Epiphany 4

This past Tuesday was the feast of Phillips Brooks, one of the great churchman of the 19th century.  Brooks is best known today as the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  Former generations, however, accounted him the greatest American preacher of the nineteenth century (and not for lack of other candidates). His sermons are still read.  He’s also famous for building Trinity Copley Square, Boston, which is ranked as an architectural masterpiece, and which I think is kinda okay.  Trinity Copley Square was completed around the same time our building was, but it cost them $635,000 to build, as opposed to the $16,000 it cost us (theirs is bigger).  Anyway, Phillips Brooks was widely recognized (no pun intended), as he was 6’4” and around 400 pounds.  Most people are amazed at the sheer size of the pulpit at Trinity, it really is just huge, but in the end, they just had to build something that would hold Brooks.

Brooks had presence, weight, gravitas.  Like E.F. Hutton, when he spoke, people listened.  We don’t know how Jesus sounded when He spoke, if He had a commanding voice or an arresting presence or a dynamic delivery, but we do know that He spoke as if He had authority.  That authority attracted both followers and some unwanted attention.

Today’s “dramatic healing of the demoniac in the Capernaum synagogue is the first action that Mark narrates after the calling of the first disciples.  Each evangelist chooses a different deed of Jesus with which to begin the story of his public life—Matthew begins with the Sermon on the Mount, Luke with the reading of Isaiah in Nazareth, and here we see Mark beginning the story of Jesus’ public activity with this deliverance of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.  And his presentation of the event is nearly as startling and puzzling as the original experience must have been for those present that evening in the synagogue.  A word of command is followed by convulsion and a scream, resulting in complete liberation.  Curiously, the crowd murmurs, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!”  (They have just witnessed a powerful example of spiritual delivery, and they call it a teaching.)  What’s more, though they refer to teaching, the account has mentioned not a word of Jesus’ teaching.”[1]

Mark’s telling of this story raises some questions, right?  We can’t possibly think that no one in the synagogue that day saw a demon be tossed out right in front of them and didn’t say, “Whoa, where did that demon go?”  I’m guessing that Mark just figured we’d assume that, and used his very few words to direct us somewhere else.

I’m thinking that Mark wants us to see the “dramatic healing of the demoniac by an authoritative word (as) a demonstration of God’s reign in their midst.  And the people (there) recognize it as such.  This rescue from evil power is indeed new teaching, sustained by an authority that enacts what it claims: God’s kingly power is at hand to rescue… This powerful episode puts in bold relief the truth that the gospel we respond to in faith is not simply a new set of ideas but a truth that is meant to transform our lives.”[2]

That’s why we’re here, right, for our lives to be transformed?  Or perhaps your life has been transformed, and this is the only place to be after such a thing.  Today is our Parish Annual Meeting, at which I hope to see you (shameless plug); it’s another opportunity to witness to the transforming power of Jesus in our lives and in the life of the community.  Bishop Stokes speaks often of evaluating parishes not on their size but on the impact they have, both inside and out; the lives touched, made better, transformed because they’ve been shown the gospel of God, the love of Jesus.

I think if Bishop Stokes were to come and take a look at our impact, he’d like what he would find.  He’d find that we are being taught by Christ, that we learn not only from what we hear in Scripture and in the liturgy, but by what we see in the authority, the power of Christ, that we see here, and in Christ’s work that we are so blessed to participate in.

Come share with us how you have been transformed, hear about our celebrations and challenges, and let’s figure out together how we can join with Jesus in transforming the world.

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