As One with Authority

Todayís lesson, and the one the sermon hinges on, is the reading we just heard from the Gospel of Mark. And as a preface to that reading, itís important that we understand something about the Gospel of Mark. Markís Gospel doesnít begin with the birth narrative of Jesus. Instead, it begins with the call of John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness.

And then it immediately moves to Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove, and then immediately being thrust out into the wilderness for forty days. Mark doesn't go into great detail about that, but next we see Jesus echoing the words of John, telling people that the kingdom of heaven has come near and to repent and to make oneself ready.

Then Jesus calls his disciples, as we heard last week. And it's important to note that when we hear and understand that Jesus was one speaking with authority that he was the one who had thrust upon him the Holy Spirit as it came down. That authority allowed him to call those disciples and they simply dropped their nets and followed him, an example of Jesus with that authority of the Holy Spirit. And then we move into today's lesson, Jesus in the Temple teaching the people. And they are astounded at the things he is saying. If that weren't enough, someone with an unclean spirit starts calling out, knowing who Jesus is. And Jesus quiets him and commands that unclean spirit to come out of him, another demonstration of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit.

It might be easy for us to get caught up in the semantics of the story about an unclean spirit, but that is not really what this story is about. It's not even about a miracle. Instead, it is about the authority and power of the Holy Spirit. And Mark's Gospel is very clear in the way it sets that up in this first chapter: Jesus tested in the wilderness that the power of the Holy Spirit overcomes; Jesus calling those first disciples to drop everything and just simply follow him, one who is speaking with authority; Jesus, empowered with the Holy Spirit, could even command an unclean spirit to come out of a man. The authority and power of the Holy Spirit is at center stage in who Jesus was and who Jesus is in the Gospel of Mark.

And in the continuing text of the Gospel of Mark, we will hear about this cosmic battle, about the forces of evil versus the forces of good, the forces of good here being the Holy Spirit. And Jesus is empowered with that Holy Spirit. And he is one who we will see in the Gospel of Mark will continue to speak with authority again, and again, and again.

Now, we might think in our human context that, "Gee, wouldn't that be wonderful to possess that kind of power and authority that even we could command an unclean spirit to come out?" Or to move a mountain, as Scripture tells us. Or to simply get through the things in life which seem too difficult for us. That seems very attractive that one might possess that power and authority. And what we know from the human context of power and authority is that power does what? Power corrupts. We see it all the time all too clearly. And here Jesus is embodied with the ultimate power, the power of God's unyielding Holy Spirit, giving him power to do amazing miracles, things that we can't even imagine.

Another theme running through the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus, even though he has this ultimate power and authority, uses it for good. Jesus, who has all this power and authority who in the coming months will make his journey to the Cross, uses that power for good. He uses that power to serve God. And therein lie two of the major themes in the Gospel of Mark that I see that really speak out. And that is Jesus has the authority and power of God through this embodiment of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus is the servant of God with that power, and Jesus does what it is that God commands him, and commands us to do as well. So Jesus is, in essence for us, an incorruptible figure as well. And we will hear that again and again throughout the text. But Jesus uses that power of the Holy Spirit for good.

When we look at our lives and think about the Holy Spirit, we might say, "Well, you know, sometimes I might feel like I'm in the Spirit and sometimes I don't." But the truth of the matter is that in baptism, we affirm the awakening of the Holy Spirit in each of us. We ask God to breathe upon that person the Holy Spirit. And so, in essence, that Holy Spirit which is, I believe, in us from our birth and awakened at baptism, is there as an ultimate source of authority from God, authority over our lives, an authority that has called us here to this place and into this church to hear the words and the teachings of Jesus, that we might be enlightened to follow his ways and to do good, continuing, if you will, that struggle, that cosmic battle that continues, and will continue, until the end of the earth, that cosmic battle between what is good and what is evil. But all of us, with hope, knowing that in Christ God has already conquered that and that God's power is absolute and of utmost authority.

But if we also have had the Spirit descend upon us through baptism, what authority do we allow that Spirit to have in our lives? Are we listening to the voice of the Spirit when it calls out to us? It may be simple things like to our youth, "Let's do the Souper Bowl of Caring to provide some food for the hungry." Or, "Let's walk in Crop Walk." Or, "Let's sleep out in the freezing cold to make people aware of homelessness." Or, "Let's go over to St. Joseph's and serve the Carpenter's Table meal." Or, "Pastor Steve, even though you cancelled the Grief Support Group, you better be there because someone is going to show up," and that person did, to my own amazement.

That Spirit speaks to each of us sometimes in grand and wonderful ways, and sometimes in small ways, calling on you maybe to, "You know, so-and-so isn't well," and you pick up the phone and call. Or, "You know, I know someone who may need a ride somewhere." Or, "It's time to pray." Simple things called forth by the Spirit. And I want to say to each of you that the Spirit is in you. That Holy Spirit is there. That Holy Spirit is calling out to each of us to do good, to do that which is God's will. And for us as Christians, it means trying to follow Jesus in the ways that we can, using those special gifts or abilities that may be unique to us, but that fit in with what God is doing in the world and what God is trying to bring: love and compassion and care through the Christian walk and life.

The trick for us is to allow that authority to actually have a place in our lives. And it starts with those simple things. I used the illustration of the clock this morning, reminding the children to take time every day to thank God, to just take a moment to do that. It's a simple step, but it's one in which the Spirit becomes more powerful and embodied in us. Will you be able to call someone who is dying to get up from their bed? Probably not. I don't see that happening. But it doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit isn't in us. It simply means that the Holy Spirit works in ways that are human ways also, but that God is working through you to be that instrument of love and care or peace for someone, or that word of encouragement. And it does start with those very simple and profound things, like prayer.

Last week, in my discernment of what's going on in this church, that God is calling us to renewal, I called for a year of prayer. I reinforce that, again, along with today's message, the Spirit is calling us to do many things. But one of the simplest things that we can do is to pray, to pray for another epiphany to happen in our lives, to pray for that vision to come forth in us, to pray that, "God, help me hear that little voice of the Spirit, that it may become louder in my life, that I might feel more connected to you and know that I'm not just simply your child, but I'm an instrument of your peace."

The Holy Spirit is beckoning us. And that same authority that Jesus spoke with, we can grow into that same authority if we do allow it into our lives. So do that over the coming week. Look for ways that you can invite the Holy Spirit to have more authority and power over your life. Find time for prayer. Find time for meditation or silence, reflecting on where God is in this moment and this time in history, and, "Where is God in my life?" You might be surprised that sometimes the answers come in the form of thoughts and remembrances of where God is. Other times, it might take a little more effort. But don't give up. It will come. And the Spirit that is in you will never let you down.

February 1, 2009

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