Sermon: Jesus In Charge!
January 28th, 2018 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Mark 1:21-28, Psalm 111
This morning when I got to church and walked into my office, I was surprised by a time-traveler who showed up to help us understand the story from the gospel of Mark, our good news story for today. The woman introduced herself to me as Elizabeth, and she would like to share her story with us. Please welcome Elizabeth, from the town of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and from all the way back in the first century.
Shalom. Good morning. Peace to you. In my tradition we sit when we speak in the community, so if I may, I will sit down. Thank you.
My name is Elizabeth. Names are very important in my culture, just as your names are important, too, I’m sure! My name means one who is consecrated to God, one who is ordained for God’s work. With a name like that you will understand that my family is faithful in worship and in following God’s ways. We attend the synagogue as often as we can to worship with our community and to learn about God from the Holy Scriptures and to pray together using our prayer book, called the Psalms. I believe you also use that prayer book, yes? I was in the synagogue in my town of Capernaum, on the day that Jesus visited. Capernaum is Simon and Andrew’s hometown. Zebedee and his family attend my synagogue, too. Jesus was with those young men that day. Oh, what a day! What a day! I give thanks to God that I was able to go to worship that day!
You see, we are not always able to go Sabbath worship, especially us women but even the men, too. The Law of Moses teaches us about what is clean and what is unclean; what is holy and what is unholy. God is holy, and we cannot come into the presence of God if we have not made ourselves clean. God forbid that we contaminate the holy with unholiness. If we are sick, we cannot come to worship. If it is that time of the month for a woman, then we are unclean and cannot come to worship. Even after giving birth, a woman is unclean for 33 days after having a son, or 66 days after a daughter. If anyone has a rash, or an open sore, or other contagious disease, they are unclean and cannot come to worship. If I touch someone who is unclean, I too become unclean and may not join worship until I have been cleansed. I must tell you, that even when I am well, I am not considered fully clean – for I am a woman. When I come to worship in the Capernaum synagogue I must sit separately from the men, in the back section. When my family goes on the pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, my daughters and I must stay in an outer courtyard.
I can see from your faces that you think this is a terrible thing. Yet we are not the only ones obsessed with cleanliness! I had some time this morning to look around this town of Delavan in the 21st century. I was trying to learn about you, too. I went to the market, the Walk Market, no, Wall Market I think you call it. I walked up and down to see what it is that you eat and spend money on. And I think that you must be just as concerned about cleanliness as my people. There was a whole aisle for soaps to clean your dishes and cooking pots. There was another whole aisle for soaps to clean your clothes. There were different cleansers for every part of your house, every kind of floor, for your animals, for your chariots! Spraying kinds and solid kinds and liquid kinds. If my mother-in-law had all that there would have been no end to the cleaning for me! Then there was another whole part of the market for soaps to clean your bodies – soaps for your hair, soaps for your skin, soaps for your face, soaps for teeth, … You must follow Cleanliness Laws, too. When I met your pastor, after we held each other’s hands, she then applied a clear liquid she called ‘sanitizer’ in order to be clean after touching me! “Be slow to judge” the scriptures say! Yes, I can see that you, too, are fearful of people that may be unclean and avoid things that are dirty.
But forgive me, I’ve gone down a donkey trail… I came to tell you about that life-changing day in the synagogue. After we began worship with by praising God, God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, it came time for the scriptures to be read. It is our practice that when a visiting Rabbi comes that we allow him to provide the derashah, to teach us and explain the meaning of the scriptures. What is it you call that? The sermon? Most Rabbis speak using the great prophets and teachers of the past, saying, “Moses said this, and Elijah said that; Rabbi so-and-so wrote this, and Rabbi such-and-such said that.” But this Sabbath was different. A new way of teaching! Rabbi Jesus from Nazareth was read the scripture that day and then surprised everyone by speaking as if his understanding came directly from God himself! What insights! He told stories, everyday stories, that illustrated what he was talking about. He taught with a new kind of authority and power that we had never heard before – not the kind of authority that demands or lords it over us as if we were ignorant or uneducated folks – the kind of authority that had the power to connect to each person in the room. Jesus said things like, “You have heard it said this way, but I say to you…” and then he would get to the real heart of the matter. He spoke as if he was now in charge. And he acted as if he was in charge, too!
