The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
28 January 2018
Epiphany 4, B
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
For those of you who don’t know,
I was ordained priest --
presbyter, elder --
at the wizened age of 26 years
and a month and a half.
At the reception following my first mass,
held at the church
where I was a volunteer associate
at the time,
a congregant came up to me
and said something
I’ve tried to carry with me
to this day.
“You said the prayers
like you believed them.”
She certainly wasn’t meaning
to knock the rectory by any means.
But something about this
seemed new to her.
The presider prayed the collects
and the Eucharistic Prayer
like he meant them.
I told her it seemed like that
because I do.
My call is so bound
to sacramental celebration
that I can’t not mean them.
The crowds around Jesus
get their first experience
of him meaning some words
in today’s gospel text.
He and the disciples
go to the synagogue in Capernaum
and shock the people with his teaching.
He teaches as one with authority,
one who believes what he’s saying.
Not someone who’s been doing it so long
or who’s just in the family business.
Before this passage,
Jesus has already started saying,
“The Kingdom of God
has come near.”
He believes that,
he knows it,
and he teaches it.
Then a man with an unclean spirit comes in
“What have you to do with us,
Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are,
the Holy One of God.”
Jesus rebukes him,
tells him to be quiet,
and orders the spirit out of him.
This is the beginning
of a major theme of Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus doesn’t want people to know
that he’s the Messiah --
God’s anointed, the Holy One of God--
until the time is right.
The time isn’t right,
so Jesus silences the spirit.
The people in the synagogue are shocked.
Again, they say,
“What is this?
A new teaching—with authority!
He commands even the unclean spirits,
and they obey him.”
This selection from Mark
is after Jesus’ baptism
but Jesus’ baptism in Mark
doesn’t include the voice from above
saying, “Listen to him.”
This is Jesus’ first healing in Mark,
his first miracle,
his first public engagement
beyond calling the disciples.
It builds a following, however small at first.
What builds the following,
doesn't seem to be only
his commanding the unclean spirit.
What builds the following
also seems to be
that he teaches with authority.
That he believes what he’s said
about the Kingdom of God
Do we believe
what we say we believe?
Do we confess and profess our faith
James writes that
faith without works is dead.
That’s a tidy summary
of what the Greek concept of belief is
in the words of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.
Believing isn’t only
a mental, spiritual, or emotional acknowledgment.
At St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco,
for baptisms they’ve replaced,
“Do you believe” with
“Do you place your heart and trust?”
When we place our heart and trust in anything --
in the words of our baptisms,
in the words of the Nicene Creed,
in the vows of our marriages,
in our pledge commitment forms --
we are moved to act.
Belief for Christians moves us to act.
Belief for Christians moves us
to act as though the Kingdom of God
has come near --
and to act that out with authority.
One way we’ve been doing that
and continue to do that
is Community Dinners
on Wednesday nights.
Starting in Lent,
St. John Bosco will be joining
at sharing in soup preparation.
There are now
around 25 fliers
about community dinner
up over at Pierce College.
Our pantry and community dinner
change the world for many who use them.
They’re underutilized, too.
Student life at Pierce College
now specifically knows about community dinner.
I need to make a flier
for food pantry distribution.
At least two of you have taken fliers
to put where people gather near you.
One of you put the image on our Facebook page
When Jesus teaches with authority
and casts out an unclean spirit
his fame begins to spread throughout Galilee.
If we begin to live with authority
not just at the pantry,
but in all we do
giving away what is to be given away,
sharing the Good News of the Resurrected Christ
as we have known it --
personally and communally --
our fame will spread throughout the region.
We don’t need to be famous.
But we help people,
and that is one of the best ways
for churches to grow.
Our beliefs don’t mean anything
if we don’t place our hearts and trust in God.
Our beliefs don’t mean anything
if they don’t move us to action.
Let’s experience a new teaching,
a new living, a renewed living:
placing our heart and trust in God,
believing that the Kingdom of God has come near