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Sermon for Sunday 29 Jan 12

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 18:15–20

15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak — that prophet shall die.”

PSALM Psalm 111

1 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. 2 Great are your works, O LORD, pondered by all who delight in them. 3 Majesty and splendor mark your deeds, and your righteousness endures forever. 4 You cause your wonders to be remembered; you are gracious and full of compassion. 5 You give food to those who fear you, remembering forever your covenant. 6 You have shown your people the power of your works in giving them the lands of the nations. 7 The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice; all of your precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, because they are done in truth and equity. 9 You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever; holy and awesome is your name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.

SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 8:1–13

1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him. 4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

GOSPEL Mark 1:21–28

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.

Real Authority

How many of us remember much of our early childhood? For most of us, we remember small bits and pieces, but overall not that much. At least I don’t. However, there are events or occurrences that we remember vividly. Some of these memories make sense since they are associated with significant events such as the loss of a loved one or winning a contest for example. This makes sense, of course, since these are moments in one’s life that are known as significant emotional events. Yet there are times in our past that seem to stand out for no apparent reason. These memories aren’t associated with any significant event; yet we recall them with ease.
It’s like a story I heard one time about this guy who tells about his first few days of school. He lived in a small town and his house was located less than a mile from school. On the first day of school he insisted that his mother let him walk by himself since he was now a big boy and was going to the big boy school. Reluctantly his mother agreed. However, being a typical mom, she decided to follow her son, at a distance, to ensure he neither got lost nor got into any trouble. To her surprise her son had no problem with getting to and from school.
More surprising was the fact that her son had to walk through a small patch of thick woods, and past an old abandoned house, that was rumored to be haunted. After a few days, the mother decided one afternoon to ask her son about his walk to and from school each day. How’s walking to school, asked the mom, as her son was sitting on the floor playing “Army” with his GI Joes? Fine, said the son, never stopping from his game to even look at his mom. Is there anywhere along the way that you don’t like walking by continues the mother? No, is the only answer given as the boy continues to play. It doesn’t bother you to walk through the woods or past the old house? Again just a single no, as the boy continues to be occupied with his battle.
Curiosity at its limit the mother asks, why not? Again without so much as a sideways glance the boy says, because Ms. Goodness and her daughter Marcie follow me every day. Shocked and a bit puzzled, but not wanting to push the issue any farther, the mother decides to let the issue go and ask at a later time. The mother had followed her son for several days and knew no one was following him, so she wrote the response off to a young boy’s imagination. Soon she forgot about the whole business and there were never any problems.
Several years later as her son was getting ready to go off to college she recalled his first days of going to big boy school and brought up the event. I hadn’t thought about that in years the son said. You remember that, the mother asked? Sure, I remember you asking me about my walk to school and I remember telling you about Ms. Goodness and Marcie. Laughing the mom said she remembered. So who was the strange woman and her daughter? I never saw them and never met them. Who were they? Laughing the son said do you remember the little church we attended? Yes, the mother replied. What about it? Do you remember the hymn we used to sing based on the 23rd Psalm? Thinking hard the mother said yes I believe I do. The chorus starts off with “Surely goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”. OK, what about it. Well I was only five at the time and I though the song was about a lady named Ms. Goodness and her daughter Marcie who follow and watched over people. It’s amazing some of the things we remember from our childhood.
One Sabbath day Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The people there that day were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority not as the teachers of the law. It’s an interesting phrase Mark uses here: “as one who had authority.” Jesus was using the same materials as the religious leaders yet He taught and acted differently than the others. He taught and acted from a position of authority or power. It’s an intriguing concept that causes us to ask, how does one gain authority or power as some psychologists forward?
Depending on which researcher you look to, there are several types of power or authority. If you’ve ever been in the military or in a highly structured business environment, you know where it comes from. Authority comes from rank or position in a hierarchy. This type of power can be seen as coercive authority.
