Here we are at the final message of a three part series on what it means to be called by God. Two weeks ago, we used the story of Samuel’s call in 1 Samuel 3 to point out that if we want to hear God’s call we need to be willing and able to listen. Last week, we looked at the story of Jesus calling the first disciples to learn that when God calls, we need to be ready to respond. Today, we will take one more step into this theology of call and discover what happens when we do. What we will discover is that we if we are truly following Jesus, then we will be amazed by the changes that we see and experience. And to do this, we are going to use the story in Mark 1:21-28 of Jesus as he entered the synagogue in the town of Capernaum to worship on the Sabbath.
Just a bit of background… if you remember from last week, Jesus was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he called his first disciples – Andrew, Simon, James and John. In this story, he is still near the Sea of Galilee but has moved up to the northern shore to the town of Capernaum. What you will discover, in fact, as you read the Gospels in the New Testament is that majority of Jesus’ ministry was done in this region, in the area of Galilee and Samaria. It was only near the end of his ministry that Jesus ventured south to Jerusalem where he was eventually crucified. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Today’s story begins in Mark 1:21 (NIV) which says this: “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.” So, what do we know? We know it’s the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day. Like all devote Jews, Jesus goes the local synagogue to worship. But worship in those days was not quite like worship today. There were, of course, the leaders of the synagogues who helped to provide order and discipline but part of worship was to hear someone teach from the Jewish scriptures. Apparently, Jesus has been invited to teach. I think it’s safe to assume that even though Jesus is just beginning his ministry, there is already a buzz about him. He, as a new itinerant preacher from the area, has begun to develop a following and has at least four disciples at this point. It’s sort of a local boy making good story and so the leaders of the synagogue want to hear what he has to say. Jesus gets up and shares a word of faith with the gathered congregation.
AMAZED BY WHAT JESUS SAID
I wish we knew what he said and what he taught but we don’t but we do know how the people responded to his teaching. We find that out in Mark 1:22 (NIV) which says, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” How do the people respond? They are amazed. That’s the first key point today, that people are amazed by what Jesus’ said.
That’s really not hard to believe because from all accounts, Jesus was a very charismatic individual as well as being an excellent communicator. No wonder they were amazed. But it also says why they were amazed and this is also key. They were amazed because Jesus taught with authority and not like the teachers of the law.
This says something about Jesus but it also says something about the teachers of the law. Who were they? Who were these teachers of the law? They were predominantly scribes, most of whom lived and worked near the Temple in Jerusalem. One of their jobs was to copy manuscripts of the scriptures so that the words could be preserved for future generations. Since they spent their lives copying the scriptures, they usually grew to be very knowledgeable about them so they also became experts in the law and how to apply that law in life.
Do you know what else they became? They became influential, powerful and affluent. It was a choice job. It came with perks and they were perks that many people liked to have. So, back in those days, if you wanted to be influential, powerful and affluent, you might seriously consider being a scribe or a teacher of the law. If you made it, you were on your way.
This verse, however, also tells us something that they didn’t have. It’s also something Jesus had in spades. It’s authority. Jesus taught with authority, not like the teachers of the law. Jesus taught with authority. The teachers of the law did not. And this amazed the people.
But what is authority? Have you ever thought of that? What did Jesus have that the teachers of the law were lacking? The Bible really doesn’t exactly tell us but we can surmise by what we know about authority.
First of all, I’m not post-modern. I don’t think authority is a bad thing. I think authority can be used badly but I don’t think authority is inherently bad in and of itself. In fact, I happen to think it’s necessary. And it appears that the people of Jesus’ day thought the same thing since Jesus’ authority was one of the reasons they liked him.
But what is authority? Let me suggest three characteristics of authority. The first is this: To speak with authority one must be able to clearly articulate one’s faith. To speak with authority is to be able to say what you want to say clearly and in a way that people understand it. Here’s the second thing. To speak with authority is to speak with passion. That means that what you’re talking about is important to you. It means that you have a message that you really believe and you want people to hear. The third characteristic of authority is this; that you practice what you preach. Your words and your actions go hand in hand. They are consistent.
Let’s review. What are those three characteristics of authority? An ability to clearly articulate your faith. Speak with passion. Practice what you preach. Jesus, I believe, did all of those things and I think that reality is born out in the New Testament. He spoke with authority because he clearly articulated his faith, he spoke with passion and he practiced what he preached.
There’s a good lesson for the Church. If we’re supposed to emulate Jesus, how are we doing with that? Does the Church speak with authority? Do we, as individual Christians speak with authority? Let’s be honest. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. On the good days we do but not every day is a good day. Let’s look at each of these things as they relate to us.
