January 28th, 2018
Mark 1: 21-28
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now this ancient teaching from the Gospel According to Mark, chapter one, verse 21 thru 28.”
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
“Having listened with an open heart and an attentive mind, let us consider what this passage is saying to us modern day Christians.”
“Teaching with Authority”
Plato, a Greek philosopher from the 4th Century (BC) Before Christ, left behind many famous quotes. One such excerpt from his rantings speaks about the use of power. “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” We do not need to look far to see how true this is. Past Presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, four of our most powerful Presidents in American history. Each of these men are remembered for using their power and authority as Presidents to do some great things: Lincoln took steps to end slavery; Kennedy handled the Cuban missile Crises; Washington is considered the Founding Father of the United States of America; Roosevelt led this nation through the Great Depression and was a world leader through World War II. History has measured these men based on how they used their power. Bringing that phrase into the Twenty-First Century, it would be fair to restate it saying: “The measure of a person is what he or she does with power.” Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; Joan of Arc, a Saint to Roman Catholics. Indira Ghandi, the first and only female Prime Minister of India. Margret Thatcher Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. All had tremendous power and authority! Each are remembered for how they used their influence and clout. It is one thing to gain power – it is another to be remembered for how one used it!
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews speaks to us about our lesson today. “In today’s ‘scripture’, Jesus faithfully attends synagogue on the Sabbath, and starts off his ‘teaching ministry’ by impressing those gathered – religious experts and the people gathered around them – with the way he teaches, conveying authority, or, as we might say, carrying weight. Mark, unlike Matthew, doesn’t tell us what Jesus says, but emphasizes how powerfully he teaches. It’s much easier to picture Jesus there, in the midst of a most excellent bible study, than it is to imagine what happens next. A man tortured by an ‘unclean spirit’ emerges in the midst of the commotion over Jesus’ power-filled teaching.” /The Rev. Kathryn Matthews/ The writer of this gospel accounting tells us that Jesus heals the man, expelling the evil spirit from him! This is why the story was remembered. Not that Jesus taught a good Bible study class, but for how he used his authority and influence to cleanse this man of the evil inside of him! Teaching and preaching are one thing; doing something with one’s authority and power is yet another. It is how Jesus used his power and authority! This is what Jesus has been remembered for!
It is how we shall use our power and our authority! This is what we shall be remembered for!
One theologian tells us: “…the presence of God, in foxholes, battlefields, field hospitals, and battle graveyards, is an unquestionable religious truth.” /Nancy Rockwell/ We all know, or ought to know that war is hell! To the guy or gal out on the battlefield, it is either kill or be killed. Our veterans come home from war filled with the evil of warfare. There is no question about this. May God bless them, each and every one of them! Yes, as patriotic Americans, we all thank them for their service. For we believe they are honorably protecting our rights, and the rights of others, as free men and women. Yet, when they do get home, how many of us are willing to help them expel and separate themselves from the evil of war, which has become embedded within them? We, you and me, we are good Christians, and we have gathered here together this morning. We listen to these miraculous miracle stories in scripture, stories which tell us of what this humble man Jesus was and is able to do. With great power and authority too! Yet, we are not prepared for God’s miracles within our own house, our own community and our own families! This to, is self-evident! If we were truly ready for the power of God in our midst, we would do a lot less ‘hand wringing’ and many of us would sleep better at night.
