Sermon for Epiphany 4, Year B, January 31, 2021

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

Our gospel reading today begins with Jesus and going into the synagogue in Capernaum and teaching.  It tells us the people, “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  What does this mean – to teach with authority? 

The synagogue is where teaching and instruction takes place, worship and sacrifices take place in the temple.  It is primarily the scribes who teach and interpret the scriptures to the people.  They cite Holy Scripture and quote the greatest among themselves, the rabbis to teach people what is expected of them.  Jesus enters the synagogue and offers a new form of teaching, one that is personal.  He does not come to teach the authority of the scriptures, he comes to teach the will of God.  He teaches with authority that comes from knowing what God wants of us.  He does know and understand the scriptures; he demonstrates this in other stories of his life and teaching.   Here, though, he does not rely upon the scriptures and the teachings of other men – he teaches from his personal knowledge of God’s will.   It is God who gives him his authority and the people listening can feel the difference.   

Then, while Jesus is teaching, a man who is possessed with an unclean 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.”  This is significant because the unclean spirit knows immediately who Jesus is when many of the faithful do not. 

Mark may not have the wise men from the East – who are not Jewish, coming to pay homage to Jesus, but he does have an unclean spirit recognize Jesus as “the Holy One of God.”   Later in Mark, we will see that the leaders, the experts who have turned the scriptures into the law, fail to recognize that it is Jesus who is the messiah.  The unclean spirit, the social outcasts, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners are able to see what they cannot.  Jesus is “the Holy One of God.”  

This story is also significant for what happens next.  The unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  Jesus rebukes the spirit and commands it to come out of the man it possesses.  It does.  This is first miracle Jesus performs in Mark’s gospel.  Again the people say, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!”  And they add, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

What does it mean to teach with authority?   It means to speak from the heart, a heart that is in tune with the will of God.  We may not be able to command unclean spirits to come out of someone who is troubled, but we can share the love of God with them.  And who knows, our expressions of love and concern might just plant a seed within someone that grows into the knowledge that we are all loved by God.  The knowledge that we are loved, can give us the strength to get the help we need to wrestle with our demons (whatever they might be – self-centeredness, loneliness, shopping, depression, greed, addiction) – our demons that hold us back from becoming the person God intends us to be. 

In some of the darker times of my life, the love of others has served as a beckon of light and offered me hope.  I haven’t always responded immediately.  People who have helped me may not even know it, for climbing out of my grief or despair has often been a long and slow process.   Acts of kindness let’s others know they aren’t alone and their lives matter to someone.  Acts of kindness offer hope that maybe, just maybe, things will get better for us.

Jesus teaches with an authority that is found, not in the scriptures, but in the love of God.  The scriptures tell a story of God’s love, but the church has a history of turning the scriptures into laws and rituals that must be obeyed.  Jesus teaches us to love God and love one another.  Before Jesus is lead to the cross, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another . . .  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This morning we will be installing three of our members to serve on our vestry and one member of the vestry to serve as our Senior Warden.  Brenda, Jon, Paul, and Fred, even before accepting your call to serve St. Paul’s on the vestry, you received the Holy Spirit in your baptism and were given the authority to change lives for the better. Serving in leadership positions here at St. Paul’s requires allowing the love of God to guide you.  You are commanded by Christ, as we all are, to love one another as Christ loves us. 

Let us pray.

          Fill us with your spirit, O Lord, that we may fulfill your commandment to one another and that our lives might be a testimony of your love to others.  We especially pray for those here today who have been called into positions of leadership in your church.  May all that they do on behalf of this parish, be done in accordance with your will.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.