That saying, ‘practice what you preach’ must have come from Jesus’ example that day. The same authority of his words was seen in his actions, … for we had quite an incident in worship that day. Oy! Jesus’ words amazed us, but his deeds floored us – literally! Remember what I said about clean and unclean? Well, right there in the middle of the holy cleanliness of the synagogue, while Jesus was still teaching, a man from the neighborhood who was controlled by an unclean spirit suddenly jumped up and walked right to the front. He was yelling and challenging Jesus’ authority. He shouted, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? What business do you have interfering with us?” I tell you, we all hit the floor. Ruth, who was sitting beside me, crawled under the bench. Naomi threw her shawl over her children.
We had been wondering who this Jesus was, all in charge, like he owned the world, but that man, that spirit, seemed to know exactly who Jesus was. “I know who you are!” he declared, “the Holy One of God!” I thought he might challenge Jesus to a fight, for he sounded so defiant. But Naomi, blessed her wise soul, she whispered “There will be no fight, Elizabeth, that filthy spirit is afraid of Him; this Jesus, this Holy One, is much stronger, there is no match!”
She was right. Jesus showed us all that he was truly in charge – even of that which is dark and evil. As I peeked up, I could see Jesus look at the man with an expression filled with such love and compassion. Calmly but firmly, Jesus said, “Be quiet! Get out of this man!” As he said those words, the man fell to the floor shaking like a convulsion, he shrieked and then lay still and silent. One command from Jesus and that filthy spirit took off, I tell you!
Then my wise friend Naomi said to me, “Elizabeth, did you see that? Jesus risked everything, he risked getting defiled himself, in order to save that neighbor. Jesus went to him even before he was clean. He was not afraid! What kind of love is this, Elizabeth?”
I tell you what kind of love is this. I followed Jesus from that day on. I listened carefully to his teaching. I cooked meals for him and his disciples. That day in the synagogue was just the start of the battle between Jesus and the evil in this world. I saw it with my own eyes, I tell you! I watched as Jesus continued to defeat the unclean spirits of sickness and disability and all the inner demons you can think of. But the final showdown came later, three years later, on a hill outside of Jerusalem called Calvary. Jesus was nailed to a shameful cross, but the pain and the shame did not win. Oh no, that was not the end of the story for he faced all the unclean filth of humanity, it even took him down to the grave, but Jesus was stronger. He defeated it, even death. God gave him the authority to clean the whole world. As a result every one of us can be set free, … just like the man in the synagogue on that life-changing day. Jesus is in charge! Nothing unclean or evil or filthy needs to hold us hostage ever again! Nothing needs to separate us from God ever again! Jesus is in charge!
I tell you, I think we all feel dirty sometimes and we think it means we need to stay far away from God. Some of us feel dirty with bad deeds or sins, with mistakes or things we have done wrong. Some of us feel dirty with shame and guilt – sometimes even if we haven’t done anything wrong, but others have made us feel ashamed, or different, or defective in some way. I tell you, you may not see unclean spirits around you, but they are there – spirits of addiction that hold people hostage, spirits of poverty that trap people in hopelessness, spirits of abusiveness, spirits of fearfulness and anxiety, spirits of disease, of mental illness. There is the spirit of apathy and hard-heartedness, the spirit of envy, of gossip, the spirit of greed, of contempt and resentment. There is no person on earth who has not had some dirty spirit within them at some time… except for Jesus.
You do not need aisles and aisles of cleansers for your soul. You do not have to get yourself cleaned up before you can come to God. You just need Jesus. He is not afraid of our filth; he is not turned off by our pasts. He is strong enough to free you. Since that day in the synagogue I have been traveling across continents and across time to share what I learned and to tell you that there is no doubt: Jesus is in charge! To God be the glory! Hallelujah!
For 2000 years now, people all over the world have been rejoicing and celebrating that the unclean and the evil has been defeated. There is no longer any human brokenness that needs to frighten us. The spirits of oppression that try to hold us hostage can be called out. The things that try to separate us from God or that pretend to be in charge of the world, can be called out. We can tell those unclean spirits that they may not reside in us or in our homes or in our community or in our country. Because they have been defeated, and Jesus is in charge!
To remind us that this gift is for everyone, for the whole world, we will sing a closing song of praise that comes to us from Africa, in the Xhosa language. We’ll start with the English translation and then sing in Xhosa.
Closing Song: “Amen Siakadumisa” (Amen, We Praise Your Name, O God)