Epiphany 4 Who is that Masked Man?

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

 [Moses said:] 15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This 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.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I 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. 19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But 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.”

Psalm: Psalm 111

1Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
  in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are your works, O Lord,
  pondered by all who delight in them.
3Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
  and your righteousness endures forever.
4You cause your wonders to be remembered;
  you are gracious and full of compassion. 
5You give food to those who fear you,
  remembering forever your covenant.
6You have shown your people the power of your works
  in giving them the lands of the nations.
7The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
  all of your precepts are sure.
8They stand fast forever and ever,
  because they are done in truth and equity. 
9You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever;
  holy and awesome is your name.
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
  all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s    praise endures forever. 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
  4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
  7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

21[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

CHILDREN’S SERMON

Double identities is a favorite literary theme that is always fascinating.  Let’s see how many you recognize”

  1. Dr. Jekyl and ——————————– (My Hyde)
  2. Clark Kent was __________________(Superman)
  3. Prisoner 24601 was ____________ (Jean Val Jean of Les Miserables, the birthdate of Victor Hugo, the author)
  4. Prisoner imprisoned on an island, befriending a monk returned to find girlfriend married and he disguised himself as __________________(Count of Monte Cristo)
  5. Texas ranger was the only one to survive an ambush, became known as ______ (the Lone Ranger – and he wore a mask too!)
  6. My favorites are the Scarlet Pimpernel who snuck people out of France and the guiotine by wearing costumes or there is the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican who helped soldiers hide in Rome from the Nazis by wearing costumes to sneak past the guards.

All these are fun stories as we cheer for the disguised person setting life straight.  It is no wonder ID verification is important today. 

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart praise you and not deceive.

SERMON

This week, we are still in Mark 1.  Mark’s introduction of Jesus is progressing.  Baptized, tempted, followed by disciples, Jesus enters the synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is a town on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, not that far from Nazareth, and is thought to be the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the disciples called last week.  It seems to be the center of Jesus’ public ministry.   So it is not surprising to find Jesus in the synagogue and welcomed to read.  In our text today, Jesus speaks with “authority” three times. We see the authority that comes from knowing about something, the authority that comes from being the author, and the authority that must be talked about.

1.  Authority of education.  Today’s event happened before IUPUI, before Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, before the printing press and public education for all.  Scriptures were copied by hand and for most, education was oral.  The Scribes (Think of scribble.  Think of Scripture.) were distinguished Jewish professionals who copied manuscripts but who also had secretarial and administrative responsibilities, similar to possibly judges and teachers.  There were strict rules governing their profession.  These men had the authority of knowing Scripture.  The text tells us people  “ were astounded at his teaching, for he, Jesus, taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  Jesus had a different authority than the educated Scribes. Jesus did not just copy the words and study them, he wrote the words.  Jesus was “the Word,” not an authority but the author of the scriptures.

         I would understand this to imply that there is authority that comes from “knowing about” a subject but there is also knowledge that comes from being the inventor, the author.  We are trusting Dr. Fauci for this pandemic – and we trust the nurse that gives the shot.  We trust professors and scientist.  Astronauts trust NASA.  The claim to have worked 45 years in government carries weight of relationship and knowledge.  Jesus did not speak with that kind of authority.  He spoke with the authority of the author.  His teachings carried the listeners to a whole new level of awareness and insight. 

         When we read the Bible, we believe it is “inspired,” we are reading a message from THE Author of that message.  The Bible does tell a historical story but it also carries the weight of the presence of God in the story and through the story, of someone at creation, of truth that applies to us today.  Mark is telling us that Jesus appears, not just as another authority in competition for the election of our affection, but Jesus enters history and the synagogue as the author of Scripture, teaching with authority.  How we respond is up to us.

