28 January 2024

It’s an interesting collection of readings this week that could lead us in a number of different directions. The wisdom and power of God’s laws, commandments and teachings or the freedom that Christ offers would be two options. But a third, and I find more compelling, option would be to explore the authority and power of Jesus, especially in the light of Paul’s comments on how we deal with what he calls “weaker” brothers and sisters. There is no question that the power and glory of God that is revealed in Christ is a very different thing from the way we usually understand those terms in our world today.

May our worship this week give us a new vision of the power and glory of our God.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20: Moses promises that God will raise up a prophet for Israel like him, but warns that the people will be held accountable for whether they listen to that prophet.

Psalm 111: A song in praise of God’s deeds, God’s care and provision for God’s people, and celebrating how the fear of God brings wisdom.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13: Though idols are nothing, if eating meat sacrificed to an idol causes a brother or sister to stumble, we should rather not eat. Rather than knowledge, which creates pride, we should seek love, which builds up.

Mark 1:21-28: As Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people are amazed at him. When he casts out a demon, they are staggered and the news about him spreads throughout the entire region.

A prophet like Moses – this became a dream for the people of Israel, and may be why they asked John the Baptiser if he was “the prophet”. As Epiphany gives us yet another perspective in Jesus, and the glory of God that he revealed, we discover that he is not just a prophet like Moses, but far more than that. If all the people wanted was a prophet like Moses, they were setting their sites too low. In the Gospel reading we are shown that this Jesus had an authority in his teaching that went beyond that of the religious leaders, and, by implication, even beyond Moses. Then, in his power to heal the demonised man, Jesus reveals his divine authority. Truly, as the Psalm sings, God has honoured God’s promises, God has cared for God’s people, and God has offered us one whose teaching gives wisdom and life. It can be tempting to take this uniqueness of Christ and use it for our own glory, as if we are somehow better than others because of our association with Christ. This, more than just the little issue of food, was Paul’s concern in the letter to the Corinthians. On the one hand he affirms that Christ is supreme – that demons and idols are nothing, and so eating food sacrificed to idols means nothing and should not be a concern. But, on the other hand, he points out that we cannot use our knowledge of Christ as a cause for pride, or as a reason to be unconcerned for the struggles of others. The glory of God that is revealed in Christ is authoritative and powerful, yes, but it is the power to serve and the authority to liberate. This week, then, the Lectionary calls us to recognise, in awe and wonder, the amazing, liberating power of Christ, and to be empowered by Christ to serve and liberate others in whatever weakness, struggle or bondage they may find themselves.

Global Application:
The issue of power and glory is a massive one in our world – as it has always been. Power, by our understanding, is “power over” – the capacity to conquer, to coerce or to humiliate. Authority is the ability to command and direct others and not to be under the command of others. In service of this kind of power, dictators have brought suffering on their own people, corrupt politicians and business leaders have feathered their own nests, while ordinary people have to pay the consequences for their greed. In service of this power, wars are fought and nations deny their connectedness. In service of this power, men beat and abuse the women and children they claim to love. In service of this power religious organisations have lobbied governments, excluded those of different creeds or ideologies, and have pronounced judgement on the world. This quest for this kind of power has created systems like Nazism, Apartheid and all sorts of destructive nationalisms. Napoleon was right when he said that power corrupts. But, when Jesus reveals God’s power and glory, it is an authority of a whole different order. It is not a “power over”. Nor is it a manipulative “power under”. Rather, Jesus calls people into God’s liberating community – collaborative, shared power. This is why Paul encourages the believers not just to enjoy their own freedom, but to consider its effects on others, and to serve them. That’s why Jesus’ teaching was so captivating for people – he called them to share in God’s Reign, and he revealed the freedom it offers. He did not use his authority to oppress, judge or control. In a world where a few powerful nations use their power to shape the world’s systems in their favour, where super wealthy people resist carrying larger tax burdens for the sake of those who have less, and where strong economies dictate the terms of trade to smaller and weaker ones, we could do with a lesson in power from Jesus. And, as those who seek to follow Christ, we can work within our systems to collaborate with others, whoever they may be, to work for greater justice and equality, without trying to control things according to our own agendas, or fearing that we will somehow lose if we share our “power”. It’s easy to stand in judgement on those who see justice differently from us, but that simply polarises our world more. It may be that Christ’s example calls us to stand with those who still believe in the idols of wealth and power, while gently revealing the freedom of Christ through our grace, love and servanthood.

Local Application:
In every family, every neighbourhood and every church there are inevitable power struggles. We hold our convictions dearly, and we want others to see things as we do and to honour our view. in addition, we grow fearful that the views and needs and power of others may rob us of things we hold dear. Somehow we have come to believe that sharing power diminishes it, when, in fact, it does the opposite. Even in what we have come to call “spiritual warfare” – our “fight” against evil – we have framed the scene in terms of “power over” – Jesus proving “stronger” than demons. Yet, when we put Jesus’ teaching, and this story of healing, in the context of Jesus’ life, we discover that for Jesus fighting evil required a cross, not a sword, and drove him to service and sacrifice, not violence or conquest. What this means is that we are called, firstly, to embrace and experience Jesus’ liberation for ourselves – the release of those things that would bind us, which almost always stem from our fear or self-interest – and then to engage with others as Christ did, sharing power, serving and liberating. This may mean learning, as parents, to collaborate with our children on their own values and ways of discipline. It may mean, as spouses, learning the art of collaboration in everything from finances to sex. It may mean as leaders of churches or groups learning to free others to find their own leadership, and serving them in the process, without fearing the loss of our own power or prestige. It may mean, as Paul teaches, releasing our own “rights” and “freedoms” in order to ensure that we do not cause others to stumble. It may mean working alongside those we may disagree with if it will help to bring justice or grace to people in our community. If we long for God’s glory and authority to be seen in us, it certainly won;t happen if we constantly strive for things to be done “our” way or if we constantly fight for control. Rather, when we embody Christ’s liberating grace, that is when the glory and authority of Jesus is most clearly seen in us.

The Simple Logic Of Light
Opening Windows
In The Face Of It All
Where Are The Leaders?
The God Who Serves

Hymn Suggestions:
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Blessed Jesus At Thy Word
I Sing The Almighty Power Of God
Jesus, Lord, We Look To Thee
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
Who Is This? (Miracles)

A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread

Video Suggestions:
Casting Out Evil Spirits