Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany - Mark 1:21-28
Jesus is the prophecy, not the prophet. That is weird to say, I know, but I want to say it again to let that sink in - Jesus is the prophecy, not the prophet. Being something spoken rather than just the one who speaks, but that is Jesus. That is Deuteronomy 18 coming to life. A prophet like me will be raised from your brothers. My words I will put in his mouth. Listen to him. Raising up a prophet, but the whole point of the prophet is not to be a prophet but to speak. To say the “Thus saith the Lord…” Words making mention of the work of God.
The word is always central here. It is never about the prophet. Most prophets don’t want to be prophets. They never wanted it or asked for it. If anyone announces to you that they are a prophet sent from God, more than likely they are lying. When prophets of old were called, you can read it in your Bibles this afternoon, you read the words – And the word of God came to… The word of the Lord came to me, says Jeremiah. The word of the Lord came directly to the priest, Ezekiel. The word of the Lord that came to Hosea. The word of the Lord that came to Joel. Amos says multiple times – The Lord says… Each time it was this word happening to someone. That is what the Hebrew word means. A happening upon them. The Word having a power.
Jesus being the prophecy means he goes where prophecy can be heard. Where words of God happen. And so the day for this comes, and Jesus doesn’t waste any time. On the Sabbath, it says. A day set aside to hear the word of the Lord, to be assured that at some point even with a bad preacher, God speaks.
Then, in the synagogue, it says. A place where people would gather for that purpose. Not the legion hall, or the municipal bar. Those are places where God can speak, but the place of worship, the place where we gather should be a place that you can be guaranteed of walking through the doors, not to hear political commentary or a stand-up routine, but God speaking. A moment, here this morning, as it was in Capernaum. in which words of Christ should be heard.
They were astonished at his teaching because he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not like the scribes. How many of you know that one person? Someone who is a pontificator? Can say a lot of stuff without saying anything? They could be speaking to you right now, God forbid. It can become a hindrance. Hard to learn or have a dialogue because you almost never know what in the world they are talking about.
I had professor at seminary like this. A dear sister in Christ, who loves the Lord, loves Jesus, but she sure loved to hear herself speak. To the point that she used words none of us knew, and her arguments were so hard to follow that we all needed the field trip version. You know with stick figures and shadow puppets. Where the authority anyone has gets downgraded because they just won’t say anything at all. Being full of hot air is what we used to say.
Or that coach. The “Hoorah!” coach. The kind that is really good at locker room speeches, but really bad at teaching or managing people. I have heard there is a certain concern about a current coach at a university in this state. That he is full of a lot of stuff but football might not be part of that.
But for this time, in this place, Capernaum, where we still find ruins of this synagogue today, Jesus has a reason to be there. To speak truth authoritatively, clearly, not to waffle back and forth. Not using words like maybe, might be, probably, could be. He came to preach, not to hear himself talk. To make points that would do something with power, not bring warm-fuzzies. Maybe even to upset someone. Which he did.
There was a man there with an unclean spirit. A man driven by this spirit to interrupt the Word. To halt it. To stop the proclamation of the good news.
Who was he? We know nothing of this man in the synagogue. Why was he allowed to be there if he has this possessing spirit? Thinking “The Exorcist”, Emily Rose, The Amityville Horror. There were Jewish Exorcists. We’re told this in Acts 19. Why wasn’t this man set free? Why was the spirit there? There seems to be a difference here though. No climbing up the walls. No heads spinning and green vomit. Just convulsions, but first, words – Have you come to destroy us? The demon is scared. Why?
Before I continue, please hear me this morning. We speak of demons, and power, exorcism, and possession, and you probably have closed off your minds to this. Thinking it myths, legends, fiction. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But I look around our world this past week. Seeing two young people enter another school harm their fellow man. I see a man fill an ambulance full of explosives and drive it into a public area and blow himself up. We might try and talk of gun problems, terrorism, bullying, international affairs, whatnot. The more time I spend in God’s word and trying to understand humanity, at some point I can’t but believe there is evil. There is darkness. There is something more dangerous than just a bad home life, religion, or the NRA.
