Epiphany 4B

image: wikimedia


Voice in the Wilderness: Diann Bailey

  • Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ, CT, Suffield, CT

Featured Musician:Nathan Drake


Tasty Wafer:

Featured Musician:The Steel Wheels


Exegetical Notes

Mark 1:21-28

Initial Thoughts

  • Demons. Great.

    • A lot can be made of demons. Are we talking about actual, literal, spiritual beings? Are we talking about figurative demons in the same way we still talk of demons in a psychoanalytical way?

    • Regardless of how they are described, a demon is anything that has power of a human that is not of God. Much like enemies in the Psalms do not have to be read as soldiers, demons do not have to be read as spiritual beings. A demon is anything that has power that is not of God.

    • Questions about demons and miracles are not about “Did this really happen?” Instead reader should ask, “What does this really mean?” (Lamar Williamson, Interpretation: Mark, p. 20). Questions about demonic existence or authenticity of miracles would not have occurred to original readers. To fully appreciate the gospel, it is necessary to understand this worldview, without judging it as right or wrong.

    • “Satan’s power is being broken up because the Lord has come to redeem the people. Therefore, the exorcism indicates what it means for the Kingdom of God to draw near. The kingdom cannot be separated from the person of Jesus, who embodies God’s power… The focus of the story remains the divine authority of exercised by Jesus.”  (Pheme Perkins, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. VIII. p.540).  

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • First public event of Jesus’ ministry in Mark.

    • Baptism, Fasting (temptation by Satan is three words), Calling Disciples, Cast out demon.

    • Next scene is healing of Simon’s mother.

    • Gospel parallel in Luke 4:31-37.

    • Set in similar place. Temptation is more extensive. He preaches in Nazareth synagogue and is driven out, then goes to Capernaum. Exchange with demon is verbatim. Response of people is close to verbatim. Luke redacts “not like the legal experts.”

  • Themes of Mark introduced

    • It’s a Secret.

      • Not explicit here, but Jesus orders “Silence.” In other parts of Mark, Jesus tells people to “not tell anyone,” and yet his popularity continues to spread.

      • “He may have avoided public recognition for his miracle-working because he didn’t want to be associated with other, fame-seeking healers of the day.” (The CEB Study Bible, sidebar on “Secrecy”, p. 83 NT).

      • Jesus was not interested in people believing because of signs and wonders. He used them to help people, not build a reputation.

    • Jesus has authority, not like the legal experts

      • Conflict between Jesus and Jewish leadership is setup. “Mark consistently sets up Jewish religious leaders as opponents of Jesus” (Pheme Perkins, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. VIII. p.540).  

      • Authority of Jesus revealed in teaching and in signs.

      • Exorcism of demons is a sign of Jesus’ power and authority over all things. Demons’ power over the person is released on the command of Jesus, who has ultimate authority.

    • People are amazed. News spreads

      • There is an element of fear in the amazement. This is not the same as belief, devotion, or a willingness to follow.

      • There is no ascent to follow, just acknowledgment of Jesus’ power.

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Jesus’ ministry begins with the public defeat of the power of evil. It takes place in the synagogue - a very public place of worship. It also projects a larger victory and purpose through the question that is asked, “Have you come to destroy us?” the answer is clear: yes. Jesus’ power is sure, acknowledged, and amazing

  • Vow of baptism in UMC: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject the evil powers of this world?” (United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 95). What does this vow mean? What are today’s spiritual forces of wickedness and the evil powers of this world? There is a place for a strong prophetic word against forces of this world that perpetuate unjust systems.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Initial Thoughts

  • Moses looks forward to his successor

  • Some prophets suck - being called as a prophet does not preclude being a selfish jerk

  • Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

Bible Study

  • Context:

    • Historical: Israelites are in the wilderness but are getting close to the Promised Land.

    • Actually is probably a later exilic addition to the Torah

      • Literary: Part of a larger passage spanning from Deuteronomy 16-18 addressing the duties and tasks of leadership - Judges (16:18-17:13), Kings (17:14-20), Priests (18:1-8), and Prophets (18:9-22)

    • Interesting considering that Kings were not part of Israelite society at this time

      • This section arguable begins with verse 9. Verses 9-14 describe how God will NOT talk to the people and then describes how God WILL talk to the people - through a prophet

  • Prophets- who or what are they?

    • First was Moses - God talked with the people before this, but did not talk through people. The Prophet is the mouthpiece of God - kind of (Remember Moses told Aaron what to say because he was a stutterer)

    • Gift from God

      • Interesting considering that they are the gift we need but not the gift we want - we don’t always want to hear what the prophets have to say

    • Sent to be the intercessors for God and to deliver God’s Word to people

    • Sent to keep people moral and on God’s track

    • People will be held accountable to the prophetic word!

