaces where people could find refuge and discover how good Jesus is. The indigenous woman said she would keep going simply because Jesus had called her.

And we are part of the ‘immediately’ of this story. This good news of God’s kingdom – of God’s flourishing, freeing and embracing kingdom – is our good news to share. We have heard it and experienced it. Been challenged and embraced by it. We have also, immediately, known opposition to it and the pain and trauma of this opposition. But we are also part of this immediate good news spreading, growing, going on; bringing hope to others, bringing friendship to others, bringing encouragement to others – the courage to go on, bringing healing to others, bringing life to others. We are part of God’s kingdom here and now. We are bearers now of the beautiful, wonderful, powerful name of Jesus.