1 Corinthians 8:1-13
This sermon was preached at Christ Episcopal Church in Eureka CA on January 28, 2018.
Expectations were great for the Jewish Messiah. The Messiah was expected to raise an army that would defeat all of Israel’s enemies. He was expected to cleanse Jerusalem from all oppressive nations and usher in a new golden age for the children of Israel. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah was taking on a very intimidating and demanding job description. Jesus of Nazareth was not at all oblivious to these great expectations, and yet he launches his ministry not by raising an army but by healing people. Now healing was actually not part of the Messiah’s job description. No one expected the Jewish Messiah to be a healer or exorcist or miracle worker. That may sound surprising to us but Jesus was actually defying expectations by healing people and essentially equating the kingdom of God with personal healing and wholeness. For Jesus, the kingdom of God was not about building an army to violently defeat an enemy but rather about infiltrating peoples’ hearts and minds with the healing love of God.
Although this emphasis on the healing love of God was not really what the Jewish people expected from the Messiah, it proved to be the source of Jesus’s authority, which became apparent to his listeners right away. In our Gospel reading this morning, the people ask, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!” This authority was rooted not so much in strength or knowledge or charisma (all of which Jesus certainly had in spades), but rather his authority was rooted in love, in the healing love of God, in that same love that was poured out upon Jesus at his baptism, as the Spirit descended like a dove and said, “You are my child, my beloved, on you my favor rests.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Although Mark does not provide any details of his sermon, we know that when Jesus did teach in the synagogues, he generally liked to talk about God’s healing love and favor, as the Gospel of Luke describes. So while teaching and “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor,” Jesus is rudely interrupted by the shrieking of someone in desperate need of healing and love. The Bible describes this person as “a man with an unclean spirit.” Today we might describe such a person as suffering from severe mental illness. This person was likely plagued by inner voices of fear and anger and condemnation, voices that might even plague some of us from time to time. These voices had become dominant in this poor man and we catch a glimpse of his inner chaos and psychological pandemonium when he hollers out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus responds to this disturbing interruption not by calling for the bouncer or the usher to remove him. Instead Jesus responds by laying aside his carefully-crafted sermon to put into practice what he is preaching. He reveals the authoritative power of God’s healing love by saying to the man, “Be silent!” And with these words, he commands all the inner voices of fear to bow down to the voice of love. All other voices and spirits and powers either become silent or scream and run away when the divinely authoritative voice of love is spoken. It this authoritative voice of love that heals the man with the unclean spirit and amazes everyone, even those with very different expectations for the Messiah.
Have you heard this powerful and healing voice of love? When did you hear it spoken most clearly in your life? This voice is speaking to each of us at every moment, whether we hear it or not, constantly inviting us to rest in it and be healed by its power and authority. It is the voice that says to each of us, “You are my child, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Can we practice making all of our other inner voices subservient to this voice? Can we silence ourselves enough to hear it?
Today we begin a new season together, full of hope, excitement and perhaps some great expectations. This community, Christ Church Eureka, has waited a long time for a new rector and I am humbled and overjoyed to be your new rector. And I am encouraged by these readings for our first Sunday together as they invite us to hold our expectations lightly and to find our authority not so much in our knowledge or physical beauty and resources (all of which we have in spades) but rather our readings invite us to find our authority in God’s healing love.
St. Paul reiterates this message when he says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him” (1 Cor 8:1b-3). These words of Paul encourage us all to use our knowledge and experience and God-given gifts not to puff ourselves up but to build up the community; to heal each other so that we can continue to be a source of healing for Eureka and the world.
Although my education and ordination give me some authority on matters of theology and spirituality, I ultimately seek to find my authority in love. I seek to find my authority in love by listening to each of you; hearing your stories and learning about your joys, passions, challenges and sorrows. I want to hear about your experience of Jesus Christ and about the times in your lives when you most clearly heard the divine voice of love speak to you. I seek to find my authority in love also by continuing to receive the love and generosity that you have already poured out so kindly upon Ashley and me. Finally, I invite us all to find our authority in love by listening attentively and regularly to the divine voice that says to each of us, “You are my child, my beloved, on you my favor rests.” This is why we gather to worship and this is why we pray: to hear more clearly this voice, to be healed by it and thus become healers ourselves.
One of the symbols of this community, Christ Church Eureka, is the dove in descent, which you can see in the beautiful stained glass window at the northwest corner of the nave above the baptismal font. This dove represents the Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus of Nazareth at his baptism and said to him “You are my Beloved child.” This is that same divine voice that anointed each of us at our baptisms and empowered us with authority in Christ to heal all those who suffer just as Christ healed the man with the unclean spirit. So one of the main symbols of Christ Church Eureka (if not the symbol of Christ Church Eureka) is actually a powerful image of God’s healing and authoritative love.
Whatever people’s expectations of Christ or the church or the priest might be, my hope and my prayer is that this community be known throughout Eureka as an icon and emblem of God’s healing love, full of people who find their power and authority in that love and in the One who embodied that love most perfectly, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
May it be so. Amen.