Of what value is it to know of God’s authority if we are not willing to call upon it and use it here in our church? /adapted from the words of Mike Stavlund/ The presence of the Holy Spirit, which is here amongst us, is often spoken of and I do believe a great many of us Christians even believe that the Living presence of Christ is here with us now! Yet, are we ready to embrace that presence and allow ourselves to be ‘shaken up’ by it? Thereby, creating power within our midst to do meaningful and important ministry here in this very sanctuary!? /Inspired and adapted by the words of Scott Hoezee/ “Of what value, of what importance is our being made aware of this power, which Jesus is said to have displayed? And how welcome would Jesus and his power be in our churches?” /Mike Stavlund/
Teachers and writers like Bob Cornwall would ask us if we are ready to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Or at least allow his teachings to empower our work. When we see pain, or hurt within others here in our own fellowship, are we willing to call upon the presence of Christ to help them to overcome it? Are we willing to reach across the division between us to change discomfort into understanding? Are we willing to listen to the new guy or gal long enough to perhaps find out what is going on in their lives? Conversely, are we willing to consider how the old way worked, before we dismantle it? Miracle stories are meant to open our hearts as well as our skeptical minds as we read about them. Perhaps the author of the writing has missed the point, in helping us to fully appreciate what was so dynamic that day! It was not written down just to fill an editorial need in the ministry of Jesus! Certainly not in the Gospel according to Mark! This author cuts to the chase and often leaves out all the dialogue, and a whole bunch of the details. He didn’t even try to tell us the story of Jesus’ birth. Nor did he tell us the details of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. Surely, the details of this encounter at the temple that day, with the man and the unclean spirit, invoked a lot more details then we have read! But-yet, Mark did tell us that this happened! This in itself – tells us that this author thought this was a powerful testimony as to the power of Jesus’ ministry! Perhaps the details and the ambiguities, inferences or allusions even, of this encounter, truly are not that important. Simply, the authority and power which others saw in Jesus was indeed the whole point!
Reverend Matthews goes on to tell us how “Jesus backs up his words, his powerful preaching, with an action that illustrates what he is about. While we Christians love to talk about our faith, would our actions back up our words? Does our story, within the larger story of the world, hold together?” /The Rev. Kathryn Matthews/ As we enter into a new time and new place in the life of this our beloved church, will we accept the challenge which Mark’s gospel has put in front of us this morning. Will we be willing to back up our proclaimed faith with heart felt action? That is the question we each need to grapple with. Every day, when I wake up in the morning, I find it necessary to shake off the dream world where my mind has wandered off to in the night. I struggle sometimes to unentangle myself from the sheets and the blankets which I have pulled and pushed at during the hours of darkness. When my feet hit the floor, I have learned to wait a bit and steady myself, before pushing off from the soft warm comfort of my beloved bed. That’s how it begins for me. Then as I go through my morning routines I must reawaken the day’s challenges which lie ahead of me. Doing this while also managing the needs of our fifteen-year-old poodle Jamie. Somewhere in that mix I strive to remember to say my morning’s prayers and ask for God’s guidance as I begin the day. It is only after my morning coffee and such that the reality of each day sets in. That’s how it is in the real world in which you and I live!
Today, we shall gather for our Annual Meeting as a church. Even if you are not yet a member, you are welcome to attend, you just will not be counted in the formal vote. But, member or friend, this is a time for clarifying our priorities and the direction of this our church. It truly is an important hour as we account for the past year and set our sites on the year ahead. We shall once again be reminded that although we are a people of faith, we are called to be the ‘body’ of Christ. Yes, God has made a covenant with ‘we the people’ of God. However, we are called to keep our end of this covenant. We must keep our feet in the real world, as we live into the light of God’s will. This is another way of saying we need to keep the faith. Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust. Just as we need to trust each other to do our part, as we join together in fellowship doing the work, the tasks of Ministry which God has called us to. It is only after we accept our end of this relationship, as Disciples of Christ, that the reality of each day’s responsibilities sets in. That’s how it is in the real world in which you and I live! This is how it is in a true covenantal relationship!
Bearing in mind our connection and bond with God through Christ, we are now fully prepared to enter into this new church year, embracing all its realities! We can accomplish our goals as a church, if we remember the message of today’s scripture lesson. Jesus did more than just teach a great Bible Study class! He taught and ministered to the people with great authority and power! We must be willing to welcome Jesus into this sanctuary and be prepared for the bold actions and the passion of Christ to be in our midst! We are called upon to accept the miraculous outcomes which comes with courageous faithfulness! If we do not boldly accept the authority and power of Christ into this sanctuary, we shall not experience the miraculous power of God’ abundant love! Amen.