Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 1 - The Faithless Disciples and the Freed Demoniac (Notes)

First Presbyterian Church of DuPage - The Five O’Clock
Mk 4.35-5.20 & Lent - “The Faithless Disciples and the Freed Demoniac”

Note: I normally write my sermons out in manuscript form, composing each word and phrase. This week I made a go at working off only some notes. You can all be the judge of how successful I was (I'm open to constructive criticism!). Here are my notes for my talk on Lent and two scenes from Mark.

What have been your past experience of Lent? Do you have any Lenten traditions? When we talk about Lent, what thoughts do you think and how do you feel?

 We entered the season of Lent this week on Ash Wednesday. The church had a service where we officially marked the beginning of Lent by smearing a cross on our foreheads out of the ashes of last years Palm Sunday palm fronds. Lent stretches through the forty days leading up to Easter

Lent has been a part of the church calendar since the first centuries following Jesus’ resurrection. At first it wasn’t something the whole church participated. Only the catechumens, those people preparing to be baptized take part. A lot of churches liked to baptize new believers on Easter (even though it wasn’t called Easter yet). The catechumens would spend
 the forty days before their baptism in increased spiritual disciplines, like fasting and prayer, discerning the new way of life they were beginning at baptism and repenting, swearing off the old way of life they were leaving behind. The Didache, the earliest church handbook we have, spends a lot of time talking about the Two Ways, the way of life in Christ, following Jesus, and the way of life not in Christ. I’m going to read the first paragraph so you get an idea of what the early baptismal candidates were reflecting on.

The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and
 do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings. 
Didache, chapter 1.

I want to pose another question: What does baptism have to do with discipleship?

I want someone to read Rom 6.1-8.

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that as many as were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

In baptism we take part in Jesus death on the cross, dying to all our old and selfish, wicked ways of living. When we go down into the water (or have the watered poured over our head) we being buried with Jesus. And when we come back up out of the water, we are being raised to live a new life. Colossians 2.12-15 also picks up this idea.

A lot of times we think about this new life as just something that happens to us after we die, that we have to finish mucking our way through down here and then, when we croak, we can go be with Jesus. But even though resurrection and eternity with God is really important, the new life we’re raised into doesn’t wait to begin until we’re dead. It begins now. This new life 
is about living with Jesus now, following him, obeying him. It’s about living like his kingdom is in fact coming. It’s about living a new sort of life, a life of being a follower, a disciple. And this is what the ancient baptismal candidates were thinking about.

So tonight we’re not here to talk about baptism, but about Lent. Lent is a time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, but what stands in between us and Easter? The cross.

It’s easy to lose the bigger picture of Mark’s story when we focus on just one section each week.

What have we heard happen so far? What are some themes, pictures, events that keep coming up in Mark from week to week?

Two of Mark’s central themes are 1) Jesus’ identity and 2) discipleship, faithfully following Jesus. Both these themes show up in our passage tonight.

Let’s look at the story of Jesus stilling the storm first (4.34-41). This story takes place right after the parables in the early part of chapter 4.

What was the question the parables asked us? "What sort of soil will I be?"

Mark picks right up from the parables. Jesus is still sitting in the boat from where he taught the crowds in parables. Now that he’s done teaching, he decides that it is time to travel over to the other side of the lake. Apparently Jesus was tired from all the teaching, because he lays down in the back of the boat to get some sleep while his former-fishermen disciples row across the lake. As there going, a storm comes up, a bad storm, and the boat is in danger of sinking. And where’s Jesus? Still sound asleep in the back of the boat. Someone read vv 37-40 to see what happens.

How does Jesus react to the disciples request? Why might he react this way? What does he mean when asks, “Do you still not have faith?"

The disciples do not understand who Jesus really is. I’m not sure who they think he is at this point--a nice guy, a political rebel, a religious reformer, a wonder worker--but they certainly don’t understand that he is God’s Son. Verse 41 shows this clearly. Will someone read v 41?

The answer to the disciples’ question should be pretty clear to us. Who has authority over the weather and the forces of nature? Only God does. In fact, the disciples should have known that. The OT is full of references to God as the one with authority over nature, like in Pss 65.7; 89.9; and 107.23-30.

So this is where we really come to the turning point of our conversation tonight. You see, the Twelve in the boat with Jesus cannot follow him because they do not know who he really is. I
 can’t back that statement up form this passage alone, but it becomes more and more clear as we go through Mark’s whole story. Even looking to the next scene, where Jesus casts the Legion of demons out of the man, begins to make this clear.

I want to compare the disciples’ response to the next scene in 5.1-20. Jesus and his disciples arrive on the far side of the lake, the East side. 

This is a Gentile region. So far Jesus has spent all his time proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick and casting out demons only among Jews, the people God had adopt as his own in the OT. But now, for the first time, Jesus shows that God’s kingdom is about more than just the people of Israel. Will someone read vv 2-7?

