February 2, 2009

Sermon for Epiphany 4B

     Moses, as he laid out the social structure that would one day define life in the Promised Land, made a promise from God, one that many would argue has fallen on deaf ears, "any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in [the name of the Lord] a word that [the Lord has] not commanded the prophet to speak -- that prophet shall die." It seems to me that somewhere along the line Christians, or more properly the institution known as the Church Universal, forgot the vow of God in Deuteronomy 18.20.

    In October of 2007 two guys, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons issued an alarm for Christians in America. In their book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, they published the culmination of all sorts of research with 867 young people ages 16 through 29. What they found, Mahatma Ghandi knew more than 60 years ago when he said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Their research found that 85% of the 440 non-Christian respondents saw Christianity as hypocritical. Even more surprisingly, 47% of those who called themselves active churchgoers agreed that Christians are hypocritical - 47%!i

   Many of you probably have friends and family who have said something similar. “I don't go to Church because they are so hypocritical.” “They talk out of one side of their mouth and then do the exact opposite.” “They talk all about loving God and loving neighbor and then flip me the bird on the highway.” Honestly, for me, there is barely a day that goes by that I don't see something on TV, said by a brother or sister in Christ, that doesn't make me say, “that makes my job of proclaiming the good news that much harder.”

     I know that the people of St. Paul's Foley don't fall into this category of hypocritical and judgmental. I know that I am preaching to the choir, but maybe by looking critically at ourselves we can offer wisdom and hope to those who come through these doors looking for a church where they can feel loved, honored, and respected, even when called to repentance.

    It was a typical Friday evening, and the assembly had gathered at the Synagogue in Capernaum. People from all walks of life, in any manner of mood, gathered as a body to worship the Lord who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and promised that one day, they too would be free from the oppression of their Roman occupiers. As was the custom of the time, visiting rabbis were asked to share news from the road and maybe a word of encouragement. Jesus, just such a visiting rabbi, stood up and began to teach. Mark doesn't tell us what he taught on this particular occasion, but we know from just a few verses earlier that Jesus was going all over Galilee, preaching “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” But it wasn't what he said that made the people sit up and take notice, it was how he said it, “as one with authority.”ii This word, authority, exousia, is an important word for Mark. It is closely related to the verb, exesti, which means “to make free” or “to give permission.” Jesus, then, teaches as one who has been given permission to teach free from the bonds of knowledge and tradition. Jesus comes with an independent authority that comes not from the school he went to, but from the God who made all things.iii

    This most certainly is not what the people expected as they put on their Friday best to head to the Synagogue. They, like many of us, were expecting the usual; some prayers, some songs, a boring sermon, and a blessing. What they got instead was a teaching that stretched them far beyond what the Scribes could require. They got a call from God himself to enter his kingdom; right then, right there. Still somewhat amazed at what they had just heard, the people watched Jesus return to his seat and prepared to immediately forget everything he had said, when there came another voice, “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.” Now things were getting strange. Who shouts out in Synagogue? Didn't he know that this was a place of reverence and duty? And what does he mean “the Holy one of God”?

    Calmly, Jesus rebukes the man, “Be quiet,” he says, speaking for all of the crowd, but then he adds another sentence, again saying something that no one expected, “Come out of him!” “And no sooner were those words out of Jesus' mouth when the man began to convulse. He shook like a leaf in a violent wind before shrieking out one last time and then collapsing into a heap. But then the poor man was better. The fire had gone out of his eyes and a look of calm came over him. With the exception maybe of Jesus, however, he was the only one who was calm. Everyone else was in the process of scraping their jaws off the floor. These things don't happen in Capernaum, and they most certainly don't happen in the Synagogue. But today was a different sort of day. This sabbath was a different sabbath because God incarnate was in town; the one who had the authority of heaven had come to show people a new way, a better way.”iv

    Jesus wasn't a magician, like so many others at the time, casting out demons for money. He had authority. Jesus wasn't a Scribe, like so many others at the time, preaching to a system that kept them in power. He had authority. Four chapters later Mark will tell us another story, using many of the same words, authority, rebuke, be silent as Jesus calms a storm on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, God incarnate, has power, has authority, over the religious world (the Torah), the natural world (the winds and the sea), and the supernatural world (deamons).v

    This authority, as Eugene Petersen translates it, “is a new teaching that does what it says.” It isn't hypocritical. It doesn't feed the power of idols and other gods. It doesn't presume to speak a word from the Lord that isn't from the Lord. It is teaching that has authority.

    This is, I think, what St. Paul's Foley has to offer; teaching that does what it says. With the confidence of our patron, Saint Paul, we say to the people of Foley, “we are sinners, redeemed by Jesus, who are called to be the incarnate body of Christ.” We readily admit we are broken. We understand that without Jesus none of these good works would be possible. But we thank God for the chance to help him bring his Kingdom to earth on a full-time basis.

    While most of us, myself included, come to church not expecting Jesus to show up and turn everything upside down, the lesson we learn today, is that if we are looking to follow Jesus, if we are seeking to live under his authority, then we should, at all times and at places be ready for the God of all Creation to turn everything right-side-up. As Annie Dillard once wrote, “we don't dress right for church. Instead of coming in our Sunday finery with our hair all done up just so, we ought to show up for church in hard hats. We are encountering the supreme authority, the living God, anything could happen.vi “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” Amen.

iAdelle M. Banks, “Study: Youth see Christians as judgmental, anti-gay” USA Today www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-10-10-christians_young_N.htm?poe=click=refer (accessed 1/29/09)

iicep.calvinseminary.edu/thisweek/index.php (accessed 1/28/09) – Scott Hoezee


ivcep.calvinseminary.edu/thisweek/index.php (accessed 1/28/09) – Scott Hoezee


viNoted in cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisweek/index.php (accessed 1/28/09) – Scott Hoezee

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