Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 28, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
One of the more interesting state mottos is Missouri’s “Show Me”. It speaks to that part of us that says, “That is an interesting idea, but I want to see if it works.” In many instances that stance has much to say for it. Since the end of World War II this country and much of Western Europe latched on to the latest theories, which sounded good, but lacked solid evidence of benefit and cost. My brother Scott a few months ago was at a conference on Brain Injury was led by some recognized experts in the field. He asked a question about some treatment he had read about a study some university had done. The speaker said from that article she really could not say. She told about hundreds of studies her group reviewed and most of them were done by graduate students with small samples and limited variables and stated more than could be supported with those limits. She indicated that was normal and cautioned about getting too excited when you hear a report of a study at X Institute or Y University indicates Z.
On a more direct level I experienced my authority not being taken for granted. I was an attorney in the U.S Army after my initial round of higher education. I was a Legal Assistance officer. To show our professionalism we had our State Bar certifications and law school diplomas on our office walls. In addition we often wore a uniform I think the Army never should have abandoned, our dress greens, rather than fatigues. Even with all that many a soldier seeing this young officer at the desk would take a seat and sincerely ask “Are you a real lawyer?”
Reliable authority is what Jesus brings to the table. Last week we saw his authoritative presence and word with an invitation to four men to “Come and follow.” That was enough for Andrew, Simon, James and John to leave their life occupation, shift focus and follow him. The latter three would become his closest disciples.
In this morning’s Gospel Mark continues the narrative and shows Jesus’ authority in a public place before many people by word and action. The place is the local place of worship, the synagogue in Capernaum, a town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Imagine being in a worship setting, much like we are present here. Hymns are sung, lessons read, and then this man who had settled in the area recently steps forward. Instead of hearing a guest minister talk, like I do, referring to the authority we find in scripture, instructional writings, and creeds, he speaks with a very different voice. It is quite different from what the people expect from the religious scholars and clergy. Whatever their leanings on the content of what they are being taught by Jesus, all are amazed at his authoritative way of teaching. Mark does not provide an example of what Jesus said. We may get some sense from the teaching sections in other gospels like the repeated phrase in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-8, “You have heard it said, but I say…” Whatever the sentences were they caught the listener’s attention that the response is closer to “Wow” than, “Who does he think he is?”
During the service a situation arises that permits Jesus to show he is a person of active power and as well as a profound teacher. A man with an unclean spirit reveals himself by crying out “what have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The man continues in intensity, “Have you come to destroy us?” Then there is the crescendo, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
I have some idea of what is taking place. While on internship at a mental hospital I did have a patient or two stand and say something powerfully distracting. I tended to roll with the punch, acknowledge the person with a sentence and continue.
Jesus reveals his power. He does not glare and move for the person’s removal for disrupting the service, or roll with the punch and continue. He stops teaching and addresses the heart of what is occurring. He does that in a very strong manner, first commanding silence from the spirit, quickly followed by a command to come out of the man. The spirit protests by convulsing the man and crying out. However, facing Jesus’ word it can only leave him.
Unlike last week, this is not a take on the old E.F. Hutton advertising campaign when Jesus speaks people listen. The unclean spirit did that. The worshipers in attendance show and state how much they are amazed and astonished. Mark records a few of the reactions as they talked among themselves. “What is this?” “A new teaching – with authority?” “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” They are not closer to “Wow,” they are saying, “Wow!”
The news quickly moves out from the synagogue into the surrounding region of that part of Galilee. Understandably Jesus moves from a carpenter’s son from Galilee to a man of local fame.
With such an incredible start we can see Mark confirm the first sentence of his gospel that declares, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Having the advantage on the congregation in Capernaum of knowing of Jesus’ resurrection we are given the assurance our Lord and Savior has power to make all the difference.
Like the man with the unclean spirit Jesus is there for us in our hurt, confusion, and guilt. We are under that ‘Holy One of God’, ‘the Living Good News’ who intervenes with wisdom and commanding strength. Like he did with the unclean spirit he can whittle a problem down to size.
Many people are aware of the story of Martin Luther, isolated in a castle for his own safety, being frustrated and feeling tormented by the devil hurled an inkwell, or other object, in frustrated defense. People who have visited the castle say you can see an outline of something from ink. Many scholar’s plausibly argue when Luther wrote ‘he threw an inkwell at the devil’ it was a metaphorical way of saying his German translation of the Bible which made the written word available to Christian homes was a boon to God and a bane to the devil. What I find interesting overtime when sensing the devil’s presence he would say “It’s only you Satan.” Jesus had whittled Satan down to size.
Building on Jesus baptism, response to temptation, calling disciples, teaching and healing in Capernaum we can trust his ability to help see us through crisis and bring us on course and maintain it. Like last week we can be thankful for Jesus’ loving authority. Amen.