Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B March 18, 2012 Sermon, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
Third Sunday in Lent, Year B March 11, 2012 Third Sunday in Lent, Year B Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
Second Sunday in Lent, Year B March 4, 2012 Second Sunday in Lent, Year B Mark 8:31-38
Sermon, First Sunday in Lent, Year B February 26, 2012 First Sunday in Lent, Year B Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1: 9-15
Ash Wednesday Service, Feb 22, 2012 February 22, 2012 Ash Wednesday Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Last Sunday After Epiphany, Year B February 19, 2012 Last Sunday after Epiphany 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B February 12, 2012 Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Mark 1: 40-45
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B February 5, 2012 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B January 29, 2012 Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B I Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B January 22, 2012 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B Mark 1:14-20
Second Sunday After The Epiphany, Year B January 15, 2012 Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-17; John 1:43-51
First Sunday After The Epiphany, Year B January 8, 2012 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B Mark 1:4-11
Sermon on Joy, Epiphany, 2012 January 6, 2012 Epiphany Matthew 2:1-12
Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2011 December 25, 2011 Christmas Day, 2012 Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2011 December 24, 2011 The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord Luke 2:1-20

 

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Sermon Date:January 29, 2012

Scripture: I Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B


 

100,000 Sundays ago, (see note)  the Corinthians gathered to hear a letter from  Paul, their founder.  They had written to him with questions about various disputes they were having among themselves.  His letter had arrived, and they had gathered to hear his answers.    

One of their questions regarded purity.  Could Christians eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols? Would a person who ate this meat be committing a sin against the one true God?   

Paul’s solution  for the church was not to lay down a new law  in order to solve this ethical dilemma.  Instead, Paul reminds the Corinthians  that their concern for one another’s well being should be first and foremost in any decisions they make regarding these dilemmas. 

In other words, they are to treat one another in the light of who they know Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, to be.    

This advice is downright astounding when we consider its source.  The first time we hear of Paul in the New Testament is in Acts, in connection with the stoning of Stephen. 

Do you all remember Stephen?  In Acts, we learn that Stephen is one of the seven chosen in the early church in Jerusalem to serve as a deacon—and these deacons, much as our deacons are called to serve in the church today, were to help care for the needs of the least of these –the widows, for instance, who did not have enough to eat. 

The author of Acts describes Stephen as being full of grace and power.  In fact, he is so full of grace and power that he is falsely accused of threatening the temple and the laws of Moses. 

The elders and the scribes stir up the people, who turn against Stephen and  drag him before the temple authorities. 

Stephen defends himself by providing a rousing summary of Israel’s salvation history, and ends his speech with these blistering words.

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit.  Your ancestors persecuted or killed all of the prophets.  You killed John the Baptist, and you killed The Righteous One, Jesus.  You are the ones who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

Hearing these words, the crowd, furious—and the scripture says that they grind their teeth at Stephen—they drag him out of the city and they stone him to death. 

The scripture tells us that Paul, at this point in the story known as Saul,  was at this horrible and violent scene, and that Saul approved of their killing of Stephen.  

The stoning and death of Stephen marks the beginning of a great persecution against the church, and Saul is a big part of this persecution.

“Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women and throwing them in prison.”

You see, Saul was sure that he had the right answers.  He could not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and he saw the Christians as a destructive force who could destroy his understanding of religion. 

You might say that Saul, at this point in his life, was possessed by what scripture calls “an unclean spirit”, because he was filled with a mighty evil that drove him to persecute others with violence and hatred in order to defend his own righteous cause. 

The problem is that Saul’s authority is no longer God, but his own particular beliefs and understandings of his religion.

And so Saul, in a state of fear and anger, even branches out from Jerusalem and heads to Damascus, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples.”

So God acts to cast this unclean spirit out of Saul. 

As Saul is on his way to Damascus, the light of heaven flashes around him, and he hears a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  And Saul, who has fallen to the ground, cries out,

“Who are you, Lord?” 

And the answer comes, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

We know the rest of the story.

