Saturday, January 28, 2006

Epiphany 4 - Mark 1:21-28 "Authority over Evil"

Text Mark 1:21-28

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just 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!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The 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.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.


When was the last time you were really shocked or surprised in church? When has something happened, or someone has done something, which has completely thrown you back on your haunches?

In the Gospel reading Jesus shocks all who watch and hear, as he continues to be revealed as God the Son.

Imagine you are one of the fishermen; one of the four from Galilee – Peter, Andrew, James or John. This ordinary man from Nazareth arrives in your life and calls you with a few simple words, “Come follow me”. You follow not really understanding why you left what you knew, but, compelled by something about this man, you go.

As you go with him the Sabbath arrives and you immediately find yourself in the local synagogue. So you sit down to rest and be taught by the local teacher; a scribe – a teacher of the Law. However, the man who called you to follow gets up and speaks, not with quotes and passages referenced to the Scriptures, but perhaps; a call to repent and believe the good news because the kingdom of God is near. He calls with the same Scriptures used by the scribes and rabbis, but he speaks as if they originate from him.

The stir that follows makes you wonder why you left your fishing nets, you sink low as the ruckus brews, and everyone is shocked this teacher teaches this way. But this is just the beginning of the commotion. Suddenly the place of worship completely erupts as a lunatic gets up and starts ranting and crying out at the one who has called you. This man who promised to make you a fisher of men seems more like a stirrer of trouble. But hang on! What’s this mad man saying about him? He speaks with an evil tone but he seems to know him, I wonder how? Who are we following, who is this man you and I are following?

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!

Jesus of Nazareth – the Holy One of God? Unbelievable, is this crazy man saying the person we’re following is God? I’ve never heard this taught before! Is this lunatic picking a fight? What’s Jesus doing now?

Be quiet, come out of him!

What’s happening to the lunatic? It seems Jesus is speaking to someone within and now the lunatic is shaking and screaming! Oh, now he’s stopped, he seems like a different person. This is amazing, this Jesus, this Holy One of God seems to have taken the evil being from this man; he’s taken away his negativity –his torment and trouble. Oh no, I wonder what he sees in me!

Imagine you were there. Picture yourself as one of the disciples.

In recent weeks during Epiphany we have heard Jesus of Nazareth being revealed as God the Son. From beneath his flesh we have been shown his divinity. Today we hear that Jesus is powerful; that he has the authority to destroy; that he is the Holy One of God. But just as Jesus is revealed as God, shocking those in the synagogue with his teaching, something else is revealed too.

In the presence of God, in the synagogue—a sanctuary of holiness, we might assume—the harsh reality of evil is also shown clearly. The synagogue set aside on the Sabbath for rest in God, is turned on its head as the reality of this so-called holy place is defiled with the presence of evil. In fact right through the Gospel of Mark the synagogue is painted as a place of unsavoury happenings; unclean spirits and evil (1:21, 23, 39), physical deformity (3:1), rejection and unbelief (6:1-6), self-righteous piety (12:39), and a haven where all other types of premeditated evil are born (13: 9).

Many in the church today think the church is a sanctuary away from, the devil, the world, and sin. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Whatever happens in the world happens in the church. Unfortunately sometimes it’s even worse in the church than the world. A vicar father was once overheard informing his new vicar, ‘never be surprised over what you hear and witness in the church. Every family is dysfunctional; there are skeletons in everyone’s closet, because every person is consumed with the evil of their sinful natures’.

Sometimes this comes as a bit of a shock to us. Especially when we have looked up to someone, perhaps the pastor or someone we might respect. When we see the sinful reality of what might have been hidden for years, brought out through accusation by the Law, we struggle with their very human reality next to the sinless reality of Jesus Christ. We like to live in a world of superficial appearances, thinking that Christians are good people, and if someone is seen to fail then they mustn’t really be a Christian. When this happens we might thank God that we’re not like that, or we’re just glad our phoney exterior wasn’t exposed too. Nevertheless, it comes to us as a bit of a shock.

But the shocking reality is that all people are sinful. We mightn’t have to go through the public humiliation of being exposed and exorcised of a demon. But held up in the mirror of God’s Word, all of us suffer from an inexpressible, unknowable, and bottomless addiction to sin. When we are brought into the presence of God sin is seen by God plainly and clearly. Jesus may have confronted and cast a demon from one man in the synagogue that Sabbath in Capernaum, but in the cross of Good Friday all in the synagogue had their sins revealed, and we too are revealed for who we are.

