Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Epipiphany 4 sermon: (Jesus') Authority Always Wins

+ Epiphany 4 – January 29, 2012 +
 Mark 1:21-28

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            Love it or leave it – in the game of hockey someone starts a fight to get into the other’s team’s head. And get them off their game.
            According to St. Mark, in Capernaum – not a sheet of ice in sight – the game is on. Jesus is teaching and preaching. Filling the synagogue and the Sabbath with His life-giving authoritative Word. And the devil picks a fight.           
            A man jumps up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and shouts, “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!”  It’s not every day you go to church and a fight breaks out in the middle of the service.
            There’s no point trying to get into Jesus’ head or get him off his game; but maybe the devil can get into the heads of those people listening, you know, the other team-mates, the guys on the bench watching it all go down.
            Disorder is always the way of the devils.  That’s a good way to tell the devil’s work – disorder in the home and community, and especially in the church. That’s the way the devil prefers it: disorder, disruption, chaos.
            God, on the other hand, is a God of order.  He orders are days, our deeds, our worship – all things by the authority of His Word, which is really another way of saying by the authority of Jesus’ crucified and risen presence.
            So, Jesus isn’t about to let all hell break loose. In fact, he came to do the opposite. To take hell captive and release you from bondage to sin, death and the devil.
            During Epiphany the light of Jesus casts out the darkness one sick man, one unclean spirit at a time. Jesus fights back. He doesn’t run away. He drops the gloves and astonishes everyone. First he amazed them with his authority over the Word of God. Then he amazes them with his authority over unclean spirits. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the exorcist. He loves to get his hands dirty in the fight to win back his people, his creation.
            But even that too is astonishing. All that Jesus does – his teaching, healing, rescuing from sin, death and the devil – he doesn’t do any of it in the way anyone expected. The only road to life, leads through death, through the cross.
            That’s what our old sinful nature finds truly amazing, unbelievable and even unbearable. As the battle rages on we try to sit down and have a diplomatic discussion with the devil.

            Adam and Eve got into a similar war of words and lost. Satan has tactical advantage over your words – twist, turn, doubt and deceit. But not over Jesus’ words. His words are different. Authority of God wrapped in humility, service, sacrifice, suffering and self-giving love.
            Our words are just like the scribes’ – they have no authority. Our talk is cheap.
            Oh sure we say we’re going to attend Bible study more and be involved in this or that outreach at church or talk to our neighbor about Jesus or whatever. But we rarely follow through.  At best we try to fight the devil on his own turf and lose every time.
            At worst we join the unclean spirit in saying: “What have you to do with us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?”  That’s the devil’s big lie: to convince you that there’s nothing more to say. Sometimes it’s not so much what the devil puts into our head but what he keeps out that’s the problem (Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis).
            The devil would love to have us stop reading Mark’s gospel at chapter 1, so we could close up the book and never get to chapter 16 with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He would love to have you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God without all this stuff about cross, and body and blood, and death and resurrection.  The devil loves “spiritualities” and cross-less, blood-less religion.
            It was a simple question. A skirmish before the all out war.  “Have you come to destroy us?”  Yes.  Capernaum leads to Calvary. Jesus goes toe-to-toe with sin, death and the devil.  Jesus gives His life into death for all and the “Have You Come To Destroy Us” question is answered.  The serpent that brought death and damnation to the world by the tree in the garden is destroyed by Jesus in His death on the tree of the cross.  

            No doubt there were many amazing things Jesus said that day in the synagogue and many more signs and wonders performed throughout his 3 year ministry.
            But the most amazing thing of all is this…God’s authority comes to save, rescue, forgive, heal, speak - wrapped in human flesh and weakness; God exercises his authority by way of sacrifice, suffering, dying and self-giving love.
            He fights by lying down and dying. He wins your life by losing his. He frees you from sin death and the devil by becoming a prisoner in your death and sin.
            He knows full well what this fight with the enforcer of hell is all about. But the devil can’t get into his head. No one can get Jesus off his game to save you. Rather, He gives the devil, the world and our sinful flesh his head for the thorns, and his hands and feet for the nails, and his side for the spear and his death for our life. Nailed to the cross – where we did our worst – God does his best. That is what is most amazing of all. With a word, it is finished.

            With a word, Jesus silences the demon.  Be muzzled. “Shut up!” Of course it’s impolite to say “shut up,” but you can’t be polite around the devil, and Jesus isn’t and neither should you.  “Shut up, devil.” The same word He says to the storm that threatened to capsize the disciples on the sea of Galilee.  “Shut up, and come out of him.” 
            See how easily Jesus deals with the demons.  Just a word.  And though the demon convulses and shrieks, in the end it must submit to the Word of Jesus because Jesus is Lord even of the devil and His demons.  ‘He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.”  (That word, by the way, is “Liar!” in case you’re wondering.)            It’s true, that line we sing in A Mighty Fortress, “No strength of ours can match his might, we would be lost, rejected.”  But let not your hearts be troubled. For us fights the Valiant One, Jesus. For the demons, human nature is something to possess, control and dominate. Jesus comes not to possess man but to set youfree; not to control but to love you; not to dominate, but to serve you.

            You see, the unclean spirit was half right. Jesus has come to destroy them and us. But that’s only half true. Jesus kills in order to make alive; he brings down in order to raise us up. He destroys in order to create new life in you. That’s the way it is with your Baptism. Baptism is your exorcism. There’s no twisting heads or spewing green stuff. All you need is water and Jesus’ Word of authority. “Depart you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit. Do you renounce the devil? All his works? All his ways?” Yes. Shut up, devil. This child belongs to me now and nothing or no one can snatch them out of my hand.

            That’s what this sign is all about. Where is God’s authority found? Jesus. He speaks and it happens. It’s no different for the Church today. Where’s God’s authority?  Not in my pious opinions, nor anyone else’s.  Not in some board or synod or district or voters assembly.  Not the powerful majority or the vocal minority.  The authority of God rests solely in the Word, in Jesus. 

            Jesus’ teaching is as amazing then as it is now. “But if only that happened today,” you say. Guess what? It still does. Jesus’ Word of authority fills the church today, greater than it did in that synagogue of old. Jesus’ Word of authority at your Baptism: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Word of authority at the Lord’s Supper: take eat this is my body; take drink, this is my blood. Jesus’ Word of authority in the absolution: I forgive you all your sins.  That’s Jesus’ authority. He speaks and it’s done for you. The fight is over. And you are free.
  In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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