An act of worship at home
Reading Mark 1:21-28
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, throwing him into convulsions 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.
As the world has been reminded in the last four years, authority is an extraordinarily powerful thing and can be used for good, or for evil. That’s true for parents as well as Presidents. Actually, each one of us has some authority, even if it is only over ourselves. So authority brings with it the responsibility of a choice between good and evil, between life and death.
Our reading uses the language and the imagery of the first century and if we are tempted to take it too literally we need to hear a real note of warning. The miss-use of scripture to claim and abuse authority has been far from uncommon over the centuries. So how do we understand this gospel reading?
What is the authority we hear, and what is it’s place in this troubled world of ours?
Perhaps I can best illustrate it with a true story.
Many years ago, in a little village of Japan, near to the sea, lived an old man. He was the head man of the village, and owned many fine rice-fields. The villagers came to him for advice when they had a problem. He settled their quarrels and helped them when they were in need.
One day after the rice harvest, there was a festival all the villagers were enjoying themselves but the old man had decided to stay at home with his grandson. Suddenly there was an earthquake; not uncommon in Japan and no one really bothered about it. It only lasted a few seconds and soon everything was still again and the festival resumed..
The old man, watching from his house on the hill, saw the sea rushing back from the land, going a long way out. He was old and had seen this happen before. He knew what it meant.
But the villagers were amazed at the sight and rushed down to the beach to watch. What could he do to warn the villagers of the danger?
He looked around and did the only thing he could. He took a lighted torch and set fire to the new rice-stacks. They quickly flared up making a blaze of light. The villagers on the beach saw the flames and ran as fast as they could back up the hill to put out the fire. But as they started to quench the flames, the old man said, ‘No! Don’t put out the fires. I want everyone to come up here!’
When the villagers realised that the headman had set fire to the rice deliberately they were astonished. No-one in their right mind would burn the harvested rice. ‘Poor old man,’ some muttered, ‘he’s gone quite mad.’
When he was sure everyone had arrived, the old man said, ‘Look at the sea.’ Everyone looked and suddenly the sea started to roll back towards the land in a great wave that seemed as high as a mountain. It dashed in over the village and into the fields. Then, just as suddenly, it rolled back to the seabed, taking most of the village with it.
But the villagers were safe. Their amazement at the old man’s actions turned to understanding. They were on high ground and were safe from the danger. Everyone had been saved.
The authority of Jesus came from his relationship with God the Father.
A relationship that led him not just to speak but to act for good, bringing healing and wholeness where there had been suffering and pain.
While we may struggle with the language, as I do, the inescapable blessing of this reading is that the revelation of God’s love that we find in the person of Jesus Christ is one that acts, and calls us to do the same. The example of Jesus is not to sit back and let others get their hands dirty but to reach out to those in need.
And as we read our Bibles, looking for the authoritative Word of God, we need to do it with our hearts and minds and ears open to God’s living Word.
God of strength, grace and life, touch our lives and bless us.
God of strength, we pray that you will bless those whose lives are spent in struggle: those who stand up and speak out against injustice; those suffering physically, mentally or through illness; those living in poverty, or beyond their means; those angry with you, with others, or with themselves.
God of strength, grace and love: bless them!
God of grace, we pray that you will bless those whose lives are diminished by feelings of hunger: those who are the victims of famine or warfare; those driven by a selfish desire for power or wealth; those who long for human companionship; those, spiritually unsatisfied, who are looking for you.
God of strength, grace and love: bless them!
God of love, we pray that you will bless those whose lives have been given to you: those starting out on their Christian pilgrimage; those who are struggling, those who feel unfed; those we know who are sick or sorrowful,
for those whose names are written in our hearts and in our minds.
For all who mourn the loss of a loved one.
We thank you for those through whom you have touched our lives and blessed us and remember before you those who have died.
God of strength, grace and love, touch our lives and bless us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
King of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and, that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
thou hast heard me,
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me.
Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
thou didst clear me;
and alone, when they replied,
thou didst hear me.
Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enrol thee;
e’en eternity’s too short
to extol thee.
Let us love and serve the Lord, and may the blessing of God almighty,
the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with us all this day and forever more. Amen.