3rd Week after Epiphany

3rd Week after Epiphany

January 31, 2021 | Bryan Simmons

Passage: Mark 1:21-28

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    I might use some of that gospel text today, but I really want to focus on what Paul talks about in the Corinthians reading today. I'm sure it's happened to you, you've been at a party. And, well, maybe you've got some interesting factoids or some nuggets that you want to drop. Or you're talking about the events of the day, whatever the contemporary news is, sports teams, whatever. And it seems like everything that comes out of your mouth -- there's that other person at the party that jumps in, right? "Well, actually..."

    One of the most annoying words in the human language, ACTUALLY.

    There's always that person, and if you don't know who it is, I'm afraid to tell you. That word might be common in your language. Nobody really, truly likes a know-it-all. And I will freely confess. I like to try to know it all! I might be one of those people that you're annoyed with at the party. There's a thrill to trying to know the answer to something or to try to figure it out. But the danger in that is propping yourself up so much to the point that you can't be wrong. You have to be the one that knows everything so that nobody else can know anything. And that is a danger that we walk in and even if we don't end up being the know-it-all at the party, we do like to think we know more than we do.

    There are a myriad of studies out there that talk about these biases that we have. And that this is self reflection that we have, where we think of ourselves more favorably than we ought to, where we think that we know more than we do, when we think that we can control more than we do. Study after study shows that we are wrong. And yet study after study also shows that we don't care. And I think it has to do with our comfort that we just are more comfortable thinking we know stuff, that we are more comfortable being right, and trying to convince ourselves that we are in the right. We are, after all, attracted and drawn to power, to confidence, to those in control. Or who seem in control.

    There's this big messianic secret concept in the gospel of Mark, where Mark shows that Jesus is trying to keep his status as the son of God, as the incarnate Lord, a secret until his resurrection. And I think it's for that very reason, you look at the gospel text that we had today and he exorcises a demon. Not to show his power. But out of love for this poor person that is possessed by this unclean spirit. And everyone's amazed and they say -- what is this, a new teaching with authority? Because they want to harness this power too! If only they had power too. But they're going to follow this guy that's got true power. And as we see in the gospels, it doesn't work out that way.

    Jesus, having power does not utilize it for the sake of power, right, but Jesus having power gives it up. For all of us. (He) dies, brutalized and alone on the cross. Something that we need to recognize Jesus did not have to do. Jesus had this kind of authority, this kind of power. Everything that Satan tempted Jesus with in the wilderness, Jesus could have done.

    It's not about power. It's about humility. And it's about sacrifice. That is the Lord that we follow. The Lord of Lord and king of Kings is the humblest among us. (He) is the one who is willing to trade power for weakness for the other's sake. Man, we don't like that. We like the thought of it. When it's Jesus doing it for us. But, man, is it hard to take that position for others.

    I can't quite remember if it's Corinthian's or where Paul says this, but I think it's Romans where Paul talks about how maybe for a good person, someone might dare to die for them. But Jesus does it for the vile. Jesus dies on behalf of those who aren't worth dying for. And we also tend to think that that's not us.

    We also tend to think that we're the ones that are in a good position so that we can stand with Jesus and look down on those that didn't deserve it and say, you poor thing. Let me help you. Let me instruct you. Let me train you. So that you can live the proper Christian life.

    And that's what Paul gets into here in Corinthians. He gets into this difficult position of talking about the knowledge of our freedom in Christ, and our duty to one another at the same time. We have knowledge, all of us possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up. It is something to have but can quickly become an idol and can quickly be something that causes more harm than good.

    Because love builds up. And Paul puts them at opposition to one another. It's not like the more knowledgeable you are, the more hate you have in your heart or something like that. But which one are you going to get carried away in? Paul uses this idea that sacrificing meat to idols could cause others to stumble. And at the most, we need to remove these stumbling blocks to the gospel, he says later in Corinthians.

    And he talks about this idea of not sacrificing or not eating the meat sacrificed to idols in front of those that would believe that in doing so, you are recognizing that that God is real and exists and deserves the sacrifice. And so it gets them not to see the truth. That it's just meat. So Paul says if that should cause any weak person to stumble. Well, I shall never eat meat at all.

    And this has been translated in ways or interpreted in ways that end up being unhelpful, end up actually going to the knowledgeable side of things instead of the love side of things. And created this idea of Christian piety where there is one true way to live a Christian life. And if you stray from that, you're not as Christian as the one that is. And if you stay on that path, my God, you can reach Christian perfection.

    [Not to kick around the Methodists too much here.]

    There's a there's a difficulty in thinking in that way in that no cussing, no dancing, no drinking way. And that is that you start turning the piety itself into an idol. The Christian life is one of those things that is actually very easy in concept and very difficult in practice.

    Because we are not bound by the law. As Paul says. We are freed from the law. Which sounds great once we say that, but then you got to have the other side of it, well, we are bound to each other in love. We are bound to each other in the sacrificial love of Christ. And boy, oh, boy, is that what makes it hard.

    We can't use our knowledge for power. We can't use our power for power. We love one another as Christ loves us. And so we do our best. To take those stumbling blocks of the gospel out of the way. And that may mean people living a lifestyle that you don't approve of. That may mean people singing songs that you don't like. That may mean people dancing. Although I don't think there's anyone truly in this congregation that would be opposed to dancing, I don't know, maybe.

    But Jesus is the focus and center of our faith. And Jesus is the very lord of lords and king of kings that binds us in love and humility to one another. That takes our knowledge and challenges it and says you may not know as much as you think you know. You may not have as much authority as you think you have. You may not be as important as you think you are.

    But that kind of humility, that dose of thinking is for our benefit. Because we love power, we love knowledge, we love attention. And yet love frames these things in a way that keeps us true to one another. So that we can all be welcomed into the kingdom of God.

    God is the one that is in charge. It is Jesus who has the very power over the demons. Jesus's greatest power was going to the cross for you and for me. So that we don't have to live this life based on our knowledge and power and prowess. But that we may be humbled by the very Lord that humbled himself for us. So that you and I can live in the true nature of love. Which brings peace and harmony and forgiveness. If we can figure out how to do that part right.

    Lord, be with us and Lord guide us as we try to live a life of love.

    Amen.