Message Delivered on February 1, 2015Growing up is always hard to do but even more so when a child challenges their parents by asking, “Why?” The child wants an answer that can be understood in language at their age level and more often than not, the response I received from my father was, “Because I said so.” Even when very young, I felt put off and wanted an answer that explained why my request was turned down. I felt unimportant and ignored; maybe like a second class citizen.
When the Hebrews went to the synagogue to learn and pray, the rabbis taught the scriptures and interpreted them from their individual perspectives. Varying oral traditions were woven into the explanations, which meant that the answers to questions were not always consistent. Different Pharisees could use their authority to interject their opinions about interpretations which might contradict the teaching of the local rabbis. The people were caught between the rabbis’ teaching and the legal experts, the Pharisees.
Even before stories circulated on the internet, I heard the plight of a much loved and greatly respected professor, who was called away to Washington D.C. to act as a consultant with governmental matters. He knew he would be gone two weeks and he did not want his students thinking that he was abandoning them, nor that they would not receive the necessary information for the next scheduled test. He came back from D.C. a day early and stopped by the classroom to observe the students listening to his recorded lecture. What he found was a classroom with tape recorders running on each desk–taking notes for each respective student recording from the professor’s recorded message. Sometimes when we think we have everything under control, events turn out much differently from what we have planned.
This morning we are looking at Mark’s gospel on an occasion when Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is the home of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, whom Jesus called as his first disciples. All of them would have gone to the synagogue on the hill, just up the road from Peter’s house. We are told that the listeners present that day were astounded at his teaching, which was different from the teaching of the local scribes, most of whom belonged to the sect of Pharisees who relied on the teachings of the Torah, and the accumulated oral traditions down through the ages. There were so many different interpretations that the people were not always certain as to the “correct” interpretation. Jesus’ words were new and refreshing, spoken with authority. He did not quote other authorities from their perspectives. He spoke with authority and no ambiguity. It was like he believed that he had been “assigned” to speak on behalf of God.
In the midst of the synagogue service, a man with a demon, an evil power or authority, came in and asked Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” WOW! What an endorsement for Jesus as God–God with power and authority. Jesus’ teaching showed that the scribes were shallow and stale in their teaching while Jesus’ was deep and original, and he had authority in his real power to contact the forces of evil. Jesus was orderly, rational and believable in his teaching. The people had never seen or heard anything like this in their previous experiences in the synagogue.
There was a letter to “Dear Abby” printed in the newspaper:
Dear Abby: Last week my sister-in-law had a garage sale, and right out front was displayed the gift my husband and I had given her last Christmas. It had never been used and was sold for less than half of what we paid for it. My husband said that it was hers to do whatever she pleased with, and that I was stupid and over sensitive to give it a second thought. What do you think? Signed, Hurt.
Abby’s reply: “Dear Hurt: Your husband is right when he says the gift was hers to do with whatever she pleased.”
A true gift leaves the giver exposed. The giver is out of control. His or her defenses are down. Each day we make plans and occasionally something backfires on us.
During World War 2 the Manhattan Project was started to produce an atomic bomb. The work went on secretly in places like Chicago; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Finally, near the end of the war, the A bomb was just about ready to be deployed. The scientists learned that Germany, weeks away from defeat, was not going to make the bomb. They questioned whether they should rush to complete their project but maybe it would not be needed to defeat the Japanese. Einstein was asked to write to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on behalf of the scientists to bring him up to date on the progress. The president never read the letter. It was found in his office after he died on April 12, 1945. The letter was passed to Harry Truman, FDR’s successor in office. A decision was made to drop the bomb first on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then three days later, on Nagasaki. Einstein was at a cottage on Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks when he heard the news. His comment: “Oh, my God.”
One month later the scientists involved in creating the bomb signed a statement urging that a council of nations be created to control atomic weaponry. Scientists wanted something to be done to control this incredible destructive power that had been unleashed by their hands. The bomb had consequences that they had not foreseen. When the scientists began working on the project, they envisioned the potential good that could come out of their experiments, but by the close of the war they were horrified at the destruction that could come to all humankind. Advances in science and technology can be used with good and bad intentions. Even our brightest and best minds cannot keep everything under control, so we cannot expect those of us who are more ordinary people to think that we can have complete control over our lives. We have problems we cannot solve, heavy burdens, and addictions that enslave us. We have diseases we cannot heal and in the end, death that we cannot escape.
Mark spoke of evil power in Jesus’ earthly reign but he reminded us that there is also good news. There is One who is stronger than the evil we confront. Some one more powerful has come to the world and stands by our side to help us battle against evil. Will Willimon, Chaplain at Duke University, wrote an article in the Christian Century magazine in which
he used The King’s Speech” movie as a basis for speaking about the authority of preaching the gospel. King George VI, plagued with a stuttering speech impediment, worked with a speech therapist for years to be able to speak in public. Willimon contends that it is extremely difficult to teach seminarians how to preach and used King George VI as an example. The king was terrified at the prospect of being put in front of a microphone to say something important to a crowd of listeners, to dare to intrude into other people’s souls with words, to tell them the truth that they have been avoiding–is not a vocation for the faint of heart!
Recognizing the voice of authority is the key to overcoming potential chaos, “the out of control” aspect of so much of our lives. There is only one who speaks with an authoritative voice straight from God–that is Jesus, who astounded the congregation at Capernaum and who continues to astound today as he subdues the unruly powers that seek to torment us. Praise God for Jesus’ power and authority over our lives! Amen.