How many of us can clearly articulate our faith? My honest answer to that is that not enough of us can do that. We in the United Church, tend to be somewhat hesitant to talk about what we believe. That’s what the Pentecostals and Baptists do and we’re not Pentecostal or Baptist. But then again either was Jesus. We’re pretty good at keeping our faith to ourselves. What we believe is a personal matter between us and God and best articulated within the confines of the church walls. Sound familiar? If you’re not sure about that, then let me ask you a simple question. How many times in the past year have you shared your faith to anyone while outside the walls of this building? Not very many, correct. I’m not blaming you for that because, quite honestly, most of our churches have not done a very good job at equipping you to talk about your faith. We don’t stress the things that grow our faith and teach us about it. Not enough of our people attend Bible studies or small groups. Not enough of us pray on a regular basis. For a lot of adults, the last time they did had any serious Bible teaching was in youth group or Sunday School and that was a long time ago. Here’s a reality; if you don’t learn about your faith, it’s pretty hard to articulate it. We need to get better at that.
How about passion? When we do talk about our faith, do we do it with passion? Again, we’re pretty quiet people when it comes to talking about our faith. Even when we do, we do it hesitantly concerned that we not offend anyone. Do you think Jesus ever worried about that? I don’t think Jesus did. He spoke passionately about what he believed. At the same time, to balance that, he was sensitive to where others were at. When it came to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law he kind of took the gloves off. But with the Samaritan woman at the well, he spoke with compassion and tenderness. But he still shared his message and he shared it in such a way that it moved her. That’s what happens when we speak with passion. It moves other because they know that we’re sincere about what we believe. I think we could get better at that as well.
What about the third thing? Do we practice what we preach? That’s the one where most of us try to excel. While not perfect, most of us try to apply what we believe to our everyday lives in ways that help others. That’s why the United Church is so well known for its stands of specific justice issues. We know how to take a stand. We know how to practice what we preach. We’re really good at that. What we’re not good at is telling people why we what we do – because Jesus calls and compels us to do it.
Our challenge is to learn to speak with authority like Jesus did. Because he spoke with authority, people were amazed. Because they were amazed, they listened. Because they listened, they learned to follow him which goes back to what I said two weeks ago.
The teachers of the law did not speak with authority. Jesus did. We would do well to learn how to do it too. And then people will be amazed by what we say and maybe they too will come to Jesus.
AMAZED BY WHAT JESUS DID
Let’s go on with the story. Mark 1:23-24 (NIV) says this: “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’” Wow, that’s different. I’m not going to go into the evil spirit stuff because that’s another sermon all by itself. But suffice it to say that this man Jesus encounters in the synagogue has a problem. In fact, he has a big problem. His problem is an evil spirit and that’s not good.
Note that whatever this evil is that is inside of the man, it confronts Jesus: “What are you doing here Jesus? Why have you come? Are you going to destroy us? I know who you are. You’re not fooling me.” Note how evil tries to confront Jesus.
Note something else also. There is an evil within each of us. The Bible calls it the sinful nature. We all have it. It is our tendency to make mistakes, to make the wrong decisions and to hurt others either intentionally or not. We all share that. We don’t share it because we’re evil people. We share it because we’re human and, as humans, none of us is perfect. And sometimes, that sinful nature, like the evil spirit in the man in the synagogue, wants to confront Jesus. It’s called temptation. We know what we’re supposed to do but we resist doing it. On the other hand, we know what we’re not supposed to do and yet we crave it.
What does Jesus do when confronted by evil? He pushes right back. Listen to Mark 1:25-26 (NIV): “’Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Jesus confronts the evil within the man and the good news is that Jesus wins. Something happens. The evil is driven out and the man is freed from its chains.
The amazing thing about Jesus is that he frees us from the chains that bind us. Romans 12:2 (NIV) says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Likewise, we read this in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Jesus brings healing. Jesus brings forgiveness. Jesus brings love and compassion and reconciliation because he has the power to transform us from what we are into what God always intended us to be, new creations in Christ.
That’s a great story and we could almost end there but we also need to see how the other people in the synagogue responded to what Jesus did. We read that in Mark 1:27: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’” There are two words that I want to highlight about the people’s response to what Jesus did. It says that they were amazed. Sound familiar? Do you remember a few minutes ago that the people were amazed by what Jesus said? Now they are amazed by what he did. It seems that Jesus is a pretty amazing guy.
The other thing I want to point to is why they are amazed. They are amazed because of this new teach that come with authority. This time Jesus isn’t just speaking with authority. He’s also acting with authority. And that’s the second key point. Not only did Jesus speak with authority, he also acted with authority and because of that the people were amazed.
Now, I’ll bring it back to us. Do we act with authority? Before we answer that, let’s look at how the people recognized the authority in Jesus’ actions. They recognized his authority for one reason and one reason only. It’s because what he did made a difference. What Jesus did transformed the life of a man who had been held captive by something that was less than desirable in his life.
