First Congregational Church
January 31 2021
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Council Commissioning
“On the Way to a Little Normal”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Considering the fact that my grandfathers barely knew who I was, I think it’s rather wonderful that some grandfathers impart great information and wisdom to their grand pups. We don’t know the name of the person, but since the internet posted it, we know that these things are true: the things grandpa taught me.
1. Life is simpler when you plow around the stump. 2. A yellow jacket is faster than a John Deere tractor. 3. Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled. 4. Meanness doesn't happen overnight. 5. Don't sell your mule to buy a plow. 6. Don't corner something meaner than you.
Picking up right from where we left off in Mark last week, Peter, Andrew, James and John had dropped all their duties and obligations to family and friends to follow Jesus, because he called them to do so. This morning’s passage begins by saying that they went to Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing village of about 1,500 on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. It would take about nine hours to travel on foot from little, unincorporated Nazareth to flourishing Capernaum.
I think it would be a little interesting, knowing if Jesus and the guys stopped for lunch, if they brought it with them, if they ate while they walked, saw anyone else going to Capernaum, and other trivial stuff like that. Was their walking leisurely or determined? Those things might make a difference in how they would need to rest before going on to the synagogue.
Mark 1:21-28 (The Message)
21-22 Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.
23-24 Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!”
25-26 Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out.
27-28 Everyone there was spellbound, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and tells them to get lost!” News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee.
Thank you, Myra. I wanted us to hear this passage from Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, The Message, because there’s so much more energy in it. It can become a little more alive in one’s mind, than the New International Version. And one of the very specific reasons for this change of versions lies around verse 22. The NIV says that Jesus taught with authority. The Message says he taught so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.” Those “versions” definitely don’t have same color.
I was delighted when this week's ministerial association meeting began with this passage, because I think it’s good to see what various folks are thinking, when we have the opportunity. Have to say, I wasn’t expecting the first question to be, “What is our authority?” It was a rhetorical question, because of course, any authority we get comes from God. Even so, it got a fair bit of discussion around words like power and truth and ideas like internal and external places of authority.
I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box, and this topic of authority hadn’t even come up in my mind. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then who of us have the right to question that? Maybe in our current, politically hot world we are caught up in who has authority over what. But frankly, I don’t see a discussion about authority as one that is where a lot of us are at these days - at least in our heart of hearts. In fact, I think what we need is something that is more helpful and needful than that. And it was Scott Hoezee, from Calvin Theological Seminary that got me thinking in that direction.
In his exposition of this passage, he repeated this phrase: a few different times: “It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, the Jews of Capernaum went to the synagogue.” He described what has perhaps happened for millennia on Sabbath or Sunday mornings: tired people helping their children - being children - struggle to get to the place they always attended on those mornings. Not all, but some may have been out-of-sorts because they were out of milk for the morning cereal. But it was expected that you would show up, and so you made it.
And perhaps you were looking forward to heading home to Sunday brunch, after a little reading of the Torah, some singing of a few Psalms. But then this guy stands up and starts preaching, and “while he was no “John the Baptist full of theatrics and arm-waving fire-and-brimstone rhetoric,” there was something different about this Jesus.
It wasn’t just that his ideas and vocabulary were fresh and innovative and it wasn’t simply that he was a better orator than they at first guessed. Rather, there was something in the very presence of the man that made you want to sit up straighter. Even the teenagers, who had worked so hard at perfecting a bored-stiff look on their faces, couldn’t help perking up, slouching a bit less and listening more closely than they’d care to admit. This man had authority. He had a moral gravity, a weightiness and substance to him that people found difficult to explain.”
I got to wondering, is there anyone with such authority in our modern world, even if they would be 100% human. The closest I got was Billy Graham.
So imagine you’re on your way here, looking forward to yet another stellar sermon of keen insight and theological creativity, and Billy Graham is covering that day. And of all days, there’s a visitor in the back, and at some point in the service, there is a shriek, followed by a “What do you want to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to wipe us out already!? I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God!”
Let me tell you, while that scenario is not one of my nightmares, I do wonder about how I - or any of us would handle such a thing. I’ve wondered about such scenarios for years, actually. How do we handle the unexpected, the unpredictable, maybe even a little dangerous sounding or looking? Jesus tells the spirit to come out of the man, but hey - he’s Jesus. We certainly aren’t.
It was the Sabbath and so, naturally, they went to the Synagogue. We may anticipate the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we may even experience that Spirit - in a moment or two that touches our hearts. But we surely don’t expect something so crazed!
Jesus gave the man his life back. I sometimes wonder, of any of the people who come to worship with us - even from all the far away places on the internets - those who come who need their life given back to them - and how that life-return begins with simple acknowledgment of that other person and their need for Christ’s healing - as much as our own. It was Sunday and so, naturally, we go to Church. It was a day like today, and an epiphany happened on our way to a little normalcy.
That Grandpa who had those great lessons, earlier in the message? He also said “Always drink upstream from the herd and never miss a good chance to shut up.
And don't squat with your spurs on and don't judge people by their relatives.
In one of William H Willimon’s earliest sermons at seminary as a youth pastor in Anderson, South Carolina in 1968, he attacked Lyndon Johnson (maybe Lady Bird too), and denounced the then-current Vietnam War.
After the service, an enraged man shouted at the church door, “Punks like you are the shame of America,” and “You are a cowardly little "jerk” who doesn’t support our boys fighting in Southeast Asia.”
William was unsure whether to protect his face, his stomach, or his groin, he said. But he staggered back into the church, as far as the altar area. A member of the altar guild, an older woman in a small pink hat, was removing flowers from the brass vases.
“That was awful!” ha gasped. “Did you hear what he said to me?”
“Everyone heard,” she said, smiling. “I do wish people wouldn’t use such language when children are present. Could you hand me that container?” “He was going to hit me! How could that jerk be that upset by a first-year seminarian trying to preach?”
She looked up from fussing with flowers and said, “Dear, it’s not you who upset him. I’m sure you remind him of his son. Both of you have long hair, though you appear to have no tattoos or ear piercing. Tommy is gay, living in California or some such. He’s lost the son to whom he gave his life. Tom kept his promise to God to be a good father, but it seems that God failed to keep his promise to Tom.” She laughed to herself. “Now, who would be upset with a nice boy like you? No, Tom hates God.”
There’s a lot of anger “out there,” and it’s not all about who’s right and who’s wrong. In fact, I would be willing to lay down a little money - if’n I was a bettin’ woman - that maybe even a majority of the anger we encounter - even through computer screens and tv sets - is about what feels like God not keeping promises and other such perceptions.
And maybe, when we take a few minutes to really think about it, there may be a bit of anger in each of us, for not doing what we know we should have, or doing what we know we shouldn’t have. What I have learned is that when we don’t take the time to deal with our would-as, could-as and should-as, regret can fester into anger quicker than a deeply disturbed person can upset a worship service on their way to a little normal. So let us draw back the curtains of our hearts this morning, just for a bit, to take out a little trash, so it doesn’t combust or leak out in ways we would least suspect.
All knowing and all loving God, you know how much we love to have things under control, how we sometimes wiggle and squirm to look and seem “normal.” You also know that which we carry in our hearts, that which is heavy, crazed or painful - even dead. This morning, we lay those things down, at your feet, before your holy throne of grace —- and ask that you reform them, remake them and transform them into healing that makes a difference - even on our way to a little normal. —- Thank you, too, for the healing you have done in our past days and times, for the grace that has transformed us into message bearers of that same grace. For your grace and your deep, unmatched love for each of your beloveds, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.