February 20, 2012

A Perfect Breakfast

This morning, I had an egg for breakfast: a lovely brown egg, freshly laid by one of my brother's hens, perfectly poached in clear well water, and eaten at the table with my mother there and my father in the next room, all of us in the house built by my great-grandfather. It was complete nourishment, feeding me body and soul.

February 1, 2012

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

The Author(ity) of Healing

Mark 1:21- 28

We are early in the Gospel of Mark, only in chapter 1, and already we have learned a lot about Jesus. He is the Son of God (v 1); he is mightier than John who was attracting the whole of Jerusalem (v 7); he God’s beloved and God is well pleased with him (v. 11); he can withstand the temptations of Satan (v 12); he calls disciples and they follow immediately (v 16); his teaching surpasses that of the most learned men of the day (v 22); and he can cast out demons (v 26).

These events have a common theme, it seems to me – power. Jesus has a profound power that flows from God and disrupts the lives that it touches. People recognize something different in him and some embrace that difference and some turn away and some try to destroy him. It was this way in the beginning and, God knows, it is still this way. Some in our world embrace Christ and his power to change the world, some turn away and ignore or discount this holy power, and some try to destroy the goodness of God that comes through belief in Christ.

When Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum all those centuries ago and began teaching, people were astounded and amazed. This teaching was like nothing they had ever heard before. As Mark reports: He taught them as one having authority. In Greek, the word translated as “authority” is exousia. It has multi-layered meaning but it all centers on the notion of power. It can mean physical and mental power -- the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises; it can mean the power of authority which creates influence and the power of right which conveys privilege; it can mean the power of rule or government, the power of one whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed. In the synagogue, Jesus demonstrated authority in the fullest sense of the word. He demonstrated a power unlike any they had seen before.

They had likely witnessed situations before like that involving the man possessed of an unclean spirit. There were many in ancient times who acted as exorcists, many who claimed to be healers. But Jesus’ authority disrupted the very heart of religious tradition. Here he was in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, teaching and healing in ways that put him into direct conflict with the religious leaders.

And the people could hardly believe what they were seeing and hearing. Even the unclean spirits, the demons, obeyed him. Right at the start of his ministry, in his first public action, Jesus took on the forces of evil.

The gospel does not record the words that he said to the people in the synagogue that day -- only the words that he spoke to the demon. That exchange between the Holy One of God and the unclean spirit is itself a central part of the teaching. Because Jesus would go on for the next three years to teach about the power of God to overcome the forces of evil and heal the world. He would go on to claim the authority of God in his work of restoring God’s good but fallen creation.

As the preacher and scholar Fred Craddock observes:

Jesus is the strong Son of God who has entered a world in which the forces of evil (Satan and demons) are crippling, alienating, distorting, and destroying life. According to Mark, the powers that seek to sabotage God’s creating and caring work not only cause disease but also disturb the natural elements and even insinuate themselves into the circle of Jesus’ closest friends. But with Jesus comes the word of power to heal, to help, to give life, and to restore. In Mark, a battle is joined between good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, God and Satan. (Fred Craddock, John Hayes, Carl Holladay, and Gene Tucker. Preaching Through the Christian Year, B; p 92)

And here is a question for us to ponder: Is that battle won? Can we say that we live in a world where good and truth and life and God have triumphed? It is a hard question because we want to answer yes but there is too much evidence to the contrary. Just from yesterday’s newspaper: there were reports of sexual abuse of children by their priest and two other reports of child pornography; tenants of a housing project were voicing concerns about crime and mismanagement of the property; there were reports of two drug cases, several robberies, a stabbing and a shooting, and an arrest in a fatal hit-and-run. And these are only our local “evils.” Multiply this by every city, every nation, and it is all too clear that the battle between good and evil still goes on.

The world is a mess but what can we do about it? What authority do we have to change things? That is a question that goes to the heart of faith. When someone is baptized here, one of things we ask is: Do you renounce evil and its power in the world? To renounce evil and its power in the world is to claim the authority of Jesus to speak truth, to bring healing, to confront the powers that be, to teach with our lives so others can learn a new way of life. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus is the author of our faith, and through him we are given God’s word of authority. In the face of the world’s “no,” we can speak God’s eternal “yes,” the same “yes” that was spoken at the tomb on Easter morning. The resurrection, after all, is the ultimate healing, the demonstration of ultimate authority over evil.

We can sing an Easter hymn this morning because we are Easter people. We are those who have been taught by the example of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection. We have been given authority over evil; we have been given power to heal our wounded world.

And so I ask you again to claim this authority and power: Do you renounce evil and its power in the world? If so, say I do.


© Martha C. Highsmith