How does that translate back to us? I don’t think it’s hard to figure out. I think people are amazed by the church when what we do makes a difference. I think people are amazed by the church when it reaches out beyond itself to make a positive difference in the community in which it exists. Do we do that? Do we make a difference? Do we touch our community in an effort to transform it into a place of justice? Do we touch the lives of individuals in such a way that their lives are measurably better?
Some churches do that. But honestly, most don’t. I think the reality is that in most communities, if the local church were to close, the only people who would miss the church would be those who belonged to it. Most people wouldn’t notice. And that’s a problem. It’s a big problem that needs to be addressed if the work of Christ is to be done.
I think this congregation is better at it than most. I think that there’s a genuine desire here to reach out beyond ourselves into the community in which we life. I just think that we’re still trying to discover how to do that because it’s just so much easier to stay within the safe confines of the four walls of our building. But that’s not what Jesus did, is it? No, he had the courage to step out and confront evil. We need to find that courage too.
I’m hopeful that we’ll do that. And I’m hopeful that as we learn to do that, the people in the community in which we live will be amazed at what we can accomplish for Christ and the difference we can make when we speak and act with authority.
We have the best news in the world. We have the message of Jesus. It is a message that resonates through time and space and can transform the lives of our neighbours and our community if we can find the courage to both speak it and do it. And that’s the challenge I want to leave with you today.
The last verse of today’s story is
not the least bit surprising. Mark 1:28 (NIV) says, “News about him spread
quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” Jesus speaks with authority and he
acts with authority and the people notice and spread the word. That’s how it
happens. That’s when you know that you’re doing the work of Christ, when people
are talking about you for all the right reasons. And because of that, my
brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that we will start to become the talk of
the town. So go on out there and start amazing people.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Thank you, Father God, for loving us when we are most unlovable. Give us love enough to love others as you have loved us. We thank you for your many blessings and the ways that you inspire us through the ordinary things of life. We thank you, on this day, for special things.
We give thanks for our special relationships with our families. There are those who support us and care for us. There are those with whom we share common blood lines, common names and common commitment. What a blessing these can be.
We remember, this day, our special friendships. May our friendships be strong, O God, that they may be a blessing to others. May our friendships be open, O God, that they may be a haven for others. May our friendships be gentle, O God, that they may bring peace to others, for Jesus’ sake.
We remember Canadian soldiers around the world who are serving this nation and keeping us safe. Help them to do their important work to the very best of their abilities. Protect them, O God, and bring them home safely.
There are those in midst, in our congregation or community who are struggling in faith for any number of reasons. Let us, as individuals and as a congregation, lift one another up for we never know when it may be our turn to be tested in the faith. Keep us strong in our love for one another.
We pray for those who mourn, especially the families and friends of Linda Colette and Doug Mulder whose funerals were this week. Bless them with inner healing O God and bring them to a place of peace.
We also pray for the sick of our congregation and community, those in need of healing. We lift up Sharon, Helen, Maryanne, Lyle and others who come to mind for us. You their needs, O God, and you can bring hope to any and every situation.
Finally, today, we pray for the
sick at home or in hospital. Grant all of us the wholeness and peace that only
you can offer. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 28, 2018 / Epiphany 4
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
CALL TO WORSHIP
Great are the works of the Lord, worthy of honour and praise.
The love of God lasts forever.
Holy and awesome is the name of the Lord;
whose praise endures forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy and awesome is your name, O God. You are as mighty as the great pine forests and as gentle as a cooling evening breeze. You are as majestic as a bear standing on a snowy hilltop and as colourful as a rainbow in the summer sky. You give to those who honour you and keep the covenant of your making. The works of your hands are faithful and just. They stand forever and ever, grounded in justice and truth. Enter our worship and renew us by the power of your amazing Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to you with our prayers of confession. Despite our best efforts, there are times when we wander and fall short of your expectations for us. Our intentions are honourable but our actions are sometimes inadequate. Be patient with us, O God. Forgive us and offer us a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. In experiencing your forgiveness, enable us to forgive others. When our sisters and brothers fail to meet our hopes for them, give us your measure of grace and compassion that we may live in peace within your Creation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Sometimes, we are very hard on ourselves. We see our shortcomings and our sin and we realize just how flawed we can be. It is amazing to think that even when we are at our worst, God still loves us and desires to forgive us. That is the gift of grace given to us by Jesus Christ who is our Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Loving God, blessed be the hands that gave these gifts. Blessed be the hands that use them. Blessed be the power of Jesus’ name which gives us the courage to put all that we have to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.
With caring hands and watchful eyes may we
leave this place. With loving hearts and open ears may we depart. With greater
courage and firmer persistence, may we go into the world to be your people
confident that you are with us.