Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2006
The Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
Sermon: "The Authority of Jesus is Our Hope"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "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." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching - with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-28

The Authority of Jesus is Our Hope

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - January 29, 2006

We live in a very interesting time in the United States right now. We see the generation that went through the depression and the Second World War slowly leaving us. This generation did what was necessary at the time with very little questioning. After all, there was a pivotal incident that galvanized them. Another country declared war as an attack took place against our military forces. The next generation didn't question much either. The words of John F. Kennedy echoed in their ears, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." 

However, the next generation, the one that comes of age in the late sixties and early seventies begins to question just about everything. Some of the pivotal events for this generation are Watergate, The Vietnam War and a host of political scandals and stories from this nation and around the world. The result is an extended period of time when authority is greatly questioned. For many trust between authority and the individual is fractured, even broken. They raise many questions about authority. 

In fact, this generation questions every aspect of authority. They question federal government, state government, the military, the police, and, yes, the church. Many different forms of religion are explored. Christianity is seen as being too authoritarian. Perhaps the church had become too much a part of the political and cultural milieu of the day. 

Yet, it is very fascinating that the people of that time in our history might actually have found some common ground in Jesus. In fact, they might have more in common than they ever knew. 

In the gospel today we read of Jesus' first miracle in the book of Mark. Jesus casts out a demon. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Suddenly standing before him is a man the scriptures state is possessed. The demon actually speaks to Jesus and calls him by name and by title. Jesus silences the demon and calls him out. The man is cured. Jesus' first miracle is complete for the man. 

We tend to get caught by the miracle. We begin to wonder and question whether demon possession really existed or, as some have offered, the man was an epileptic. The focus of any study becomes more about the actual content of the miracle rather than the work of God. 

The story of the healing of this man actually is not about the healing at all. The healing is important and not to be summarily dismissed. But it is not the main focus of this event. The main focus is the issue of authority. Jesus shows the people in the synagogue that he has authority. 

First of all, in the story, Jesus goes to the synagogue to worship and teach. The people were astounded by his teaching. Not only was he teaching a new interpretation, he was teaching with authority. The authority was not from the existing power structures. From the way he taught, they knew he was not like the scribes. He was indeed teaching differently than the present authoritarian structures of the day. 

His teaching isn't the only thing that raises the question of his authority. It is the Sabbath. When the possessed man approaches him, Jesus heals him. We all know Jesus did the right thing. However, the accepted teaching of the day claimed there was to be no work on the Sabbath. It was the accepted cultural, political, and social norm. Jesus took that norm and in one single act threw it out the window. In the minds of the power structure, Jesus was questioning their authority. They thought they had received their authority from God. So, if they have the God-given authority to teach, then where does Jesus get his authority? 

Yes, Jesus did have something in common with our generation that has questioned authority. Yet, there is a difference in the way it has been handled. In our day, some of our people want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They see everything in authority as bad. We have to start all over because there is nothing good in the existing structures. Some people want absolute change not because they think it will help everyone, but because they have their own vision of the future. In that vision, they see themselves as having much to personally gain. Some people just jump on the band wagon because it is the latest thing. Many of these people do not have any authority themselves and they want some. They want some control over their own lives or they want more control over their lives. I would say that there is some truth in what they say and do. However, they do not have the whole truth and we simply can't overturn all authority.

Yet, they still have something in common with Jesus. Jesus did question authority. Jesus had to. Here is the funny thing. Jesus did not come to start a new religion. He was not trying to overturn all of the power and authority structures that existed in his day. His purpose was to teach about the fullness of the love of God. At the time, this teaching had been greatly compromised. I want us to be careful here. It wasn't all bad. However, the religious rules had become so strict that the concentration of thought was more about the rules than it was about God. They had dietary rules, cleansing rules, house rules, worship rules, personal hygiene rules, and the list goes on. All of these rules had a religious focus. People were so busy following the rules that they had become trapped by them and couldn't see or experience the love of God. The system had become self-sustaining and self-important. Instead of being a light of God's love to the world, the rules became exclusionary.

Jesus' authority came from God to free people from this structure. Jesus' authority was given to him to share with all he met, at all times, the incredible love of God for God's people. Jesus came to teach, to heal, to free the prisoners from his chains. These chains are not just physical chains. These chains were ideological chains, mental chains, emotional chains, spiritual chains. All of these chains are oppressive chains of misinterpretation of God's love. 

When Jesus frees the man from possession, he shows that God's authority is his. He has the ability to break people free from the various forms of bondage in our lives. If we see this story in this way, we can see that God has the ability to help us with all aspects of our lives. God has the ability to free us from our sinful bondage to our own ways and the ways of the world. This story is not just about the casting out of a demon. It is a story of hope in a world where various forms of authority, personal, political, and religious, can actually cause harm rather than do good. In this story, we see that Jesus is our teacher, our healer and our hope. He is the embodiment of hope in this world. AMEN

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