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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 1, 2015

Life, they say, is a series of interruptions. Our carefully laid plans can be going along well in one moment and in the next moment, they can be disrupted by something we had not planned on. A hurricane or a snowstorm, predicted our not, turns our world upside down. We may get an alarming medical diagnosis. A relative or friend may call to invite us to an impromptu party. All of these things and many other events cause us to drop what we are planning and think in new ways to prepare for the event that is coming.

One Friday evening, I got a call from my Michigan brother who was in College Park for the Notre Dame-Maryland game. He invited me to his hotel room to watch the West Virginia game on television before they left. My other brother and sister-in-law were coming, and my nephew and his girlfriend would be there. I had plans for the next day, but family is very important to me, so I rushed to change my plans and go to Maryland where I enjoyed myself immensely.

When we receive news that changes our plans for the worse, one of the expressions we use is that “all hell has broken loose”. Well not this morning it hasn’t. Rather all heaven has broken loose (Gary W. Charles) and has invaded the world. Jesus has come to his ministry with the suddenness of a rushing wind. God has torn open the heavens and put God’s mark of approval on him. Jesus has been in the wilderness facing temptation, which he overcame. Jesus is ready to rock and roll. He begins preaching as John did – to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand and he is the embodiment of it (Paul K. Hooker). He begins to gather disciples to follow him and then immediately goes to Capernaum in Galilee to the synagogue where he sits down to teach on the Sabbath. We don’t know what he said, but the people are amazed at his teaching and proclaim it has authority, which is different than the scribes, who interpret the tradition of the Torah, comparing one part with another that has the same language to come up with the rules that the Jews should follow. We can presume that Jesus’ teaching was not like that. His teaching, if it was about the kingdom of God, was about relationship and experience. It was about drawing near to God and listening for what God said. It was about opening minds and hearts to the possibility of God taking over the world.

Jesus no sooner begins than a man possessed by a demon comes into the synagogue. We are not sure if the man came when he heard of Jesus or the coming was of the demon’s doing, who also wanted to see Jesus because he knew who he was and wanted to confront him. The conversation in the passage really has nothing to do with the man. We don’t know anything about him except that he is possessed. Jesus faces the challenge of the demon and defeats it. He orders the demon to be silent when he tries to say who he is and calls the demon to leave the man. The demon obeys, and Jesus gives notice to demons everywhere that their rule over the earth and its people is at an end (Gary W. Charles). The kingdom of God will not stand for the disease, alienation, brokenness and social displacement that demonic possession forces on people.

The crowd responds to this action with the same reaction as before – a new teaching with authority. Jesus’ actions also teach the crowd about what he is about in the world. He is there to do good things, to make things new.

The central message in the gospel is about Jesus’ authority – his authority to teach and his authority over the kingdom of this world. Even from this short passage we can say several things about Jesus authority.

Authority has to be given. We elect officials and invest them with authority. We have expert testimony in court given by people who are authorities in their field. Children often give their parents authority, then decide they are the authority on their own lives when they grow older. Jesus’ authority comes from God. It was given to him at his baptism, and it is an authority that is not just for some people, but for all people. In order to have authority, not only must it be given, one must use it. We can imagine a confident and assured Jesus sitting in the temple teaching knowing for certain that his message is true.

Jesus’ authority is shown in his word and in his work. They are intertwined; one cannot be separated from the other. Jesus teaches and heals a lot in Mark and that is how Mark reveals him to his audience as the Messiah, even though the characters in the story do not get the implications of what Jesus says and does. Jesus’ words proclaim the truth about the coming kingdom of God and his actions show what that truth means for God’s people.

Jesus’ authority is a liberating authority. The man is liberated from demonic forces that possess him. He is made whole. Jesus’ power is all about love – the love of a God who wants the best for us enough to come among us and give his life for us, enough to come among us and teach us how much God loves us and how we are to love one another in return.

Jesus’ authority allows us to think in new ways. The crowd recognized the new teaching of Jesus as different from the ones they knew from their own scribes in the synagogue. It was a bold, fresh message that promised fullness of life to all who would listen to it and follow it. It was a powerful message, coming from a center of love and peace and not of violence.

What does Jesus authority say to us today? First it says that the kingdom of God is still very different from the kingdom of this world. In the Washington Post, an article proclaims that the West is using its power in an attempt to pressure Moscow to stop deadly rocket attacks in the Eastern Ukraine. Another article discusses new uses for police body cameras as evidence in court. These world situations are examples of authority using pressure and might, not love and liberation.

Jesus’ authority continues through the ages. We are all vulnerable, all possessed by something. It could be the grip of an addiction; it could be overwhelming guilt, anxiety or depression. It could be the pride that says we know it all in a world where God cannot be known and pride diminishes God’s good power in our lives. Whatever it is, Jesus has authority over it and can heal us.

Jesus’ authority continues to make miracles, though we may not understand them in exactly the same way our ancestors did. Broken families made whole, people healed from illnesses, people freed from the grip of alcohol or drugs, people learning to live an abundant life by changing their priorities. (P)

What are we to do in light of Jesus’ authority? The people in the synagogue were amazed and astounded but that doesn’t translate to belief. We are to hear in Jesus’ authoritative teaching the burning love that God has for us and settle into that love with joy in our hearts. We are to hear in Jesus’ authority a call to follow, a call to help bring in the kingdom of God, a call to heal where we can. We are to see Jesus as the one who broke the kingdom loose in this world and can break our lives loose from whatever possesses us – illness of body, mind and spirit, excessive attachment to tradition, lack of energy for living. We are to turn to Jesus as the answer for all of what we need in this life and in the life to come. All heaven broke loose that day in Capernaum. May the kingdom continue to break loose our hearts to change and to grow, to follow and to trust, to love and to liberate.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

Works cited:
Gary W. Charles, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark, Homiletical Perspective, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 37
Paul K. Hooker, Feasting on the Gospels, Mark, Exegetical Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 33
Gary W. Charles, Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 1, Exegetical Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 311