The Pastor’s Pen – January 28, 2018


aaron-burden-88785…a saving word…a saving glance
January 28, 2018

Scripture: Mark 1:21-28
Our passage from Mark today is from the first chapter, at the beginning of the gospel account. Mark opens with a brief account of John the Baptist’s ministry followed by the baptism of Jesus. Mark then gives a brief account of Jesus’ time of preparation in the desert after which he says Jesus made his way over to Galilee. Once there Jesus proceeded to call his disciples by the Sea of Galilee, each of whom left their families and fishing nets behind and followed after him.
It is at this point that our scripture reading for today picks up…still in the first chapter at verse 21. Mark tells us that it is the Sabbath and therefore Jesus goes with his disciples to the local Temple where he begins to teach and to preach from the Law and the Prophets. It is important to remember that the only ‘scriptures’ from which Jesus could teach were what we call the Old Testament, the ‘New’ Testament would not be written for a number of years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And our passage goes on to tell us that as Jesus taught there in the Temple that morning the people there listening were absolutely amazed and surprised at the clarity and care with which Jesus spoke truth to life from the ancient texts. At the very beginning of our passage it tells us that the congregation was amazed at these newly interpreted teachings of Jesus as they somehow seemed to speak deeply into their own individual situation, as his words seemed able to find each one of them, speaking as though directly to the heart of each one there.
Never before had anyone opened up the ancient scriptures in a way that so revealed the true and loving nature of God while at the same time zeroing in on the inner story and landscape of each one in the gathering. Jesus spoke with authority, as one who had a mission, as one who came to tell them something new and important…about life, about their life together, and about anything and everything that might be standing in the way of them experiencing a fuller life in holy relationship with God.
And surely there had to be some there who were not only surprised by the probing nature of Jesus’ teachings, but also by the way in which he seemed able to speak to their inner story as though he already knew everything that was on their mind…a story mind you, that they might not have cared to be reminded of…a story that might contain pain, injury or perhaps sinful habits or tendencies. In short, somehow this unknown rabbi from Nazareth was able to speak powerfully and with true authority, causing those there to sit up and really take notice.
This was not your ordinary run of the mill teacher who simply called for obedience to the Law…no there was much more to this man who in just a few words was able to thrill…and to unsettle the consciousness of those in the audience. This stranger had found them, had located them and it was not all that comfortable for everyone there. Not everyone had come to Temple that morning seeking to be challenged to the very core of their being…not everyone there wanted to listen to an upstart Rabbi who had a knack for intruding on their comfort and causing them to look at life in a far different way than they wanted to or were used to. In fact I imagine there were some there who were profoundly unsettled by the teachings of Jesus as he spoke directly to hearts not necessarily looking for advice, counsel, or correction. For whenever the voice of the Lord is heard, then or now, it always carries with it a call to deeper relationship and a call to deeper engagement in things usually, if not always opposed to the ways of the world and to the status quo.
And so as Jesus spoke he opened up the truth about God’s nature and challenged those who were there. And somewhere in that room there was one in particular who really heard Jesus…one who was deeply unsettled by the words that seemed to go right to the heart of the dis-ease within his heart. Somewhere in that gathering of those amazed by the preaching of this new Rabbi there was an individual who felt fully exposed by what Jesus was saying…felt as though he had been found out…in all his hiding places, in all of his secret and at times less-than-holy nature.
And as Jesus continued speaking, sharing the loving and saving message of a God of unconditional love and ‘chesed’ or ‘loving kindness’, there came a point when this individual could no longer take it and suddenly he burst out, shouting and disrupting Jesus and causing quite a stir among the others gathered there. Jesus’ message had penetrated so deeply within his soul that he had come face to face with the reality that Jesus himself was indeed the living image of the God of whom he spoke. He knew without anyone telling him or even hinting at the possibility that Jesus was in fact sent from God…sent right to the very center of his soul…sent to disrupt his trial and darkness-riddled life to somehow call him out of that shadow into something entirely different.
And so this troubled man shouted at Jesus, asking him what exactly he wanted of him…and calling him the ‘Son of God’ which had to have immediately caught the attention of everyone else there. For to claim that someone was sent directly from God was to engage in abject heresy, to tread on very dangerous ground indeed. Not only had this apparently very disturbed man disrupted the whole assembly, he had also made a very dangerous claim. Surely the rest of those in the gathering had to have been caught completely off guard at this strange outburst which so offended their sense of proper behavior and decorum in the Temple service. Surely they had to have looked at this man as deeply disturbed and of unsound mind, perhaps even thinking him possessed by something they could not understand, perhaps something demonic and frightening. Truly this man had been rocked to his core by this teacher who spoke and taught with such authority. Truly the darkness within this man’s soul had responded violently to the light Jesus was creating within his heart…and so he looked over at Jesus and shouted at being found in his inner heart of hearts, not willing to be exposed for the sin-darkened soul he knew deep within.
