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.