Friday, January 30, 2009

“One With Authority” Mark 1:21-28

This is last Sunday's message. It speaks to what it means to live in the midst of Jesus powerful and authority. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

I. A Question of Authority
One Tuesday morning we witnessed the epic and historic inauguration of a new President. I only intended to watch a few minutes. I thought that I might watch Rick Warren’s prayer and the swearing in. I turned on the TV and found myself captured in the moment. Across the globe an exchange of power between two political parties is normally defined by demonstrations, bloodshed, even revolution. There are poignant pictures that race through my mind. I remember the Berlin wall and Check Point Charlie and the exuberance when wall between East and West Germany fell. I remember protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China and the moment the Chinese sent tanks in to clear the square. I have walked in the place where the students protested and that is now patrolled by the Chinese army spot to make sure no one dare repeat the demand for freedom. I remember the sadness when we learned about the genocide in Serbia and later Rwanda. For most of our world those in power, those who have authority, are brutal and corrupt.

I think sometimes we forget that the nation we have today was shaped by the Civil War, the Suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement. The path to freedom for everyone has been a journey for our nation. Moments in this journey have been grand and glorious. Other moments in the journey have been much more complex. Monday would have been the 80th Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King who once filled the plaza at the Lincoln Memorial and offered his famed “I have a dream” speech.” His vision was bigger than who he was as a man – both gifted and flawed. It was a picture of a nation where everyone would have a place. On Tuesday, a man of color, took the oath of office of the President of the United States. Whether one voted for him or not, the moment represented the first time in our history someone of color would take the oath. No shot was fired, not demonstration or revolution had taken place. Everyday men and women had gone to the polls and chosen one among us to assume a role of leadership, of national authority.

Whether you or I voted for Obama or not, this moment is history is worth noting and worth celebrating for the many in our nation who felt outside the process, outside the halls of power, outside of the embrace of the nation. We should celebrate that we live in a nation where power and authority are found in a ballot box rather than at the butt of a rifle; where the promise paid for on the beaches of distant lands has been delivered; a nation where the Tuskegee Airmen share a place in history with the Flying Tigers, a land where with every passing day the sound of freedom rings out.

But as we watch the grand political processions it is easy to think about the authority residing in a political position. If we think about our work environments it is at the desk of a person who can hire and fire. In the school and university hallways we tend to think about authority found at the end of a red pen or grade book. Scripture paints a very different picture. I invite you to look with me at Mark 1:21-28 and witness an encounter with One with Authority.

II. More Than a Great Teacher vs.21-22
On Wednesday evening we began a study of the Book of Acts. As a part of our introduction we looked quickly at the purpose of each of the Gospels. If you want to know about the teachings of Jesus, you will need to look at Matthew, Luke, and John. Mark moves us quickly from the beginning of Jesus ministry to the cross and the empty tomb. His is a gospel of what Jesus did- of his encounters with real people who needed to the power and presence of God. This morning’s passage is early in Jesus ministry and he heads to the city that will become the base of operation for much of his ministry. Verses 21 and 22 tell us; 21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

You can almost envision the small crowd gathered at the synagogue in this small town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was Peter and Andrew’s hometown. The crowd listened intently and they could hear something in the teaching of Jesus that was radically different than others they had heard in this place. The others relied on traditional rabbinical arguments and reasoning. This one named Jesus was more than a great teacher. It was not like he was just better at it than the others. His teaching seemed to have authority, as if you could hear the voice of God resonating in his voice. Their suspicions were about to be confirmed with a power encounter between God and evil.

III. More Than A Battle Between Good and Evil vs.23-26
Mark tells the story this way; 23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24"What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25"Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

I have to confess that in the youth of my ministry I would have probably attributed the idea the one possessed by an evil spirit was an ancient understanding of mental illness. It would have probably been the only way a middle class Baptist kid from the South could have begun to process this. This assumption was echoed in several of the commentators and pastoral blogs I read over the past week or two. The problem I have is now that I have lived in other countries and other cultures I have witnessed people that could be understood in no other terms that “possessed by an evil spirit.” I have witnessed their spiritual agony and seen physical contortions that are in no way tied to mental illness. I have seen the unmistakable power of evil in their eyes and heard the words of darkness dripping from their hearts. The story is about more than Jesus bringing comfort to someone battling emotional issues – it is a divine encounter with the presence of evil.

