Sermon – Our Words Have Consequences

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

Farmville Presbyterian Church

January 28, 2024

– Jesus’ words shaped the world around him


One of the truly remarkable things about the Sea of Galilee today is that you can walk the same paths that Jesus himself actually took.  I have been to the very site where today’s Gospel story unfolds – the synagogue in Capernaum.  Of course, it looks very different today.  There is no roof, but there is still a good bit of the building standing.  What was also missing when I was there was the group of people.  Sure, we were there as a group of pilgrims, but the synagogue was the center of the town where people gathered, where people conducted town matters, where the people worshipped, where things mattered (especially on the Sabbath), and where Jesus decided to introduce himself to the world.

When you introduce yourself, how do you do it and what do you say?  Once we get past the name and maybe where we are from, it is very easy to present ourselves with regard to what we do.  “Hi, my name is Pete, and I’m soon to be from Farmville, VA and I….”  I could get into my family history (my people are from upstate Ohio), my family situation (I am married with three daughters), my hopes and dreams (I hope we all find blessing today), but what is easier to relate to is what I do for a job.  This is how we probably present ourselves if we are still working or how we share what we used to do if we are retired.  It makes sense to identify significantly with our jobs.  We spend a lot of time at work through our lives, and our occupation shapes how we relate to the world.  Jesus didn’t have a job like we have jobs.  Yes, he had experience as a builder, but at this point in Jesus’ life he was not employed like that.  He was now a rabbi, a traveling Jewish teacher – going on the winds of the Spirit and finding support where he found it.  The beauty of Capernaum was that it was something like a homebase for him and a number of his disciples.

Yesterday, our Session, that is our board of Elders, met to work on planning for the church this year.  A question that came up is how the community knows us as a church.  There are also introductions here.  We have introduced ourselves to the community over the years in different ways and at different times.  Sometimes that introduction has been difficult, sometimes more of a blessing, and the community builds a picture of not only this church but every faith community.  The beauty of this, though, is that we also continue to introduce ourselves as we speak out in new ways, as we minister in new ways, as we represent Jesus in new ways.  How we are known to the community is our work, our job, our ministry, and it is vital how we are known to the community because that is how well we are showing the face of God to our neighbor.

When Jesus began to talk to the people there, they were astounded.  The way he was talking and teaching was something they had never heard before.  The scribes in Jesus’ day were the ones who did copy down the Law of God, so they were the religious authorities who were experts on their Scripture.  They interpreted God’s story but not like Jesus did.  His truth was amazing.  His truth was powerful.  His truth was an introduction to God that they had not known.  He was presenting God to them in a new way.  To us, this is no surprise since he is the Son of God, but notice that they did NOT come to some new faith.  No one suddenly became more faithful.  They are just amazed.  They still don’t understand what’s going on.

That is why Mark then tells us how Jesus then confronts the very powers of evil head on.  The introduction continues.  What Jesus is telling them is more than words.  He is drawing lines between the kingdoms – the kingdom of evil and the Kingdom of God.  He is the one with true power and authority.  We understand what is happening, but those watching Jesus perform this great act just continue to be amazed.  And his fame spread across the region.  Anyone that amazing was bound to become famous.

Someone else who became famous at least in the Colorado area is Pastor Eli Regalado who led a cryptocurrency scheme with his wife for people in his church and the wider Christian community.  Cryptocurrency is something like made-up money that people trade like stocks.  You may have heard of Bitcoin, but this one was next to worthless.  Still, the pastor and his wife fraudulently made millions on their trading and lived a lifestyle to prove it.  They spent hundreds of thousands on a home remodel because he said God told them to do it.  In fact, it was God speaking to them that led them to try this get rich quick scheme.  He said he questioned why God would ask him to set up a cryptocurrency exchange since he had no real background or expertise, but he did what God told him to do.  At least, Pastor Ragalado thinks it was God’s voice.  He is not as sure now.  Clearly, though, he was proclaiming a false gospel, and there has been only loss and heartache as a result.  Thankfully, he is also being charged.  Deuteronomy tells us about God’s judgment for false prophets.  You had better be very careful about how you speak for God and how you represent yourself on God’s behalf.  He was a fraud.

Jesus, on the other hand, was actually so careful that he did not want anyone to talk about him.  I know this does not make a tremendous amount of sense, but Mark’s Gospel is the gospel of secrecy.  Time and time again through Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is directing others not to share what happened or who they think he is.  This is one of the weirdest things about this Gospel.  You’d think he would be delighted for people to know the truth.  Here in today’s lesson, the demonic presence knows the truth and tries to express it, but Jesus has none of it.  Jesus is very concerned about how people know him.  He does not want the people to get the wrong impression.  He was not there just to work miracles.  He was not there as someone known to unclean spirits.  He was not there to be a prophet.  He was not there to be a king.  He was not known until he died on a cross and rose from the dead.  Then, he was began to be truly known.  His victory on the cross introduced him to the world in a perfect way.  His sacrifice introduced him through the heart of God.  That journey to his death introduced God’s heart to us all.  Jesus is that heart.  His words had beautiful consequences for us all today.  His followers have walked in that introduction ever since.  “Do you know the heart of God in Christ Jesus?  Let me help you see it.”

Yes, that’s our authority today.  That’s our introduction today.  If we are just the church with the great organ, that only goes but so far.  If we are the church with the pretty building, the nice steeple, and the so-so preacher, that only goes but so far.  If people know us in the history of this town and our struggle with racial reconciliation, that only goes but so far.  If we are a church family living by the grace of God to celebrate God’s goodness for us all in Christ Jesus our Lord, then that is something huge!  Our introduction is our Savior, and our place in this community is by his invitation.

Recently, I shared how I had felt called to become a chaplain in the national guard.  It did not work out and that was a real struggle for me because I felt very called to that service, but as I think about this now, it would have been difficult for me to be in the military at all.  I would have a hard time just blindly following orders, especially if I did not agree with them.  I have a bit of a stubborn or independent streak as my wife will attest.  I would have had a hard time living under that authority.

Jesus’ authority seems so much different to me, though.  Where human authority is about control and power (like we see so much in modern politics), Jesus is here to free us to live more fully.  He wants us to have life abundant.  He wants us to have eternal abundance in life.  He wants us to have eternal abundance in life together with all of God’s children.  We follow him because he frees us to be our best selves if we actually give ourselves to his introduction.  Receiving his Word gives us a place among the most prized creatures who ever walked this planet.  We are precious in God’s sight because we have been invited to share in Christ.

How will people know our church this year?  How will people know you and me this year?  They may know our name or where we are from. They may know what we do or what we did for employment.  They may even know our family history, the good and the not so good.  But will they know how our lives and relationships and commitments have been redeemed by the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?  I dearly hope so.  To God be the glory.  Amen.