Sunday, January 29, 2012

Epiphany 4, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:21-28
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 29, 2012 (The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Series B)

Jesus taught as one who had authority.  Well, I should hope so, considering that He is God, the fount and source of all authority.  When God speaks, reality itself listens.  And not only listens, but His speaking, His Word itself causes what He says to come to pass.  Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word that is such a perfect expression of what is inside God that it is itself God.  Of course He speaks with authority.

However, this is God become man, walking around in human flesh.  That fact by itself might not change things, but from His birth at Bethlehem until His death at Calvary, he’s also in what the theologians call the “state of humiliation,” which means that He did not always or everywhere use His divine power.  And so, even though He is preaching and teaching with authority, in the first part of today’s text we can’t really prove that it’s the divine authority that comes from being the divine Author, or if Jesus’ authority is simply a psychological trick that comes from having a greater-than-average amount of confidence and self-esteem.  After all, there are many false preachers out there who sound like they’re preaching with authority, and many people follow them, too.  It could all be a function of human psychology, or worse yet, a demonic trick.

We do know, from reading the other Gospels, that His teaching included some fairly audacious claims.  Luke tells us that He was kicked out of the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth for saying that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah which tells us that Messiah will have the Spirit of the Lord upon Him to release the prisoners of sin, death, and the devil, to open the eyes of the blind, and so on.  That was the sort of authority that Jesus spoke with.  But is it all true?  Or is Jesus simply a madman who is so deluded that He can make these sorts of wild claims with a straight face?  Or, worse, is He a demon who is misleading this synagogue to its own destruction?

Well, as it happens, a demon gives Him a chance to demonstrate His authority.  There was a man in this synagogue who was demon-possessed.  Mark doesn’t tell us for sure whether he was there the whole time or whether he just wandered in off the street at this moment, but the way it is phrased it sounds like he was there the whole time.  It may even be that this man had been there every Sabbath for years, living and working among the people of Capernaum with nobody knowing any different.  You see, just because many of the demons who possessed people in the Gospels acted in some strange, outlandish ways which caused their victims to be shunned by the rest of society, does not mean that they had to do that.  I think it’s entirely possible for a demon-possessed man to act perfectly normally under many circumstances, so as to spread his lies and doubt more effectively.  Satan isn’t nearly as gross and clumsy as we sometimes think he is.  I suspect that the main reason the demons tended to act so bizarrely in the Gospels was because with the Son of God walking around on earth they were in a panic.  This one certainly panics when he hears Jesus’ preaching of Himself as the Messiah, the Savior from sin, death, and the devil.  He panics, and causes a scene.  And in doing so he blurts out the very thing he normally would be trying to hide from those around him, namely that the Savior has come to rescue us from Satan’s kingdom.  Even the demons are forced to preach God’s Word when God Himself is standing before them.  That’s the sort of authority Jesus has.

And so Jesus commands the demon to come out of him, and the demon, rather unwillingly and violently, obeys.  The word for this action of Jesus is “exorcism.”  Jesus commands the demon to come out, and the demon comes out.  Now, a lot of money has been made by Hollywood on some serious and not-so-serious attempts to portray what it is that happens when an exorcism happens, especially when the demon in question is engaged in spooky, unusual, or bizarre behaviors.  We don’t hear about outright demon-possession or haunted buildings all that often in modern society, at least, not in cases that are objectively scientifically provable, but I happen to believe that they can happen.  But did you realize that every one of you has been the object of an exorcism?  That a demon was cast out of every one of you, as well as myself?  You see, Holy Baptism is actually in exorcism.  Modern liturgical books aren’t always explicit about this, though the Lutheran Service Book Agenda does include the option in its baptismal rite of including the words, “Depart, unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit” immediately before Baptism, a tradition that was universally part of Holy Baptism until the age of rationalism a couple of centuries ago made such explicit exorcism talk sound politically incorrect.

It’s not just those who are outwardly doing strange and demonic things that are part of Satan’s kingdom.  It’s everyone born in the usual way of a man and a woman, going back to Adam and Eve, who is born a subject of the prince of this old world.  That’s part of the reason why original sin is eternally deadly, even in babies who haven’t committed any actual, outward sins yet.  It’s a matter of citizenship.  They’re born under Satan’s dominion, and must be rescued in order to become children of God.  And rescue them God does.  He has given the task today to His messengers, and promised that His authority stands behind them when they speak God’s Word.  Now, like Jesus in His state of humiliation, human pastors and human Christians can be resisted, even when they speak God’s Word with authority.  Some do fall away from the faith, and seven worse demons come back and dwell in them.  But the Word does what it says, even on human lips.  The Word still rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.

And it’s not like Jesus is absent from the equation, either.  Jesus is just as much present in this room, where at least 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, that is, where His Word is rightly preached and His sacraments rightly administered, as He was in that synagogue in Capernaum.  He is here not only in the preaching of His word, but in His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  His Word says, “This is My body, this is My blood,” and so it is.  And having that body and blood, risen from the dead and living for all eternity, we too rise from the death of our sins and live the new life that will be seen in us when He comes again in glory.  He says, with authority, “Your sins are forgiven, and you will live with Me forever,” and so it is.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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