Can you imagine the eyes of those in the synagogue as they witnessed this encounter? Can you imagine the fear they must of felt? Or the shock when they witnessed Jesus summons the spirit out of the man? Can you imagine if something like this occurred in our midst this morning? The exciting and terrifying reality of this moment in scripture is that we, both as individuals and a congregation, are invited into the conflict between God and evil. No, I am not talking about the kind of separation from society some would advocate, or the political engagement that others would demand. For me, we are invited to lift our voices and our hands in action when we witness the crippling impact of evil in the lives of people or our community.

IV. One with Authority vs. 27-28
Like all of Mark’s stories, it ends as quickly as it began. In verses 27 and 28 we hear; 27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. Those gathered at that seaside synagogue caught a glimpse into the nature of Christ’s authority. What they had witnessed was more than a comic book battle between good and evil, it was an encounter between God and evil, a lived out demonstration of the power and authority of the holiness of God. They scattered from that small building and word fanned out across the region. This one named Jesus spoke and acted as One with God’s Authority.

I think that we are tempted to cling to a faith of salvation but steer clear of living in the midst of God’s expressions of power and authority. I fear that we have homogenized and pasteurized this Jesus to make him fit our comfortable cultural expectations.
· We like the Jesus that heals, but speak little of the Jesus who turns over the table in the temple in righteous indignation.
· We like Jesus that offers redemption but speak little of the Jesus who tells us to become ambassadors of redemption.
· We like the Jesus that feeds the five thousand but speak little of the Jesus who tells us to cloth the naked, to feed the poor, to visit the imprisoned, to give everything away so that nothing can separate us from the will and way of God.
· We like the Jesus that promises us eternal life through faith, but speak little of the Jesus who tells us to love our enemies.
· We like the picture of a white robed Jesus calling the children to him, but speak little of the Jesus that tells us to pick up our cross and follow him – regardless of the cost.
· We like the Jesus who makes us children of God but speak little of the Jesus who tells us to love of our neighbor as we love ourselves – which calls us to be the voice of powerless, the advocate for the broken, and the light for those who live in darkness.
· We like the gentle Jesus, we struggle with the revolutionary one.
If we are going to claim this one named Jesus, we have to claim the whole of Jesus. He teaches with the authority of God and beckons us from the comfort of our everyday lives and brings us into the front lines of the faithfulness that requires us to live in the midst of God’s authority and power. We forget that Jesus shook the religious world of his era – and shook all of history with the promise of a radical faith that would allow everyone – even those that society would chose to reject –a personal and intimate relationship with God. We forget that in John 20:21 we hear Jesus say: 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

I recognize that the message this morning is neither easy nor comfortable. But, if want to know the power of God’s presence and the authority of God’s hand it will beckon us to claim the whole of Jesus and the whole of his call for us to be a transformational witness in our community and our world. I believe many in our community and our world long to see a people who desire more than religious entertainment or a cultural embrace. I believe they long to see a people striving to live out an authentic witness of this passionate Jesus, the One who taught and lived in God’s authority and holiness. Let us be such a people. Let us pray.

Living In the Midst of the Commandment Matthew 22:34-40

The message below was offered as a vision message for the coming year of our congregational life. Several have asked for me to post this one specifically.

I. Introduction
The second Sunday in January marks the anniversary of my installation as your pastor. Today we begin my fifth year with you. Memories of these first four years fill my mind and flood my heart. There is a white notebook in my office that holds every email and every document that was shared in my conversations with the Pastor Search Committee. Over the past few days I read through the notebook and remembered the profound sense of God’s presence and God’s movement that was evident throughout the process. I was not looking for a new opportunity and I was not among the resume’s the Search Committee had in hand. In a remarkable fashion God brought us together and worked through the process. Now, four years later, I simply can not imagine being in this place and serving as your pastor. I do not think I could have ever fathomed how much I would come to love you as a church family. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity you have given me to love you and to serve beside you. On that first Sunday morning I tried to look back to see where God was moving and lay out a vision where I thought God was next calling us together. And, each anniversary Sunday I have done the same. This morning’s message comes as no exception. We are in a very different place than we were four years ago.