Walter Anderson tells how as a young Marine, whose fingers were crushed in an accident. They were swollen and immobile for a few days. As the swelling went down, the doctor ran some tests to measure the extent of his injuries. The doctor said, “Try to move the first finger of your right hand.” Walter tried, but couldn’t move it. The doctor suggested that they wait another day and try again. But Walter’s platoon sergeant, who was standing nearby, stepped forward. He looked at Walter and commanded loudly, “move the first finger of your right hand now Marine!” Walter moved that finger. Typical Marine thinking, but as any good supervisor will tell you, this type of authority does have its limits.
You’ve probably heard the story of a second lieutenant at Fort Bragg who discovered that he had no change when he was about to buy a soft drink from a vending machine. He flagged down a passing private and asked him, “Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?” “I think so, the private said cheerfully; let me take a look.”
The second lieutenant drew himself up stiffly. “Soldier,” he said, “that’s no way to address an officer. We’ll start all over again; do you have change for a dollar?” The private came to attention and saluted smartly, looked straight ahead, and said, “No, sir!”
In that situation, pulling rank backfired.
Some people have authority because of their rank or position. Others have authority because of their personality, or their knowledge or their extreme competence.
As the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, Jesus was seen as having no positional authority in the community. His authority came from His wisdom and knowledge and His competence at interpreting God’s Word. Even as a boy, Jesus wowed people with his wisdom and His grasp of scripture. Of course the people in Capernaum couldn’t know that His authority came from a more important source. All they knew is that they had never heard an individual teach like Jesus taught. They said to one another, “He teaches as one who has authority, not as the teachers of the law.” One of the phrases we used throughout my previous career was, he can talk the talk, but can he walk the walk?
How often have we run into people who talked a good game but when it came time to put the hand to the plow, the person was unable to perform? Far too often we find people who want to tell you how good or powerful they are only to come up short in application? This wasn’t the case with Jesus in our reading today. Not only did Jesus teach with authority, but when it came time to act, Jesus was able to get results. While in the Synagogue that day Jesus was interrupted by someone in the audience.
Mark tells us this man was “possessed by an impure spirit.” We don’t know exactly what Mark meant by this. But from the context we can feel certain that this man was under the influence of satan’s power. Sadly, a good many modern people dismiss the idea of demons and unclean spirits. They assume this is pre-scientific language for mental illness, and to a certain extent some of this could be true. After all, a person under satan’s control isn’t in their right mind, as the saying goes. But I believe that in this case, this man was indeed demon possessed. If not, why was this the only one in the crowd that day who knew exactly who Jesus was; the Son of the Most High. The man’s own words attest to this: “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!” The impure spirits recognized who Jesus was long before the people of Capernaum. And with the authority of God, Jesus takes control of the situation.
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” And recognizing Jesus’ supreme authority, the impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all amazed and began asking each other, “What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey Him.” And Mark tells us, “News about Him spread quickly, over the whole region of Galilee.”
What began as a demonstration of authority based on His teachings, extended to Him having authority because of His power. Power over what Mark calls “impure spirits.” Later in Mark’s gospel we’ll see His authority over disease, over nature, and at the end of his writings, Jesus’ authority even over death. This of course brings us to something obvious that we need to affirm: Jesus was and is unique. There was no one quite like Him.
We hear of other fine teachers in Galilee, but they couldn’t cast out impure spirits, or turn water into wine or heal the leper or multiply the fishes and the loaves or forgive sins. There’s something about Jesus which can’t be said about His contemporaries. He had authority—physical authority, spiritual authority and moral authority. Even after His death and resurrection, He had authority. When confronted by someone who was demon-possessed or who was blind or physically-challenged, all the disciples had to do was evoke Jesus’ name and demons were cast out and the physically-challenged were made whole and the blind could see. That is real authority.