For this man in the synagogue, this demon, it is scared. But the darkness I think may be frightened of the light. Christ is there to destroy something. I have a theory, and it goes hand in hand with the notion of prophecy. Jesus came to that place to destroy this waffling. Put to death the haggling, the un-surety, the lack of the true prophet, the unwillingness to be authoritative. To bring some form of assurance in a world filled with frailty.
Or how about telling you what you want to hear? That’s a dangerous thing. What you want to hear. Addicts know this. Recovering addicts should be held up as some current day prophets. Those who have had the word of God fall on them as all law, only to have the sweetness of God’s mercy come upon them in the form of help and tough love.
Patients know this. You want a doctor who knows what they are doing. If you are going to have eye surgery, you would prefer someone who isn’t blind.
Students should know this, but don’t. It took me years to figure out that school doesn’t make you smart, learning makes you smart. Sitting in a classroom doesn’t teach you, a mind being open to hear something, even something hard, teaches you. You learn, and grow, and mature.
So imagine, the dude with the devil inside him is the source of the scribes lack of teaching. Attempting to keep the darkness going. Never allowing the goodness of God to shine on darkened hearts.
What if this work of Jesus was to break the bonds of a demon whose job was to keep you from hearing or understanding the Gospel? On not knowing that the sins you have are forgiven by the blood of Jesus? To convict you of the moments you have, for instance, eaten idol-meat, or others have seen you do the same, and so sinned against yourself or your sibling in Christ, as Paul talks about in our second reading this morning.
“Have you come to destroy us?” – Yes! To destroy every barrier to our understanding of this work. This destruction as a killing of our sinful selves in order to save us, to redeem us from sin, to raise us from the dead.
We never want to imagine ourselves as captives. As slaves to anyone. We become like the Jews when Jesus tells them those wonderful words in John chapter 8 – you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. They answer, we are sons of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say ‘you will be free.’ Jesus then speaks very plainly – everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Bound by the bonds of sin.
I was thinking of this the other day that this bond of sin can even hit us when we think of a sin as something small. Not that important. Idol-food, as it were. Never thinking that our sin might actually consume us. Each day, when we think of ourselves rather than the other person. Or when we think of those moments in which we remember that time we did something that we can’t take back, bondage to sin, instead of remembering that God-man, Jesus, who died for that time in order to redeem you.
So Jesus, the wonderworker, the cross-bearer, the sin-killer, comes to this place, speaking a word of freedom to a people bound by a demon of silence. A demon that would keep them from hearing of the freedom of Christ. A lack of any truth that God exists, or that he exists for you in a man who will die because of sin. To keep us going in circles, trying to fight our sin on our terms, instead of remembering Christ destroyed it on his terms. Going around looking for all the people eating meat sacrificed to idols to debase them, or so flaunting our taste for idol-food that we make one ten times the sinner we are ourselves.
Lack of hearing this word, lack of this prophecy, can bring us to ruin. Can bring us to the place where we regularly look at our neighbor with the taunts of a winning football fan, never looking at ourselves as those who have already lost, only to win in Christ. Where the time has run out and it’s 7-38. Games over. 2017 is done and there is no surety that 2018 will fair much better. To allow the word to humble us. To bring us to nothing, that we might be delivered from the silence to hear the voice of God.
Allow the word to do its work. Let the one who speaks Gospel in your ears be the one who opens your heart to break the barrier of sin and the bonds of death. Let confession become a normal thing for your soul. You would not imagine the change that would come in your relationships to others when regular acknowledgement of your frailty and brokenness becomes the string leading you to the Way of Jesus. Confession for the sake of the Absolution. That in the mercy of Almighty God Jesus was given to die for you, and for his sake God forgives you all your sin.
Make your Baptism central. That moment when you may have had no choice. You were a child, a baby. Or your parents made the decision. Or maybe you did, but you didn’t baptize you. Someone else poured that water and spoke the words.
Come to the table with open arms. Hands outstretched to receive from Christ, his flesh and blood given for you. Making a weekly pilgrimage here to feast on him.
Hear the Word. May it do it’s work. Be free and live. Thanks be to God. Amen