It must have come as a bit of shock to the four newly chosen disciples to see such an event that day. However, God struggled with them too as he sought to push back the hold of sin in their lives, which he only completed in his Son’s death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb.

Sin is shockingly revealed in us all, so it can be pleasantly forgiven in us all.

God calls us to follow him, we are brought into his presence every Sunday. Our purpose is not to come together as a people with high moral ideals, nor do we gather to hide our true reality. No! The Holy Spirit leads us into God’s presence as sinners, so we might not hold onto our pride, our arrogance, our worries – our sins. Jesus calls us to be quiet; he calls us to be still and know that he is Lord ­– that he is God with us. He calls us to stop our idol chatter in justifying ourselves, to rest in him, to confess our sins, and hear him say, ‘Come out of him, come out of her’. Jesus forgives and cleanses his church as he says through pastors, ‘I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you. Amen.

We don’t know what the fellow did after Jesus cast out his demon. But with those who hear God’s Word and begin to have an understanding of the depth of their sin, I suspect that for Christ to take away their sins for free, it comes as a very pleasant surprise. Maybe the man from whom Jesus ordered the demon was relieved and pleasantly surprised too?

When was the last time you were shocked by what you heard or saw in God’s Word about who you really are? The depths of our sinfulness are truly shocking!

But even more so; when was the last time you were pleasantly surprised by what Jesus did for your sins? And, by what he promises to continue to do for you? Jesus went to immeasurable depths and extremes to rescue us from sin’s power, and despite our sinfulness, leads us into eternal joy. This is a pleasant surprise; it’s wonderful news. In fact it is the Good News. The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe this Good News.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Epiphany 3 - Mark 1:14-20 "Come, Follow Me"

