Sermon on 28th January 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 28 JAN 2018

Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD

 

“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority,

and not as the scribes.” Mark 1:21-22

When was the last time you were astounded –

greatly surprised or impressed?

Something made your jaw drop or instinctively want to applaud?

Something made you stop – really look, really listen?

 

Marvels from the ocean depths – courtesy of Blue Planet II;

a child doing something for the first time –

explorer steps or actually sharing sweets, uncoerced!

 

Perhaps the moment of exhilarating brilliance in a sporting arena –

the gymnast’s vault, the audacious drop shot, executed to perfection.

Last week I spoke of a symphony conductor, so possessed by the music,

that for a short, magical moment, he embodied, became the music –

and beholding, I could see no boundary between the two.

 

Or someone speaks genuinely, from experience;

at a conference or a kirk session,

at a meeting of politicians or parents,

or a support group, such as those that regularly meet here –

giving voice –

to justice in the face of oppression,

or survival in the face of some scorching ordeal;

speaking with authority, authentically.

 

Word or deed, joyful circumstance or darkest hour,

we are stopped in our tracks, astounded, enriched;

It is worth keeping track of such moments, for it has been said:

Amazement is the birth right of God’s children.

 

Amazement bookends today’s gospel.

Jesus enters the synagogue at Capernaum.

[You can visit its likely site today, close to the Sea of Galilee.]

He teaches. Mark does not elaborate what was said.

He speaks differently to what they are used to.

With authority.

They are astounded.

 

Into the assembly stumbles a ravaged and disconcerting presence.

The man with the unclean spirit.

The scholars might debate the nature of the man’s affliction,

but the power over him/the cruelty of his situation, is easily imagined.

No voice of his own, no control over his body,

anonymous and isolated.

A phrase from the diaries of Franz Kafka seems eloquent:

“A cage went in search of a bird.”

 

But it is on the lips of this unpromising entrant,

that Mark places the words of recognition, before anyone else.

“I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Then the unclean spirit’s haunting question –

a mix of fear and anger, despair and hope:

What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?

Have you come to destroy us?”

 

Jesus rebukes/commands: “Be silent, and come out of him!”
A battle is played out; the convulsions are messy and scary –

I can only imagine there were people there who felt ill at ease,

embarrassed by such goings-on.

But one power is overcome by another; a cage is opened and something flutters free.

 

Once more amazement – such command, such authority,

what is its origin? Who is this Jesus?

The speculations mount up; his fame increases.

 

Mark’s vignette from the synagogue at Capernaum asks us awkward questions.

As disciples are we prepared to be surprised by Jesus?

Are we open to this new teaching?

Or are we comfortably entrenched in our theological, cultural and political thinking?

How much authority do we assign Jesus in our lives,

at home, at work, at church?

Do we gather for worship expecting little and settling for less –

or do we come as explorers, expectant of new discovery?

Mark’s synagogue congregation arrived as one,

but left as another:

Amazement, the birth right of God’s children.

 

There is of course the other question that emerges directly from that sabbath day:

The question of the left-out one.

“What have you to do with us?”

 

This week Christian Aid launched its campaign for 2018.

One of its speakers had recently returned from the Myanmar (Burma) /Bangladesh border:

He had been visiting one of the refugee camps

that have sprung up for the Muslim, Rohingya people

who have fled the attacks of the Burmese military.

 

The Bangladeshi government had asked Christian Aid to run one of these camps.

This was unprecedented.

But working with its local partners, Christian Aid has taken on that responsibility.

The Charity knows this is not how things should be;

it understands its own limitations;

but it offers what it can, here and now.

 

Addressing a roomful of Christian Aid co-ordinators and collectors

from London and the Home Counties

the speaker concluded about that distant tragedy:

We are there. You are there.”

 

On Homeless Sunday we hold in our prayers

the work of Borderline, assisting homeless Scots in London

and Glassdoor, who guides our own Sunday Night Shelter and guest Sunday lunches. Because of their committed staff and volunteers,

because of the support, prayerful or financial, given by many,

there too, people of faith can say:

“We are there. You are there.”

 

If that is true,

then there is an answer, even at the edge of despair,

to that sharpest of questions:

“What have you to do with us Jesus?”

The answer is, “Everything. I have everything to do with you.”

 

Our vocation – by the integrity of our word and deed –

is to make that answer a believable reality.

To let the depth of our faith,

the perseverance of our hope,

the breadth and compassion of our love,

speak for us.

To make known Christ’s self-giving love,

as we see it in the breaking of the bread and pouring of wine.

To make known, to speak for

the God who amazes, liberates and calls.

The God who has everything to do with us;

that by grace;

we may have everything to do with God.