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An Expectant People (January 29, 1918)

Why are you here?

No, seriously. Why are you here this morning? Why have you come to worship? It’s not a question we often think about, but it’s worth doing so.

Sometimes I come to worship out of habit. Sometimes I come because I have to (well, you know, it’s my job, but I gotta tell ya that some Sundays I would much rather sleep in). Often I’m here because I love to gather with all of you. When I was younger, I came because my parents made me (and by the way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that). Sometimes I come because I need to be fed, nourished with word and sacrament.

The reality is that we come for many different reasons. What about you?

Here’s a second question. When you come, do you expect anything to happen? Do we come anticipating that something might happen in worship? Do we expect God to act?

Or is today just going to be more of the same old same old? Ho–hum!

Did you hear what happened in the synagogue in Capernaum? The guest preacher that day amazed everyone. “Wow! This guy is great. He preaches with such conviction and authenticity. Yme’s ok as far as he goes, but this Jesus is awesome!!!”

Mark tells us that “he teaches with authority”; the Greek word exousia (ἐξουσία) also means “conviction” or “integrity”—the kind of integrity that grabs you and won’t let go. He practices what he preaches. He draws us in so that we dare to believe that God is right here among us. He touches something deep with us, and it’s amazing and life–giving.

We don’t know what Jesus’ sermon was about that day, but Mark tells us at the beginning of his gospel that the heart of Jesus’ message is, “The time is fulfilled. It’s time. God’s kingdom is near. It’s here. Repent and trust this good news with all your heart.”

Now let’s be clear that the kingdom of God is not a reward given to us after we die. We live in the kingdom of God now. God’s kingdom is here, and we are kingdom citizens as we honour God’s gospel values. We live in the kingdom of God as we work for the healing of the world.

That’s what Jesus teaches with such exousia, with integrity and conviction.

Suddenly a madman interrupts worship. A wild voice cries out, a disruptive, disjointed, crazy voice.

Who let him in? Where were the ushers? Why weren’t they doing their job?

“What business do you have with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” His shouting drowns out the preacher. “I know who you are—the Holy One of God. I know what you’re up to. You’ve come to destroy us.”

Jesus confronts the man, or rather the voice: “Be silent and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, cursing and spitting, leaves.

We don’t like to talk about unclean spirits and demons much these days, but in ancient stories, demons represent forces which are opposed to God. They rob God’s people of the abundance and joy which God intends for us. Rather than bless, they curse; rather than build up, they tear down; rather than encourage, they disparage; rather than promote love, they sow hate; rather than draw us together, they seek to tear us apart.

I want to say that there are still unclean spirits and demons at work in our world. Sexual abuse and harassment. Bullying. Addictions. Prejudice and racism. The rise of the alt right. You name it. All of these get in the way of God’s love in the world. They destroy and curse and tear us apart.

Besides that, personally we also carry loads which get in the way of God’s love in our lives. We also carry burdens which sometimes seem too heavy. We also face puzzles in life which seem unsolvable.

In the synagogue that day, Jesus silenced that voice. Jesus removes the burden which the man was carrying. “Be silent and come out of him!” That translation is actually much too gentle. It’s more like “Shut up!! Get outta here!! NOW!!!”

Here’s what Mark is getting at—Jesus is the sign of God’s kingdom on earth. In Jesus, the time is fulfilled. In him, God’s kingdom breaks loose in the world. In him, God’s healing and compassionate love is made known. Jesus connects with us at the point of our deepest need. Those who are yearning for a sign of hope find it in him. Those who long for healing find it in him.

This is the very first thing Jesus does in his public ministry. He teaches. He heals. This begins to define his whole ministry. He will be a sign of God’s presence in the world. He is light in the darkness. Then he beckons us and invites us to follow in this way.

It happened in worship in that synagogue in Capernaum. The people experienced God’s kingdom breaking into their world.

What about us? Do we see the signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our world? Can we also look for signs of hope and new life? Can we open our broken lives so that God’s healing spirit can mend us?

I believe stuff happens in worship. It’s not just a bunch of words. The words we speak and sing and whisper in the depths of our hearts point to God’s activity in our lives and in the world. Something happens here in worship. God touches us with a word. God feeds us. We can see signs of God’s kingdom at work among us, if only we have eyes to see.

Do you want to know what God’s reign looks like? Watch Jesus. He eats with tax collectors and sinners and the people whom society kicks in the teeth over and over again. He heals on the Sabbath and breaks all kinds of religious rules—because people are more important. He delights in the faith of a foreign woman who dares to argue with him for the healing of her daughter. He opposes those who seek to exclude others. He lives with grace and hope and joy, with compassion and love. He reaches out and invites.

Let me tell you about Bill, a very good friend of mine. About 25 years ago he died of cancer. He was only 38 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. The doctors gave him 9 months. Bill lived about 4 more years—and he used those 4 years about as wisely and well as any person could. He focused on what was important in his life—his wife; his friends; the ministry he loved to do; his faith. Because of the diagnosis, he set new and strong priorities which reflected the kind of life he wanted to live. When he died, he wasn’t cured. But Bill truly was healed. Meaning had been restored to his life. Meaning had also been given to those of us who were close to Bill, and so along with Bill, his wife Pat was healed. His parishioners were healed. I was healed.

That’s the kind of healing which Jesus brings. It’s partly about an individual. It also involves a whole community.

In such signs, the kingdom of God is here. The time is fulfilled. God still comes among us to heal the world, to heal individuals, to heal communities, to heal our relationships with one another and with creation.

Jesus broke all the religious rules; he trashed all the boundaries; he included outsiders; he dashed demons; he made people whole and drove the religious authorities nuts. That’s why they nailed him to a cross.

And this Jesus says to us, “Come along. Walk with me. Follow me. Let’s figure this stuff out together.” This Jesus invites us to be an expectant people, waiting for God to show up, seeking to discern how we might work in partnership with God to make life more whole.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

January 28, 2018 (4th Sunday after Epiphany, Proper 4)

Mark 1: 21–28

Deuteronomy 18: 15–20

1 Corinthians 8: 1–13