A sermon for Epiphany 4, Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
This morning I want to start with baseball. And yes I know its February, and yes, I know its Super Bowl Sunday, nonetheless, I want to talk about baseball. Everybody knows how to play baseball. Everybody plays the same way, including General Manager’s, coaches, and owners, who do their best to accumulate a core of super stars who are to propel the team through the season through the playoffs all the way to a World Series victory. It’s always been that way. Except when it wasn’t Way back in 1980 and 81 the Oakland A’s were managed by Billy Martin, who managed the team by emphasizing speed, hits and run, steals, double steals, even a triple steal. Writer Kit Stier described the A’s
as a “bunch of disorganized misfits” [who] had transformed into a group of legitimate contenders. (Markusen)
Martin et.al. set the precedence for Billy Bean and Peter Brand, who began to build another A’s team, this time around statistics to find players with the highest on base percentage. They were met with fierce resistance, from the coaches and scouts. They were hampered by a poor start. However, things began to improve; at one point they won 20 consecutive games, and finished the season with 94 wins. Bean and Brand transformed baseball. Now almost everyone is making greater and greater use of statistics in all aspects of the managing a team. They also inspired the movie Moneyball. (IMBD)
Billy shows us, you don’t have to do it that way, just because it’s always been done that way. Billy and Peter, show us you don’t have to plan that way just because it’s always been planned that way. Both are examples of how taking a different approach, can bring about unexpected dramatic results. Jesus does things different, and the results are unexpected and dramatic.
Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum, way up north in Samaria. Not a place you would expect a good Jew to be. They go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as you would expect good Jews to do. Remember synagogue is much more like Sunday School than our Eucharist centered worship. Typically scribes the professional legal scholars (Harrelson) read from Torah, or the Law, from one of the prophets or from one of the histories, and then recanted some official interpretation. Remember the Law, based in Holy Writ, is what Jews use to make all their decisions; the big ones and all the everyday ones. It is not unusual for any male to read from and comment on Jewish Holy Writ. On this particular day, Jesus does so. And does so particularly well, so well everyone is astounded, that he teaches with authority. When you trace the etymology, of origins of the Greek word, you eventually get to the roots ‘with’ and ‘I am’ or ‘existence.’ (Strong’s) Jesus is teaching from himself, the people in the synagogue can tell the difference. And I don’t believe the difference was how correct Jesus was verse the Scribes, we aren’t even told what his says, so it must be how he speaks and how that changes people’s relationships with him. And here I need to be sure we all understand, I’m thinking of Jesus as fully human. Jesus relates to the people there in a completely different, authentic way, and it changes everything.
The second bit of Mark’s story, is about the man possessed by an unclean spirit, (a demon). The demon causes him to stand up and shout at Jesus, expressing fear that Jesus is there to destroy “us.” It would be interesting to know who the others in the synagogue think ‘us’ is; but that’s another story. Jesus rebukes him; it’s the same word Jesus uses to stop Peter, when he objects to Jesus first mention of his death and resurrection. The demon, after one last hurrah, obeys and flees.
I suspect all of us understand this as a manifestation of Jesus’ divine persona, and the use of Godly power. But this morning I want to stay with Jesus’ fully human persona and explore how we might understand everything here just a bit differently, and what it says to us.
If we go all the way back to the beginning, Genesis 1, we read:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 (NRSV))
God created humans in community, our relationship to each other is central to our humanity. Remember the Samaritans are considered to be lesser Jews because they are descendants of those left behind in the great exile to Babylon. They intermarried with the invaders and other bordering tribes and therefore are unclean, and are therefore rejected by the true Jews descended from those who returned from Babylon. Also remember all Israel is occupied by the Romans; an anathema for all Jews who believe a foreigner’s presence in God’s land is just wrong, and therefore sense some degree of divine rejection. We are not told anything about the possessed man other than he is possessed. However, we know possession would be considered a sign of divine retribution. Truth is it’s a bit of a surprise he would be in the synagogue, raising the specter he surreptitiously made his way there. So what we have is a people occupied by a foreign power, there by rejected, rejected by their own for reasons of historical accident, and a man, likely further rejected by his own twice rejected people. There is a lot of rejection here.
In a few chapters Jesus heals a woman suffering from menstrual hemorrhages saying
Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34 (NRSV))
The key word here is daughter, because by using it Jesus restores her to relationship with her family, tribe and Israel, ~ the people of God. It’s conceivable the restoration of her relationship is causal to her healing. Her symptoms are gone, but doesn’t Jesus say “…be healed…” until her relationships are restored.
In a similar manner, in this morning’s story, Jesus first restores the relationship between everyone in the synagogue and by extension everyone in Capernaum and everyone in Samaria with God, and then he restores the possessed man’s relationship to his family, tribe and the people of God. Just as the restored relationships of the hemorrhaging woman will heal her, restoring the man’s relationships allows, empowers him to reject the demonic power that has usurped his being. The fully human Jesus, by how he speaks, restores relationships and allows another to rebuke that which would control him.
To proclaim the Kingdom of God right here, right now we need do no more than to speak to others in a way not in words, but in a way that reveals our relationship with God, and affirms their relationship with God. Yea, it’s a different way of understanding evangelism, but this time, it’s been done before.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 1:2128.” 01 2 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.
Markusen, Bruce. “Cooperstown Confidential: the original Billy Ball.” Hardball Times. 14 9 2012. <http://www.hardballtimes.com/cooperstown-confidential-the-original-billy-ball/>.
“Moneyball.” 23 9 2011. IMDB.
Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Mark 1:2128. 1 2 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.