Scripture Mark 1:21-28 NRSV
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
27 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.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
A new teaching, with authority!
A couple of weeks ago, when I was working with the passage where Jesus calls Nathanael as his disciple, I was looking for more information on who Nathanael was. Was he one of John’s disciples? Cause if he was that would fit my focus really well. I found an article that talked about who his parents were and his educational level and how well he got along with the other disciples (except apparently Judas Iscariot, because Nathanael was totally honest and we have all been taught that Judas wasn’t - which is a topic for another Sunday entirely). But when I looked to see by what authority the author of the article got his information, I was somewhat amazed to learn that all of this information comes from aliens, who have taken it upon themselves to educate us about who God really is and the place of our planet (which they call Urantia) in the grand scheme of things. Now, for me, the Book of Urantia is not an authoritative work that I can quote with any confidence. It may very well be authoritative for followers of that tradition. But not for me. Regretfully - cause there was so much cool and previously unknown (to me) stuff in it - I turned away from the Book of Urantia and returned to authorities I do recognize.
When the people in the synagogue cried out “A new teaching - with authority!” they are talking about an authority they accept and understand. Here was someone who spoke, not with the book knowledge of the rabbis and priests, but with the knowledge of one who is touched by God, whose passionate belief in what he is saying cannot be mistaken. The unclean spirit inhabiting one man went even further, recognizing Jesus for who he was. But Jesus silenced him, and cast him out - called him forth from the man he inhabited through the power and grace of the Lord our God.
“Have you come to destroy us?” asked the demon. Who is the us the demon spoke of? I wonder. Jesus came to destroy, all right, but not the folks in the synagogue. Not the righteous, not the innocent, not the obedient, God loving people. He came to destroy demons, in their guise as attitudes of superiority and suspicion. He came to destroy the demons of hidebound religious traditions that had grown to become the opposite of the intentions behind the Law. He came to destroy the demons oppression of every kind. He came to destroy everything that stood in the way of God’s kingdom on earth, everything that kept humanity and God from their covenant of love with and for each other. And his weapons of destruction? Grace. Love. Forgiveness.
He did say, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But he didn’t say, “Repent or all y’all are going to hell!” Rather, his message was of a world turned upside down, where God held a preferential option for the poor, where those who were considered last - the lowest in the social order - somehow became first in importance. His weapons in the face of all that was wrong with the world was not the sort of threat of punishment that everyone already lived with, at the hands of the Romans because the Romans were extremely serious about obedience to their laws, and at the hands of the Temple, because if you didn’t follow the Laws of Moses they way they said you could be ostracized and forbidden contact with even your own family. Rather, his weapons of destruction were his hands, filled with God’s healing grace, placed on the hearts of those who suffered. His weapons of destruction were his words, teaching of God’s love and forgiveness from the perspective of one whose belief was unshakable.
If any of the demons he came to destroy sound familiar, it’s because humans tend to always return to the same things. We do really well for a while, but then we return to the same old, same old. For confirmation of that, read Judges. Every generation, roughly every 40 years, they would forget all about the things that God required of them, and they would go do whatever they wanted to do and worship other gods. They would do things that God found offensive, they would forget about hospitality and about caring for the widows and orphans and aliens the way they were commanded to, and then terrible things would happen. They would be overrun by enemies, enslaved by other nations, removed from their homes and lands. And then they would remember God, and they would call upon God to save them. So God would send a hero - a judge, like Samson or Deborah - to save them. And everything would be all good for a while, and then after that whole generation had died off, usually about 40 years later, they would forget again. And forgetting their history, they would repeat it. But God was there for them every time. God forgave them every time. Because God’s love is steadfast and unwavering and eternal. God’s forgiveness is unconditional. And because of those things, God sent Jesus to remind us, again. God sent Jesus to save the world, to destroy the demon attitudes of oppression and exclusion and rejection that had risen up once again.
I think that most all of us know people who, for one reason or another, have been rejected even by their church family. I once worked with a woman who refused to have anything to do with any church, because of something that had happened to her parents. They belonged to a very strict congregation, with rules against pretty much everything fun. On their 25th wedding anniversary, in the privacy of their own living room, her father embraced her mother and they danced to the music on the radio. A church member walking by saw them through the window, reported their scandalous behavior to the church leaders, and they were expelled from the congregation. For dancing. In their living room. On their 25th wedding anniversary. I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have been casting out some demons in the leadership of that congregation!
We aren’t likely to have problems like that here at First Christian Church. Those who have accepted God’s call to serve in leadership in this congregation understand that we are called by God’s grace to serve in love. We are called by God’s grace to reach out to the least and the lost - those who are most in need of our help because of poverty and hunger, but also those who are in need of our help because they don’t know God’s love, because they have not felt God’s grace, because they have been rejected and ejected by church and society. Those who have accepted the call to serve this congregation as Board officers and team directors and deacons and elders know that the two most important commandments are to love God with all our hearts and souls and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. They know that all persons are our neighbors, and that in this congregation, all means ALL.
Let us now install these officers, and celebrate that they have been called by grace to serve our Lord in this place.