Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sermon, Epiphany 4B, Mark 1:21-28

The first thing I think after reading today's gospel passage is something along the lines of, "Oh, that's nice; now what?" Because unlike the passages immediately before it with Jesus' baptism, temptation, and his calling of the disciples, and unlike the passages immediately after it with the healing of Simon's mother-in-law and the curing of the sick and demon possessed, this passage doesn't really seem to have a particular focus for us today. It seems stuck in the middle of this lectionary cycle, put there for us to read and pass over as we continue onto something more important. But it does have something important to say to us, we just have to look for it. And what this particular passage deals with is authority.

Authority is an interesting thing. Sometimes authority can be gained through experience. In one of my previous jobs, I gained authority because I learned enough to know how things would and would not work and people valued my judgment. Sometimes authority is gained through education or is given to us based on a position we hold. I have a certain amount of authority as the priest of this congregation, and I have a different kind of authority on a football field. And sometimes a person has authority simply because they were born into it, such as a king.

In today's gospel, there are two things going on. The first is that Jesus taught. Mark doesn't say what he taught, and some people extrapolate from Luke that Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me . . ." It could have been that, or it could have been something else. Regardless, the people were amazed because he taught with authority, not like the scribes.

We might hear that and think Mark is slamming the scribes, but he's not. The scribes had a certain authority that was gained through education and experience, much like judges today. They would read back through case law, as it were, and interpret the scriptures based on how the law might need to be applied to current situations and what previous precedent was. In short, they would come to a learned conclusion about particular points of religious law.

Jesus, however, was different. He didn't interpret scriptures into homilies about daily life, or what they might mean for us today, or how things were in the past. He did something else. He said, in effect, that these scriptures talk about me. I am he whom the spirit of the Lord rests. I am he who proclaims release to the captives and freedom to the prisoners. My authority is from God and this is what it means for you. And the people were astounded because he spoke with authority and not as someone seeking authority from their position.

The second thing that Mark records is the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. The Jesus of Mark tries to keep who he is a secret until the right time. Part of the reason for this is that Mark wants to help deepen and strengthen our faith, and part of it is because he doesn't want to get sidetracked from Jesus' main purpose -- the Passion. This is why Jesus is always telling people not to reveal who he is.

The people in Mark's gospel have yet to realize who Jesus truly is, but the spirit world knows him. The spirits who possessed the man announce Jesus as the Holy One of God, and they are afraid. They know that, ultimately, Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords and they will be forced to bow to him. They know him, but they certainly don't love him. So Jesus commands the spirits to be silent and exorcises them from the man.

Within this story we see Jesus having authority over the scriptures, authority over the physical world, and authority over the spiritual world. And there isn't one that is given more weight than the others. People don't grant him authority to teach because he healed a man. He isn't given the power to heal because of his knowledge. They are equal parts of the whole. Jesus has the authority to do these things simply because of who he is.

Authority is an interesting thing. Not only are there different types of authority, but the authority must be granted. If I had come to these two churches four years ago and said, "We're doing things this way because I'm the priest and I say so," this congregation wouldn't have gone very far. I have positional authority, but the congregation must be willing to recognize and follow that authority.

Today in Tampa, seven men in striped shirts and funny socks will be given the authority to manage the biggest game of the year. If they go out and start throwing flags willy nilly, that authority won't last.

The spirits in today's gospel recognized Jesus had authority, but they refused to submit to it without a fight. They spoke truth but had no love.

What authority do you grant Jesus? Do you recognize him as the Holy One of God, but don't give him the authority to be the Holy One of your life? Do you recognize him as Lord of the spiritual realm, but don't allow spirituality to infuse your life?

And what demons are we holding onto, or being controlled by? The unclean spirit referred to itself in the plural. What are our demons or spirits? Are we controlled by our addictions or our fears or our desires? Do we have areas in our lives where we don't want to surrender control to God without a fight?

Being a disciple takes more than simply acknowledging Jesus as the Holy One of God. It takes more than saying, "I know who you are." It takes more than recognizing who Jesus is. What being a disciple takes is the willingness to grant him authority in your life. It takes granting him authority over your spiritual life and seeking him who wills to be found. It takes granting him authority over your physical life, living not in fear of scarcity but in courageous abundance.

Who has authority in your life? Who have you submitted to? And do you need to reevaluate that?


Father John | 11:41 PM, February 01, 2009  

Thought this was an excellent sermon.

Reverend Ref + | 9:07 AM, February 02, 2009  

Thank you.

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