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 A New Teaching for a New Era

Sermon - 1/29/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 1:21-28

A quick Bible quiz for you, that I think should be pretty easy for folks that have been around this church for awhile: which of the 4 gospels was the first to be written?

Mark, yes, you know that well. That's one of the bedrocks of biblical scholarship, has been well-established for over 100 years. It's as solid as Einstein's theory of relativity, and the notion that the speed of light is a fixed limitation in the universe, faster than which nothing else can travel, right? Ooops. Other than a few neutrinos fired by the CERN accelerator in Switzerland, underneath the Alps, that's gotten everybody upset and has scientists scratching their heads. It has totally upset Einstein's theory of relativity and everything else we know about the universe.

But, the priority of Mark, as it is known, in fact, is even more solid than Einstein's theory of relativity. In any event, we're continuing our look at the introduction in the gospel of Mark, and reading the first chapter of the first gospel ever written. Where, instead of stories of the birth of Jesus, we have John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation story in the wilderness, and then the calling of the Disciples -- all in the first 20 verses. So Jesus has been introduced, dunked, and tested, and he's got his team in place, and now comes the first big test of his young, short career.

Reading, then, from Mark 1, verses 21-28:

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They 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.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.  

So here we are, just half-way through the first chapter of Mark, we've got 15 and a half chapters to go, without any miraculous birth, we've already been told 3 times who Jesus is -- first John the Baptist, then the story of the heavenly voice at the baptism ("You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased"), and even here this spirit, a demon I guess. So in other words, on earth, above earth, beneath earth -- metaphorically speaking, we've got all the bases covered here, testifying as to who Jesus is.

You see, where Matthew and Luke give us nice stories about the origins of Jesus, and his birth, and a little bit about his family, you know, to prepare us for something spectacular to come, Mark doesn't waste any time or papyrus. It's just -- boom! -- from the opening verse, we're off to the races. I mean, Mark is the Chip Kelly of gospel writers :).

Jesus doesn't waste any time huddling with his Disciples -- it's hike the ball, and before you know it they're dancing in the end-zone to the delight of all the crowd. It's such a shame that football season is almost over :)

So, whoa, what just happened here? I mean, they start saying to themselves, 'this is something new', it's radical. Someone who doesn't just tell us what to do, instead someone who does what he says and brings real good news and hope and actual deeds, not just words as we're used to hearing from the religious authorities.

Now, I can imagine Jesus shook some people up. In particular, he challenged that established order, he made some people very uncomfortable. He upset the accepted lines of authority and the traditional way things are done. I mean, Jesus comes on here like Newt Gingrich with the social conscious of Mahatma Gandhi and the moral reputation of Mother Teresa. Newt can only wish, right? :)

Now's the time to pull out your smart-phones, and post on Facebook: "Our pastor just compared Jesus to Chip Kelly, Newt Gingrich, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa".



Well, whether Newt is the Messiah who will save the party, or the anti-Christ who will destroy, is the hot-topic that is being debated by the pundits, but I'm not going to go there. My point is simply that Newt is upsetting the Republican establishment like Jesus was upsetting the religious establishment. Well, maybe not 'like' Newt, but at any rate. . . . .

There's a popular video on YouTube right now that's been upsetting a few folks, particularly in the religious establishment. How many recognize this already? When I first saw it, someone posted it on Facebook and said 'check this out', and I checked it out, and they said "Wouldn't it be cool if we showed this in church!". And I said "I don't think so". For one, I feared it would offend some people. Second, I strongly disagreed with some points of it. But as I relected on this new teaching of Jesus, and the challenge he presented to the folk of his day, I realized that this video actually illustrates that message in a number of ways. And besides, speaking of sudden fame, this got 12 million hits in it's first 5 days, it's now up to 17.5 million. That's 17.49999 million more than has heard me in my lifetime :)

So I'm going to risk it here, it's about 4 minutes long, I'm just going to play it for you and see what you think:

 

So what'dya think? Like it? Dislike it?

Pretty powerful message, anyway you respond. I have mixed feelings. For starters, historically, I think it's just plain wrong. The Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, worship of God in the Temple, the Synagogue, all were part of the religion of Jesus' day. He no more opposed those things than he opposed breathing. So I'm not comfortable with this notion that he opposed religion.

Yeah, he opposed certain parts of it, he opposed the establishment. But that's entirely different than saying he opposed religion. And even if that's what Mr. Bethke means when he says "religion" (he's talking about the establishment), I still have concerns that his portrayal of Jesus comes across as opposition to all things Jewish, which I'm sure would not be his intent. But the danger is there whenever you pit Jesus against religion. Particularly given our interfaith award (awarded today), I want to make sure we put that little asterisk on it, we should be careful with that.

