Jan 31st Service

                            St. Andrew Presbyterian Church

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Service for the Lord’s Day

January 31, 2021  10:00 a.m. 
Worship Leaders:
Bob Williams, Worship Leader
Mr. David Warfield, Director of Music Ministry
Elder Anne Knochenhauer, Liturgist

Recording Operations
Elder, Dale Green                                                         GATHERING WE PREPARE OURSELVES FOR WORSHIP BY PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST, ACKNOWLEDGING WHO WE ARE, 
PRELUDE                                                         “Contemplation”                                                   Charles Callahan                                                                                            

CALL TO WORSHIP    (based on Psalm 111 – responsively)                                                                                                                               
Come, and praise God!   In the company of the God’s people, let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Great are the works of God, full of glory and majesty.
Our God is gracious and compassionate; our God is merciful and forgiving
Our God is faithful and trustworthy, our God is just and good.
So come, let’s worship God together.
God’s praise will last forever!  Amen.
*HYMN   620                                   Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven                             LAUDA ANIMA
 Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet your tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King!

 Praise him for his grace and favor
to his people in distress.
Praise him, still the same as ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Glorious in his faithfulness!

 Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows.
In his hand he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Widely yet his mercy flows!

 Angels, help us to adore him;
you behold him face to face.
Sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers all in time and space.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace!
 This free paraphrase of Psalm 103 gains much energy and conviction by including the double “Alleluia!”  before the final line of text.  That repeated four note figure descending from the tune’s highest note gives voice to the praise that the rest of the hymn evokes.
                                            PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We know who you are, O Christ; you are the one who has all authority in heaven and earth.  You are the one who silences demons and casts out evil spirits.  You are the one who creates new life out of utter chaos. We know who you are, O Christ; but we do not always show it. Forgive us, we pray, when we act otherwise. Amen.

For this is how much God loved the people of this world: God gave us the one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn us.  No, he came to save us.  Rejoice people of God in this promise: in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  Amen!

HENCE WE PUT IT AT THE CENTER OF OUR WORSHIP.FIRST READING                                                                                                        Deuteronomy 18:15-18 
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 
The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.”
The word of the Lord.Thanks be to God.                     
                            SECOND READING                                                                                                                    Mark 1:21-27                                                                                                                 
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, convulsing him 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.”
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

                                                                                                                                                                          PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION 

                                                What have you to do with us?”

About a month ago that I preached a sermon on the text in Luke that speaks of the presentation of the child Jesus at the Temple, in fulfillment of the requirements of the Jewish law.  It just so happens that this Tuesday is the Feast of the Presentation.  And so it would not have been in appropriate to preach from the text today. But, I was relieved to find that the lectionary did not suggest that text for today, giving us, instead, the text that we just read from the Gospel of Mark.

As we are still in the season of Epiphany, it is not surprising that this is another story in which Jesus is being revealed to the world.  But, whereas Matthew and Luke find it important to introduce us to the child Jesus, Mark seems to be in a hurry to get us to see the grown man Jesus. So much so that in the first 20 verses of the Gospel of Mark, the following things are reported:  we are introduced to John the Baptist who baptizes Jesus.  Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, John the Baptist is imprisoned and Jesus begins to preach and call his disciples. 

Finally,  at verse 21, Mark slows down and we get to see Jesus I action.  Our text finds us on a Saturday morning, early in Jesus ministry, not in Jerusalem but rather in Capernaum, near the sea of Galilee.  And whereas the child, Jesus, was presented in the temple, the man Jesus walks into the local synagogue and, as was the right of all adult Jewish men, he begins to read and teach from the scriptures.   Up to this point, it is just an ordinary Saturday in ancient Galilee.  But as soon as Jesus begins to speak, we see that this is anything but an ordinary day.

I have to admit at this point my own prejudices began to play havoc with my ability to see what is really going on here.  This is a somewhat familiar text and I thought I knew basically what it shows.  Jesus, the bringer of life, is walking into a dead, ritualistic worship of God.  Immediately the people see that he is different, because he preaches in a way that contrasts starkly with the empty, powerless legalism that they are accustomed to hearing each Saturday.  But there’s more.  The people there are so sin-sick and spiritually dead, in fact, that a man with an unclean spirit is part of the congregation and actually speaks on behalf of everyone, saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus?”    There’s an implication there in the question.  “What have YOU to do with US?”  It’s as if the spirit is saying, “YOU are not one of us.  YOU have no part of us.  Why don’t you just turn around and walk back out the door?  Go about your business and leave us to ours.”  The unclean spirit’s words seem to contain a bit of an attempt to stir up fear and doubt among the assembled people by painting Jesus as a threat.  “Have you come to destroy us?” So Mark is introducing us to Jesus by showing us the battle lines.  On one side is Jesus, the Holy One of God.  On the other side, the devil, his agent the unclean spirit and the spiritually dead, ritualistic Jewish worshippers.

