We’ve finally made it! The Gospel Readings are here!
Okay, technically they were here last week but if you’re like me, your church did something special or you had a guest preacher or something. Our scriptures this week are challenging enough, but if you did do something special last week you may want to read all of Mark 1.
I will personally be stressing to my congregation that if you feel like we rushed from Christmas straight into ministry than we did. And welcome to Mark. Mark is a no-fuss gospel, without birth narrative or post-resurrection stories. He doesn’t have time to hold your hand through the story, or for sentimentality.
So what he does say, is very important.
If you are feeling creative and feel that you have a little leeway think about breaking your sermon into four parts and do four sermonettes. You can divide these up throughout the service, or deliver them all at once, maybe in different parts of the sanctuary transitioning with “AND THEN” or “IMMEDIATELY.”
So what is important to Mark at the beginning of his Gospel.
So we begin our journey with the man with unclean spirits. A few observations on the text: Mark begins laying our Jesus as a new kind of teacher, “as one with authority.” What does authority look like? Do we know it when we see it? Is it simply scholarly knowledge? If so, wouldn’t the scribes have that knowledge? What makes Jesus’s authority unique? So unique that even the unclean spirits recognize him.
AS SOON AS they left the synagogue Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. This story is a lot like the one in Acts 9:36-42 when Peter raises Dorcas. She is healed and gets up and serves them all. As much as we all want to rail against the patriarchy with this one, this is a moment as miraculous as the other healings. It’s flu season in our house and two of my four kids have been knocked out (despite flu shots) and I’m here to say, even after their fever broke and modern medicine there was no “springing into action.” This would have been unheard of in first-century Palestine.
Now Jesus’s fame has grown and the house is bustling with people to heal that evening. One line from this section really sticks out to me, “he would not permit the demons to speak.” Now, this is no doubt part of Mark’s big Messianic Seacret, “because they knew him.” But I wonder why is it that Jesus would not let the demons speak? In the first encounter, Jesus and the unclean spirit have a dialogue, but now, he has the power and understanding to silence them. What has changed? His fame? His experience? Mark’s impatience?
In the morning Jesus finds a quiet spot for rest. I do not think it’s low hanging fruit for you to preach on this section the week after Christmas and New Year. Your congregations are filled with people who juggled families, meals and disrupted routines. They’re exhausted. And so was Jesus. And what did he do? He found a quiet spot and prayed. He took some time to reflect on the events that had taken place, recharge and rest. All the while, the disciples are hunting for him, ready for more. But Jesus needs a minute. (And it’s okay for you to take a minute too. If this is all you preach on Jan. 5, then that’s all you preach, end your sermon here with some deep breathes, and some moments of silence to let the events of the last few weeks soak in.
When the disciples found Jesus he had clarity about where to go next. Away from here.
So we find Jesus in the neighboring town healing again. I will admit, if you focus on one area that isn’t rest, I suggest focusing on the leper. The Working Preacher COmmentary will help you out here. One highlight from me though, in our church (PCUSA) we often read the NRSV, which translates in verse 41 that Jesus was “moved with pity.” “Pity” in my humble opinion is a terrible translation of this word. “Anger” is more accurate. CEB version uses the word “incensed”. Again, Working Preacher commentary will help you fill in the details about lepers if you don’t know them already, but Jesus is absolutely making a political statement by healing this leper. He is incensed at the social sin that brought this man here. His anger here is righteous.
We have plenty in need of miracles in our day, where can we play a role as ones with authority? Where can we take moments to rest and recharge along the journey? Where can we use righteous anger to recognize our own sin in another’s misfortune?
The Reverend Shannon Meacham (@revmeach) currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the Baltimore suburbs. She lives there with her husband Derrick Weston and together they raise their four children. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog, Pulpit Shenanigans, or listen to Pub Theology Live podcast, of which she is a co-host.
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