Saul listens to that answer,

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” God casts out  that unclean spirit, and Saul becomes Paul, who founds the church at Corinth, and  who counsels the Christians there to, first and foremost, have compassion and concern for one another in their disagreements. 

Paul’s question—“Who are you, Lord?”– was the same question  that the people in the synagogue in Capernaum had  that Sabbath day when Jesus and his disciples showed up and Jesus taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes. 

Imagine this scene.  The people gather on the Sabbath–

Jesus astounds them with his teaching, with an authority they had never heard before

And then suddenly, among the people comes a man, taken over by an evil spirit, shouting,

“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.”

On that day, in that synagogue in Capernaum, the people witnessed a cosmic battle between two forces.  God vs. Satan.  We have stories in our culture that replay this scenario, Harry Potter versus the One who must not be Named, Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader…you get the idea.  Good versus evil. 

And Jesus prevails.  “Be silent, and come out of him!” 

Our Lord and Savior, speaking with authority.

The unclean spirit sends the possessed man into convulsions.   The spirit cries and wails with a loud voice, and then comes out of him—evil vanquished.

And the ones gathered there—they were amazed, and they kept on asking each other—What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.

Throughout our lives, especially when we see the results of evil at work in this world, in which we still wait for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, here on earth, we all ask this question, over and over–

Who are you, Lord?

Because sometimes we feel that evil has won. 

We feel forsaken, just as Jesus felt forsaken on the cross, when he cried out

in a loud voice to God

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Who are you, Lord? 

What would you say in this moment, if you had been at the foot of the cross and witnessed this horrible death? 

The centurion who saw the whole thing, says

“Truly this man was God’s Son.”

But still, hadn’t evil prevailed?  Jesus was dead. 

At the ending of this gospel according to Mark, the women went to the tomb—

And they found  a young man there, dressed in a white robe, who says to them, “Do not be alarmed:  you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised:  he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee:  there you will see him, just as he told you.”

And what did the women do?

“They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them: and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”

Here we are, gathered on Sunday, as Christians have gathered for over two thousand years. 

And we know that God has prevailed.  Jesus has been raised from the dead, and  that

Jesus comes among us with authority each time we gather.

He engages us with the power and the  poetry and the authority of his mighty life giving Word. 

He enters into our very beings and binds us one to another in the bread and in the wine.

We are here because we know the answer to the question, “Who are you, Lord?”

But we are also here because in the very depths of our beings we long to know the answer to the question all over again,

Because let’s face it, in each of our hearts, a cosmic battle is taking place– 

Sometimes we feel forsaken, and  we cry out, “Oh God, why have you forsaken me?”

Like the Corinthians, sometimes we feel confused and at odds with our fellow Christians. 

Like Saul, we can be full of frustration and anger.  We can feel threatened. 

Like the women at the tomb, we often find ourselves full of fear.

Or we may be tired, depressed, bored, isolated,  or downright hopeless—and when we reach these low points in our lives, we know that how we enter into these emotions which are not bad in themselves—we all feel these things, but it’s how we deal with them that can be life giving or death dealing–

our very lives depend on how we answer that question—“Who are you, Lord?”

God keeps speaking to us with authority—if only we will listen.

On  this particular Sunday, my prayer for each one of us gathered here in this place is that we can hear and claim the knowledge that Paul reminds us that we already have— “yet for us, there is one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Who are you, Lord?

We know who you are, our Lord and Savior, who wants to enter into us and transform us –to give us life abundant!

We know that You are the Holy One of God, who comes into our midst with authority,  to teach us and to feed us and to set us free

So that, as the words of the prayer book remind us,

We can continue  together in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,

So that we can, with God’s help, pass around some courage to  go out and do all such good works as God  hast prepared for us to walk in

With gladness and singleness of heart,

In God’s love and in the company of one another. 

Amen.  

Note:  (The term  “100,000 Sundays” comes from the title of a book by Gail Ramshaw, Christian Worship:  100,000 Sundays of Symbols and Rituals.)

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