And then, as Jesus looked at him the whole assembly had to have grown pin-drop quiet, for this was such an unheard of exchange within Temple tradition and protocol. Jesus looked over at the man in such inner turmoil and distress and had the deepest of compassion for him, for indeed he could see the conflict that was absolutely wrenching the man apart from the inside out. Catching the troubled man’s eye Jesus said simply, ‘Be silent, and come out of him’, and immediately the man was restored to calm, immediately all that had so disturbed him just a minute before was washed away in the loving and compassionate look Jesus had given him.
All of the bondage, all of the guilt and sin-sickness of a lifetime was brought to the fore and forgiven completely. A life filled with fear, worry, and self-loathing was cancelled in an instant as the all-forgiving and loving glance of Jesus truly found the man and gave him the assurance that a whole and healthy relationship was still possible between him and a good and loving God.
This man, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel…at the very first opportunity for Jesus to minister…was not only restored and liberated by the love of God, but in truth this man was saved in that moment…he was saved from the deadening burden of a life controlled by forces other than love…saved from fear, from worry, and from the separation of a broken relationship with our Lord of love. This man, this one who reacted so strongly to the breaking in of God’s light and love upon his inner soul gives us the first account we have of Jesus extending the true salvation he came to offer.
Jesus offered to this man the same thing he offers to each of us, each and every moment we remember that he is there. Jesus offers us the opportunity to stand saved, forgiven and loved before the throne of grace, knowing that we are accepted just as we are and that all past moments of sin or weakness are gone forever, swallowed up in a sea of forgetfulness. As the true light of Christ pushes its way into all the inner places of our hearts it cleanses us anew and leads us forward that we might truly live into the commandment to love one another as Jesus first loved us.
That man there in the Temple that day was really not any different from anyone of us. Each one of us has inner places of darkness and sadness, each one of us has done things in our past for which we are ashamed and in need of divine reassurance of our acceptance to the heart of God…each one of us is bound up with feelings of inadequacy at times, or discouragement, or loneliness, fear, or worry…all of which are ties that can bind up our hearts so tightly. Each one of us is afraid somewhere to be fully known to God, each one of us is afraid we are not worthy of the forgiving love, of the unconditional acceptance…of the salvation Jesus so freely offers to us all.
The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ came like a thunderclap unto all those gathered there that day in the Temple. Each one was amazed at the power and authority with which Jesus’ words first found them and then entered into their own story, broke in upon their inner feelings of inadequacy and need. And each one was blessed to have seen the power of love acted out right there in front of them as they saw one of their own embrace the deep challenge of Jesus’ message and then receive the greatest gift…the gift of a restored, forgiven, and healed relationship with the Lord. Salvation was offered there that morning and at least one man had the courage to embrace it…
Then, and now, our Lord Jesus stands ready to call us forth into newness of life and newness of relationship…both with each other, and with God. Then, and now, the words of Jesus spoken with love and authority are able to pierce through the hardest of resolves, the toughest of unbelieving hearts and souls to extend once again God’s offer of salvation…the offer of deliverance unto newness of life and purpose starting right now…salvation offered and beginning immediately…and not at some far off point in the future.
So…when you hear the words of our faith, when you are challenged by the teachings and actions of our Lord Jesus…when the discomfort within you that is caused by unfulfilled potentials and unmet dreams crashes against the call to love ever more deeply…don’t hold back your inner cry of anguish…for the loss of past understandings and past ways of living life can at times be both fearful and painful…go ahead and shout out to the Lord and insist that he reveal himself to you in all fullness for he most surely will do so…
And then…then cross over into the embrace of God’s love…surrender to the one whose soft and sure response simply calls you to himself. Lose your past worry, fear, and pain in the glance of the one who looks at you with such all-encompassing grace and compassion…lose yourself in the salvation of our God as you enter fully into good and blessed relationship with him.
For true salvation begins at this point of contact…at that moment when the loving touch of God breaks into your heart and you receive it…at that moment when all of the turmoil within, all of the deafening voices clamoring for your attention are silenced by the words, “Be silent, and come out”…when the overpowering love of our God finds you, calls you and then in mercy welcomes you into the forever of a relationship with our Lord of love…that my friends, is true salvation…
For…in the true presence of our God there is release. There is a cleansing and purifying fire. And all of our inner life story, anything we hold onto that can come between us and others, anything that can disrupt relationship is broken down and removed as Jesus comes into that space and speaks with the liberating authority of his love…
As William Sloan Coffin, one of the great preachers of Riverside Church in New York City once said, “…in home after home I have seen Jesus change beer into furniture, sinners into saints, hate-filled relations into loving ones, cowardice into courage, and the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope.”

…come, let us receive the life transforming salvation of our Lord

Mark 1:21-28
21They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.”28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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