In Deuteronomy, it is written that God will send a new prophet like Moses to the people: “18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Is Jesus this prophet that Deuteronomy speaks of? And what kind of teaching does Jesus bring? How might Jesus’ teaching help us in our lives, today, and the world at large?
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath. “21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:21). The way Jesus taught surprised them. He taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes who might be explaining the meaning of what was taught in the Scripture.
Jesus’ authority is attested to by “the unclean spirit” that had possessed a man. The spirit was not one, but a many. The unclean spirit stated, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Jesus rebuked the spirit, ordered it to be silent and to come out of the man: “25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:25-26).
What just happened? The unclean spirit knew who Jesus was. The authority that Jesus taught with was grounded in his identity of being “the Holy One of God.” He had the power and authority to order the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Jesus healed the man possessed with the spirit.
Those who were in the synagogue responded in amazement. “27They 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.’” (Mark 1:27). A new teaching! One who teaches new teaching with authority, and even orders the unclean spirits, and they obey him.
In their amazement, we can find guidance and comfort for ourselves. Jesus comes to us with power and authority to teach and to heal us. We might wonder at first, who is this man who was possessed by an unclean spirit? What might that mean for us? Is one of us or people in the world possessed by unclean spirit? That’s possible. Or is the man possessed by the unclean spirit someone we ourselves can identify with? Whether ourselves or in others, being possessed by an unclean spirit is hardly a desirable state to be in. It is an ailment not only of body. But not only of the spirit either. It is an ailment that affects the body and the spirit. If you look within yourself this morning, and reflect honestly, are you in need of healing in some way? Are we as a community in need of healing in some way?
As I write this sermon, I am very aware of how body and spirit can become weak and ill. When we feel weak and ill, we can’t be our best selves. We can’t do what is intended for us to do. We can’t be who we can be. We are not interacting with others in the way we could be. We are not feeling compassion for others when we can hardly keep our head straight. Whether physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual or some combination or all of those things, if we are not feeling well, we need healing, we need strength, and we need endurance. In what ways are you in need of Jesus this morning? Come as you are and ask Jesus for his presence to console you, for his teaching to give you encouragement, and for his power and authority to heal you.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, all of us possess knowledge:
“1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).
But he says that knowledge puffs up, while love builds up. We know that Jesus heals. But do you know Jesus loves? And are you willing and ready to be healed and loved by Jesus? We might know that God saves through our faith in Jesus. We might know that God saves and heals us here in this world as well as in eternity. But then why are we suffering in spirit, in pain emotionally or physically? Why, when we get up in the morning, are we not singing praises and thanksgiving for our breathe and opportunity to live another day? Why do we not immediately come to God when we are falling and failing? We are known by God, if you love God: “anyone who loves God is known by him” (1 Corinthians 8:3).
There are some wounds deep in us, and in this country that have not healed. There are wounds that we have pushed down, and hid from view. We may act, sound, and look like we are whole. But some of us at some time are broken. We might feel worn down and helpless or even hopeless. This pandemic, if not the political climate, has tested all of us and wearing down even the strongest of us. What have you done in 2020? Whatever you did, you have survived 2020. You have made it to 2021. Congratulations! Great work! Even though a month has gone by already, the days, hours, time keeps ticking away. Aside from essential workers and those who qualify to get vaccines already, it is on their way for others. We are masked every day and keeping safe distance from others. As if all this were not enough to manage, the new variant, the new strand of Covid19 is even more contagious. I have read articles that suggest doubling up on masks.
Many of us were looking forward to 2021. We felt 2020 was the bad year. If only 2020 passes, if we could somehow get to 2021, things will be better. Well, we had in the first week of January, on Epiphany day, January 6th, there was an insurrection in Washington D.C. in the Capitol Hill. Democracy was tested. In President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech, he said, our nation was tested and we are stronger for it. And Amanda Gorman, the young poet, the youngest poet who ever read their poem at an inaugural event, read beautifully. With words, she wanted to re-claim, re-sanctify, and re-purify our nation:
“To me, words matter…We’ve seen over the past few years the way in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated, and what I wanted to do is to reclaim poetry as that site in which we can repurify and resanctify…the power of words.” – Amanda Gorman in an interview
I want us to take a look at the poem Amanda Gorman wrote at the inauguration. Her attempt to reclaim the power of words to repurify and resanctify our nation. I want to us to reflect on the powerful and soul piercing words from Amanda Gorman’s poem read at the inauguration. Let us be the light, to be brave enough to see it, to be brave enough to be it.
“So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the West. We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the Lake Rim cities of the Midwestern states. We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful. When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” – Amanda Gorman, last stanza of “The Hill We Climb,” poem read at the Inauguration.
Friends, in today’s scripture readings, the message for us to receive is a new teaching. Hear it as a teaching that leads not to knowledge but to love that builds up. With words, with action, with the depths of our being, come to Jesus. Ask for love, for healing, and for comfort. Let us work together as a community to rebuild and build up not only ourselves, but our neighbors, and our country. Let’s do God’s work. Let is leave this country, this world of ours, better in some way than how we found it, for our families and friends and neighbors.