<--- back to sermon list

Download: MP3

First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

January 28, 2018

 When Jesus Comes to Church

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28

            Most of you would recognize Sir Alec McCowen if you saw him.  He died a few years ago, but for fifty years McCowen was one of Great Britain’s gifted actors.  He plays one of the key characters in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, one of his best movies.  In the late 1970’s, his sister Jean came to him – she was an Anglican rector’s wife – and said, “Have you ever thought of doing the Gospel of Mark as a stage production, simply memorizing it and delivering it?”  Alec McCowen took up the challenge, and opened on the West End in London, which is England’s Broadway.  His rendition of the King James Version of the Gospel of Mark, with nothing else around him, simply standing on the stage, still towers as a remarkable presentation of the power of the Bible, specifically, of the power of Mark’s Gospel. 

            As a student in seminary, McCowen’s act went from the West End in London to Broadway.  One night in Princeton, New Jersey, in Alexander Hall, on the campus of the university, Alec McCowen presented Mark’s Gospel.  (You can find it on the internet quite easily.)  What struck me that night were a number of things that were apparent through hearing it offered straight through by one actor, without looking at a note, for an hour and a half.  The pace of Mark’s Gospel is almost breathtaking.  The word “immediately” – in Greek the word “euthus” – appears again and again in the Gospel.  It comes first in Mark’s Gospel when “the heavens were torn open, and immediately he saw the Spirit descending upon him like a dove.”  In the short eight verses I read to you this morning, that same word, “euthus,” “immediately,” comes three different times in the text.  There is a sense of urgency that moves the Gospel of Mark forward inexorably.  It is important, it is vital, and it moves quickly, so you better not miss it!

            The next thing that struck me from Alec McCowen’s presentation of the Gospel was the fact that Mark had a sense of humor, albeit rather dry and often ironic.  For instance, the first time Jesus comes to the synagogue in Capernaum, who is the only one in the synagogue who recognizes Jesus?  Not the Pharisees, not the Rabbi, not even Jesus’ followers know who He is, but rather a demon, an unclean spirit possessing a man recognizes and names Jesus for who He is, “the Holy One of God.”  Irony runs through Mark’s Gospel like a river that is out of control.  At the end of Mark’s Gospel, it is not Peter, James or John who recognize who Jesus is.  You will remember it is the Roman Centurion who says, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”

            Then there is that synagogue in Capernaum.  (All the folks who went with us in 2012 remember that very synagogue!)  It is a stone’s throw from Peter’s house in Capernaum.  There is on the lintel, the doorpost of that synagogue, the oldest rendering we have of the six-sided star that has become the symbol of the modern-day nation of Israel.  The Star of David, appears in its oldest form at the synagogue in Capernaum.

            As Jesus speaks, we are told that they noted that He spoke “as one with authority.”  The word in Greek for “authority” is “exousia.”  “Ex” means “out of” or “from,” like “exit.”  When you walk through an exit, you walk “out of” a building.  “Ousia” is a word which means “substance” or “source.”  So to say that Jesus “spoke as one with authority,” it is not a stretch at all to say Jesus “spoke out of the original source.”  He spoke “out of the very substance” of being itself.  I think it was Mark’s way of saying, “He spoke like the very voice of God.”  Which is why they react the way they do to Jesus’ word!  “Authority” and “author” are very close words in English, and Jesus spoke like the very author of life itself, “the Creator of heaven and earth.”  When Jesus spoke, we are told, they not only said, “He spoke as one with authority,” and not their scribes and Pharisees, which would be to say, “Not their ministers, not like Adam speaks, or Todd speaks, or Stuart speaks.”  But Jesus spoke like the voice of the Living God.

            Jesus speaks here with power; power over the unclean spirits.  In the presence of Jesus, the Truth – with a capital T in the singular – anything less than the truth is overwhelmed and overmatched.  In the presence of Jesus, the embodiment of goodness, anything unclean or impure or evil is overcome by goodness, the strength of the right and the just, the lovely and the beautiful. 

            In the presence of Jesus, things happen.  John Calvin said once, “Jesus comes to us clothed in His Gospel.”  Bonhoeffer said, “Preaching is Christ walking through His congregation with His word.”  In a way, preaching is really the art of getting yourself out of the way, to enable people to hear a word from Jesus.  Karl Barth said, “God never rests.”  He was speaking of the ever present power of God.  Jesus spoke the word, and silenced the demon, the unclean spirit.  The unclean spirit went out of the man because Jesus’ word had power, power to make things happen.  It is the same word that God speaks at the very beginning of creation itself.  Do you remember the first thing God says in the Bible?  “Let there be light,” and there was light.

            This morning I want to tell you about Kate Bowler.  Kate Bowler graduated from Macalester College.  She went to Yale Divinity School, and then to Duke University where she wrote her PhD dissertation on the “Prosperity Gospel.”  It is not an uncritical look at the Gospel made most popular and most famous in our own day by Joel Osteen.  She takes a serious and fair-minded look at this Prosperity Gospel which says, “If you think it, God will give it to you.”  She received no small amount of attention as a budding young scholar and Assistant Professor at Duke University’s Divinity School.  Then at the age of thirty-five, married with a two-year-old son, she began to feel ill.  She went to the Duke medical complex and received at thirty-five the diagnosis: “Non-curative stage four colon cancer.”  In the face of it, Kate Bowler said, “I had to confess that though I had a non-curative disease, I have been all my life an incurable optimist.”  She said in response to the question that she believes in miracles.  (By the way, in Mark’s Gospel, there are eighteen miracles that Jesus performs, thirteen of them healings, four of them the casting out or the exorcism of demons.  This passage has one of each in the same act by Jesus.)  She said, “I believe in miracles.  I like to be equally open to lovely things as to bad things happening.” 

            But I love especially what she says about her faith: “You really want in the face of this a brave faith, one that says, in the midst of crushing brokenness, that there is something else there: the undeniable, overwhelming love of God.”  This is whether she ever gets better, or whether she does not.  Bowler is asked by Elizabeth Dias, a journalist with Time Magazine, “Why did you decide to keep on working as a professor?”  I love her answer.  She said, “This is my one job, this [her husband] is the one man I love, this is my one kid.  Infinite possibilities can be exciting, but sometimes even more beautiful is doubling down on the life that you have.”  Kate Bowler has experienced something powerful, something profound.  She has found, experienced, the love of God in the midst of a devastating diagnosis.  And she is doubling down on the life that she has, whether it is the one she wants, or the one she would choose or not.  She is doubling down on the life she has as the one given to her by God.

            The folks who heard Jesus were amazed by Him.  “Astounded,” we are told, “astonished.”  I have to tell you that every time I stop long enough to listen to Jesus, I am amazed as well.  And still to this day, astonished and astounded at Jesus and the words that He speaks.  Amid so many voices that we hear, Jesus’ is the one voice that matters supremely, the one voice that still has the power to heal.  Jesus’ is the one voice that amazes; the one voice that can make even the demons tremble.  His is the one voice that can overpower evil with good.  The one voice that finally resounds, and that nothing, nothing can ever overcome.  I want to hear that voice, really hear it.  I want to let it speak into my life, so that hearing it, I can double-down on the life that God has given me to live.  How about you?

                                                                                    Amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church | 4815 Franklin Pike, Nashville, TN 37220 | (615) 383-1815
Website By Poka Yoke Design