4th Sunday after Epiphany
January 28, 2018
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“At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Duh!
Can’t you hear it?……”you won’t believe what happened in church today! This new rabbi came to teach and a guy in the back of the started to shout, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?’ So this Jesus guy stood up and shouted back, ‘Come out of him, Evil Spirit! Leave him alone!’ Who is this Jesus guy? “
I’ve been going to church every Sunday for over 70 years; nothing like this has ever happened in any church service I’ve been in. Such drama. So what is it Mark, the Evangelist wants to tell us in his narrative of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? I’m sure he had lots of stories to choose from.
“They were astounded at this teaching, for he taught as one having authority, not as one of the scribes.” Each of the Evangelists introduces us to Jesus slightly differently. The story they tell of his life and ministry leave us with lots of questions: what kind of kid was he, what was the family life like – lots of kids, troublemakers, vocations? My middle school confirmation kids usually are stopped in their tracks when I wonder what middle school was like for Jesus. We want the novel version of his life, with the girlfriends and pals and what was he doing when he was 25. But the Gospels are not that kind of story. Each writer is making a case for Jesus as God -With-Us (Matthew), as the Lifter of the Lowly (Luke), as the Incarnate Word (John). For Mark, Jesus is the Exorcist of the World, the One who has authority over everything that draws people away from the Goodness of God.
When Mark’s Gospel was written, the Jews were suffering under the hand of Rome. The more restless and rebellious they got, the more troops were dispatched to Palestine, and the harsher the circumstances for ordinary people. This Gospel is thought to have been written around 70 AD, the time when Jerusalem was under siege and the Temple burned to the ground. It was a gruesome time for God’s people. The image of the expected prophet and One who comes with power and authority was exactly what they needed to trust that God was still at work to lead God’s people and keep them as a light to the nations. So the first story of Jesus teaching is also the first story of his deeds of power in the midst of his people.
It may be hard for us to find an equivalent of ‘a man with an unclean spirit.’ We no longer think of mental illness or substance abuse or chronic illness as being caused by demons. We no longer think of disease as punishment for sin. But each of us has at some time in life been plagued by fear, doubt, illness, hopelessness, despair. Each of us has come here to church awaiting a word of hope and healing for ourselves or for people that are close to our hearts. We, too, need to hear Jesus speak with authority, interpreting the Scriptures to us and opening the door for us to trust that God can make a way when there seems to be no way. We come back week after week because God invites us, wanting us to hear over and over that we are chosen, loved, forgiven, and blessed.
Martin Luther once said about preachers, that if someone comes with doubts and fears in his or her heart, and you don’t grab them by the ears to tell them of their forgiveness and salvation through God’s steadfast love, their soul is on your conscience. We all need to know that Jesus’ words of inclusion and invitation are meant for us, still in this day. We need to know that Jesus’ speaks with the full authority of God when he says I will be with you always. We need to believe that when Jesus stops to heal the blind and lepers and includes thieves and prostitutes in his promises of forgiveness, that we are also included. We know we will never deserve the love and forgiveness that God offers, but that God’s grace seeks us out and speaks with authority when we need to hear that grace.
Maybe you won’t go rushing home to your neighborhood to tell about what happened in church today. But maybe, just maybe, you will go home feeling restored, included, forgiven, filled with new hope and new possibilities. Because Jesus still has the authority to forgive sins, open hearts to hear God’s invitation, and fulfill God’s promises to us.