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Sermon for Sunday 3 February 2019

First Reading                                  Jeremiah 1:4-19

4Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 17“But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”

Psalm                                                     Psalm 71:1-11

1In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed. 2In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me. 3Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold. 4Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor. 5For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young. 6I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you. 7I have become a portent to many; but you are my refuge and my strength. 8Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. 9Do not cast me off in my old age; forsake me not when my strength fails. 10For my enemies are talking against me, and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together. 11They say, “God has forsaken him; go after him and seize him; because there is none who will save.”

Second Reading         1 Corinthians 12:31b–13:13

31bI will show you a still more excellent way. 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Gospel                                                          Luke 4:31-44

31{Jesus} went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! 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.” 35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. 38And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. 42And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.


For the last three weeks our gospel lessons have come from John’s gospel and the 4th chapter of Luke and have been detailing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and of the miracles He performed.  Last week we also touched on Nehemiah and how he prayed, and God answered his prayer through Nehemiah.  The major theme in both these cases is Jesus is capable and He indeed answers prayers; sometimes in interesting ways.  It’s this answering of prayers in unexpected and amazing ways that reminded me of an incident our Dean, Nathan Yoder told us about on Monday.

Nathan shared that their youngest son, 2-year-old Samuel, has, for several nights now, been waking up at 3:30 in the morning and as far as he’s concerned, it’s time to get up.  Well last weekend, Samuel was up as usual and Nathan went in, attended to his needs and put him back to bed with the instructions to go to sleep.  Nathan said he crawled back into bed only to hear repeatedly, Daddy?  This went on for 5 minutes or so and when Nathan didn’t appear, Samuel gets quiet.  Thinking he’d gone to sleep, Nathan rolls over only to hear, Mommy?

Putting a pillow over his head to try and drown out Samuel’s voice this again went on for another 5 minutes or so.  Again, there was a time of silence.  Again, thinking Samuel had gone to sleep Nathan removed the pillow and rolled over.  He said he was almost asleep when he heard Samuel once again, but this time it was Jesus?  Needless to say, Samuel’s pleas were answered and quickly.  Nathan asked how could I not?  My child is calling out to Jesus and Jesus answers prayers!  Nathan said he went back in, they sang Jesus Loves Me a couple of times and this time Samuel went to sleep.  Yes, Jesus has all authority; and yes, He can get mom or dad to be the answer to prayer too!

Maybe you’ve heard the story about the High School teacher who injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body.  It was form fitted, it fit under his shirt and wasn’t noticeable at all.  The first day of school he still had the cast on.  He looked at his class roster and realized he’d been assigned to the toughest students in school.  He walked into the classroom, which was already rowdy and noisy.

All the students were talking and laughing and either acted like he wasn’t there or looked at him with disdain, daring him to say something, anything.  The teacher walked over and opened a window as wide as possible and then started working at his desk.  Several times, a strong breeze made his tie flip up into his face.  Finally, he reached over, picked up the stapler and stapled the tie to his chest in three places and then continued working.  The class immediately quieted down, and he didn’t have any more problems with discipline that entire year.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of authority in everything we do?

In today’s passage, the people were absolutely amazed at the authority of Jesus and His teachings.  In verse 31 we read that that they were astonished because His word possessed authority.  Then there was in attendance that day a man with an unclean spirit. The spirit cries 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.”  But with authority Jesus commands the spirit to leave and again the people were astonished.  “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  

Last week if you recall, Jesus was also teaching in the Synagogue and the people were amazed at His teaching and “admired Him.”  That is until He reminded them of their history which angered them, and they tried to throw Him off the cliff.  As I told the kids last week, sometimes telling the truth comes with consequences, but we must always tell the truth, nonetheless.  And if you go back a couple of weeks, the disciples were amazed that He had authority over nature when He changed water into wine.  John says that the disciples believed in Him.  Jesus has amazing authority; authority like no one had ever seen before.

