A New Teaching

get well cards

Mark 1:21-28 NRSV

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Banks, will always be remembered as one of my favorite teachers. And it is not because she was one of my first teachers, or even because she had such a cool last name. It is also not because of all of the wonderful things that she taught me. Because, the truth is, I do not remember a single lecture or lesson she taught. Mrs. Banks is my favorite teacher, because during that school year when I spent a week in the hospital to have my tonsils removed, she came to see me. She came to my hospital room and brought me cards that were made by my classmates.

It is not the words of the teacher that are remembered, today. It is her actions.

Mark writes that people in the synagogue were amazed at the power of Jesus’ teaching. “They kept asking one another: ‘What is this? It’s a new teaching with authority!’” But notice that Mark does not mention any words. There is no mention by Mark of even a hint of the content of Jesus’ lesson or sermon. For Mark, it is not the words, but the authoritative action of the teacher that is important. This is what made Jesus’ teaching “new.”

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus is continually portrayed by the term, “teacher.” But Jesus is a different kind of “teacher.”

In chapter four, the “teacher” stills a storm.

In chapter five, the “teacher” raised a dead girl to life.

In chapter six, the “teacher” feeds a hungry crowd.

In chapter nine, the “teacher” cures an epileptic.

In chapter eleven, the “teacher” curses a fig tree.

And here in our text this morning, the “teacher” is the one who exorcises a demon in the synagogue. Jesus is a different kind of teacher, because Jesus is continually putting the word of God into action. Jesus is continually on the move, working and reworking, creating and recreating, restoring, renewing, reviving, healing, saving, transforming, acting.

I think it is important for us to notice the location of this demon. It’s not in all those places we expect to find demons today. This demon is sitting on a pew. A sad reality of this fallen world is that evil is real and evil is present and evil is experienced in all places, even in the church, sometimes, especially in the church.

I believe the church is afflicted with a number of demons today, but the one that perhaps concerns me the most is this demon of defeatism.

Defeatism: We have too many people in the church who have just accepted the evil in this world as normative. We’ve given up that things in this world can get better, that we as a people can do better, be better. Our leaders brazenly look into the camera and lie to us without consequences. A school shooting in Kentucky barely gets noticed. The gap between the super rich and the super poor continues to widen; the poor are denied healthcare and living wages; public education is undermined; husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters are being separated by those who once touted family values; Opioid drugs are killing our children; and we in the church sit back and say that there’s just nothing we can do about it. “This is just the way things are.” “This is the new normal.”  Or worse, we say: “Thank God the Lord is coming back soon.”

We actually have the audacity to call this defeatism, “faith”; instead of calling it what it really is, “demonic.”

I believe the point Mark wants us to hear is that this new, unprecedented teaching of Jesus has the authoritative power today and takes authoritative action today over the evil that afflicts this world. Mark wants us to know that although evil surrounds us, even while we are sitting here in church this morning, although we are tempted to believe that things are only going to get worse, the teacher is coming, and he is coming not with mere words, but with authoritative, imminent action for a better tomorrow.

When this teacher comes and teaches us that there is hope, he is not just “whistling in the dark” or “grasping at straws.”  He is not coming on some “wing and a prayer” “wishing upon a star.” He is not coming with mere words and tiresome clichés. He is coming taking authoritative action.

The teacher does not come with a mere history lesson of God’s past actions, but comes beckoning us to see what God is actively doing in our world today and will do in our world tomorrow.

As John Claypool has said, Jesus comes teaching us that our faith is and has always been “a faith of promise; never a faith of nostalgia. Our faith is always looking forward; never backward.”

Our faith never sulks, pouts or grumbles for the good old days, but always marches for, works for, fights for, and anticipates good new days.

When someone comes to see me who has just been diagnosed with cancer or another dreadful disease; or has just lost their job, their income; or has just lost their spouse to death, or worse, to separation or divorce; or has been afflicted in any number of ways; and I say to them “it is going to be ok,” I am not simply saying “cross your fingers” and “hope for the best,” or even saying something like “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

I am saying with the authority of God, the creator of all that is, the one who has been revealed in Holy Scriptures and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that things are going to be better.

Because our faith that is rooted in the Holy Scriptures is one that has always, and will always, draw us into better days.

When God first approached human beings, it was never from behind (“Hey you, turn around, come back here”), but always from out ahead, out in the future, promising, beckoning.

God came to Abraham and Sarah in their old age with a promise. God came promising that they would one day father and mother a nation. And you know something? Abraham and Sarah did the very same thing that some of you do when I tell you that things are going to be ok. They laughed. They scoffed: “We are much too old to have any future.”

God came to Moses showing him that he would lead Israel into the Promised Land. And Moses responded the same way some of you do, the same way Abraham and Sarah responded: “Nah; not me!  You know that simply don’t have what it takes to have such a future.”

But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? We know the rest of their stories, but we also know the rest of some of our own stories. No, Abraham, Sarah and Moses, nor any of us, had what it takes, but thank God that God did. And God acted. We look back at our afflictions, where we have been, and how far we have come, what we have gained through the storms, and we say something miraculous like, “If I could go back and change anything in my life, I don’t believe I would change a thing.”

This is why we point to our God in a very different manner than people of other faiths point to their God. When we are asked: “Where is your God?” we should never say “Back there,” or “in here,” or even “up there.” Rather we should point straight into the future and say: “My God is out there, pulling me into a better tomorrow!”

This is the teaching that Jesus puts into action, and this is the teaching that he calls all of us to put into action.

It is what compels some of you to give the rest of your lives helping people overcome addiction, teaching people how to read, serving sack lunches to hungry adults or stuffing book bags with food for hungry children. It is what propels some of you to volunteer at the hospital, visit a nursing home, send a card, make a phone call. And hopefully it is what has brought you here to this blessed place this morning, and it is what will send you out to be a blessing in all places.

For our God is a God of promise—A God of hope who is made known more in actions than in words.

I believe this explains what the wife of a colleague of mine said to me under the care of Hospice, just a couple of days before her death.

She talked about her life. She talked about how good God had been to her in the past. She talked about her service through the church alongside her husband. Then she began to talk about her present situation and about the cancer that had returned and had spread throughout her body. She talked about her pain. She said she knew that she had days and not weeks left on this earth. She talked about how difficult her death was going to be for her family, for her husband and children. Then she said with this special smile that I will never forget, “But I’m going to be fine! I am going to be fine!”

She was going to be fine because her God, whom she knew through her teacher, Jesus Christ, had never approached her from behind. But always from out ahead, out in the future, always promising, always beckoning, always acting, transforming, renewing, restoring, resurrecting. Her God was never back there, somewhere in the distant past, but her God was out there, always assuring her that her best days of living, her best days of life, were ahead of her.

And in what she knew to be her last few days on this earth, she  had miraculously been taught to say, “I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.”

Aren’t we all?


Invitation to the Table

This table belongs to our Authoritative Teacher. And it is this Good Teacher who is still inviting each of us to it today. Come and recognize that Christ is here. He is still breaking his body. He is still pouring himself out for you. Come, there is room for all. Let us prepare now as we remain seated and sing together.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go now and share the good news with the world that we are students of a Teacher who teaches us from out ahead, out in the future, always promising, always beckoning, always acting, transforming, renewing, restoring, resurrecting. May we share it with our words, but more so with our actions.

And may the love of God, the grace of Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

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