Friday, 27 January 2012

sermon spoiler...

Epiphany 4
Mark 1:21-28 –Jesus exorcises a demon in the middle of teaching in the synangogue

If Jesus came here today to this pulpit, what would we make of him?
Firstly he might mount the pulpit steps – after all this is where we get our teaching from, and he was teaching at the start of today’s gospel: ‘They went to Capernaum and when the Sabbath came he entered the synagogue and taught.’
Oaky, we have our teaching on a different day – Sunday, the first day of the week (Resurrection Day) instead of the Jewish Sabbath, but we do have teaching from the pulpit so we know all about what that looks and sounds like…(but how many sermons from the last three months can you remember?)
So he might well mount the pulpit steps and begin teaching…
What would he say?
Would he stick to traditional themes? Would we be tempted to nod off?
Jesus was quite keen on questions, so I wonder if he might turn the exercise back on us and instead of preaching at us he might ask us about our own faith in God.
Some questions he might ask… ‘Tell me, who do people say that I am?’ (Mark 8: 27)
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10: 51)
If Jesus stood here in the pulpit asking: ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ I wonder how you’d answer.
Because invariably Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of words AND actions.
The Christian church down the ages has had an uneasy time trying to match these two aspects of Christian witness – words and actions.
Too many words and people can think we’ve nothing better to do than to sit around in synods and conferences debating matters which are of no actual importance to the average person in the street.
Too much action without words and the church might be mistaken for a benign human agency trying to do good in the world but without any real distinctively Christ like voice.
So we do need both actions and words in our Christian witness.
So Jesus might be standing in this pulpit teaching…
His teaching might be uncomfortable.
We learn in John 6 that many who heard Jesus’ teaching about feeding the world with his own flesh had found it just all too much to take: ‘This teaching is too hard…who can listen to it’?
Jesus knows people are grumbling about this and asks his disciples ‘do you want to give up?’
You can imagine a PR specialist at his point trying to advise Jesus about how best to minimize the damage done and maximize his chance of success and his numbers of followers:
‘Lord, you just need to tone down the whole ‘flesh and blood consuming’ thing – people are getting uneasy about it. Best not to mention the stuff about death and sacrifice, and then we should be able to get a few more people signed up…’
But Jesus is not interested in quantity – only quality.
And to his poignant question: ‘Do you too want to give up?’ Simon Peter answers "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
That’s the kind of follower Jesus is looking for.
So to return to Jesus in our pulpit…..after a possibly uncomfortable time listening to his difficult teaching about sacrifice, we might suddenly have an intrusion into the church…
I don’t know how synagogues were designed but it does seem somewhat strange that a random mad man can rush into the middle of the gathering and start shouting above the sermon.
I think this is why we have Wardens in the Anglican Church.
If someone rushes in and starts screaming before I’ve finished this sermon I give you full permission to remove them as quickly as possible.
But this is precisely where we go wrong.
The demon possessed man was about to be the best sermon illustration anyone could ever hope for.
Let’s not be so busy repeating the words of our faith every Sunday in church, that we miss the action of God in us.
Verse 24 reveals that the demon possessed man understood, in a way that perhaps we are slow to, that an encounter with Jesus is a life changing event.
‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’ he shouts.
This could be the fear of the demon talking – demons always knew their end was up when they came across Jesus.
Think of the legion of demons that begged to be sent into the pigs (the ‘Gadarene swine’) – they begged for this fate over the fate of being sent to hell.
So ‘What do you want with us?’ in today’s gospel could be the demons talking.
But it could equally apply to us.
‘What do you want with us, Jesus?’
What do you want with us in this small village in the Oxford Diocese at the start of 2012?
Yes, Jesus does want something with us.
He wants us to respond to his words, to give our lives in love and action – ‘Send us out as living sacrifices, to live and work to your praise and glory…’
So we don’t really know what Jesus would do were he to stand in this pulpit and teach and act, but we do know that he wouldn’t mind being interrupted by a pressing need or by someone who was desperate for freedom from bondage to evil.
Jesus’ ministry is a perfect weaving in of action and words, a perfect lived out demonstration of the breaking in of the kingdom of God.
He can deliver us from evil still today, whatever that means in our lives, and he can still break in.
He can deliver us from mere words to a life changing encounter with him.
A little illustration to end…
The life of an Anglican Minister is also a strange mixture of words and action.
I really enjoy the action – pastoral visiting, bible studies, leading worship, assemblies, baptisms, even funerals (especially funerals.)
But I also enjoy the words – writing essays for ongoing Curates’ training, writing sermons, writing prayers.
I was in the middle of this sermon, pumping out the words, when I felt an inner voice telling me to go for a walk in a certain part of the village (call it the Holy Spirit, call it the need for fresh air…)
I wanted to deliver something to someone there so, abandoning the words of my sermon, I walked, called round and had a very good visit, with some good community ramifications.
On my way back home I saw a lady struggling along the pavement with heavy shopping bags.
I recognized her from a funeral I had taken once.
She told me she hadn’t been very well so I plucked up courage and sent an arrow prayer up – ‘Lord I don’t want my ministry to be words only, but also action…’ (thinking: ‘are you really going to offer to pray for her in the street?’)
Then I asked if I could pray for her, there and then – and she was very keen.
So I had the privilege of discovering that during the writing of a sermon, God can lead you right to where he wants you to be acting.
The walk, the visit and the prayer on the street were all part of God’s gracious leading.
It seemed the perfect illustration for this sermon about Jesus and his seamless life of words and action.
May God give us all, here in this church and across this area, the grace to live our lives like Christ did – in proclaiming the freedom and power of God today in words and in actions.


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