This sermon was preached Sunday, February 1, 2009, at University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany in St. Cloud, MN
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.
In today’s Gospel reading we encounter Jesus after he has been baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, and has begun calling his disciples. Jesus decides to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath and once there he begins to preach. The men who are present are amazed by his teaching because he teaches with great authority. In the middle of his lecture, a man with an unclean spirit challenges Jesus, identifying him as the Son of God. Jesus silences the spirit and demands that it come out of the man. The man is released and the people marvel because Jesus’ theory has just been backed up with praxis in their midst.
In 2009 this story is difficult for many of us to relate to. Many people want to make it simpler by stating that the man Jesus encountered in the synagogue must have been mentally ill. While that could be true; it is not necessary true. I find that many of us are disturbed by the notion that a man or woman could have an “unclean spirit” impacting the quality of his life. We don’t like to talk about things that are unclean, or by extension the reality of sin, evil, or the devil. It has always amazed me that many people have no problem reciting the Apostles Creed which states that Jesus, “descended into hell,” but those same people don’t want to affirm the existence of evil at work in our Earth. I think the notion of evil scares us human being something awful.
Jesus had no such compunctions. As the Alpha and the Omega, the Second person in the Trinity, and the one present with God at the creation of the Earth, Jesus knew that good and evil co-exist in our world. I believe that is why he was able to teach with such authority. It tickles me that the people marveled at his teaching. But, let’s face it. Why wouldn’t they? As far as they knew he was a stranger. If they knew anything about him they knew that he was the son of a humble carpenter from Nazareth. Yet, this humble and unknown man walked into the synagogue and began to teach with authority. He didn’t just teach like he had read and studied the material in school, he taught like he had intimate knowledge of the theological concepts being explored. See, this is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is the right application of knowledge. Jesus taught like an eye-witness to the stories—and he was!
Now, scripture teaches us that whilst the people did credit Jesus as a teacher with great authority; they did not recognize his greater identity as the son of God. Only one person in their midst declared in a loud voice, “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!” Isn’t that amazing! The man with the unclean spirit was the only one to rightly bare witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ! I love this story because it makes it crystal clear to me that Jesus truly is all powerful; it affirms for me that Jesus is victorious even over sin, death, and the grave—just as the scriptures say!
This is good news for those of us sitting in this room—and in fact for all the people of the world! Even evil is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and it came out of the man. When Jesus speaks “Be silent and come out,” our circumstances change. When these powerful words are spoken women find the courage to leave their abusive husbands, a child reports the sexual abuse of her father to a school counselor, oppressed people unite against injustice, truth and reconciliation emerge out of an apartheid government, people pledge never again to genocide. Whilst all of the above are evil—and crimes against humanity—perpetrated by the free will of sinful people—God, in God’s infinite wisdom moves other people to make good, courageous, and loving choices which often allows good and evil to co-exist paradoxically in our world.
See it is so easy to believe that all is wrong in our world. We turn on the television and we see rape, war, pillaging, murder, famine, illness, and disease. We see immeasurable violence, hatred, oppression, and depression. We see the “unclean spirits” at work in our midst and we begin to despair. But, I can hear God saying, “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the evil of this world by the blood of the Lamb!” Thank God for Jesus my friends. For although we as humans are frail and sinful, God loves us so much that God overcame the sin and evil of this world with God’s love and with God’s good.
Well, when the people in the synagogue saw the “unclean spirit” rebuked and the man restored to wholeness, scripture teaches us that Jesus became famous throughout the land. And how did his fame spread? Because those who bore witness to his miracle working power and compassionate love told their friends, family, and neighbors about Jesus. This is a good example for all of us to follow. Right now we are sitting in an Evangelical Lutheran Church. Evangelical comes from the word “evangel” which means to be sent. As evangelical Lutherans—as Christians---we are sent into the world to bare witness to the truth. God is Love and God loves all of God’s children. The people in the synagogue were excited because they witnessed authoritative teaching supported by miracles. How much more excited should we be this side of the cross!
We share the good news about God’s great love to us revealed in Jesus, not because we have to (salvation is free), but because we want to! God has been so good to us that we can’t help but tell our friends, neighbors, and colleagues that God is good! I don’t know about you but knowing and loving Jesus is the best thing in my life! If I got a raise at work, I would tell somebody. If my sister had a baby, I would tell somebody. Why? Because it’s good news! None of us hears good news and keeps it to ourselves. It’s too good! So why not share this good news about Jesus with everyone we meet? Why not invite people to come with us to our church? This is a great church, with great people! It’s not imposing on someone to share with them good news that will bring great joy into their lives. Too many people live in the shadow of all that is wrong with the world, burdened by the “evil spirits” at work in their lives. Jesus has authority over those “spirits” and circumstances and speaks to us today, “Peace be still…” Knowing this ought to give us a holy boldness to live out our calling in the world--to teach, preach, and share with great humility AND great authority. For we know that God is the ultimate good, that overcomes the sin of the world.
Now ain’ta that good news?
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.