January 29, 2006
4th Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Maybe you've heard the story about the High School teacher who injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. It was form fitted, fit under his shirt and wasn't noticeable at all. The first day of school he still had the cast on. He looked at his class roster and realized he'd been assigned to the toughest students in school.
He walked into the classroom, which was already rowdy and noisy. All the students were talking and laughing and either acted like he wasn't there or looked at him with disdain, daring him to say something, anything. The teacher walked over and opened a window as wide as possible and then started working at his desk. Several times, a strong breeze made his tie flip up into his face. Finally, he reached over, picked up the stapler and stapled the tie to his chest in three places and then continued working.
The class immediately quieted down and he didn't have any problems with discipline problems that entire year. (1) Wouldn't it be nice to have that kind of authority in everything you did?
In today's passage, the people were absolutely amazed at the authority of Jesus and his teachings.
Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)
 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.
Jesus had Amazing Authority, like no one had ever seen before.
A. Do you remember arguing as a kid? You'd get into an argument over something really simple and stupid. The argument would go back and forth, back and forth and finally somebody would holler out, "Oh yeah, who said?"
It's was a cry to validate your source. You might retort, I saw it on Mr. Wizard or My Dad said so or some other person in authority said so. But the main question was, "Where did that authority come from?" Now there are all kinds of authority.
B. There's Parental Authority: Up until a certain age, and that's different for different kids and family situations, Mom and Dad have 100% authority over us. I remember growing up, when my Dad whistled, you better come running and you better holler "Coming" as loud as you could. We were attuned to Dad's whistle. That was just one of the ways we knew that our parents ruled the roost.
C. Then There's Boot Camp Authority: The Drill Instructor or Company Commander weren't just in charge, they were God. You didn't do anything without their permission. You ate, slept, walked, talked, went to the bathroom when they told you to. They even told you how long of a shower to take, when to brush and how much toilet paper you could use. They were in charge. They might not have been God but they sure acted like they had God on the phone and had put Him on hold to deal with you. That's the kind of authority they had.
C. Then There's The Authority of Age: Sometimes there are those who we cherish and whose wisdom and authority come simply from their age. They've lived longer than anyone we know, they've experienced more and seen more than anyone else and their opinion carries great weight. It might be a parent or grandparent. Or a trusted member of a congregation.
Mrs. Davis celebrated her 103 birthday while I was serving this one church. She was one of those faithful members who was there every Sunday, unless she was sick or it was too cold for her to get out. Mrs. Davis was deaf as a stump but had a radiant smile for everybody. The kids just loved her.
One Sunday we had one of the holy moments, an E.F. Hutton moment when everybody just stopped to listen. One of the little girls stood up in the pew next to Mrs. Davis and hollered in her good ear, "Mrs. Davis, if you can't hear the sermon or the music, why do you still come to church?"
You could have hear a feather hit the floor. All ears were on Mrs. Davis. With one of those radiant grins, Mrs. Davis patted the little girl on the hand and said, "Well, honey, I want just everyone to know whose side I'm on." We could have gone home right then. Mrs. Davis spoke with the voice of experience and the authority or her years.
D. Then There's The Authority of Knowledge: Sometimes we respect people because we know they know more than we do. They are the experts we're just beginners. A perfect example is Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid. Remember, Daniel was the new kid who was bullied by a bunch of thugs who knew karate. He discovers that the apartment handyman knows karate and asks him to teach him. Mr. Miyagi agrees but then has Daniel doing a series of what appears to be meaningless tasks like painting the fence and waxing cars. Wax on wax off. In reality, Mr. Miyagi was training Daniel's muscles for the karate moves. Teachers, professors even doctors to a certain extent are invested with considerable authority because they have knowledge that we would like to have or we'd like our children to have.
E. Then There's The Authority of a Position and a Person: Roger was and probably still is a member of the police force in a high crime area of a big city. He worked with juvenile crime and chose that particular part of the city because that's where he thought he was both needed and could do the most good. Roger also taught the Senior High Sunday School class.
He was a Gary Cooper sort of guy. Quiet and thoughtful. He usually didn't say too much, not that he was unfriendly or anything but simply because that was the nature of who he was. But when Roger spoke everyone listened because everyone knew Roger had thought it through and what he had to say would be important. Some people just have an air of authority about them.
A. That's the way Jesus was. Whenever He spoke, He spoke with authority. He wasn't arrogant or prideful, He just carried Himself and presented Himself in such a way that it set Him apart. I've always imagined Jesus as one of those people whom you might not see enter the room, He never made the Grand Entrance. But before long you felt His presence. You might not even be aware of it at first because it was something subtle. But pretty soon you'd find yourself drawn to Him, like everyone else. Why? Because His words rang true. His words sprang from the heart and they resonated with power and authenticity. It was as if He had a direct line to God. And that's what amazed His listeners.
