Monday, February 02, 2015

February 1, 2015 Who Is In Charge of Your Life?

This week I’m doing something I never do, except at Advent and Easter, and that is following the Lectionary.  If you are not familiar with the lectionary, it is a collection of four Scripture passages assigned to each week, and ministers often choose from those passages for their weekly sermons.  A good reason to use the Lectionary is it keeps a minister from choosing their pet passages, and thus overlooking some passages that are very important.  Because I tend to stay in a series of messages most of the time I rarely use the Lectionary.  After deciding that I would use the Lectionary this week, I started having doubts after I read through the selections.  My first reaction was, maybe I’ll use the lectionary next week.  None of them are easy passages, so that’s a good reason to be confronted with them.

If you are a parent, there’s a good chance that at some point your child has said to you, You’re not the boss of me!  Have you heard that before?  If so, you may have reminded them that not only are you the boss of them, but also instructed them of the fact that everyone has a boss in life and they might as well get used to that reality!

This week’s Scripture text is set in a synagogue in Capernaum, on the Sabbath.  Jesus is in attendance at the synagogue and provides the teaching.  As he was teaching, something interesting happens, and it is an event that tells us about authority in life, and asks the question Who Is In Charge of Your Life?
Listen to Mark’s recording of the story –

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out,
24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”
26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Allow me to make a few observations about this story –

Worship should have a measure of unpredictability.
I have experienced a few interestingly unpredictable moments in worship services over the years.  One of the most memorable occured when I was a Student Minister my senior year in college, serving at Bethel Christian Church in Jonesboro, Tennessee. 

Early in the service a member of the church suddenly stood up and began talking about seeing a light in the area of the pulpit.  It was, she said, Jesus talking to her.  It was as if she was in a trance and after a few minutes she finally snapped back to reality, gathered up her coat, purse, and other things, turned on her heels and said to the congregation I’ve had my church!  You all stay here until you get yours!  I was 21 years old and had never experienced anything quite like it, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  I was used to predictability and sameness.

My experience pales, however, next to what took place in this synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus was well-received, and people enjoyed the fact that he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  It is precisely at that point when something very unusual takes place – a man possessed of an evil spirit suddenly cries out, What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!

I imagine the congregation was very still and quiet, and I also imagine the congregation was very curious to see how Jesus would handle this interruption.

Speaking honestly, we don’t really expect anything surprising or dramatic to happen in worship, do we?

I grew up in worship services that had no sense of the unexpected or the unpredictable.  Every week you came in and you knew what to expect and chief among expectations was there would be no surprises.  The Spirit was tucked away safely in a box somewhere to minimize the element of surprise.
I am not being critical of my home church or the other churches where I have worshipped.  I’m simply making an observation.  And my observation is this – we like predictability more than unpredictability.  We like to know what’s going to happen.  We like surprises on our birthdays and Christmas, but not on Sunday mornings.  For a number of years I had a cartoon on my office wall that pictured two men talking in front of the stone edifice of a church.  Carved into the stone were the words Call to Worship, Invocation, Hymn of Praise, etc.  One man says to the other, as a matter of fact, it is written in stone.

But here’s what Mark is telling us – when Jesus shows up, you don’t know what might happen. That’s worth repeating, and please feel free to say amen if you agree.  When Jesus shows up, you don’t know what might happen! When Jesus showed up for worship in the synagogue that day, no one was prepared for what took place.  I imagine those events were disturbing to a lot of people.  I imagine there were some people who wished they had stayed home that day.

When Jesus shows up, the unexpected can happen.  When Jesus shows up, things might get unpredictable.  Because when Jesus shows up he will challenge the status quo and he will challenge the power structures of the world and he will challenge our lives.

Perhaps we ought to have more of an expectation that anything can happen when we show up for worship.  Perhaps we work too hard to keep control over the movement of the Spirit.  Perhaps we work to hard keeping Jesus at a safe distance because we fear what he might do to us if he were fully in charge of our lives.

Worship must remind us who has authority over our lives.
Mark’s gospel has several other references to demon possession, the most dramatic of which is found in chapter 5, verses 1- 20.  It is the story commonly known as the Gerasene Demoniac, and it is quite an unsettling story.  Mark tells us that when Jesus enters into the region of the Garasenes he was immediately confronted with a man who lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet.  No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  Just the kind of guy you want to meet, isn’t it?    
But what is most interesting about that story is the reaction of the people after Jesus heals the man.  Mark 5:15-16 says something rather astonishing – the people were afraid after the man was healed.  This was a scary guy, running among the tombs, cutting himself, and crying out day and night.  It seems to me that would be the time to be frightened of him, not when he was sitting there, dressed and in his right mind (5:15).  And not only were the people afraid, they began to plead with Jesus to leave their region (5:16). 

What was it that had them so frightened?

I believe it was this – the crowd of people stood there looking at that man and asked themselves if Jesus could change that man’s life so dramatically, what might he do to me?  And do I really want him to change my life?  I might need a little polishing and scrubbing around the edges, but nothing dramatic.  I need to get in better shape and I need to be a bit nicer to my family and my neighbors, but nothing dramatic.  I could stand being a bit more generous, but let’s not go overboard and bring me to the point of doing anything crazy, like getting rid of some of my stuff and giving the proceeds to someone who could really benefit.  Just a few basic, non-threatening, cosmetic changes would be sufficient.

Jesus not only taught with authority; his dealings with people carried authority as well.  This is a question that runs all throughout the gospels and into the letters of the New Testament.  It is a tale of a clash of authority – who is going to be in charge of your life?  After the gospels comes the book of Acts, and it is filled with story after story of a clash between the apostles and various authorities.  At the end of the New Testament comes the book of Revelation, which is the story of the ultimate clash of authority between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world and it too poses the question – what authority is ruling your life? 

Jesus directly challenged those who seek to have dominion and authority over our lives.  Our bosses don’t give up authority lightly.

The truth is, we all answer to someone.  To whom do you answer?

Allow Jesus to exorcise your demons.
We are modern, scientific, 21st century people, so it probably sounds strange to hear me say allow Jesus to exorcise your demons, bu the truth is that we are all bound by our own particular demons.  Today, however, we are more likely to call demons by other words, words such as addictions or dysfunctions, envy, jealousy, unfaithfulness, materialism, compulsions, and on and on the list could go.  We don’t use the word demon, but they are demons nonetheless because they exert a control over our lives that they were never meant to have.  And, sadly sometimes we have become so accustomed to the demons in our lives that we don’t know how to live life without them, so we hold onto them. 

Mark says that this possessed man stands up and asks What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  No, Jesus came not to destroy the man; he came to set him free.  It wasn’t the man Jesus wanted to destroy, but his demons.  The desire of Jesus was to set this man free, and his desire is to set us free as well.

The difference between the man Jesus healed, and ourselves, is that we often remain quiet about the demons that plague us.  I know there are people here who wrestle with demons, because we all do.  Every one of us has something that desires to take authority over our lives and control us, and they seek to destroy us.  Jesus has the same message for us that he had for the man in that synagogue in Capernaum – he does not come to destroy us, but to set us free!

We often talk about taking charge of our lives, but what we really need is for God to take charge of our lives.  He is our creator, he is our Lord, and he seeks also to be our deliverer.  Our deliverer from those demons that seek to enslave us, that seek to control us, that seek to destroy us.

Who is the boss of you?  Is it God, seeking to bring you life, or a demon seeking to destroy your life?  Receive God, and allow him to set you free!

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