We have witnessed a significant transition in our church staff and have gathered leaders from amongst the congregation, from the cold of Boston to suburban Dallas, from the environs to Ardmore to the hallways of Truett Seminary at Baylor. I am thankful for the leaders that have served this church throughout its history and who cared for this congregation in the days before I arrived. But I also celebrate the church staff members who have joined us over the past four years and for the others who have continued long seasons of ministry amongst us. I celebrate the diversity of gifts and skill that they bring us. I am thankful to call them colleagues and even more thankful to call them friends.

Our church facilities have also seen tremendous change. Our Renew First campaign is allowing us to restore this grand lady and return her to full usefulness again. The result is new Sunday School classes and new ministries in areas of the our building that had once stood silent. This grand facility is reclaiming her luster and her place in our community. I want to thank the leadership team for Renew First and celebrate your faithfulness in giving to make the renovations possible.

The face of our church has also changed. To be more direct, many, many of those in this room this morning were not yet a part of the First Baptist Church family when I preached my first sermon as pastor four years ago. I used to keep a little chart of those who had joined since I came as pastor. I quit when the paper I was using had no more room. Janice tells me we had 57 additions in 2008. We have already begun 2009 with five new members. The laughter of children again fill our hallways. We again see those in their 20’s, the 30’s, and young families finding their way in our church life. We again worship with those from the four corners of the globe. We again claim a choir loft that is full and represents the wide range of ages and life setting that call First Baptist home.

The temptation is for a pastor to try to claim some of the credit for what is happening, but to do so would be foolish. What we are witnessing is the movement of the Spirit of God. Hear me clearly, we can celebrate what God is doing but the honor and the glory is God’s alone. I am thankful to be a witness of God’s grace. I am thankful to be able to be in this place and a part of this church family and see what God has done. I can hardly wait to see what God will do next.

There is a passage that I believe defines our next season of ministry. It is found in Matthew 22: 34-40. It reads; 34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
This passage claims its place as “the greatest commandment.” Jesus claims two Old Testament commands and brings them together to define the heart of the law, the heart of what it would look like to be faithful to the word and way of God.

We have now emblazoned the heart of this passage on two walls of the North-South hallway. On one wall we read; “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, and with your mind.” On the opposing wall we read: and love your neighbor as you love your self.” As we come into and out of our church we walking in the midst of these words. It is a fitting image, because as a people of God we are called to live in the midst of the commandment. What would it look like for our mission and ministry to be defined by our love of God and our love of our neighbors? Look closely with me at our focal passage and consider what God might have to say to us this morning.

II. Loving God
The passage finds its place among a series of roving religious interrogations, first by the Sadducees, and then picked up by the Pharisees. They were trying to trip Jesus up, trying to find a place to accuse him of heresy. First they asked claimed the controversial political question of whether a good Jew should pay taxes to Caesar. Then they asked about the emotional issue of marriage at resurrection. When Jesus had dealt with these two, a Pharisee, identified as an expert in the law, raised a question that spoke from the breadth of scripture. He asks; “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus begins with the great Hebrew confession of faith called the Shema from Deuteronomy. Mark’s gospel quotes it directly. It reads; “Hear O Israel, the Lord God is One. You shall love your Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul and with all of your might.” Every faithful Jew standing in the crowd would have recited the Shema daily. You can almost hear their nodding with approval.

The heart of the Shema and of the first half of the Great Commandment focuses on Loving God with every aspect of our lives. We emblazoned this first half of the commandment on the wall that leads into The Commons that acts as the threshold into our educational wing and the primary entrance into the Sanctuary. The picture that I hope you capture is that as we come into Bible study and into worship our reason for being is to show and grow in our love for God. The modern understanding of love is an emotion or sense of affection. The scriptural understanding of our love for God is much stronger. It is depicted as a heart, soul, and mind commitment to the way of God. It is my fervent hope that the coming year will be defined by our choice as a congregation to grow in our deep and abiding love for God. There are some specific opportunities we will claim to try to help us in this journey.

