“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
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Indeed, Moses would soon die,
Leaving every Israelite with the dilemma of
Shall we trust in God’s promise and move forward
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.”
I will be with you.
Will be with you.
Who speaks for God?
Fifteen hundred years after Joshua,
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.”
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;
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!
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
And came out of him.
Who speaks with authority?
Who speaks for God?
And he wins every time.
This is wonderful news,
But what does it mean for you and me today?
1. Who do we grant authority in our lives?
The world vies for our attention,
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.”
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.
Join me in articulating God’s intentions for the world.
Let us defy old traditions and step confidently into the future.
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.
And every day.