There were no gimmicky tricks or false promises to get folks to open up there wallets to support His ministry. There was no phony manipulation. Jesus was truly concerned about everyone who came to hear Him. Jesus wanted them to understand, to know, to learn about God's love and forgiveness. He was so concerned that He risked Himself and shared Himself with everyone he met.
Several years ago, Derek Evans and Dave Fulwiler of San Diego began the world's first REVERSE social register. This register is for people who couldn't make it into WHO'S WHO. It is called WHO'S NOBODY IN AMERICA. Evans and Fulwiler say that 3,800 people have sought places in the register since they began accepting entries. Each "nobody" is limited to a twenty-five-word biography. Some of those biographies are hilarious. According to these nobodies, you know you're nobody if:
"Your twin sister dies and they bury you instead.
"Your own reflection in the mirror ignores you.
"You had your picture taken beside a tree and everyone admires the tree."
One applicant said, claimed that the government returned his taxes unopened. Another lamented that all of his mail was addressed to "Occupant," and the post office had returned it with the legend, "No longer at this address."
Many of us have the feeling; that our lives really don't matter, that we're unnoticed and unloved. And the same was true back then. But Jesus cared for the people. His love and concern came through in everything Jesus said and did. And Jesus cares for us.
B. Not only that, but Jesus gave them and us something besides commentary and quotes about the Scripture. Jesus gave us something to believe in and hang onto. You see words aren't enough. There has to be something deeper. Something at the very core for you to grab onto and hang onto. That's what Jesus gave us.
In the movie, Secondhand Lions, Walter's uncle Garth has been spinning amazing adventure stories about his past with his other uncle Hub. He tells how he and Hub were forcibly recruited into the French Foreign Legion and how they fought for their lives and for love in Africa. But Garth refuses to tell the end of their story to Walter, especially the part about the love of Hub's life, Jasmine. He tells Walter to ask Hub himself. Fearful of his wilder uncle, Walter finally asks Uncle Hub to finish the story and once it is over, the starry eyed boy asks the most important question of all.
Walter looks at his uncle and says: "Those stories about Africa, about you, they're true, aren't they?" Hub tells the boy, "Doesn't matter," but Walter is not buying it.
Walter argues, "It does too. Around my mom all I hear is lies. I don't know what to believe."
Hub tells him, "If you want to believe in something, believe in it. Just because somethin' ain't true doesn't mean you can't believe in it." Hub tells Walter that he gives a speech to young men and thinks that Walter should hear a piece of it. He says, "Sometimes, things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, courage, and virtue mean everything. Power and money, money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil." Hub's most important admonition is, "That love, true love, never dies. Remember that boy. Doesn't matter if they're true or not, you see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in. You got that?"
Impressed, Walter replies, "That was a good speech."
Hub says, "You think so? Thanks."
In a convoluted sort of way, Hub is trying to teach Walter a lesson like Jesus taught. A lesson that is deeper than historical facts. He's talking about virtues being worth our belief even if other people don't hold to them to be true anymore. In an age when power and money seem to be the predominant value, honor and virtue are still more important. In a time when it appears that evil is overcoming good, we have to believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil or else we lose all hope. The details aren't that important, but the values the story teaches is everything.
In my own life, the book To Kill A Mockingbird, had a great influence on my sense of justice and standing up for what is right especially in the area of race relationships. The book is pure fiction but the lesson is unforgettable and was life shaping. I wanted to grow up and be just like Atticus Finch. The parables of Jesus were stories designed to teach lessons. We weren't told to go and physically look for the Prodigal Son. But we did learn a deep lesson about grace and repentance and how much God loves us. In that sense, our response to the story is more important than whether it was historically true.
A. The other thing that was so amazing was that Jesus not only spoke with authority, but He lived what He spoke. The authority of His teaching extended to the authority of His actions. And the day of this particular incident, His words were punctuated with an exclamation point of authority and authenticity when He healed the man. He backed up His words with deeds.
And in a sense, that's the Good News. As we look at Jesus' life and ministry we see that He had authority not only to speak. But He had authority over demons, who fell at His feet trembled in His presence and fled as soon as He spoke.
Jesus had authority over illness, healing thousands of leprosy and every other kind of infirmity you can think of.
Jesus had authority over sin, forgiving our sins while here, and then taking the punishment for our sins on the cross. And in so doing, he vanquished the power of sin over us, if we just turn to Him.
Not only that, but Jesus had authority even over death. He raised Lazarus, the widow's son and Jairus' daughter from the dead. And death couldn't hold Him either. As a consequence, it no longer holds us. Jesus holds the authority in our lives. Not sin and death.
Remember, Jesus did more than staple his tie to his chest, He gave Himself up to be nailed to the cross for our sin and for our sake. No wonder everyone was amazed by Jesus. No wonder he had such Amazing Authority. Does Jesus have that authority in your life? Have you invited Him to be the core of your beliefs, the rock upon which to stand and build your life?
Jesus IS the true authority but have you given Him full authority in your life?
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