Good Morning! Welcome to this morning's CTS service.
Worship today is led by Martin Sykes and Rev John Rowe
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Thank you to all those who have been part of putting together this weeks service.
Message - Rev John Rowe
Over the past 4 years, media platforms have seemingly been transfixed by the kind of leadership and authority that was being exercised in the USA. In the past weeks it would seem that a good many people from within the United States and a large number outside have breathed a sigh of relief that a new authority has been inaugurated there. That said, there will undoubtedly be much interest and fascination in the months and years ahead as to whether or not this new authority is less self-focused and more inclusive than what has gone before.
In our Gospel reading this morning there is a similar interest and fascination expressed at the teaching and authority encountered by those present at a synagogue in Capernaum. Mark, informs us that while teaching there Jesus was interrupted by a man possessed by an evil spirit, who cried out, “What do you want with us Jesus of Nazereth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God! Jesus, we are told subsequently exorcises the man of this evil spirit by commanding it come out of him. The congregation are so amazed, they ask, “What is this?” A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him”
Now the differences between first and twenty-first century sensibilities concerning evil spirits, and exorcisms are considerable and as a consequence it’s very difficult if not impossible for you and I to recover or adopt a first century view of the world. Consequently, it is perhaps more helpful when approaching biblical passages like this one, not to enquire, "What really happened here?" But rather, to ask "What does this mean?" And specifically what does it mean for us today?
In asking, ‘What does it mean?’, I am led to the conclusion that even in the context of the first century, were thoughts of demons and evil spirits abounded, this passage from Mark’s gospel is not primarily concerned with demon possession or exorcism (Although those things are present). But rather at the heart of this story is a concern with Jesus’ identity and what that leads him to do. Mark in this passage makes it absolutely clear where he stands on these two issues. This is Jesus of Nazareth, ‘The Holy one of God’ – He is the one who teaches with authority.
Having referred specifically to his authoritative teaching Mark, interestingly doesn’t tell us anything about what Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum. He instead contrasts Jesus’ teaching with that of the religious scribes; those who spent their lives studying the scriptures and the traditions of the Jewish faith. The very people whose teaching we assume would be viewed as authoritative and received as such. For, they were the men who presented the religious rules and laws to the people. Yet Mark suggests that it is Jesus who teaches with authority not the scribes. Why would Mark make such a statement? – Well there are, to my mind, at least three reasons why.
AUTHORITY: FOCUSED ON PEOPLES’ NEED
Firstly, we see that the authority Jesus exercises is focused on people’s need. Today, the demon possessed man might be diagnosed as schizophrenic or suffering from a Multiple-personality disorder. Whatever his problem he is clearly one who people would have learned to avoid. Not Jesus however. He immediately moves to heal the man. That is to say, to rid him of all that would seek him harm and exclude him from the community.
In contrast, the demands of the religious authorities are not it would seem primarily concerned with the well-being and health of people but rather with the maintenance of the rules, laws and traditions - Rules, laws and traditions which if not closely adhered to became for 1st century Jewish people, a yoke, a burden, because the authority the Scribes exercised so often meant that it was people who suffered, it was people who were excluded and demonised when they transgressed those rules, laws and traditions.
In being focused on people’s need it follows that Jesus’ way is the way of welcome and inclusion. Of this we are left in no doubt as throughout the gospel we see Jesus happily associating with those the scribes exclude and treated as outcasts. Those invited into Jesus’ school included tax collectors, prostitutes, poor widows, with trusting little children held up as model citizens of the Kingdom. His was and is a religious authority which always moves toward inclusion rather than exclusion. – Perhaps this was one of the reasons John Wesley insisted that all without exception can be saved in contrast to some influential contemporaries, who insisted that only a certain predestined number could be saved.
And that leads me to the third reason. For as well as his authority being focused on people’s need as well as welcoming and inclusive it was at the end of the day also a deeply sacrificial authority. SACRIFICIAL
The Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, in his commentary on Mark’s gospel
helps draw out Jesus’ saving and sacrificial authority by recalling the following story: Not long ago there was a great disaster at sea. A tourist boat, loaded with cars and holidaymakers, had failed to shut its loading doors properly; the water began to pour in; the boat began to sink, and panic set in. People were screaming as the happy, atmosphere of the ship turned in minutes into something worse than a horror movie.
All at once one man - not a member of the crew - took charge. In a clear voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realized someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge: holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed — the authority by which many had been saved.
In this gospel passage Mark wants us to know that Jesus had come to join in the struggle against the forces of evil and destruction. He came to be the human bridge across which people could climb to safety. And if, in the process he himself paid with his own life that was simply part of the integrity of his action, of whom he was and what he came to achieve.
So what is the meaning of this passage for us, the church of this generation? Simply this: That we the church should support and uphold leadership that bare these characteristics, pray for those that don’t and pray also that the church might learn again to speak and act in a like manner; that we might remember our call – To serve the needy, minister to the sick, welcome the stranger and seek the lost. Amen