Secondly, there's the theology of Bethke that makes faith in Jesus as a matter primarily (I think, if I'm reading it right) as forgiveness of sin, that's the primary point. If that had been the primary focus of Jesus' message, why would the establishment care? Why was Jesus executed by the state, if he just opposed the religious establishment?

And the politically -- why do they always pick on the Republicans? Because no Democrat would be accused of being Christian?

So even as I disagree with Bethke's reading of history and scripture, and I'm not sure about his politics, I think he's hit on a raw nerve, hasn't he? And maybe he's really upsetting people in the establishment like me, lets be honest here, part of that. Because it strikes too close.

So what I'd like to do is take his critique of the religious establishment, and combine it with the Occupy movement's critique of the financial and political establishment, and then you'll have a message that will make a whole lot of people uncomfortable, and will sound a lot more like Jesus :)

For the past 3 or 4 years, we've been working on our vision, that came out of nearly a year of discernment, listening to God's call, of what God was calling us to do and be. And we came to the conclusion that God is calling us to be a community of Jesus' followers who seek the transformation of Lives, the transformation of Christianity, and the transformation of the world.



And so our goal is to rediscover that new teaching of Jesus which changes people. Changes everyone, and everything. It's a message, we believe, that is made for our time.

The Barna Group, headed by George Barna, is a respected polling organization that works primarily with evangelical churches and organizations. It did a study in 2007 of 16-29 year-olds and their attitudes toward church. And here's what they found:

  • 91% think the church is anti-gay (and they are not)
  • 87% says the church is too judgmental
  • 85% says the church is hypocritical
  • 78% says the church is old-fashioned
  • 75% says the church is too involved in conservative politics
  • 70% says the church is insensitive to those who are different
  • 68% say it's boring

Is it any surprise, then, that only 16% say they have a favorable view of church?  And we wonder why we have difficulty attracting the younger population?

Well, if you have a church that is none of these things, then you've got a message that's ready for this world.

I went to this conference down in Pasadena, called the 7 Secrets for Progressive Churches, where I first heard this. And we've been talking about it on our Wednesday night 'Food for Thought' series. We've been looking at each of those 7 secrets, the first one is spiritual formation. Secret #2 is transformational worship. And then this last Wednesday night we talked about the 3rd, transformational mission. Their main point is that a healthy church is the by-product of a powerful, externally-focused mission. I think that describes us.

The leaders of the conference are also co-authors of a book, "Liberating Hope" (we have copies in the office for anyone interested). In it, they state: "We are called to be the body of the risen Christ, our mission is Christ's mission. A mission that transforms the church must be a mission that transforms the world". Where have I heard that before? :) Sounds very familiar.

They cite the work of Peter Drucker, a well-known social ecologist who specializes in the art of management and good business practices. Drucker noted the difference between churches and corporations. He said "The church is to change people, whereas the purpose of a corporation is to satisfy them. Churches that get that backwards die". We're here to change people, not to satisfy people.

Too often we think of church as a place where we come to be fed. And one of the secrets of this 'emerging church' in this new era is that people want a place not where they are simply fed but where they can serve. In other words, our task is to help each person to find that place where they can be host and producers, instead of guest and consumer.

Michael Piazza, one of the co-authors of the book and a leader at the conference (he served a mega-church, very large church in Dallas). He had a member who came to him and said "Pastor, I'm just not being fed". His response: "Great! Because you're not called to be fed. You're called to be a feeder!". Changes the perspective, doesn't it?

Mark Trotter, a Methodist pastor who has written several books, sums it up very well: "All of us need a purpose that is large enough to include God and long enough to include eternity. We need a purpose that makes life worth living and gives meaning to our dying. We need a purpose that calls forth our true stature and elicits the hidden fire within us. We are called to life with imagination and courage because we have a purpose that endures past sunset".

What is that purpose that endures past sunset? That makes our heart sing? That calls us forth?

Jesus begins his ministry in Luke's gospel with the proclamation that the spirit of the Lord is upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, to bring recovery of sight to the blind, to release captives, to let the oppressed go free. And all of those words of hope are summed up in an act of transformation here at the beginning of Mark's gospel. Bringing good news in a very real, concrete, tangible way, to a village alongside the Sea of Galilee.

As we think about it means to be the body of Christ in our world, who are those with tormented spirits, broken hearts and broken bodies? The impoverished and imprisoned, the abandoned and the rejected, that Jesus would touch to heal, to love, to include, to forgive?

How do we transform lives, Christianity, and the world? Are we just fooling ourselves, dreaming the impossible dream? Who are we to claim such a mission? Actually, as Marianne Williamson noted, who are we not too?

Are we not the hands and feet of Christ? Do we not have the light of Christ, the heart of God, within us? Did not Jesus promise where 2 or 3 are gathered together there I will be with you?

As we seek to live out the mission as the light of Christ to and for our world, we are reminded once again that we are called not to remain here in the safety of this place but we are called to go out into that world. To share that light with all.

May it so be.

 


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