What authority?

Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 28 January 2018

Readings were Psalm 111 and Mark 1: 21 – 28

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Have you noticed that the hymns today have something of a militaristic, triumphalist tone? Sometimes such hymns aren’t felt to be appropriate for our worship, but today these have been chosen deliberately because of our Gospel reading.

Mark’s Gospel starts off as it continues – with sharp and sudden movements. It seems Mark is trying to provoke us to pay attention and engage with Jesus and what Jesus is doing. It’s like Mark wants to present Jesus as a figure for us to discover ourselves.

Already in his Gospel, prior to today’s passage,

  • Mark has presented Jesus as a figure to whom the voice of God speaks “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (1:11) - he’s got the best credentials
  • Mark has presented Jesus as a figure worth following by those disciples who have accepted his authority. (1:16-20) – trustworthy

In today’s passage Mark presents Jesus teaching and healing. Importantly both his teaching and healing are done with authority.

Mark is writing for those of us who were not there that day to see Jesus teach and heal with authority. Mark wants us to answer for ourselves the question ‘Who is Jesus?

Today’s story of Jesus’ teaching and healing is not intended to give us a full answer (it never could), but is (again) part of the way Mark opens up the story of this intriguing man.

As Jesus begins his ministry, he is publically recognised as teaching and healing with authority. What kind of authority is this? How does Jesus use his authority? What is his source of authority? What else will Jesus do with this authority?

These are the sorts of questions Mark is introducing here, and these questions are still important for us. How do we understand this ‘authority’ of Jesus? – especially when in our current times authority is questioned, often with some suspicion.

T. Wright tells the story of a terrible maritime disaster a few years ago.

One evening, a ferry carrying passengers and their cars started taking on water from cargo doors that weren’t shut properly. As the boat began to sink panic took hold. Amidst the screaming of terrified passengers, suddenly a man (not one of the ship’s crew) took charge.

In a clear strong voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. With relief that someone was in charge, people responded and many were able to reach lifeboats that otherwise would have been missed in the dark panicky chaos.

The man himself moved further down into the boat and made himself a human bridge to lift people out of the hold to safety.

When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed – the authority by which many had been saved.

In today’s passage of Mark, Jesus speaks with authority words of healing to the man whose life had become a total nightmare – taken over by alien powers. Jesus acts not with sheer arbitrary power; Jesus’s authority has a purpose and a message.

It is a regime change – again, not by brute power but about forgiveness and releasing people from the tyranny of guilt and fear.

The power Jesus has is for new relationships, and he uses his power in love to heal and serve as part of this making new relationships – with God and with each other.

Mark tells us how Jesus is becoming publically recognised, but Mark is also pointing ahead to where this is all going to lead. Jesus’ authority threatens other ‘authorities’. And as the confrontation escalates, the powers of destruction are going to battle this man who teaches and heals with his own authority.

Jesus presses ahead into these powers of destruction that surge around like the dark cruel sea sweeping people away. Jesus becomes the human bridge across which people can be saved. And if, in doing so, he pays with his life the price of his own saving authority, then (with his arms outstretched as a bridge leading people from death to life) we see not only his authority, but also the depth of his love.

When we the church learn again how to speak and act with the same authority, the saving power of God will move. And, as with Jesus’ own ministry, we can expect increased opposition from the powers of darkness.

But, importantly, although there is evil lurking about, the darkness has been defeated once and for all on the cross.

To believe this is the key to Christian witness and saving action in the world that, despite its frequent panic and despair, has already been claimed by the loving authority of God in Jesus. (N.T.Wright)

So, will we hear what Mark is showing us about this figure Jesus? Will we take seriously the authority of his teaching and healing? Will we let Jesus have authority in our lives? Will we let him save us from the darkness crashing around us? Will we speak this same authority to those around us, who are caught in a living nightmare?

As we recognise the figure of Jesus presented in scripture as real and alive, let us be encouraged in our witness and action. We rejoice for those who have confirmed their Baptisms today, and also those who are becoming members, joining with us all in the call to follow Jesus in the purposes of God.



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