This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 1/28 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 1:21-28
So far in Epiphany, Jesus has been revealed as the King of the Jews, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Messiah, a preacher and one who calls disciples. Today we have learned that he’s a teacher and exorcist and we hear a new title, the Holy One of God.
Today’s gospel takes place in Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations. Although Nazareth was his hometown, Capernaum was his base. On the screen, you see ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum from the 4th or 5th century, A. D. It is built on the foundations of a 1st-century synagogue, likely the one from today’s gospel. It is one of the few places today in the Holy Land where you can be where Jesus had actually walked. Capernaum was also where Peter was from and there are ruins of his house there as well.
Now we need to change gears to have a better understanding of this story. Let’s talk about food!
How do we eat sandwiches? As children, we may want the crusts cut off. Very small children may pull a sandwich apart, eat the inside and then the bread. But generally, we eat a sandwich as is, all together.
Well, today’s gospel reading is a Markan sandwich…meaning that a set of verses begin and end with similar material, with something different in the middle. Just as most of us eat a sandwich, so today’s gospel reading must be understood as a whole and not just the individual parts.
Nevertheless, here are the parts:
1. Jesus teaches with authority and the crowd is amazed (vv. 21, 22).
2. An unclean spirit cries out and Jesus demonstrates his authority over the spirit (vv. 23-26).
3. The crowd is amazed and comments that he teaches with authority (vv. 27, 28).
The commonality in each part of the Markan sandwich is the emphasis on Jesus’ authority, which is what must be chewed over.
As any good Jewish male would do, Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath. That Jesus taught in the synagogue would not have seemed odd or unusual. He took advantage of the sabbath, the day the faithful ones meet, to teach them, as a trustworthy Jew who has a word for the people.
But there was something very special about the way he spoke, “as one having authority” (v. 22). That does not mean he was simply a dynamic teacher compared with the scribes. After all, the scribes were regarded as important, knowledgeable teachers in the Jewish community. They were not mere secretaries, but official scholars of scripture and Jewish tradition. However, they also were part of the opposition to Jesus and later to the early church. The issue between Jesus and the scribes is not how they teach, but who represents the authority of God. Who is speaking for God? Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks as the king of the ages, appointed by God. This authority is a “willingness or right that has everything to do with seeing justice served” (Graves).
Now let’s go the filling of Mark’s sandwich, Jesus’ encounter with an unclean spirit. Unclean in scripture means ritually impure in comparison to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Holy One in contrast to the unholy spirit possessing the man. The spirit is reacting to Jesus’ teaching. It responded immediately giving voice to what may well have been the concerns of the crowd: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?, Have you come to destroy us?, and I know who you are, the Holy One of God.
The unclean spirit demonstrates how public honor, reputation and status worked in Jesus’ day. It begins by using public information to show that it knows who Jesus is. “I know who you are (socially) Jesus of Nazareth.” But then the spirit reveals information that is not public knowledge, that which is known only in the spiritual realm. “I know who you are (spiritually)—the Holy One of God.” It is this spiritual status that is the source of Jesus’ authority. The demons had a better idea of who Jesus was than many humans.
“Have you come to destroy us?” (V. 24). Why the change from the singular to the plural? This spirit represents every manifestation of evil: sickness, sin, death and the whole kingdom of evil. Jesus is encountering the entire demonic world.The demons know they are already defeated. Jesus commands them with a simple word and they are gone. Jesus restores the man to his community. Here we see that the final victory of God over demonic evil is already present in Jesus’ ministry. And yet, there is still evil at work in the world. Read the paper. Watch or listen to the news or read it online. It is the case of experiencing the now, but not yet of the fullness of God’s kingdom
Ultimately, when Jesus speaks, evil flees. As Martin Luther wrote, “Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.”
We are likely unfamiliar with the language of exorcism, but a mini-exorcism is included in our baptismal rite. We hear, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” The response is, “I renounce them.” “Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God.” “I renounce them.” “Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” “I renounce them” (P. 229, ELW).
As we go to the last part of our sandwich, what is Jesus’ new teaching? “The kingdom of God is near” is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s call to repentance. It can’t be that. What is new is the authority behind Jesus’ words. Things happen when Jesus speaks and teaches. His word is powerful. In this case, Jesus’ word freed a man who had been enslaved by a demon.
That word of Jesus is novel because it produces healing. “That word liberates the earth from the forces of evil and makes our world habitable for…human being[s]…that word guides the church to create spaces of freedom and places of healing and communion” (Ofelia Ortega).
Jesus speaks truth because he is the Truth. He speaks for God because he is God. He speaks the Word of God because he is the Word of God. Jesus is the authority and so speaks with authority (Westphal). It all comes as a result of who he is.
There are powers in our world today that work to make people’s lives miserable; to rob them of the abundant life God desires for them. What forces promote hunger and poverty? What systemic issues and structures make it harder for those who suffer with addiction? What about the intoxicating power that causes the powerful to abuse others sexually?
God stands steadfastly against all forces that are keeping you, as God’s people, down as well. God is opposed to anything and everything that robs you of abundant life. God will do battle with those who seek to rob you of joy, meaning and purpose. God is committed to doing this for you and for all God’s children (Lose).
Jesus has authority over all those things. Didn’t Jesus give his disciples the same authority as they were sent out to preach and heal? And we, in baptism, as children of God, with the Holy Spirit abiding and working in and through us, don’t we have authority to speak the power of the kingdom of God against the kingdoms of this world? What do you think the Christian witness of Jesus and God’s people can bring to these and other situations?
There is an opportunity that has fallen into our laps at St. Timothy, to exercise authority over the demon of hunger for children right here in Bemus Point. I know it’s hard for some of us to believe that we have those in need in our area, but we do. St. Timothy participates with the 5 & 2 Ministry. The title refers to the feeding of the 5,000 later in Mark, where Jesus fed the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish and had leftovers. If you look in our front entryway, you will see a black container. That’s where specified contributions of food can be put. It is then collected and privately distributed to school children to bring food home for the weekend. You will see a pile of cards like this one. On it is the list of what foods in what amounts are needed. Please take one or more. Share them with friends and neighbors.
There is a song the praise band has sung that illustrates what God is calling us to. Think about these words this week and see how God speaks to you:
God put a million, million doors in the world
For His love to walk through
One of those doors is you
I said God put a million, million doors in the world
For His love to walk through
One of those doors is you.
We bring the kingdom come…
With every act of love
Jesus, help us carry You
Alive in us, Your light shines through
With every act of love
We bring the kingdom come (Jason Gray).
M. Eugene Boring, Mark
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
Mike Graves, Ofelia Ortega, in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors,
Feasting on the Word,
Year B, Volume 1
David Lose, Epiphany 4B-Against the Robbers,
Martin Luther, The Small Catechism
Bruce J. Malina, Social Science Commentary on the Gospels
David Westphal, 2018 Epiphany Devotions, Saturday, January 27