Monday, February 2, 2015

Sermon February 1, 2015 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Epiphany 4B – February 1, 2015
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
St Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘When E.F. Hutton talks…people listen.
That’s one which sailed right over the heads of a few of you
who were not watching television in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
E.F. Hutton was a stock brokerage firm,
and the commercials often featured
a young professional man at a party
who would casually mention that his broker was E.F. Hutton,
and all the conversation stopped as everyone turned to him.
Then the voice-over:
‘When E.F. Hutton talks…people listen.

To whom do you listen?
I’m not asking you who you listen to every day.
We all have to listen to people every day.
But to whom do you grant authority?
Who makes you sit up and pay attention?

Media figures, athletes, musical artists,
talk-show hosts, business leaders;
we grant them authority over our opinions and attitudes.
We allow ourselves to be shaped
by those who are the ‘movers and shakers’ in our world.
So often it is those who have a lot of money
who shape our opinions and attitudes.
For example, Bill Gates is a computer programmer
who has made it bigger than a lot of computer programmers.
His net worth is somewhere in the low $80 billion dollar range.
So when he speaks, people believe he knows what he’s talking about.
This is probably true no matter what subject he talks about.
But is this necessarily true,
that he knows what he is talking about on all subjects?
Could we believe him on everything?
Or does what he says always have direct relevance for our lives and for every life?

I could cite thousands of examples of our world’s celebrity worship.
Most of us know it’s wrong, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves.
How can we help but give weight to the opinions of those whom the world admires,
whom the world would emulates, the rich, the crème da la crème?
Or does authority come from somewhere else?

Already this morning I said something absolutely incredible to you.
It is something that is beyond the reach of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey,
Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart, Barack Obama, or Katy Perry.
Judge Judy couldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
What did I say that was so amazing?
‘As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ,
and by his authority,
I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.’

When a penitent comes to a pastor for private confession,
and the penitent has poured out their souls before the pastor,
the pastor says,
‘God is merciful and blesses you.
By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ,
I, a called and ordained servant of the Word,
forgive you your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

Now of course one can never claim this authority on one’s own.
This authority is given to the Church by Jesus Christ himself.
But when a pastor of the Church proclaims the word of forgiveness
to one who has confessed sin,
we can trust that word on the basis of Christ’s promise
and his own authority as Son of God.
This is the amazing and radical truth that the Church teaches.

Now that is authority!
That is power!
To declare that before God,
your sins and mine are forgiven
by the word of Jesus Christ!
If we hadn’t become so used to the words,
if most of us hadn’t heard them over and over since our childhood,
we might be bowled over by their force.
and moved to tears by their impact.

And perhaps more than a few of us
who have heard these words over and over again
have come to worship on a certain Sunday
when all was going wrong,
when it all seemed like it was coming apart;
and that day we heard those words as if for the first time.
Maybe we knew on some level that Jesus died to forgive sins,
but that day we heard that he died to forgive our sins.
And we grabbed and held those words
as if we were a drowning person thrown a life preserver.
We were carried by them
as if we were a young child
being carried from a burning house by a firefighter.

The authority of Jesus is front and center
in these first three chapters of the Gospel of Mark.
Jesus teaches with authority,
he exorcises demons with authority.
When he speaks, people listen,
and the powers that hold them in bondage listen.
The endless babble about religion ceases
as the carpenter’s son interprets the Scriptures on his own authority.
The unclean spirit is silenced,
as the man from Nazareth orders him to release the man he possesses.
The people of Capernaum have never seen anything like this.

A few verses later,
at the beginning of chapter 2,
Jesus is back in Capernaum,
and he is in the house, teaching,
and everyone is crowded inside
that can get in there,
and there are so many people
that they are crowded in the door
and in front of the house.
There is a paralytic there
whose friends have brought him to Jesus,
in hopes that he might heal him.
There are too many people.
So they climb up onto the roof of the house,
and they remove the crossbeams and the thatch and hardened mud,
not caring whose house it was or who they inconvenienced,
only that Jesus was there and was the only hope for their friend.
And they lower the paralytic to Jesus,
and what does Jesus do?

He says, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
Any of us could say that, right?
I just said it in a few minutes ago!
We think that the real miracle would be the healing of the paralytic,
which he also does in order to confirm that he has the authority to declare forgiveness.

Which is harder, Jesus asks?
Doctors and surgeons can do these miracles.
But doctors cannot release people from their past.
Doctors cannot set them on their feet and face them toward the future.
Doctors cannot say, ‘In the name of God, I forgive you your sins.’
Only Jesus can do that,
because he has authority from his Father.
And he has given that authority to his Church.

You’d think that Jesus’ authoritative teaching and healing and forgiving
would be good news to everyone, right?
Well, the Pharisees didn’t like it at all.
The scribes didn’t like it all.
The Sadducees didn’t like it either.
For in Jesus’ authority they see that their authority is in question.

But even more so,
the evil one does not like this authority of Jesus,
because the evil one can bind us to him
with the knowledge of our sin and guilt.
The evil one depends upon us believing that God cannot forgive our sins,
for then we are forced either to deny that we’re that bad,
or to resent God for his judgment.

It is in the nature of authority to brook no competition.
And so it is either Jesus’ authority or Satan’s,
Jesus’ authority or sin’s authority,
Jesus’ authority or death’s authority.
We hang in the balance.
In whose word do we put our trust?

Move over, E.F. Hutton;
when Jesus of Nazareth talks, people listen.
When Jesus of Nazareth talks, the demons listen and obey.
When Jesus of Nazareth talks, sin is forgiven.
When Jesus of Nazareth talks, death must submit.
Jesus of Nazareth has power, has authority from his Father,
to set free those who are in chains
and to reveal his Father to them.
Thanks be to God!