This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January 28th, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. The readings and Psalm were: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28.
A New Teaching With Authority
For a couple of weeks we have been living with Mark’s Gospel and we will continue that relationship for some time in the future. Mark has a unique and significant perspective on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Our Lord. I believe it will be helpful for us to know that perspective so that we go home today with a deep appreciation of Jesus’ moment in the Capernaum synagogue
I suggest to you that a way to know Mark and Mark for our time is to know what an Oscar nominated movie means for us in this nation and at this time.
The movie: The Post…a Steven Spielberg production starring Meryl Streep as The Washington Post newspaper’s publisher, Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as the hard charging Editor in Chief, Ben Bradley. The movie is based on actual events that transpired almost 50 years ago. Our family lived in the Washington, DC area as this painful drama played out.
There are a number of plot lines in The Post. The most prominent plot is: do The Post (and the NY Times) publish The Pentagon Papers? The Pentagon Papers is a massive document commissioned by The Department of Defense to review and to offer insights and recommendations regarding the war in Viet Nam. That review spanned the administrations from President Truman to the Nixon era.
Daniel Ellsberg was a news reporter in Viet Nam and later worked with The Rand Corporation…the think tank that authored The Pentagon Papers. He secretly photocopied the report and distributed copies to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He did this because the report clearly demonstrated that America was losing the war; had no chance of victory and continued to send troops and spend billions. The US Government was lying to America and to the world. 1000s of Americans were dying; 10s of 1000s North and South Vietnamese troops and civilians were dying. Our government officials were lying…covering up reality.
There is a poignant scene involving Katherine Graham and Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense. These 2 are close friends. She confronts him about the lies. He does not deny her charge and attempts to defend himself…the Nixon people are brutal. “My God, Bob…we have been friends for years…thank God my son came home alive from that war.”
It was the free press that aided in the hastening of the end to the war.
It was the courage of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee and the reporters and publishers and editors at The NY Times that spoke truth to power…when that power took them to court and intended to shut down the papers and imprison many of its workers.
An almost 50-year-old story that could have become a movie any time in the last 5 decades…why now? Indeed, why now?
Because, stated Mr. Spielberg, the current administration is referring to the free press as purveyors of “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” Threats have been made to shut down news organizations.
In the midst of the Pentagon Papers drama, Mr. Nixon banned Washington Post reporters from the White House…only a hand full of years later for the paper to rise to the challenge of the Watergate scandal that revealed more administration illegal activity and a presidential resignation.
The 1st Amendment to our Constitution was at stake…free press.
So it is that The Post tells a 1971 story that deeply resonates in 2018.
The timing of the writing of Mark, state our Biblical scholars, is around 70 of the common era. Nero has begun the persecution of the Christians in 64 and the Jewish revolt against imperial Rome commences in 67. There are numerous portions of Mark’s Gospel that report the tribulations and sufferings of Jesus and his followers.
So, it is reasonable that Mark is writing to and for the nascent Christian communities in a time of darkness, suffering and painful wonderment…who is in charge? Will this darkness of horror lift?
The beginning of the answers are revealed to us in the Capernaum synagogue. “A new teaching-with authority!”
In the context of insurrection, rebellion and Roman brutality and suppression…”a new teaching-with authority!”
In his comments about the Gospel of Mark, Matthew Skinner a professor of NT theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul asserts that Jesus in our world is a radical incursion. “Jesus and his message represent nothing less than God’s attempt to enter into and reclaim our existence, bringing the reign (or kingdom) of God into places where other reigns claim to hold sway.”
This exorcism is Jesus’ first act in Mark. We know in a book we are reading or a movie we are viewing that what comes first is tone setting and dramatic clue to what is to unfold.
So…this exorcism is the opening dramatic moment that explosively asserts that God is reclaiming the existence, the worth and the dignity of the man who came to the synagogue for worship. And…the exorcism is preceded by teaching that is greeted as more exciting and relevant than the teaching of the pros of that time….the Scribes.
Jesus is the radical incursion into that synagogue. He is the radical incursion into the lives of those living 30 years later who are in a very dark place and need the assurance that Jesus is the authority and that imperial Rome is like that demon in the man in the synagogue. Imperial Rome and its cruelty do collapse… taking many good and innocent lives with it. And the empire fell.
Jesus is the radical incursion into our lives. For those worshippers they heard a new teaching…as do we.
This Gospel, this Good News spoken by our Lord, dares to stand up to supposed authorities.
This Gospel challenges assumed power which has not been earned.
This Gospel rips apart boundaries and borders and barriers that separate us from God.
This Gospel compels us to join with and claim our sisters and brothers that some would have us regard as unworthy…to be kept away from our land.
This Gospel, this Good News from the Christ tears down walls and rebukes calls to build them. This Gospel calls no one “illegal.”
He or she may be undocumented and never “illegal.”
This is a Gospel where the dead don’t even stay dead!
So…if we confess that God’s reign, God’s kingdom, reclaims our existence…then we must live as if it is true. We here at OSLC are counting on each other to show one another that this Gospel is true.
People out there…where ever out there is…also are counting on us to show our reclaimed existence to them.
So, my fellow followers of The Christ who has called us…”Follow me,” let us speak as if our words might empower those who hear us to confront evil and demand its silence.
Let us live as if we truly trust that God always goes where we might think God will not or cannot go. Let us live as followers of an imaginative God who will take us on an imaginative and unexpected journey.
In and with great love, Jesus our Lord, claims each one of us and promises Christ’s eternal presence.