“Teaching with Authority”

1 February 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 and Mark 1:21-28

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 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.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 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. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 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.”

 

Mark 1:21-28

 

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

 

Prayer.

 

Who speaks for God?

 

For about twenty years

I’d end just about every sermon with:

“The Word of the Lord.”

The pomp and circumstance of ordination

Combined with the Bishop’s charge to

“Take thou authority”

Is a necessary boost to a young pastor’s confidence

As they step forth into their first parishes.

In time

The utter audacity of speaking on behalf of God

Begins to wear thin.

A preacher’s midlife crisis

Re-examines earlier assumptions

And attempts to make corrections.

It may sound like parsing the language,

But this came as an epiphany to me:

That it is my role to get out of the way,

To sit on my opinions, biases, and values

Simply to allow God to speak God’s Word through me;

Sometimes, even in spite of me.

The pulpit is a dangerous, double edged sword

Every preacher must respect.

 

Who speaks for God?

 

This was a question of our early ancestors,

Israelites led by Moses to the Promised Land.

Moses himself was concerned.

The question of succession weighed heavily upon their minds.

In Deuteronomy we hear of an intimate conversation between God and Moses,

One that provides a calming assurance

From the Lord himself:

“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.”

(Deuteronomy 18:18)

Indeed, Moses would soon die,

Leaving every Israelite with the dilemma of

Shall we trust in God’s promise and move forward

Or

Shall we return to slavery in Egypt?

Thankfully, our ancestors chose wisely.

God was true to His Word

And Joshua was lifted up:

“Be strong and bold,”

The Lord charged Joshua,

“for you shall bring the Israelites

into the land that I promised them;

I will be with you.”

(Deuteronomy 31:23)

I will be with you.

I

Will be with you.

 

Who speaks for God?

Fifteen hundred years after Joshua,

Judaism,

tossed and turned,

exiled and returned,

conquered and occupied,

Had evolved answers to the question of who speaks for God.

It was established:

Rabbis and Scribes speak for God.

 

Rabbi’s, or teachers, gathered cohorts of students,

Taught them scripture and tradition

According to their standards.

Most washed out.

Only the best and brightest remained.

Once their competency was assured

The Rabbi set them free to teach the next generation.

Scribes, on the other hand, learned by wrote;

The lifelong copying of Hebrew scripture

From one scroll to another.

Who would know scripture better than

The geek who obsessed over every word, letter, and punctuation mark?

 

Both Rabbi and Scribe would be welcomed

To teach in the remote, rural synagogue in Capernaum.

There would not have been any local resident teacher

Leading weekly services.

Jesus was seen as a newly established Rabbi

Who had just called his first cohort of students

- Simon, Andrew, James, and John.

When Jesus comes to town,

A local boy from nearby Nazareth,

He would have been eagerly sought by the synagogue organizers

To lead Sabbath services.

Everyone gathered would be eagerly wondering,

“Does Jesus teach with authority?”

“Does Jesus speak for God?”

It didn’t take long for the crowd to be astounded at his teachings,

“for he taught them as one having authority,

and not as the scribes.”

(Mark 1:22)

 

The Gospel of Mark

Is the Good News of confrontation.

I’ve heard it said all my life,

“I don’t want confrontation when I go to church.”

The Good News as characterized by Mark

- our dominate Gospel for this year –

Is that Jesus has come to institute the reign of God;

Which means,

The world is going to be turned upside down.

What we’ve known will come to an end.

What will begin, only God will know.

The reign of sin and evil must be defeated.

Bring it on!

Jesus proclaims,

Leaning into the gusting, torrential winds of conflict.

Jesus confronts sin and evil at every turn,

Conflict, contests, and controversies are everywhere,

Not only here in the beginning of Mark,

But at the end of the Gospel, too.

Matt Skinner observes,

“Mark wants us to know,

here at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry

-- that Jesus’ authority will be a contested authority.

Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds

threaten other forces that claim authority over people’s lives.