What is the difference between the demon-possessed man’s reaction to Jesus and that of the disciples in the boat? The man (or at least the demons) know who Jesus really is.

This account here of this exorcism might strike us as strange in a lot of ways. It might even makes us feel uncomfortable (the spirits that we’re unfamiliar with, the death of the pigs, the village’s response). Unfortunately we don’t have time tonight to dig into all this passage has to say and to figure out exactly what is the significance of everything that happens in it. It would be great to discuss what we all think of that some other time, maybe at potluck or some other time. What is clear is that Jesus and the kingdom he announces runs headlong in the evil forces, the evil kingdom that holds the world captive. And Jesus comes out the winner.

What I want us to pay attention to how the man now freed from the power of the demons responds to Jesus. I want you to read vv 18-20.

What does the man want? What does Jesus tell him to do? How does the man finally respond?

Remember that Decapolis is a large Gentile region, where Jesus, who is equated with “the Lord,” is being made known.

So who is the faithful disciple of the two stories? Do you think knowing who Jesus really is made the difference?

Knowing that Jesus is both Messiah and God’s Son is going to continue to become more and more important in Mark. Knowing what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah--a cross and not some sort of revolution--will become more and more important too. The disciples understanding or failure to understand these things will make all the difference in how faithfully they follow Jesus.

So wee need to return to how this relates to us and the season of Lent.

Why do people fast during Lent?

One major motivation for fasting is repentance. We often fail to listen and obey when Jesus asks us to follow.

What are some reasons we might not go where Jesus leads?

Mark presents two main reasons why people fail to follow Jesus. 1) The first is that we cling to other things--our old way of living, our comfort, our security, our pet sins. Think of the Pharisees. They cling to the old system where their religious rules keep them in charge. They don’t have room to follow a Messiah or a God who asks them to do something new and different. Or what about a God who asks us to change the way we spend our money. We might not like that. Or a God who calls us out on our secret sins, who demands that we live authentically holy lives.

2) The second is that we don’t know who Jesus really is or what his message is all about. We might find ourselves asking, “How can we trust this guy with all our lives when we really don’t know who he is?” Maybe we feel like the disciples in the boat, looking around at waters that have just fallen eerily still. We know that something important is going on, but we don’t quite understand what it is. We look at the way he’s changed lives, fixed broken situations, rescued people from danger, and we ask, “Who then is this?”

Worse, maybe we think we already know what Jesus is all about, maybe we think we’ve already heard his message, have already signed on. I think this is where the disciples really fit. They thought they were signing on the leader of movement that would vindicate their subjugated nation and would put them in power. But now Jesus is doing things that don’t quite make sense. He’s spending all his time healing and teaching and none of it organizing the troops.

We do the same thing with Jesus and the gospel. We think that it’s some moral teaching or a contract that gets us into heaven. We think it has to do with Sundays and maybe a couple minutes in prayer a day. But Jesus is present as the one with the authority of the Creator God, the one who has conquered the devil and the evil forces that keep the world headed to destruction. And he’s called us to follow him as he takes over the world in a revolution that looks like defeat, in a victory that looks like a death sentence. He calls us saying, “If any of you are going to come after me, you have to deny yourself--your dreams, your hopes, what you think is worthwhile--take up your cross--the gory symbol of defeat and shame--and follow me on the road I walk--the road to Golgotha.” If you want to save your life you have to lose it, and not just the bits on Sunday nights or a few minutes for prayer. He’s calling us out for our whole lives.

During Lent we take purposefully take on spiritual disciplines (note the similarity to disciple) like fasting or special times of prayer or service to remind us of the cost of following our savior, to remind us of who he is--the Crucified Messiah, the Son of God. We repent of the ways in which we have loved other things more than him, and we dedicate ourselves anew to following where he takes us.

Tonight we’re going to start a practice of giving an offering to God of our money. It’s one way in which we can start ti follow Jesus in our finances. Jesus call to follow applies to our whole lives, whether it be our money, our jobs, our families, our sexuality, the food we eat, how much we drink, the people we invite into our homes, everything. Giving money back to support what God is doing in the church is a way of showing that even with the other money we spend or save, we’re choosing to follow God and, probably even more radically, to trust him to provide for our financial needs.

Normally, we’ll put out the offering basket while we sing. We can come to the foot of the cross and put our offering in it anytime during the singing. This might seem a little awkward, but I want us to always remember that giving money to the church isn’t something we do out of obligation but as part of our worshipful commitment to follow Jesus. We put the basket at the foot of the cross for the same reason, because we’re really giving our money as part of following Jesus, not just to help keep the building heated and to fund for my salary.

To remind us that our money is only a little part of the whole-life discipleship Jesus calls us into, we’re going to pass around some slips of paper to each person. On it I want you to write down one specific area of your life where Jesus is calling you to follow him and that you are willing to begin following him this week. We’re going to sing another song, and as we sing, everyone is free to take up the slips of paper along with any other offerings and place them in the basket at the foot of the cross.

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