Sunday, January 28, 2018

"The Start of Jesus' Ministry" Sermon for SUNDAY, January 28, 2018 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

"The Start of Jesus' Ministry"

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They 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." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
~ Mark 1:21-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus ministry began with a bang. After all, we haven’t even come to the end of the first chapter in Mark’s account of the life of Jesus, and just think of what has already taken place!

Mark begins his Gospel with Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and as Jesus immerges from the water, Jesus perceives the heavens open and hears God’s voice proclaim to him, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Talk about an Epiphany! Even though Jesus was the only one, according to Mark’s Gospel, who heard God’s voice, it is an experience that one just can’t forget. It would be enough to inspire any one of us for a lifetime.

Then Jesus takes a stroll down the shores of the Sea of Galilee, spies some common fishermen, calls out to them to follow him, and they do! They just drop their nets and their way of life, and fall in line behind Jesus to become his first disciples. Either these guys were totally bored with fishing, or Jesus must have possessed some charisma that would be the envy of many a preacher.

Then the five of them stroll into Capernaum, and on the Sabbath day, they enter the synagogue where Jesus preached his first sermon. And the people were all amazed at his sermon, not because of his charisma, but because he taught with an authority they had never heard before. But that wasn’t all! Jesus also healed a person who was possessed by a demon, before they left worship, leaving the people stunned.

Then they left the synagogue and went to the house of Simon and Andrew, the first two disciples that Jesus invited to follow him, and they discover that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever. So they told Jesus about her illness, and Jesus goes and takes her by the hand, invites her to stand, and the fever leaves her.

Of course, there is a bit of humor in this story. Mark doesn’t tell us that Jesus’ disciples asked him to heal Simon’s mother-in-law. They simply told him that she was ill. But when Jesus healed her, Mark tells us that the first thing that she did was to begin to serve them. This has led some to speculate that these men were hungry from their journey and activities of the past couple of days, and longed for a home-cooked meal and to take some rest, needing someone to wait on them. I guess some men are like that.

Nevertheless, by evening word had spread like wildfires about this Jesus, who taught with authority and could heal, even one who was possessed by a demon. And so Mark tells us that the whole city gathered around Simon’s house, bringing with them all who were sick or possessed with demons, and Jesus spent the night healing as many as he could.

Here we are, perhaps only a week into Jesus’ ministry since his baptism, and he is a huge hit with the people. The whole city was drawn to him- came out to hear him preach and teach and offer words of healing. And what does Jesus do? He gets up early in the morning, before daylight, and heads out to a deserted place to pray. Jesus goes to a quiet place to converse with God – to offer him thanks and praise for what God had enabled him to accomplish – and to ask for God’s guidance and direction for his life.

I believe that it is here that we encounter the first lesson that we, as our Lord’s disciples, can truly learn from him of what it means to live a life of faith. Many of us have never heard what we might perceive as a direct voice from God, proclaiming us to be his beloved son or daughter, even though, through our baptism, that is what God says to us. Most of us do not possess the God given ability to heal others, as Jesus did by his word or touch, even though I believe God listens to our prayers, and can heal us, according to his will. And none of us, myself included, can preach and teach God’s Word with the authority of Jesus, the very incarnate Son of God.

But we can all pray! We can all offer God our thanks and praise for the many ways our lives have been enhanced by his gift of creation, for his gift of redemption that we receive through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and for what we have been able to accomplish in our life as a result of his Spirit’s direction. Prayer offers us a means of asking for God’s help in times of stress, to be with us in our despair. And prayer can also help us discern God’s will for our lives, in the midst of confusing times.

This was the first lesson that our Lord’s first disciples learned, on that morning that they awoke to the shouts of the crowds still looking for him. He had left to find a quite place in which he could converse with God in prayer and thanksgiving, and discern from his Heavenly Father, direction for his life. Jesus was not as concerned about his popularity and fame, as he was about faithfully following God’s will for his life.

Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian life, of walking in faith with God. And spending time in prayer can take many shapes and forms.

The truth is, prayer takes many forms. But the first lesson our Lord teaches us, is that prayer is an essential part of living in a faithful relationship with God. There is not one of us here who can compare with our Lord’s ability to proclaim the kingdom of God, in the way and means that he was able to do. But as his disciples, we can learn from him to put our life before God in prayer – to offer him thanks for his many blessings and to seek his direction for our lives. And through the Spirits urging, we can become his faithful disciples, and continue, through our lives, to live in relationship with God, and to continue to spread the news of his saving grace to those around us.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to reveal to us what it means to live in a faithful relationship with you, our Creator. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to follow Christ’s example. Teach us to be diligent and faithful in prayer, that we might not only come to you in times of need, but also to seek your guidance for our lives. This we ask in Christ’s Holy name. Amen.

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The New Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Sermon contributed by Rev. Ronald Harbaugh, St. John's Lucheran Church, Greenville, Pennsylvania on Feb 16, 2006.
According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus ministry began with a bang.

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