These other authorities have something to lose.”

(As found at workingpreacher.com)  

(Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)

Those other authorities are not going to go quietly

Or without a fight.

 

When the man with the unclean spirit enters the synagogue

The crowd would have parted.

It was the showdown at the OK Corral.

The authority of Christ

Was facing its first public test.

The authority of God vs the authority of sin and evil.

With Divine confidence

Jesus commands the unclean spirit,

And the man is instantly exorcised.

With a convulsion and cry

the unclean spirit

Cried UNCLE!

And came out of him.

 

Who speaks with authority?

Who speaks for God?

Jesus does.

And he wins every time.

 

This is wonderful news,

But what does it mean for you and me today?

Four thoughts.

 

1. Who do we grant authority in our lives?

 

The world vies for our attention,

Our money,

Our love,

Our soul.

The sin and evil of this world

Are belly up to our bar

Trying to worm their way into our soul at every turn.

Treasures and ego,

Budgets and idols,

Power and influence

Have always been in a cosmic battle with Christ.

As followers of Christ

It takes prayer and discernment to fight back

against the slings and arrows of sin and death.

It takes a diet of Jesus,

feasting on his every word,

To go on the offense

Allowing the Christ within us to wield authority 

And claim victory over the evil of this world.

 

2. Are we willing to confront evil authorities in the world?

 

Conflict is painful,

Which is why most of us attempt to avoid it at all costs!

Unfortunately, when it comes to Christ and his authority in our lives,

Too often we are unprepared to pay the price

And with acquiescence, we either abandon the field

Or we are tempted to sit back as silent observers

While sin and evil run amok.

Martin Luther King, Jr correctly observed,

“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people;

but we also will have to repent

for the appalling silence of good people.” 

Ask yourself,

Even as I ask myself every day,

“Am I willing

To wield the authority of Christ

To confront sin and evil

Where ever and whenever it presents itself today?”

3. Are we prepared to be liberated from slavery to old authorities?

 

Oh, how we dislike change.

No one feeds on our reluctance to be changed,

To be transformed,

More than the Devil himself!

We love what we know.

We are comfortable with the old ways,

The way it’s always been done.

Complaining about systems and organizations

But doing little or nothing about them

Is fertile ground for sin and evil to grow.

When we resist Christ and his emerging kingdom

When we prefer returning to Egypt instead of going to the Promised Land

We show our spots.

We reveal our true loyalties.

We abandon Christ exactly as his disciples abandoned him at Golgotha.

 

I can’t speak for you,

But I’m tired of the old ways,

Declining worship attendance,

Playing power moves and manipulating money,

Indifference and self-absorption.

I’m ready to be liberated

To be freed into whatever and where ever

Christ may be leading.

 

4. Can we become the means through which the authority of God can speak and act to create God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?

 

Someone has to stand up.

Someone has to volunteer.

Why not you?

Why not me?

Authority has already been granted at our baptism.

With boldness,

Join me in articulating God’s intentions for the world.

With audacity,

Let us defy old traditions and step confidently into the future.

With courage

That can only come from

A mustard seed size of faith Divinely implanted into our heart,

Let us surrender our will

That God’s will might work through us.

The “way things are”

Doesn’t have to be

The “way things will be.”

The reign of God promises more,

Of this, we can be assured.

 

Who speaks for God?

IF we don’t allow God to speak through us, who will?

 

I am painfully aware

That it is one thing for me to preach such boldness from the pulpit,

But it is another thing for all of us to live such boldness

In our daily lives.

None of us are perfect,

John Wesley, the father of Methodism, would observe.

We are all going on to perfection.

We are all growing our faith.

We are all somewhere on the journey of faith

That leads to the heart of God.

Those that are further along in the faith,

Reach back and lift up those that need a helping hand.

Those that are struggling to make forward progress,

Reach up and take a hand.

Let us all move forward

With the authority of Christ

To win over evil

And transform the world.

This day

And every day.

Amen.