· Beginning January 21st,on Wednesday evenings. we will walk through a ten week study of the Book of Acts, to help us better understand how God moved in the life of the early church and how the early church responded to the remarkable movement of God.
· In the weeks following Easter we will facilitate a church-wide encounter with the Experiencing God series. We will claim Sunday mornings and Wednesday evening from large group study and offer a wide range of small group options for those ready to dig deeper.
· In the fall we will host a regional prayer retreat in cooperation with several area congregations. This retreat will give us the opportunity to discover with others ways to strengthen our prayer life and personal devotions.
· We will continue to birth new Sunday morning Bible study classes and small group Bible study experiences to give you more options for finding your unique place for growth.
· As a critical part of this process I have asked Brad Stewart to take the staff leadership function and Gary and Pam Williams the lay leadership role to help us strengthen our discipleship ministry.
· In addition, you can be confident that we will continue to place a primary focus on designing worship services that will empower your worship and challenge you to experience God in fresh ways.

III. Loving Our Neighbor
Jesus claimed the second half of the greatest commandment from Leviticus 19:18 where the initial edict is to love a fellow Israelite or resident alien. Jesus dramatically expands this concept. In the story of the Good Samaritan he makes it clear that our neighbor is all who are in need. Jesus tells us that as in our care for the naked, the hungry, and the imprisoned- that as we do it until the least we also do it to Christ. This love of our neighbor is very inclusive. You will find it emblazoned on the wall we see as we leave Bible study and worship and go back into the world. If we have truly come before God in love and adoration, then the natural response will be to love the people that God loves.

Many more pessimistic pastors across the nation proclaim that this has become the forgotten commandment. With joy I can say that is not true here. When you look at those who volunteered: through Good Shepherd Ministries: with the Kids Hope mentoring program at Eugene Field Elementary School: through the Language Center: as a part of ShareFest: at the Labor Day of Love at the Boys Ranch Town: in a HisNets distribution in Ghana: at a orphanage in Guatemala: with street children in Peru: with disaster victims in Texas: as a part of the KidsHeart home reconstruction and outreach in the Rio Grande Valley: as a part of the Indonesia mission team: in the Middle East with seminary students: in Cohoma, Arkansas as a part of the Youth Mission Team; and a host of other projects: the percentage of our congregation that serve in hands-on missions is remarkable. In addition we gave the resources to buy teddy bears, clothes and toys for children, and other resources required in the ministries we claim as partners. All totaled we gave and spent over $125,000 in missions. We proclaim that we are “In the Heart of the City with a Heart for the Word.” You have shown it to be true. In the coming year we will continue to look for significant ways we can touch our world.

But, we will also have a greater focus on giving you the tools you need to love your neighbors. Listen closely and in the days ahead you will hear about training events as well as single day and short term experiences where you can grow in finding your place in loving our neighbors. Listen for the announcement as Jay Allen invites you to join him in the development of a disaster response team. Listen as we begin to offer opportunities to engage in hands-on opportunities in the Classen-Ten-Penn community – a place in the shadows of our steeple where struggle and desperation has become the norm. Listen for times when the Bible study group are invited to claim a Monday evening of service at Good Shepherd as we seek to expand it’s the hours of the food pantry and clothes closet for those working hard just to get by. Listen and claim your place and your way to love you neighbor.

Talk about what happens in the hallway and the opportunities it poses for us. In the end, what this year will look like in your life- whether you grow in your love of God and your love of neighbor will be your choice. My prayer is that you as an individual, and that we as a church family together, will choose to be people who live in the mist of the commandment and discover the kind of relationship with God and others we were created to have.

Back online

I am back up and running online with a new computer. My temp computer made the blog process a bit more difficult so there was a pause in updating the blog. My apologies. You can start looking for regular updates again.

Grace and Peace, Tom