Epiphany 4 Year B 2021
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
He comes with Succor speedy to those who suffer wrong,
to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong,
to give them song for sighing, their darkness turn to light,
whose should, condemned and dying were precious in his sight
Do you remember the joy and satisfaction of a A+ or a 100% on your last assignment?
Do you remember the affirmation when you got an answer correct when the class was asked for the answer?
I remember the line of gold stars that I put each day in elementary school for getting my homework done each day.
Getting it all right. Hard work rewarded and completed.
Do you remember when you didn’t get it all right?
Perhaps you risked the answer you thought was right or volunteered a new idea and it wasn’t accepted?
Did you regret sharing? Were you disappointed?
Did you defend your position digging in your heels?
Did you take a moment to listen and learn?
Our childhood experiences form our personality and can shape our patterns of behavior.
BEING RIGHT is usually based upon knowledge.
Which yes, can result in stickers on a chart, grades in a book,
and these are important, but today Paul reminds us that while knowledge is essential, Knowledge without love is empty (think of second Corinthians 13- Love is)
Knowledge with love is a game changer and builds up the community.
Paul is speaking in dialogue and teaching, he is speaking from a place of love and compassion for the early followers of the church and while I beg to differ with him about “food cannot bring you closer to God”- (if we take it out of context) here he is speaking to patterns in his audience’s lives that needed changing
Their actions needed to show the love that the people of Corinth have for God. And God alone
AS followers of the way, they were still in their formation of what does this faith mean.
We know the teachings but what does it look like manifested in love.
When I pause for a moment and think about public figures who embody the ethos of Love and Joy, those whose entire being embodies the love of God and building up the community and kingdom of God,
three people come to mind.
The Dalai Lama
And The Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
In their book “The Book of Joy”- the Dalai Lama and archbishop Tutu share their definitions and understanding of Joy. They acknowledge that deep joy comes from within and from deep struggle.
Joy is more than a feeling, it’s an action, almost a compulsion, to serve the larger community.
Their book (the Book of Joy) is a dialogue between old friends who have supported each other not only in prayers but in action, they both have known deep suffering and struggles. They have been polarized and isolated and politicized and they have both spoken love and grace to their opposition and those who support them. CALLING both sides to create a more beloved community together.
The Dalai Lama and Arch Bishop Tutu’s deep joy does not ignore their suffering nor their people’s suffering. Rather, their joy allows them to more deeply define where true happiness is found. Joy does not come from personal achievement but from selflessness and community building up. Rather than focusing on the self, they focus on the larger community’s centeredness.
Oftentimes this sort of work is slower than doing it yourself and more difficult with multiple perspectives being shared
love builds up.
The time is worth the effort, the community is strengthened.
The Dalai Lama is still in exile and has been since he was 15. The archbishop is still striving for racial harmony in south Africa whose desegregation began in the 1980s and their joy abounds, their grace abounds, their love for humanity abounds.
Their countenance shines with the radiance of this deep known joy.
They speak with authority to the faithful and to those in power secularly too.
And our current presiding bishop, if you haven’t caught on by now, is all about LOVE. The formation program that kicked off in the Episcopal Church in his first three years as presiding bishop is called The Way of Love.
He is often quoted in saying that if “it ain’t about Love, then it ain’t about god”, even his new book is called Love is the Way.
Michael Curry’s preaching comes from a deep knowledge of that love – when he preached here just about 2 years ago, you couldn’t help but be lifted up and know that first you were loved and second that with the love of God you could take the next steps in your life that you were called to take.
In his book, Love is the WAY, Bishop Curry shares stories of those who have been those loving presence within his life, where love has lifted him up and where love has helped him endure and lead the church.
He too embodies the joy and hope that Jesus gives to each person Jesus encounters in scripture.
Today in our Gospel reading we find Jesus shining in the synagogue. Embodying love.
His countenance is on display- as those gathered listen, they listen deeply. Like the old slogan goes “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”- this new voice speaks with the authority of his whole being. People are listening.
The word here in Greek is EK-Ousia. Ousia is that same word in the Nicene creed that states in English as Jesus is “ONE BEING with the father”
The first part of the word Ekousia, the ek means “out of” so the word here for authority is literally “Out of one’s being”- he teaches the scriptures because he is the son of God speaking about what his role.
He knows that role and understands it deeply the struggle, the hope, the love that it embodies. He is not just quoting empty words and arguing with others like the scribes were!!!
And in the response to Jesus’ words, there in that synagogue, there is a man with a demon embodying him. From that unnatural embodiment to the divinity of Jesus- the demon responds, speaks, and knows what Jesus is capable of and obeys Jesus.
Mark moves fast in his Gospel, he does not wax nor wane poetic. We are 21 verses in and Jesus’ baptism was told in 11 verses, he goes to the wilderness for 2 verses, he preached for 2 verses, called 4 of his disciples in 3 verses and then we have 11 verses telling this story of Jesus first teaching and his first healing which is an exorcism.
Mark is setting the stage. The teachers in the synagogue taught through quibbling and quoting scripture. Trying to get it right.
Here the embodiment of love is speaking and teaching with love to build up the community. Jesus is teaching the understanding of the scriptures and in action reconciling members of the community who were cast out. His being (ousia) was recognized by the faithful as something new and with curiosity and amazement and by the demon, the demon knew exactly what divine power Jesus had.
Each person who encountered Jesus thus far in the gospel of Mark left Jesus’ presence touched, transformed, by this love.
John the Baptist recognizes Jesus’ role, Andrew and Simon, James and John, the people in the synagogue and the man with the unclean spirit also transformed.
The call, the love that Jesus invited them into changed their path and called them into a new space.
We know the rest of the story, what lies ahead for John, for the disciples, for the people of the synagogue, the man who no longer had an unclean spirit.
Ups and Downs, different perspectives, community and identity reimagined.
The kingdom of God on earth in all its messiness.
None of these people remained the same, the transformation began in this space, within each story.
The same goes for each of us.
We were trained to memorize, teach, preach, all of those good things but if we don’t do those actions with love, deep love (not valentine’s day hearts, candy, once a year kind of love)
If we don’t commit our actions in love, we are like those who are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.
You each are a masterpiece (remember psalm 139- marvelous and mysteriously made)- this means, YES, in your being God is there too.
In our community we each have a role, to build up, to take the time and do the hard work to work as a group – listen deeply and collaborate.
This is life long work as Arch Bishop tutu, the Dalai Lama and our presiding bishop have shown us working all of their lives with work that is not done yet.
Nor is it only up to those three men.
We each have a role to play.
This week listen to yourself, do you enter the room in the words of Brene Brown to be right?
Or to get it right together.
Or in the words of Maya Angelou:
Do the best that you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
God calls each of us to continue on this journey, listen deeply and let’s respond together with grace and building up the community.
Don’t strive for a gold star. You are a gold star already.