Do you remember arguing as a kid?  You’d get into an argument over something really simple and stupid.  The argument would go back and forth, back and forth and finally somebody would holler out, “Oh yeah, who says?”  This is a cry to validate your source.  You might retort, I saw it on Mr. Wizard or My Dad said so, or some other person in authority said so.  But the main question was, “Where did that authority come from?”  Authority, as we know, comes in many forms, some formal and others informal. Formal authority comes via an authorized position. 

Nathan, for example, carries the authority of the law as a sworn police officer.  Other examples of formal authority is Robert.  Formally, as a principle, he had the authority given to him by the school administrator.  In the same way, many of you as teachers had the formal authority given to you by the school system.  But formal authority isn’t always given by law or by statute, it’s given by virtue of position or situation.  Consider for example, parental authority. 

Up until a certain age, Mom and Dad have 100% authority over us.  I remember growing up, when my Dad whistled, my brothers and I had better come running and you’d better be hollering “Coming” as loud as you could.  We were attuned to Dad’s whistle, and it commanded a reaction.  That was just one of the ways we knew that our parents ruled the roost.  Another kind of authority I experienced was the day I entered Basic Training my first night in the Air Force.

I remember getting off the bus at Lackland AFB, Texas to three men in neatly pressed dress blues “encouraging” us to get off the bus quickly, bags in hand and line up.  Within seconds, you knew who was in charge and that their word was law.  We were immediately informed that we were to do nothing without their permission.  We went to bed, got up, ate, slept, walked, talked and went to the bathroom when we were told.  They told us how long a shower should take, when to brush our teeth and how much toilet paper we could use.  They were in charge.  I heard more than one recruit say, “they might not be God, but they sure acted like they had God on the phone and had put Him on hold to deal with you.”  That’s the kind of authority they had.  Both of these are examples of formal authority; authority exercised because of the job or position held.

Then there’s the authority of knowledge; you could say this is a combination of both formal and informal authority.  Sometimes we respect people because we know they know more than we do.  They’re the experts and we’re just beginners.  A perfect example of this is Mr. Miyagi in the 80’s movie Karate Kid.  Remember, Daniel was the new kid who was bullied by a bunch of thugs who knew karate.  He discovers that the apartment handyman knows karate as well and asks him to teach him.  Mr. Miyagi agrees, but then has Daniel doing a series of what appears to be meaningless tasks like painting the fence, sanding the floor and waxing cars.  We all remember the instruction in the movie, “wax on wax off.” 

In reality, Mr. Miyagi was training Daniel’s muscles for the karate moves and for Mr. Miyagi to keep his authority, he had to demonstrate that there was a method to his madness.  Teachers, professors even doctors to a certain extent are given considerable authority because they have knowledge that we would like to have, or we’d like our children to have.  Next, there’s informal authority, such as the authority given because of experience or age.

Sometimes there are people we cherish and whose wisdom and authority come simply because of their experience or their age.  They’ve lived longer than anyone we know, they’ve experienced more and seen more than anyone else and their opinion carries tremendous weight.  This could be a parent or grandparent.  It could be a trusted member of a congregation.  It could be the battled hardened Sergeant or a relative who has proven that they know what they’re talking about and can be trusted, so you seek their council.  One such a person was Ms. Wolfy.

Ms. Wolfy celebrated her 90th birthday when I was a child attending a church in Mesa, Arizona.  Ms. Wolfy was a faithful follower of Jesus and had been a pillar in the congregation for decades and was held in high regard by everyone.  She was one of those dedicated members who was there every Sunday, taught Sunday School, served many years on the council, was active with the Women’s group and was one who was always there to lend a hand.  Over the years, Ms. Wolfy’s hearing slowly declined until she was basically deaf as a stump.  But despite her difficulties, she always had a radiant smile for everybody.  All the kids loved her.

One Sunday we had one of those holy moments, kind of an E.F. Hutton instance when everybody just stopped to listen.  One of the little girls stood up in the pew next to Ms. Wolfy and hollered in her good ear, “Ms. Wolfy, if you can’t hear the sermon or the music, why do you still come to church?”  You could have heard a feather hit the floor.   All ears were on Ms. Wolfy.  With one of those radiant grins, Ms. Wolfy patted the little girl on the hand and said, “Well, honey, I just want everyone to know whose side I’m on.”  We could have gone home right then.  Ms. Wolfy spoke with the voice of experience and the authority or her years.  Some people just have an air of authority about them.  When some people speak, others are eager to listen.  That’s the way Jesus was.  Like Ms. Wolfe, Jesus commanded respect both formally as a recognized Rabbi and because of the miracles He performed, and informally because when He taught, it was with authority.

