Powers and Principalities
Sun, Jan 28, 2018

Astounded and Amazed

Duration:22 mins 59 secs

Our second scripture reading for this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verses 21-28. In the fast paced way in which Mark writes his gospel, by the time we reach verse 21 we have encountered John the Baptist, who subsequently has been arrested. Jesus was baptized and then driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus returns and begins his public ministry by announcing: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the good news of the gospel.” He then calls four fishermen to join him in this kingdom as together they will “fish for people.” With hardly a moment to catch our breath, we now we find Jesus taking these fishermen to the town of Capernaum. Let us hear this Word of God.

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

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

They were all astounded at his teaching. They were all amazed after the unclean spirit came out of the man, convulsing him and crying out with a long voice as he went. “What is this?” they asked. Yes, Jesus shows up in the synagogue and people are astounded and amazed. And at once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Pretty impressive for the first century Galilee, but I am not sure Jesus would have even been a blip on anyone’s radar today.
For we live in a culture awash in fame and celebrity. Much of it is centered online, on the internet. For example, how many Twitter followers do you need to become famous? I thought I was doing pretty well with just over 500 followers on Twitter. But then I learned that pop singer Katie Perry has 108,474,494 followers on Twitter. She is famous. For those not versed in Twitter, that means all those followers can read quotes by and get news about Katie Perry – everything from a video of her singing to a picture of what she had for breakfast to her thoughts on whatever topic might catch her interest today. More than 108 million people. That is amazing. And just so you know, Jesus does appear to have a few Twitter accounts, but I suspect he gets someone else to send tweets for him.

Now, there are some other ways to become famous online. On Tuesday The Telegraph, a London newspaper, shared a recent survey of career aspirations for United Kingdom elementary aged children. The top three choices were not too surprising: sports star, teacher, and veterinarian. But the next one might astound you. “Social media and video game star” was the fourth most popular choice. Yes, these elementary aged children want to be YouTube celebrities or professional video game players. And the scary thing is, while I have no idea how it is possible, you can actually make a living doing that today. “Social media and video game star?” Perhaps those are the career aspirations of some of our children in the Mothers' Day Out and Preschool program? Maybe young Milly (whom we baptized today) will grow up to do that? If so, parents don’t say I didn’t warn you! Yes, social media and video game star far outpaced being a doctor, a lawyer, or owning a business. And as far as I can tell “carpenter in Galilee” did not make the list. Astounding.

Yes, I am not sure Jesus could compete in such a world of Twitter, YouTube, and video games. We seem much more enamored with people who are famous not for any particular skill or accomplishment or worthwhile word, but who are famous just for being famous. Even in the church we have turned preachers into celebrities with bestselling books and conferences and videos. Even the Pope has a Twitter account and I am posting YouTube videos each week to encourage you, and through you your friends, to come to worship on Sunday.

In his book, American Idols: The Worship of the American Dream, Bob Hostetler, suggests three things are at the root of Americans’ fascination with celebrityism: the longings for community, significance, and glory. He writes:

We feel connected to celebrities even though they don’t know us. It’s almost that they become our friends … even though we have no idea who these people are and what they’re really like. It underscores the lack of community many of us feel. Obviously, all three [longings] are God’s will for us, but it’s not His will to find it in celebrity worship.

If it is not God’s will for us to find community, significance, and glory in celebrity worship; if we might even more accurately call that idolatry; can we find them in a first century Jewish carpenter in a synagogue in Capernaum? Does that Jesus still astound and amaze even today?

Remember that Jesus arrived in Capernaum with his four disciples. As soon as he announces that the Kingdom of God has drawn near, he begins to invite others to be a part of it. They leave their nets and follow him. They begin to form a community. And notice Jesus does not take these disciples, this new community, someplace apart and separate. No, he takes them to Capernaum, to their hometown, to their daily lives, to the synagogue where they worshiped. And there he begins to teach, inviting still others to join this new community.

Well, that community grows and grows, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, but it grows. It is passed down, generation to generation until we find that we have gathered here in this sanctuary this morning. If we are longing for community and relationships of meaning, then we should be astounded by the fact that the same community that gathered in that synagogue so many years ago still gathers today. In a world where so much focus and attention is placed on the individual, it is amazing that we might see Jesus by turning our attention to those who still gather to seek him. Yes, to see Jesus, to find relationships of meaning, we need to become connected with and engaged in the life of the church, the community of faith.

And then while teaching in that synagogue the really interesting part of this story happens. Jesus is approached by a man who suffered from an unclean spirit. I don’t know about you, but talking about unclean spirits seems so foreign to us because we live in a world where we expect everything can be fixed with the right prescription, procedure, or therapy. That is how it works for the celebrities, right? But however we understand unclean spirits, what is most important to this particular episode in Capernaum is that the unclean spirit sees Jesus as a threat. And he is. Because the Kingdom of God breaks into our world in ways that overturn oppression, thwart injustice, and restore wholeness to those who are suffering. Thus, Jesus ministry of healing is not an afterthought – it is an integral demonstration that the kingdom of God is here.

My friends, if we are longing for significance, we need to look not to Twitter or YouTube, but for where is the kingdom of God drawing near, where the boundary between heaven and earth is showing cracks, where we find people fighting for justice and healing, repenting for prejudice, and speaking the truth. For that is where Jesus is still at work today.

This weekend I read an op-ed in the New York Times by Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publically accuse Michigan State University and US Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar of abuse. She had been abused as a fifteen year old teenager seeking treatment from Nassar for a chronic back injury. Now, an attorney and mother of three; finally convinced that someone might believer her, she came forward in August 2016. Since that time more than 200 women have alleged abuse by Nassar. He was sentenced this week to 175 years in prison. What courage and faith it took for Denhollander to file her police report, to speak the truth, to seek justice. But she paid a price. She writes,

My education as a lawyer prepared me for the process and presentation. But absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the pain of being the first to go public with my accusations … I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community. I lost every shred of privacy.

And yet, at the sentencing hearing for Nassar, Denhollander was the final victim to speak and she while asking the judge for the fullest sentence, she included this word to Nassar himself:

Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

That is a life of healing. That is a life of significance. That is a life of truth. That is a life where Jesus may be found. Astounding and amazing us even today.

For my friends, the glory we truly long for is not for a quick fifteen minutes of fame on the internet. No matter how many likes and hearts and views we get, no matter how many people know our name, true glory comes when we help to set a brother or sister free. That is what Jesus did in the synagogue. That is what astounded and amazed the crowd back then. And that is what Jesus is still doing today. Astounding and amazing. And inviting us to join him in all that is to come.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: