Here are my thoughts for this Sunday morning (the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany).
They were astounded at his teaching, “For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1: 22 ) As one commentary writes, Christ did not lean on the wisdom of other teachers and rabbis for his teaching; his knowledge and command of the knowledge came from Himself.
How many of the modern prophets of today speak with that same authority? How many of them speak as though theirs is the voice of God? It may just be me but I have heard more preachers speak of impending doom and turmoil in the past year or so than over the other years combined. I have heard more references to these being the “end times” than every before. And all of these pastors seem to say that they speak not the Word of God, but for God.
But a god that would use weather to bring torment to a people, a god that would bring calamity and disaster to a people because of how they voted is not a god that I know. Nor do I think that such gods are gods of the Old Testament. These are gods of Baal and other pre-Bible Gods, the gods that mankind knew before Abram was chosen to leave Ur and head for the Promised Land.
As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are many gods and many lords — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8: 5 – 6 )
And the writer of Deuteronomy tells us that “any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak — that prophet shall die.” (Deuteronomy 18: 20 )
That these modern prophets can even say what they say, and that people believe those words, should not be surprising. Even Jesus, preaching in his own synagogue and other synagogues in the area, was not well accepted. Often times, the response was one violent hostility and astonished amazement.
Modern day prophets know what the people want to hear and want the people want to hear is not a call for repentance and a belief in the Good News but rather an assurance that the status quo is alright. Modern day prophets preach a gospel of heaven on earth and prosperity for the believers. But it seems that the only ones that get rich are these modern day prophets. Did not Jesus tell his disciples to give up everything and take only what you needed for the journey? Did not the rich young ruler walk away because he would have to give up the riches he had worked so hard to gain?
The churches that grow today rely more on modern marketing skills and slick techniques than they do on what the Gospel has to say. Never mind that the Gospel calls for peace, justice, and righteousness; let the people know that they are safe inside the walls of the sanctuary, away from the crime and illness and homelessness and oppression that is so much a part of our lives. Modern church goers want to know that they are doing things right, even if it means that there are homeless in the street, or people are sick and lonely, or there is injustice and oppression. If the sermon makes them feel good, then the preacher is good and the world can be tolerated. The religion of the modern day prophets is one of “no-guilt” and “no sin”.
Jesus didn’t do that; Jesus didn’t preach the status quo; Jesus did not challenge the status quo. He challenged the listeners to repent and change their lives. He addressed the injustice that was in the land, the torture the Israelites encountered at the hands of the Roman occupiers. But he didn’t call for an armed insurrection to counter the Romans; he said that those who would make peace would be blessed. The peacemakers would even be called God’s children.
Jesus shatters the perception that heaven is earth, only larger and bolder. He spoke of God not being the God of the dead but of the living. How did the people react when told to leave the dead to bury the dead and to follow Him? There must have been those who were horrified to hear such words.
And how did the people react when Jesus took the ministry outside the walls of the synagogue? There were people in the cities, the villages, and the countryside who could not attend synagogue; some of them would not have been welcomed even if they could have attended. So Jesus went to them. They heard the same words of hope and promise that the ones in the synagogue heard and those inside the walls surely must have been horrified.
They were the righteous ones; they were the ones entitled to hear the Good News. The sinners outside the walls were not worthy and one should not even extend them a small cup of water when they were thirsty.
Like today, the religious community of Jesus’ time tried to define the experiences of the people. All this could have done is made people resentful and rejected. Ultimately, they would have left feeling that there were no alternatives, not options available. But Jesus brought the Gospel to them; He showed that there were alternatives, there was hope, and there was promise. (Adapted from “Spellbound” by Ray Rhoads, in “Living by the word”, Christian Century, 24 January 2006)
Jesus denounced those who were preoccupied with questions of what people ought or might do to live faithfully before God. Those in power, the keepers of the status quo, could not have reacted kindly to such words. But what do we do in the church today? Are we keepers of the status quo? Or do we try to take the Gospel beyond the walls of our church and home?
Our challenge is much like the challenge that Paul presented to the Corinthians. Those who know should help those who lack knowledge, not “stick in the face” and taunt them. Some individuals in Corinth apparently belittled the weaker or newer members of the congregation with their knowledge. Paul points out these more knowledgeable members missed the point. They should have been using their knowledge to help other believers in the church.
Those that have knowledge have an interesting way of using it. They can use it to cause fear among others. In the days of Jesus, the powers that be used fear to control and restrict; it gave the people a sense of nothingness and powerlessness. Paul warns the people of Corinth, as he warns us today, not to use our knowledge to control other members of the congregation or society.
Rather, we know are to follow the example of Christ. Paul says to use the words of Christ as an example of love for others and respect for others. Bring them along, teaching as you go; do not cast them aside because they are not like you.
Christ tells us we can choose to live free and close to God. Jesus speaks the word of life. His living word from God bestows on us freedom to live as God intends. There are many out there who preach false words, words that exclude and reject, words that offer no hope and promise. But we also hear the words of Jesus, the words that bring in all who are lost, all those without hope.
We are challenged to take those words, those wonderful words of hope, promise, justice, and freedom out into the world today. We can do so by what we say, what we do, how we act, and how we think. Let us choose to say the wonderful words of hope and promise.
“Wonderful Words of Life” – United Methodist Hymnal #600
Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life; let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life; words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.
Christ, the blessed one, gives to all wonderful words of life; sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life; all so freely given, wooing us to heaven.
Sweetly echo the gospel call, wonderful words of life; offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life; Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.