January 31, 2021 (4th Sunday after Epiphany) -- Pr. Phil Tonnesen

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ELCA Worship in the Home: https://blogs.elca.org/worship/3290/

 

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Mark 1: 21-28

The Man with an Unclean Spirit

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Some thoughts from Pastor Phil:

Have you ever tasted a bowl of delicious stone soup? It sounds incredible, doesn’t it? After all, we all know that you can’t make soup from a stone. Or can you? Well, you can if you believe in miracles.

Our gospel lesson for today is about a miracle. It, too, sounds incredible. Miracles are difficult to believe. Yet the total story of the gospels that are shared in the New Testament are filled with miracle stories.

The gospel story begins with the miracle of the virgin birth and ends with the miracle of the resurrection. And in between our Lord works one miracle after another: The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The sick are cured. The dead are raised, and in the case of our reading for today, an exorcism of sorts is performed where Jesus removes an unclean spirit from a man.

I remember back several years ago. It was the first time I did the children’s sermon for the children during the Sunday morning service at my internship congregation in Indianapolis. It was the story about Samson and the strength he had from his long hair. Not two seconds after I got through reading the story, the first comment out of one of the children’s mouths was, “Did that really happen?” I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. And yet, that is the first and the most natural reaction to the hearing of a miracle story. “Did that really happen?”

Regrettably, however, this is a question that cannot be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. For the truth of that matter is a miracle is impossible to prove or explain. It is part of the very nature of a miracle that it is an unusual event, a unique event that defies proof or explanation. Any attempt to prove a miracle seems to destroy it. Try to explain a miracle, and you explain it away, like the fragile, time-worn paper of an ancient manuscript. Touch it and it crumbles to dust in your hands.

So, what are we going to do with the miracles like the one in our gospel lesson for today? Well, we can ignore them and preach on something else. Or we can take them literally and attempt to change water into wine and heal deafness and all other physical ailments with prayers and special healing services. And that is a legitimate and viable option. We can all cite stories about such miracles, and they are fascinating precisely because they are unusual.

But for most of us it seems that miracles don’t happen, at least not to us. Our most sincere prayers often appear to go unanswered, and why miracles of healing are rare is a mystery locked in the mind of God.

The third way of approaching the miracles is to spiritualize them. We can take the position that Jesus opens the ears of our souls and enables us to hear the true Word of God. This is true, and this miracle can and does happen every time we study God’s Word.

But is that the intent of the gospel writer of Mark as he records our reading for today? When we study carefully our reading in its total context, it is apparent that this is NOT the intent of Mark. For you see, the gospel writer gives us a clear indication of how he wants us to understand the miracle story, and he points out directly what he wants us to learn from his telling of this story. At the end of this reading, Mark writes, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”

This makes it quite clear that Mark wants us to focus our attention, not on the man with the unclean spirit, but on Jesus Christ himself. Mark does not tell miracles stories to test the credibility of our faith. The Bible records miracles, and Mark tells this particular miracle story, not to test our faith, but to testify to the power of God’s presence in Jesus Christ.

What Mark is saying to us is that when God is present in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is present in our lives, unusual things are bound to happen. Things that we never expected. Things that we never dreamed could happen. Things that we cannot prove to others or explain to ourselves do happen.

You see, before God came to earth, people felt separated from God. Their lives were empty, lonely and filled with fears. They were longing for God. They searched the vast expanse of the heavens. They studied the stars. They listened intently to every prophet who came down the road. God seemed hidden. People were lost.

And then, one dark night in Bethlehem, the God they had so long searched for came down to earth searching for them. Through the door of a barn, God entered the world as a baby, and the angels sang “Emanuel,” which means “God is with us.” This baby Jesus grew into adulthood. He walked the dusty roads of Palestine. He talked and taught. He gathered a faithful fellowship about him. And wherever he went, women and men knew that God was present, in a unique way, in this unusual person named Jesus.

This is what Mark is talking about when he tells our story for today. The power of God is present in Jesus Christ. Wherever Jesus is, something happens; new, wonderful, unusual, miraculous things happen. This is the greatest miracle of all, because when God is with us, marvelous and wonderful things do happen. We will even be able to make soup from a stone.

Now this term, “Stone Soup,” comes from and old American folktale. I first heard it from my homiletics professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. Richard Carl Hoefler. Some of you may be familiar with it.

It tells of a time in the early history of our country when a famine hit the Appalachian region. A traveler came upon a little village in the mountains and he went from house to house begging for food. He was turned away at every door with the same story, “We have nothing at all to eat.”

As he left the village he met another traveler going to the village. He told him the effort was fruitless, for there was no food to be had. The second traveler simply smiled and continued on to the village.

When he arrived he called all the people to the town square. Out of his pocket he took a stone. He held it up for all to see. “This,” he said, “is a miracle stone. From it you can make the most delicious soup you have ever tasted.” The people doubted him, but since he was persistent they challenged him to prove it.

So, they built a fire and placed over it a large iron pot filled with water. With great ceremony the traveler dropped the stone into the pot. Carefully he stirred it with a long stick. After a few minutes he tasted it. “Good,” he said, “but what it needs is a few carrots.” Fascinated by the demonstration one old man said, “I have some carrots!” And he ran home and brought them back and dropped them into the pot.

Again, the visitor tasted the soup. “Very good,” he said, “but what it lacks is a few onions.” Excitement was growing fast in the crowd. “I have some onions!” a little old lady cried out. When the onions were added, the visitor said, “Very, very good. But some potatoes and turnips would certainly enrich the broth.” When they were added, the visitor announced, “nearly perfect, only one thing could improve it; a little meat.” “I have some chickens” shouted an excited farmer. And so the chickens were cleaned and added to the broth, and with that the visitor served the soup to the gathered villagers. And every man, woman and child agreed that “Stone Soup” was the most delicious soup they had ever tasted!

Friends in Christ, this is the meaning of the miracles of Jesus. Our Lord came into our world, a world marked by a famine of fellowship and faith. And he continues to come into our empty world and our lonely lives bringing the living presence of God’s Spirit. And when God is present, marvelous and miraculous things happen. Soup is made from stones, because we share what we have and ourselves with each other. As we are filled by God’s Spirit, we are enabled to share our total self with each other.

All of our needs are met in the marvelous miracle of mutuality. Soup is made from stones, and I guarantee you it is the most delicious and the most nutritious soup you will ever taste. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 
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©2021 Messiah of the Mountains Lutheran Church. All Rights Reserved. Designed By Blue Ridge Visions of Spruce Pine, NC logo image: https://pngtree.com/so/mountain-clipart