Mark 1:14-20 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. Sermon Follow me! Come, follow me! Following! What do you like to follow? Are you a follower of Aussie cricket successes? Are you a follower of sport? We Australians love to follow things. Followers of fashion and trends, cattle prices, the housing market, followers of the latest weather predictions. We love to follow the latest fads, we pursue our peers—we like to follow the Joneses. Every parent and child knows toy stores make accommodation for kids caught up in the latest crazes. Adults are followers too. Have you noticed that when someone decides to put up Christmas lights, plant something different, or do something to their property, others around them follow along too? Maybe, so they’re not left behind! Australia is the lucky country, so we’re told. We have freedom to follow what ever we like. The Australia way of life is a life worth following. The Aussie barby, meat pies, lamingtons, dodging mossies, going to the beach and having ice-cream afterwards, are all worth following. Australian icons are applauded, like the Aussie battler in the face of adversity, sticking together with others when the chips are down. Think of the Bali bombings, the fires that ravage our country, floods and devastating drought. These events bring us together as one, following the Australian ideal. We work hard so that we can follow our dreams, for our personal security and for the wellbeing of Australia. Come follow me. There was a group of Galilean fishermen, who worked hard tending their nets, preparing their boats, and fished the lake. Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, were fishermen, doing what knew – respecting and giving themselves to the practices and traditions of their fathers. They worked hard following the winds in pursuit of fish, to feed their families and find security. They were followers of the Galilean lifestyle, it was what they did, and it was what they understood. Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men. These men, these seekers of fish, sellers of fish, smellers of fish, busy attending to their fishy business were turned by three little words. ‘Come follow me.’ Jesus came to them and turned their following from fish to faith. Ironically, those who were fishermen had become the targeted fish, the sought after species. ‘Come follow me’ was the net that captured them for life. Jesus, just an ordinary man unknown to these fishermen, stood on the Sea of Galilee’s bank, spoke these human words from human lips, ‘Come follow me’. But beneath his humanity, buried in the bait of his body lay the razor sharp hook of his divinity. ‘Come follow me’ cast from the mouth of God into the ears of Simon and Andrew, James and John stuck its barb into the hearts of these men. The ease, with which Jesus made the catch, was so effortless that it was hardly sport. Mark tells us in the text that immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets, and James and John left their father, Zebedee, and followed Jesus. They cast aside what they knew—their work, their security, and their families; all the things that they had formerly followed—to come after Jesus. It is the same with us. At our baptism Jesus said ‘Come follow me, let the little children come to me’; the divine hook cast into our ears jagging our hearts; the Holy Spirit winding in the line and bringing us to our Saviour. God calls our attention away from the things we like to catch in our sinfulness, and calls us to follow Jesus’ rod, real, and line, being fished closer and closer to him. Just as he came into the lives of his future disciples, and stood on the bank of their existence, he stands in our Australian existence as well and said, ‘Come follow me.’ ‘Come follow me!’ These are words that continue to call us to repent and believe in the good news, the good news that the kingdom of God is near, is with us. The kingdom present in the man, Jesus, in the Australian context. Just as Jesus called the fishermen in fishermen language, he said, ‘Come follow me’ calling you and me, Australians, in the Australian way. Just as he calls all people in all cultures to the waters of Baptism. Come follow me. When Jesus came to Galilee he proclaimed that the time has come. That time has ‘not’ come and gone, the call, ‘Come follow me’ was not a once off for the disciples, nor is it a once off for us. In the text Jesus said to the fishermen ‘Come follow me’, and he repeated this call over and over again. Just like fish hooked on a line, the disciples fought against the call to follow. Time and time again they turned from Jesus and tried to break the line of faith. But time and time again Jesus called them back to him. A quick skim through the gospels gives us a portrait of the disciples, showing their lack of ability in hanging onto the line of faith, Jesus first cast into them through his words, ‘Come follow me.’ In Mark’s gospel the disciples failed to recognise Jesus in the storm on the lake, and lost faith that he would protect them. Three times they failed to see how a little bread would feed 5000, 4000, and the 12 of them in the boat. And their continual efforts to be the greatest, self sufficient, and narrow minded, pulled hard on the line of faith. Their failure to keep watch at Gethsemane, as well as Peter’s threefold denial, makes it plain to us that they weren’t capable of holding onto the divine hook Jesus set in their hearts through his words ‘Come follow me’. But Jesus knew what they were like when he first called them, he knew they were weak, but over and over again he taught them, he reset the hook, he removed the lack of faith with words in the spirit of his original call, ‘Come follow me’. So often we also try to pull from the line, but like the disciples Jesus says to us, ‘Come follow me, the time has come, the kingdom is near!’ He opens the way for us to have our faith restored and the lack of faith forgiven. ‘Come follow me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Jesus knows you are sinful, that is why he became obedient to death on the cross. ‘Come follow me!’ If these three words, give you sickly feelings of guilt or shame, now is the time to follow Jesus. Don’t be like Judas, who held back forgivable sins from the one who is greater than all sin. ‘Come’, he wants to take your burden. ‘Come follow me’, Jesus says, ‘Let me lift you out of the depths of sin with my rod and reel. Let me land you with my holy Word, with my holy body and blood, through the unbreakable strength of the Holy Spirit. Come follow me.’ Come follow Jesus, be Australians, be Christian Australians. You can follow your cricket, enjoy your meat pies, your lamingtons, study the markets, follow the weather, and all things Australian. But as Christians, people who follow Jesus, we know these things aren’t the be all and end all of our existence as people called by God. Many things come and go, but the one who says, ‘Come follow me’ is always here. The kingdom of God, the good news, our Saviour, has come and is near. Jesus says to you, ‘Come follow me’. Amen.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Epiphany 2 - John 1:43-51 "Calling a practical person in a practical way"