Singer and songwriter Gloria Gaither put it this way as part of a musical that she and her husband Bill composed several years ago: “Jesus. The mere mention of His name can calm the storm, heal the broken, raise the dead . . . I’ve heard a mother softly breathe His name at the bedside of a child delirious with fever, and I’ve watched that little body grow quiet and the fevered brow cool. I’ve sat beside a dying saint, their body racked with pain, who in those final fleeting seconds summoned their last ounce of ebbing strength to whisper earth’s sweetest name, Jesus. Emperors have tried to destroy it; philosophers have tried to stamp it out. Tyrants have tried to wash it from the face of the earth with the very blood of those who claim it. Yet still it stands . . . Jesus . . .” That my friends is real authority.
The distinguished British intellectual Malcolm Muggeridge put it like this: “I may, I suppose . . . pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets, that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue, that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions, that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time, that’s fulfillment. Yet, I say to you and I beg you to believe me multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing less than nothing, a positive impediment measured against one drink of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.” That’s authority.
Jesus was a wonderful teacher, but no mere teacher has the authority to raise the dead. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, a moral visionary, but none of these explain His impact on civilization. As some unknown writer expressed a generation ago: “Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40 and Jesus for only 3 ½ years. Yet the influence of Christ’s ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined years of teaching from these greatest of philosophers.
“Jesus painted no pictures, yet some of the finest artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him. “Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him. “Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the music they composed in His praise. “Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth.”
It took a Roman centurion, stationed at the foot of the cross who watched Him die, to sum it all up, “Surely this man,” the centurion testified, “was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27-54) No one else who has ever lived spoke with the authority with which Christ spoke. He was unique. There has never been another like Him. Which then brings us to an obvious question: If Jesus is the Son of God, shouldn’t we reflect His influence more in our lives?
If He is the Son of the most high God, and if His teachings are the foundation upon which our lives are built, shouldn’t that fact be reflected in how we live? Donald Grey Barnhouse tells a story of something that happened to him many years ago during the Korean War. Barnhouse was aboard a flight from New York to Los Angeles. The flight attendant seated a girl in her early twenties beside him. Obviously this girl had never flown before. Over the loudspeaker, the flight attendant said, “Fasten your seatbelts.” The girl didn’t even know what a seatbelt was. Pastor Barnhouse helped her and asked, “You’ve never flown before?” She said, “No, this is my first time.” As he spoke to her, she opened her pocketbook, and there was a picture of a handsome young GI. Barnhouse asked, “You’re going out to see him?” “Yes,” she said, “he’s coming home. I’m going to see him.”
She went on to explain that they had gotten married a year and a half before. They had a honeymoon of just a few days, then he was shipped out to Korea. Now he was coming back home. Barnhouse could tell that going to see her husband meant more to this young woman than anything else. Then Pastor Barnhouse says something important. He says, “You wonder sometimes why Christians live as they do and make the choices they make. They’re on their way to see their bridegroom, yet they go right out and live in the world as though it made no effect in their life at all . . .” Judge for yourselves just how true this statement is.
One day we’re going to see the Bridegroom, our Lord and Master, and it doesn’t seem to matter in how we live our lives. Do you believe Jesus is who He says He is? If so, does His influence show in our life, or does our life more accurately reflect the community in which we live and the people with which we associate? Jesus spoke with and acted authority. Which brings us to a final question: If Jesus is who He says He is, shouldn’t we tell the good news to others?
A young boy from a non-Christian family named Palmer Ofuoku was placed in a mission school by his Nigerian parents because they knew he would receive a good education there. He attended the school for years, yet he didn’t convert to Christianity. He remained an adherent follower of a traditional African religion. One year a new missionary came to the school who began to develop close relationships with the students, including Palmer. Eventually the missionary led this young Nigerian to Christ. Palmer Ofuoku explained the missionary’s influence like this: “He built a bridge of friendship to me, and Jesus walked across.”
That’s about the best definition of evangelism that I have ever heard. “He built a bridge of friendship to me, and Jesus walked across.” That’s what you and I should be doing each day of our lives, building bridges of friendship to the people around us so that Jesus may walk across.
Jesus spoke and acted with authority. There’s never been another like Him. He is the Son of God. This ought to make a difference in how we live our lives. We ought to be telling others about him. And with this understanding, we should be out building bridges to others so that Christ may walk across.

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