      • These are not suggestions, but commands with consequences (like Exile)

    • ARE HUMAN - easy to forget this - no different than our prophets today

      • Ex: Bonhoeffer was involved in a murder plot, MLK Jr was involved in extramarital affairs

    • Signs of a True Prophet - Katharyn Schifferdecker from workingpreacher.com - check out her article fro a more thorough explanation

      • The true prophet does not seek to be a prophet.

      • The true prophet seeks neither self-promotion nor riches.

      • The true prophet speaks God’s word, not his or her own (Deuteronomy 18:18).

      • The true prophet bears a “family resemblance” to what has come before.

      • The true prophet (and the false prophet) is known by his or her “fruit.”

  • Word of God verses Arrogant words

    • How do we tell the difference? Not based on role- even divinely ordained role. (Good to remember regarding pastoral boundaries and boundary violations)

    • See verses 21-22, tied to verse 19- people will be held accountable to the words of the prophet - do the words of the prophet come true? (in whose timeline?)

    • Howard Wallace on discerning the Word of God  - check out his article for a more thorough explanation (http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/EpiphanyB/Epiphany4.html)

      • Outside- comes from God

      • Life giving - moved us to choose life over death

      • Discerning - it is not flashy or popular, but must be discerned

      • Consistent - Consistent with the word that has come before

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Why do we have such a  hard time with the humanity of our heroes? Do their flaws undermine their achievements? If so why? If not why? How might that change our Christology?

  • How do we determine if a prophet is sharing the word of God or an “arrogant word”?

  • Eric’s thoughts: When the needs of an individual, country, belief or tribe seen as more important or holier than another’s basic needs- you can be sure it is not the word of God

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Initial Thoughts

  • All of chapter 8, so be sure to look at chapter 7 for some context

    • Chapter 7 moves from Paul addressing his concerns to Paul addressing the concerns of the community: How to be Christian in the midst of culture.

  • Move through the weirdness- this passage is about Christianity and culture- an issue at the center of most (if not all churches)

  • Not about being pro-vegetarian

Bible Study

  • What is Paul talking about?

    • Meat was sacrificed to gods in many religious traditions

    • Extra meat (those not burnt or eaten by the priests) would be sold in the market

    • It is ok to buy and eat that meat, even though it was sacrificed to another god or is that idolatry?

  • Paul’s argument is 2 fold: communal and theological

    • Theological (v.1-6): No problem

      • It isn’t about theological knowledge, the issue is loving God, because love supersedes knowledge.

      • If you love God (with your whole being- think Mark 12:28-34), then you know there is only 1 God (the Lord is one) and there is only 1 Lord- therefore, “no idol in the world really exists”.

      • In other words you know in your mind and your heart that the idols the food was sacrifices to don’t exist, so it doesn’t matter if you eat the food. - see verse 8

    • Communal (v.7-13): Don’t do it

      • Not everyone knows in their heart and mind that God is one and Jesus is Lord and so they may still be tempted to believe in idols.

      • Seeing you, as a Christian, buying food dedicated to idols might reaffirm their doubts that God is not one and Jesus is not the only Lord.

      • While eating the food isn’t damaging to you, if it leads another away from the love of God it is damaging to them, which is damaging to Christ, which is damaging to you

      • So in the end, play it safe and don’t eat the meat (for the sake of the greater body of Christ) v. 13

  • Culture and Christianity

    • Buying meat from idols was a central part of the Corinthians culture and commerce

    • In and of itself- not a problem as long as one never loses sight of love of God.

    • When we become Christian do we leave behind our unique culture (Israel Kamudzandu, workingpreacher.org)?

      • No but our cultural norms should always be subservient of our Christian heritage. When our cultural norms threaten our Christian calling to love one another (even if intellectually or theologically there is no problem) then we must sacrifice our cultural norms for the sake of the community or our own relationship with the divine.

      • “The question of loyalty to God becomes a requirement and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior replaces all other cultural underpinnings (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). Worship of idols is a foreign concept to most people but in the postmodern world, most church members are affiliated with certain clubs and fraternal orders which also demand their loyalty. In this passage, Paul warns against such practices because they become modern forms of idolatry in a culture that claims Christianity as its religious identity.”

    • Where do we place our identity? In a sports team, political affiliation, citizenship or in Jesus Christ?

      • Central to the current questions about immigration, taxes and health care.

Preaching Thoughts

  • Where do we place our identity?

    • In political affiliation?

    • In national affiliation?

    • In religious affiliation?

    • In God and Jesus Christ  lived out through the Greatest Commandments to love God and one another?

  • In what ways do our culture and Christianity clash?

    • Sports can be a wonderful things, but what about when they pull a family out of the worshipping community?

    • Using only wine in communion. Alcohol is culturally and arguable theologically acceptable, but what about alcoholics in the congregation?

    • Gambling in church- bingo, raffles, etc- again not a problem except when we confront those struggling with gambling addictions

  • What about theological traditions within the community?

    • What happens when “this is the way we’ve always done it” comes up against the greater community?

      • Infant baptism

      • First communion

      • Youth participation in church leadership


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).