Jesus Speaks with Authority!

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on February 1, 2015, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.  The text is Mark 1:21-28.


Dear Friends in Christ,


For a few minutes this morning weÕre going to be talking about what happened in the synagogue at Capernaum on a Sabbath Morning almost 2,000 years.  Several years ago I visited Capernaum and saw what is left of that synagogue.  There are no walls standing.  All thatÕs left now is the floor that has been uncovered by archaeologists.  Our tour guide also pointed out the nearby trace of a house where Simon Peter lived and where Jesus probably stayed.  We have to guess about how many  of JesusÕ recently called disciples were present at worship.  What we do know is that Mark reveals some truths for us that show why Jesus is so very much out of the ordinary.


When Jesus taught, the people were astounded because he seemed to have this special authority, not like the scribes.  What was different about his teaching?  Scribes and other leaders were good at quoting scriptures, such as the sayings of Moses or the prophets like Isaiah or the Exodus Story.  Jesus said it differently.  He used phrases like this: But I say to you.  The rabbis encouraged people to believe in God.  Jesus said, Believe in God, believe also in me.  We also know that this way of speaking got Jesus in real trouble with the religious leaders of his day.


When Jesus taught, it was radical, it something new.  It was a breath of fresh air.  He moved from talking about God in the past so much as talking about God in the present. 


Then it happened; the incident.  Mark says a man with an unclean spirit 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.


Who is this man who challenged Jesus so violently that day?  Probably heÕs not an outsider, but a regular attender.  Whatever his affliction, Mark does not tie it to a sickness, but to an evil spirit.  Again we can only speculate.  ItÕs interesting that in the Gospel of Mark it is the demons that recognize who Jesus is, always before others. We may not know the details of this manÕs affliction or what caused it, but we can surely understand that he  was out of control and his affliction was taking over his rational self.

And Jesus does something that truly takes GodÕs power and miracles from just being in the past to being very much in the present.  He says be silent, and come out of him!  Mark tells us the unclean spirit came out of him.


And so we have the reaction of the people: They were all amazedÉWhat is this?  A new teaching – with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.


Can we update this story to today?  Are there any situations in the church that come to mind?  In every congregation IÕve been a part of as member or pastor, IÕve witnessed someone behave in a way that is similar to that man in the synagogue.  In our day we have greater understanding of what can cause some of those inappropriate behaviors.  Unfortunately the church generally doesnÕt do a very good job in helping folks like this.  We feel very uncomfortable confronting someone or suggesting help. We feel uncomfortable even talking about it.   We donÕt want to label someone as ill.  So our practice is to look the other way.  What do you think Jesus would have us do when a member of our community needs help?


Last year the Mental Health America of Fredericksburg put on several Mental Health First Aid Workshops around Fredericksburg.  You know that I serve on the board of directors of this organization.  Our board realized that exhibitions of odd behavior occur frequently in our society.   One of the workshops was held here at Resurrection.  What we learned is very valuable for all of us to hear:   Just as we would immediately help someone who is exhibiting physical symptoms such as a broken bone or shortness of breath or bleeding, we also need to help people who are exhibiting mental symptoms such as debilitating depression and extremes of highs and lows,  and over-the-top anger.  We in the church need to get over the thinking that says we donÕt want to label people and so we just give folks the right to act and say anything they like.  There are wonderful community resources for help and guidance.  If you are wondering about those resources, please see me or Pastor Carol or any of the folks on our Health Ministry Team.  Jesus acted to help, and though  we arenÕt Jesus,  he has given us  the call to provide help with the knowledge and gifts that we have been given in our day.


This past week I  experienced something truly amazing.  I had the opportunity to go back in time and be present at one of the holiest and most special times in my life.  Ever since my ordination as a pastor in 1975, IÕve had this reel to reel tape of the service.  I didnÕt have the equipment to play the service and lately IÕve wondered if the tape was any good.  So I paid a man to put it on a CD.  This past week I heard my motherÕs organ playing and the voice of my father and my older brother.  I heard the charge of my bishop to preach the gospel faithfully and to administer the sacraments rightly.  What I especially heard were the words of my seminary professor that seem to be appropriate today for this sermon: 

What do I say to a young man who is about to embark on a career as a pastor?  Shall I say welcome to a life of comradeship in the Christian Ministry?  Of course.  You will have the joy of preaching the gospel, for there is no greater joy than telling men and women and children how much God loves them.  But be prepared for a lifetime of struggle, for the gospel is not always an easy word to say.  Be a follower of Jesus Christ, who said Òfollow me and I will make you a fisher of men.Ó  It will be necessary for you to raise the consciousness of men and women and help people understand what the gospel says.  The most important thing I can say to you today is this:  Be a follower of Jesus Christ.


Today I want to say to you too, be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Just as the folks in the synagogue in Capernaum were so amazed at what they heard from Jesus, so I hope and pray that you will continue to be amazed and motivated by what you hear at worship as we proclaim Jesus.  Yes, God does love us with an everlasting love.  The best way he does this is through his beloved Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. 


Thanks be to God.  Amen!