Saturday, 31 January 2015

Not just information - Transformation

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Mark 1:21-22
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 

In Mark’s gospel this morning we find Jesus in the Synagogue, teaching.
The word is ‘didaskē’, from which we get ‘didactic’.
The Jews were used to Rabbis teaching – the Scribes were learned men who studied the Law, transcribed it and wrote commentaries on it: Ezra, in the OT book of that name, was a scribe. They were ultimately concerned with the written word – hence ‘scribe’ – scribblers.
So in one sense Jesus is not out of place teaching in the Synagogue.
He was a Rabbi, and Rabbis taught.
But in another sense, he was doing something very different.
Mark tells us they were amazed at his teaching because he taught 'as one with authority'.
There are some people who say things and you instantly know their words have power and authenticity.
This capacity to match words and actions with authenticity appears to be sadly lacking in political discourse today.
It’s easy to judge, but we’re so used to hearing people saying one thing and not following it up, or hearing people change their minds the instant it become expedient to do so, we can easily forget what teaching with authority looks like.
Perhaps think of a figure like Nelson Mandela. His life and long-suffering enabled him to speak with authority.
Or Aung San Suu Kyi, Leader of the Burmese opposition Party, who has spent a great deal of her political life under house arrest, fighting human rights abuses whilst suffering them herself, and who is listed as the 61st most influential woman in the world by Forbes.
When she talks about human rights, she speaks as one with authority.
We can only assume that in contrast, the Scribes just talked.
They were no doubt fascinated by the finer points of the Law, and knew every detail of how a good Jew should live.
But did it connect with the common person at all?
Apparently not.

We run the risk of being similarly out of touch today, in the Church.
Pope Frances has been thinking about why young people reject the Church: speaking of those who perhaps have been baptized, even been confirmed, and may attend church semi regularly, he commented they nevertheless have ‘never been truly evangelized. They have never experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ or real transformation through his Church’ (, accessed 30.01.15)

Why is this? He offers 10 reasons:

1.The Church no longer offers anything meaningful or important.
2. The Church appears too weak.
3. The Church appears too distant from their needs.
4. The Church appears too poor to respond to their concerns.
5. The Church appears too cold.
6. The Church appears too caught up with itself.
7. The Church appears to be a prisoner of its own rigid formulas.
8. The world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past.
9. The Church appears unfit to answer the world’s new questions.
10. The Church speaks to people in their infancy but not when they come of age.

These are hard things to face, but may help us to understand the difference in Mark’s story between teaching for moral outcomes only, and the transformation Jesus brings.

The Archbishop was in the news this week for suggesting the same thing, in a sermon to Trinity Church, New York, for their conference on ‘Creating the Common Good’ (about the Church seeking the welfare of the community).
The Telegraph gave the report the title ‘too much claptrap in sermons’, quoting Archbishop Justin: “The old sermons that we have heard so often in England, which I grew up with, which if you boiled them down all they effectively said was: ‘Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we were all a bit nicer?’
“That is the kind of moral claptrap that Jesus does not permit us to accept.”
 Similarly Jesus was not giving morality training in the synagogue that day.

While he is teaching, as we heard, a man bursts in and starts shouting wildly.
Mark describes the man has having an unclean spirit.
We understand this to be some sort of evil that has got hold of him; something intrusive that has possessed him.
Perhaps the best way we can view it is that possession is similar to addiction – the man is not in control of himself; he needs release and deliverance.
And one thing is clear – the demon (or demons) know who Jesus is.
Mark’s gospel contains the concept of the ‘Messianic secret’ – Jesus didn’t reveal his true identity willy-nilly; he tried to keep it secret, because he knew people would try and make him a celebrity.
But the first to recognise him are demons.
‘What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God’.
The demon shouts out in panic.
The irony of the religious Scribes sitting mute while Jesus talks with a possessed man is intense.
But Jesus will not allow evil to have even a brief platform.
He tells the demon ‘Be silent and come out of him’. The command carries the sense of a muzzle – ‘be silent!’
The man is convulsed and, crying out with loud voice, is released and delivered.
In one small episode, both Jesus’ teaching and his actions are of one piece with each other.
He not only talks the talk – he walks the walk.
This is why Christianity is not about merely information, but transformation.
Let us develop a lens of transformation through which we look at our lives together as a Church.
How does worship transform you?
How does receiving the bread and the wine transform you?
How are you transformed by prayer, by your relationships?
How is your character being transformed, from glory to glory?
Because if we’re only here for the morality, or the interesting information disseminated from the pulpit, we will have nothing dynamic to offer the world, and no power with which to tackle injustice and evil.
So as we share the christian life together, know that Jesus is in the business of transformation - of individual lives and communities. 
As the PCC meet next week, pray for us as we seek God's leading for our church and think about the future.
Not just information – Transformation.

To end, I’m sure you’ll be able to see the difference between the two, in this story from the C of E website, a story about transforming faith.

Finding faith on the doorstep


When Duncan and his wife Helen moved to Kirkheaton, within sight and sound of St. John's, Helen wanted to go. Duncan, having lost interest in anything to do with church (which had figured prominently in his childhood), decided to reluctantly tag along. He often worked on Sundays but when at home opted to join his wife rather than be home alone!
He found the people at St. John's very friendly and welcoming, but this made him suspicious.  'I couldn't wait for the service to end' he said.
That was until Easter Sunday 2008.  Helen as usual was keen, Duncan dragged along behind her not wanting to be left at home.
Here, in Duncan's own words, is what happened next.  'At first I thought I was having a panic attack!  How wrong I was.  I found the Sermon very moving, and inexplicably told Helen that I was going to take Communion for the very first time.  I cannot adequately describe the feelings I had as I humbly knelt there, but I was suddenly overwhelmed both emotionally and physically and I had never experienced anything as powerful before in my life.  I knew then that I belonged to the Church, but most importantly I belonged to God.'
Helen and Duncan joined the Emmaus Course at the church, which they found to be a 'wonderful, rewarding and enjoyable' journey in their faith.  Helen was baptised in October 2008, and both Helen and Duncan were confirmed the following week in Wakefield Cathedral (see pic)
'I am still continuing to grow in my faith' said Duncan 'and I know that my journey will never end.'

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