John 1:43-51 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” I would like to speak about Nathanael, but before I do, we need to introduce the context of the events in which Jesus comes to Nathanael. The season of Epiphany is all about Jesus of Nazareth being revealed as the Son of God. And Jesus goes out at the start of his ministry and finds Phillip. Notice how Jesus finds Phillip and the other disciples, so too Jesus finds us. He finds us where we are at, he finds us where we are hidden. Think of the Samuel story. Samuel didn’t know about God. He was living in the house of the Lord but still he didn’t know God. And God came to him and called him. The first time God came and called, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘here I am’. But Eli didn’t call him and sent him back to bed. Three times this happened until Eli cottoned on to what was going on. God was calling Samuel, so Eli told Samuel to listen to what God had to say, and when God called again Samuel listened to every word of the Lord. From that time on Samuel became one of the greatest prophets of Israel; referred to as the seventh and greatest Judge of Israel, he ushered in the era of kingship requested by the Israelites. So God comes to us and finds us, he calls us and says, ‘Follow me!’. For most of us he does that in baptism and says, ‘Follow me!. He puts the Spirit in us even when we don’t understand what is going on. When we can’t do good works; when we can’t feel the right way, he comes to us and says, ‘Follow me!’ Now the word of God doesn’t come to us in a magical or supernatural way. The word of God always comes to us in a practical way, a functional way. The reason why we all come here to a church is that the word of God needs to come to us through means. Well then how does it come to us? It comes to us first through Baptism; it comes to us through the preaching, through singing hymns to each other, we hear the Word of God come to us. If it didn’t come to us in this practical way then we could all stay at home and wait for a big revelation to come to us. But God comes to us very practically. How does he come to us? The text before us tells us, Philip found Nathanael and told him. God came to Philip and then Philip call to Nathanael. But was it Philip calling Nathanael or was it God calling Nathanael? God always works through practical means; he works through people. Now Jesus is not here with us as he was in Galilee, he is here with us but he is hidden. But he still needs to come to us in a practical way, he still needs to come and find us, and he does that through people. He has done it for two thousand years, through the laying on of hands on first Peter and the Apostles and said, ‘Feed my sheep!’ And they laid their hands on the next generation, and the next generation, and so forth. Their authority coming from the word of God to practically bring the word of God to the ears of people. Jesus feeds the sheep through pastors, so that they might go and share the good news with others so they might come into the fold of salvation. The word of God comes to us all in a practical way. It comes to Nathanael. Philip says, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph… Come and see.’ The bible is like a big arrow. The Old Testament points forward to something; the Epistles after the Gospels point back to something together with the book of Acts; which is the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. And where does the Holy Spirit always led us, to the gospel, to Jesus Christ. If the Spirit doesn’t lead us to Jesus, it is not the Holy Spirit, he always leads us back to Jesus as does the Word of God always points us to Jesus Christ and his work of salvation for us, written down in the four books of the Gospel. Everything in the Law, everything that had happened beforehand was pointing forward to this time, to this man being revealed as God. But also notice in the text how he is being revealed to us as a human, this man from Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Right here in the text Jesus is being revealed in time, location, and history as a human. Jesus is a man. ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ [Location of sermon preached]! Can anything good come from there? Nathanael is pretty straight up front; there are no flies on this bloke. He says what he thinks. However, with Nathanael’s frank remarks, comes a message in the text which is not easily recognisable. Jesus compares Nathanael with a forefather from the Old Testament; it comes to us through a few clues. Can you recognise to whom Jesus compares Nathanael? When Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he says, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ And then later on Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’. Who does that remind you of in the Old Testament? It reminds us of Jacob, sometimes referred to as Israel, the father of the twelve tribes. So Jesus sees Nathanael coming and says, ‘here is a true Israelite, a true Jacob, in whom there is nothing false!’ The irony is that if you know anything about the Jacob of the Old Testament he was anything but truthful, he was a scoundrel and a very false man. He was a heel grabber, clutching at the heel of his brother Esau right from birth. Here we have this man, as dinky-die as a true Aussie, hearing Philip, exclaims, ‘What could come from Nazareth?’ And Jesus calls him and says, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael says, ‘How do you know me?’ How could Jesus have know all this? It is amazing that God could use someone to work through, calling Nathanael through Philip. And God does that all the time, in a very practical way. After Nathanael realises that Jesus has called him through Philip, and knows who he is, even his blunt honesty, he makes that great epiphany confession, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel’. He is the king of Nathanael; the king of Jacob. And after that Jesus says to him, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree’. And we all believe only because God sees us and tells us who he is first, way before we could ever have the ability to seek him out. God calls us and reveals himself to us so we can believe and make the same confession too. Jesus, you are the Son of God, you are our Saviour. Then Jesus says, ‘You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’. Not on a ladder as Jacob dreamt but on the Son of Man! God calls us to see that Jesus is the ladder through which God comes to us. God descends to us in the person Jesus, who is not only the Son of Man, the son of Joseph, but is the Son of God. Jacob saw the ladder of God going up into heaven with the angels ascending and descending, we can see God coming to us in much greater way, a practical way, coming to us through Christ; coming to us through means, his Word and the bread and wine. God calls us to trust him that he, his Son, and the Holy Spirit could come to us in this practical way. We can trust him because he has promised to come to us, and he does every day since we have been baptised. We might break our promise to God all the time but he never breaks his promise to us; every day of our living lives the promise of God is offered to us as a gift. Amen.