Whenever Jesus spoke, He spoke with clarity and knowledge.  He wasn’t arrogant or prideful, He just carried Himself and presented Himself in such a way that set Him apart.  I’ve always imagined Jesus as one of those people whom you might not see enter the room, He never made a Grand Entrance.  But before long you felt His presence.  You might not even be aware of it at first because it was something subtle.  But pretty soon, you’d find yourself drawn to Him, like everyone else.  Why?  Because His words rang true.  His words sprang from the heart and they resonated with power and authenticity.  It was also due, I’m sure, to the fact that He had a direct line to God the Father.  And that’s what amazed His listeners.

Yes, Jesus demonstrated His authority time and time again, over all things natural and spiritual, but there were no gimmicky tricks or false promises to get folks to open up their wallets to support His ministry.  There was no phony manipulation.  Jesus proved He was truly concerned about everyone who came to hear Him.  Jesus wanted them to understand, to know, to experience and learn about God’s love and forgiveness.  He was so concerned about others that He risked Himself and shared Himself with everyone He met.  And as we know, He gave His life, taking our sins to the cross in order to reconcile us to God the Father.  He not only talked the talk, He walked the walk.

Several years ago, Derek Evans and Dave Fulwiler of San Diego began the world’s first reverse social register.  This register is for people who couldn’t make it into Who’s Who.  It’s called Who’s Nobody In America.  Evans and Fulwiler say that 3,800 people have sought places in the register since they began accepting entries.  Each “nobody” listed is limited to a twenty-five-word biography.  Some of the biographies are hilarious.  According to these nobodies, you know you’re nobody if:  “Your twin sister dies, and they bury you instead.  “Your own reflection in the mirror ignores you.  “You had your picture taken beside a tree and everyone admires the tree.”

One applicant claimed that the government returned his taxes unopened.  Another lamented that all of his mail was addressed to “Occupant,” and the post office had returned it marked, “No longer at this address.”  I’ve known a few people who felt that way, that their lives really don’t matter, that we’re unnoticed and unloved.  The same has been true throughout the ages.  But Jesus cared for the people.  His love and concern came through in everything He said and did.  And the good news is, Jesus cares for us.

Not only that, but Jesus gave them, and us, something besides commentary and quotes from Scripture.  Jesus gave us something to believe in and hang onto.  You see words aren’t always enough.  There has to be something deeper.  Something at the very core for you to grab onto and hang onto.  That’s what Jesus gave us.

 The other thing that was so amazing was that Jesus not only spoke with authority, but He lived what He spoke.  The authority of His teaching extended to the authority of His actions.  And the day of this particular incident, His words were punctuated with an exclamation point of authority and authenticity when He healed the man.  He backed up His words with deeds and that is the good news.

As we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, we see that He has authority, not only to speak, He also had authority over demons, who fell at His feet and trembled in His presence and fled as soon as He spoke.  Jesus also has authority over illness, healing countless numbers with diseases and every other kind of infirmity you can think of.  Jesus has authority over sin, forgiving our sins while here, and then taking the punishment for our sins on the cross.  Not only that, Jesus has authority even over death.  He raised Lazarus, the widow’s son and Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  And because death couldn’t hold Him, it no longer holds us.  Jesus holds the authority in our lives.  St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price” (6:10-20). 

Remember, Jesus did more than staple His tie to His chest, He gave Himself up to be nailed to the cross for our sin and for our sake.  No wonder everyone was amazed by Jesus.  No wonder He has such amazing authority.  The question for us is, who has the authority in our lives?  Do we give Him the respect due Him?  Is He the core of our beliefs, the rock upon which we stand and build our life?  Jesus said, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).  He is the true and ultimate authority, it’s time we give Him ultimate authority in our life.  

Amen d

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