That’s what I thought.  But I had to wonder, if that is why Mark starts with this story, what message is here for us, people who are sincere followers, who love God and want to live lives of faithful obedience? 
So I began to dig, looking at sermons sites and commentaries, studying the role of the synagogue in Jesus day, reading applicable Wikipedia entries.  And as I read, I began to think that maybe I had it all wrong.  Maybe these people weren’t as bad as I thought they were.

Take, for example, the people saying that Jesus taught with authority, not like the other teachers of their day.  I knew that the pattern of teaching was for them to refer to what other learned teachers had taught, weighing the words of one great rabbi against the other until they would come out with a conclusion of how the scriptures should be applied in their context.  It was a conservative approach.  And, yes, it may at times have led to an academic understanding of God’s word.  But was it really that bad?  After all, they did not have the Spirit, to lead them into all knowledge.  In light of that, this cautious approach showed high regard for the word of God.  And, if I am to be honest with myself, I was doing the same thing.  And were the Wikipedia references, the commentators and the pastors whose sermons I found on sermon central more reliable than the great Torah scholars of Jesus day like Hillel the Elder or Antigonus of Sokho?  Probably not.  No, the authority that people heard in Jesus teaching was not because the other teachers were so bad.  It’s because Jesus was, well….Jesus was Jesus …and they weren’t.
My reading also took me to some discussions of the role of the synagogue.  It seems that archeological studies of synagogues that date back to Jesus day suggest that they were not just places of religious teaching and worship.  They also served as community centers: somewhere that a stranger may find a place to sleep for the night or a needy person from the community might come hoping for some kind of assistance.  And while it might be tempting to discuss just what the scriptures mean by saying that the man in the story had an unclean spirit, I don’t think it really matters.  We can all agree that he was a man with serious troubles: no control of his own body and mind, surely debased and humiliated by his condition and, because of it, outcast from society.  It should not, I think, be so surprising that such a person may gravitate toward the synagogue for help under normal circumstances.  Perhaps he was a regular, coming in off the street whenever there was a gathering of people there.  Perhaps the people tolerated him, thinking that he might find some relief from his troubles in their midst.  That might explain why, while my attention is drawn immediately to the spirit-possessed man, the people in the crowd are focused on Jesus.

So, quite to the contrary of my initial impression.  This text does not necessarily paint a picture of Jesus stepping into a decrepit, failing religious community in serious need of renovation.  It is entirely plausible that these people were accustomed to hearing faithful preaching and messages that stirred them to faithfulness? We should not be surprised if this was a community of people who loved God and loved their neighbors and welcomed the stranger and the outcast into their midst.  And if so, we should not even be surprised that an outcast, a man with an unclean spirit, would gravitate to just such a gathering on any Sabbath.  But even more so on this one, for the preacher today WAS different.  True, he spoke directly.  He did not need to refer to the famous scholars of the day.  But there was more to it than that.  His speech had an air of authority, his words spoke straight to people’s hearts.  Somehow, his spirit spoke directly to their spirits and for the first time, here was someone who could actually do something to relieve this man’s suffering. 

The unclean spirit knew that.  So he throws out a challenge,  “What have you to do with US, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”  He knew who Jesus was.   And, like the people in the sanctuary, he recognized Jesus’ power and authority.   But he also knew that the people around him in the sanctuary were more like him than they would like to admit. 

Oh, they were probably good people.  After all, they came to synagogue that morning.  They probably had jobs and homes, friends and families.  Some of them were probably among the most respected and influential people in town.  But the unclean spirit knew, as did Jesus, that all of them, to a person, had areas in their lives that were broken, in need of healing.  They, just like all of us here today, had their sins, their demons.  They all wanted to be loved.  They wanted to be known fully.  And while they did not cry out in the street, they had their voices, too: the negative self-talk, the scripts that went over and over again in their minds. 

You know the ones I mean, the voices that we all have inside us that tell us that we are unlovable by those around us, yes, and also by God.  There are voices that condemn us, telling us we are guilty and not worthy of forgiveness, voices that drive us to be perfectionists – so quick to point out every little flaw; voices that tell us we are lazy or stupid or …you pick the word. 

The unclean spirit knew, that the people gathered in that sanctuary, were not so different from that man.  And neither are we.  But unlike him, our voices are for us alone.  Only we hear them.  No one else does. Unlike him, our condition is not lain bare for all to see. Instead, we hide it behind personas that we wear like shields.  We say the right things, act the right way, dress and behave the right way, even believe the right way.  And, for the most part, it seems to work.  Generally, we are able to get through the days, without being found out, rejected or cast out altogether.  