2.  Authority opposed.  Jesus is teaching with authority when a “man with an unclean spirit,” cried out.  Some feel that this man may have been a Scribe implying the imperfection of the Scribes’ understanding.  I would understand that going to the synagogue was similar to us going to church now.  The men met in one area where Scripture was read and women were behind a wall and expected to ask questions of their husband at home.  Hence a man with an unclean spirit could well have been present.  The politically correct way of talking today would probably be to say a person with mental illness was present and interrupting the speaker.  Perhaps it would be like a heckler.  Today we would be slow to ascribe Satanic authority to someone who disagrees with the preacher.  This interruption, though, is the central part of the scenario.  Authority does not mean others agree and believe.  It is possible to know scripture like the Scribes but it is also possible to know scripture and resist the author, the authority of scripture.

         I notice the man approaches with questions.  “’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.’”   This sounds very similar to the serpent dealing with Eve by asking questions.  Did God say?  Did God mean?  Is God honest? Doubts about the authority and validity of God are raised.

         -The unclean spirit asks if Jesus has “authority” as he is “Jesus of Nazareth”, using a human title.  He approaches Jesus as human.  By what authority is he reading Scripture that day? This question still reverberates through our world today.  Many know about Jesus, the man of Nazareth, but they do not acknowledge that he can speak into their lives with authority.  It makes me ponder, what does Jesus have to do with us at Bethany today?  Was he a fantastic man who taught good principles for people to follow today?  Am I just following family tradition?  What brought you to church today?  How do you answer the question – Jesus, what do you have to do with me?

         -Next the man asks, “Have you come to destroy us?”  This question raises doubts about the legitimacy of God’s rules in our life and God’s intent.  Surely we won’t die if we eat the fruit?  God could not have meant that we forgive in the face of abuse and war.  This week we remember Auswitz.  Corrie Ten Boom tells of meeting her prison guard after the war and realizing her need to forgive him.  Today we struggle with advocacy, justice, demonstrations.   We have rights we need to fight for – right?  Authority opposed tries to keep the control of our lives in our hands.  Jesus of Nazareth said many interesting things and wise things but does it mean I must obey?

         -Then the man addresses Jesus by his title, “Holy One of God,” and attempts to name Jesus.  At that point Jesus says “Silence!”  The spirit shrieks and leaves the man.  The spirit has tried to claim authority over Jesus.  When my full name is invoked, it is usually a power scenario.  The principal does not use my shortened name when calling me to the office.  My husband does not use my full name usually except in legal transactions.  My friends do not call my full name.  When the man uses a spiritual name for Jesus, Jesus responds, “Silence.  Come out of him!”  The spirit shrieks and must leave the man.  Jesus has authority with power.  End of discussion.  Jesus does not debate about his authority, he declares and expels any competition.

         This is the climax in Mark’s story today.  Mark begins his gospel, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Jesus is introduced by John the Baptist, an accepted prophet of God at the beginning of chapter 1.   He is baptized with a full appearance of the Trinity.  He is being followed by disciples.  Today he is confronted by the demonic, by evil, and he speaks with authority.  Mark has made his point.  Jesus speaks with authority more than Scribes who know the Scriptures.  Jesus speaks with authority over evil that opposes Scripture.  And we stand with the audience, marveling.

3.  Authority that must be told.  Again the people are amazed.  “28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”  “At once,” there is another of those action words that moves Mark’s report forward.  Authority of Jesus is not something we catalogue in the back of our mind for a day when we are in need, it is authority that must be acted upon.  We can question and doubt and resist like the man with the unclean spirit, we can follow like the disciples, and we can all share the good news to people we meet.

         We may not have seen “unclean” spirits cast out and we may prefer to talk about the evil of social systems that rob people of their humanity, but we have encountered the Holy One of God who helped sort out our lives.  We do have the Scriptures available in our language that we can read – or we can turn on the radio or TV.  We do see God speak through nature as each day the sun rises and the moon shines.  We may worry about the pandemic but we know the love of friends and Lord who will be with us through this time.  Jesus speaks through the Scriptures with the authority of the one who is the living word.  Jesus has the authoritative power to deal with the evil that seeks to sow doubt and distrust in our hearts.   And this is good news we can share with those we meet.  May the Holy Spirit be with you as you grapple with the authority of Christ in your life.  Who is that masked man, you ask.  He is true God and true man, speaking with authority.  Amen  

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