Sermon preached by
the Reverend John E. Kitagawa at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, on
WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US, JESUS OF
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; I Corinthians 8: 1-13; Mark -28
The key word in today’s Gospel is
“authority.” Jesus is teaching in the
astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Mark , my bold).
Clearly, Jesus has a “Wow” factor going for him. We need to understand this “Wow” factor—what “as one having authority” means. One commentary offers this explanation:
The people were used to preachers who simply talked on and on about what some rabbi had said, rather than what the Bible said. [For example,] “Rabbi Schlomo said that one must tithe only his major crops; but Rabbi Avraham said one must include even the spices of the garden”—that’s how some of their preaching likely went. They ignored what God said—namely, that people should turn their whole lives over to [God], that the Old Testament tithe was only a symbol of the real offering, that God’s people were to give everything to his service; and when they realized they were being selfish, they needed to confess that to God and trust in the coming Messiah.
The story goes on. Jesus is interrupted by a man possessed by demons. Jesus demonstrates his authority by silencing and sending away the unclean spirits. Once again, Jesus has that “Wow” factor going for him. The text tells us the crowd again responds with amazement:
What is this? A new teaching—with authority! (Mark my bold).
That was then, this is now. Today’s story leads me to ask whether Jesus Christ still has that “Wow” factor in your life today. Do Jesus’ teachings and demonstrations of his authority motivate and inspire you? Is your life shaped by Jesus Christ? Is Jesus a primary influence in the direction of your life? If so, how? I ask these questions for two reasons. The first relates to our individual spiritual journeys and spiritual health. The second relates to something I said at the end of last week’s sermon. In the context of remarks about our 75th Anniversary, and our tradition of life-changing ministries, I said:
We have much to celebrate and to be thankful for, but there is a growing awareness in parish leadership that we must set goals and strategize to grow this parish in order to fulfill our potential and our high calling.
I am confident the Vestry, Commissioners, staff and other parish leaders will work hard to develop strategic goals for growing the parish. I am guessing there will be metrics, benchmarks and other criteria to help us appreciate progress or spot challenges. However, if we do not take into account the kinds of questions I just raised about Jesus Christ’s central place in our lives, our plans will meet with limited success. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you want to see God laugh, show God your plans.” God, however, will not laugh if our plans are congruent with what Jesus taught and demonstrated.
Some of you are familiar with the work of Marcus Borg. In his book, Speaking Christian, Borg offers an insight that speaks not only to our Christian Formation ministries, but to the spiritual foundation for any growth strategies we develop. Speaking to those who want to minimize churchy language and downplay the place of the Bible, Borg says Christians must know the basic stories (meaning stories in the Bible), and the basic words of the faith. He believes we need to know the stories and words, and understand them. He asserts:
It’s knowing the basic vocabulary, knowing the basic stories. When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means.
Borg goes on:
pay attention to how Christianity’s founder spoke.
If you look at dictionary definitions of authority, you will see a lot of verbiage about the exercise of power, the right to control and dominate, and the power to determine and adjudicate. These definitions might have warmed the hearts of the Scribes of today’s Gospel story.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ culture imposed both authority and control, manipulating the life, death, health, and welfare of [their people].
approach to authority is vastly different.
It involves a process of discernment and willing acceptance of a new
life, a different way of life with responsibilities and sacrifices for the
greater good. As Bill Leonard [a
professor of church history at
Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in. He used stories, parables and metaphors. He communicated in images that both religious and nonreligious folks of his day [understood].
Part of our task is to figure out authentic ways to draw people in, to share the basic stories and interpret the parables and metaphors of our rich Biblical heritage. We need to do this in ways religious and non-religious people can discern God’s presence and activity in the world. As we learn these lessons, we must find our authentic answers to the question posed by the unclean spirits possessing the man in the Gospel.
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? (Mark 1: ).
unconsciously, we answer this question.
Whether by indifference or active seeking; whether by prioritizing other
aspects of our life more highly, we answer.
Our answer is ultimately revealed through the way we live our lives as
individuals and in community. Today’s
responses may motivate and lead us to a new journey of discovery through study,
prayer, meditation, or perhaps go on pilgrimage to the
Part II of our Annual Meeting includes a lot of financial and administrative matters, reports concerning our facilities, and the introduction of new parish leadership. Each ministry, in its own way, offers perspective and adds a necessary dimension to our story of doing God’s work in the world. The facts and figures are important in and of themselves, but as you listen to the reports and view the slides, be sure to appreciate the significance of these groups to our ability to touch and transform the lives of parishioners and neighbors.
I want to thank the many leaders and people who have served Christ’s ministry through the groups presenting reports today. Their work is a little less visible and perhaps a little less glamorous, but they are important elements in the high quality of our ministries.
Thank you to everyone who contribute their time, talent and/or treasure, especially in these difficult economic times. Together in your words and deeds, you make it clear that Jesus of Nazareth still has much to do with us, and with redemption and reconciliation of a broken and hurting world.