The irony is that these fronts we put up, those personas, keep us from having the very things we think they will gain us; things like intimacy, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness, and joy. The personas, while they seem to help us get by, offer no possibility for us to experience the abundant life that God wishes for all of us.  
Sometimes we are able to see that.  Maybe we will entertain the idea of casting them off.  But then we hear the words of the unclean spirit, “Have you come to destroy us?”  And we are afraid.  If we put down our shields, we will be exposed to all the dangers of the world and we might be destroyed.  “No,” we think, “it is better to live behind this shield, this mask, then to risk destruction.” 
So we continue to hide.  And, behind our shields, the voices continue: downgrading, condemning, and instilling fear.  Fear that someone or something will rip off the mask, we will be exposed and, we fear, destroyed.  So we cling to our masks, we listen to the voices which push us to wear them, and we hold Jesus at arms-length, for fear that he might ask us to give them up. 

The problem is, the voices, the masks, the personas, they are all lies.  And while they seem to allow us to hide our sins and our shortcomings, in doing so they also hide who we are meant to be, who we CAN be, if only we will let Jesus in. The fact is that Jesus has come to destroy.  But not us, not the real us.  He has come to destroy the unclean spirits, the falsehood, the fears, the voices that accuse and tear down.  He has come to set us free from the need to hide behind masks, to destroy everything that separates us from God and from each other: in short- he has come to destroy sin. 

So you see, Mark did not rush to get to this story to show us how bad things were when Jesus came to down.  No, he rushes here in order to proclaim that the wait is over!  Finally, here is someone who is willing to step into our messy, broken lives, into our sin, even our death and he is not only willing, but he is able, to set us free.  And to answer the spirit’s questions, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  The answer is the very answer that we long to hear.  “Why everything!  I want to have everything to do with you.  I want everything you are, everything you hope to be, the things you are most proud of and the things you are most ashamed of. I want you, all of you.  And yes, I have come to destroy – but not you.  I have come to destroy sin and death, everything that separates you from me so that you may have life in all its abundance.”  For the people in that synagogue that morning and for the people of our day, as well, that IS an Epiphany.

Before I close, there is something that Mark leaves out of the story that I think deserves our attention.  We see that Jesus does not answer the spirit’s questions.  Rather he tells it to be quiet and to come out of the man, which it does, convulsing the man as it leaves.  And then the focus of the story shifts back to the congregation.  They were amazed and ask, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
Mark’s focus is, of course, on Jesus.  This is, after all, a book about Jesus.  But I would like to know what happened to the man after he had been set free.  The scriptures don’t tell us.  But, if we turn ahead in Mark a bit, to a Chapter 5, we find a similar story of a man that Jesus set free from demon possession.  It is the Gerasene demoniac.  Remember he roamed about the tombs naked, screaming and hurting himself. And as Jesus approaches, the demons (remember there were many of them) ask Jesus the same question that the unclean spirit asked today, “What have you to do with us?”  Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs and the swineherds and people who saw what happened run into town to tell what happened.  A crowd comes running to see for themselves, and what do they find?  They find the man, clothed and in his right mind, sitting with Jesus.  Terrified, they ask Jesus to leave that region. 

Here’s what Mark says happened next. 
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 

While these are clearly different events, I can only imagine that what happened that day in the synagogue was quite similar.  Sometime after Jesus set him free from the unclean spirit, the crowd has left the sanctuary, abuzz over what had just happened.  We can imagine the man sitting, in his right mind, with Jesus.  What now? After years of being tormented and outcast, to be free, to be accepted….what now? And Jesus tells him to go home and tell his people how much the Lord has done for him.

The same Jesus who set these men free is at work in our day to cast out demons, to destroy the forces of sin and death that hold people captive, to set us free and give us the life abundant.   And, having been set free, I think that there can be no better response for us as individuals or as a congregation than this, to go to our own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for us, and how he has had mercy on us.  I pray that this will be my goal, that this will be our goal as a congregation, in the days ahead.  Amen?  Amen.


 * HYMN      720                                                Jesus Calls Us                                                                 GALILEE
  Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying “Christian, follow me.”

 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

 In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

 Jesus calls us; by thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.
  Like many hymns that adults have come to cherish, this text based on Jesus’ calling og the disciple Andrew was written for a 19th century collection of hymns for children.  The popular tune used here was composed for these words more than a quarter of a century later. 
                                                                PRESENTING OUR TITHES & OFFERINGS        
(We invite you to make your offering online. Thank you to everyone for your generous support!)


God of power and wisdom, thank you for your Son, who came not only to save but to teach us and show us how we might live. We want to live lives of generosity, mercy, and compassion, just as He did. Take what we give today and use it to make your kingdom visible here in our midst, in our community and beyond. In Christ, we pray. Amen.
Jesus comes to us, offering healing and hope, speaking and acting with authority. Listen to him. Go into this world, confident in his love and healing power. Go in peace and may God’s love and peace always be with you. AMEN.      
“Toccata “                                                      Gordon Young