“Letting Jesus Speak Through You”
Mark 1: 21-28
By and large, it seems that few of us wield great power in life. With rare exceptions, like dictators or pharaohs, or princes of their own country, there is mostly a balance of power and authority. During the Kennedy administration and beyond, The United States regularly condemned the Castro regime for its cruel and communist agenda. As I mentioned last week, the US General Douglas MacArthur had power, but it was not his own; it was granted to him by his country and the President, and ultimately that power was withdrawn. US Presidents have some unilateral powers, but most power is designed by the framers of our Constitution to be in consultation with Congress. And each of those people are granted the power of their offices by the citizens who elected them. CEOs of major corporations share power in consultation with their board and their stockholders. In the Presbyterian Church—designed by founding father, John Calvin, the General Assembly has the highest power, but it has many elected members—called commissioners—voting on motions brought to the floor, often with ratification by presbyteries. Pastors act in consultation with their Sessions. Why these checks and balances? Because John Calvin believed, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, in our American system—largely based on the Presbyterian form of government—power and authority rests on the shoulders of many. A single leader, without collaboration, can be tripped up on the road to becoming an authoritarian. Powers are checked through our judicial system by those who would bring a suit against another. Flight attendants have the authority to be on-board protectors of passengers, yet their authority is now being challenged by those who try to bring “comfort animals” aboard, and by those who resist wearing masks.
Getting back to John Calvin, he declared that no Bishop, Pope, or any other individual would have the sole authority of Christ in our churches. But any of us can call on Christ’s strength and power through our prayers. The risen Christ was bestowed with ultimate authority. In the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus proclaimed: All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me.” Whether we are looking at this century or the first century, into a hope-dimmed world slips his gleaming power. Mark’s gospel tells us that the teachings and actions of Jesus were such that all who were around him said he taught, “As if he had authority.” Even the ones in power were amazed at his ability to exorcise unclean spirits.” (1:27) Into the world of the seemingly possessed; into the world of the seemingly incurable, came the power and authority of Jesus. But clearly in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is in the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. Where did he get his power? We know power, by its very nature, is bestowed or conducted from a power source. What was Jesus’ power source? Tracking back the actions in Mark, there can only be only one place where power might have been connected or transferred to Jesus: at his baptism. “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased,” the voice from Heaven had just proclaimed. The same laws of power that bring it from a power station to a light switch, and from a wall socket to our lamps apply here as well. God Almighty, the creator of light, Heavenly Father of Jesus, is the source of the Son’s authority. By the power of God, Jesus was able to exorcise demons. By the power of God, Jesus was able to make people believe what he taught; that is what enabled him to do what no others could.
Do you wish you had that kind of power when facing crises or opposition? Children, often long for strength they do not possess. They love to idolize fictional superheroes like Superman or Captain America or Wonder Woman, or they long to pick up a wand for spells like characters in “Harry Potter” books and films do. Youth may feel powerful through sports, online gaming, or though acting. Sometimes, however, we can feel utterly powerless, even as adults. Just last Fall, in Dr. Dan Hale’s presentation to our Zoom group, he spoke of his powerlessness concerning his own daughter’s depression, even though he was a trained psychologist. Also as a father, author Frederick Buechner, in his book Telling Secrets, told of his feeling of powerlessness over his daughter’s anorexia. Both of those fathers are men of faith. Buechner loved his daughter so much that he wouldn’t let her go, until …, until he discovered that his kind of love would end up killing her. He had done all her worrying for her. Only when he finally gave power and control back to her did she begin to work toward her own salvation. That too was a power struggle. He wrote in his book, “Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you—your children’s lives, the life of your husband, your wife, your friend—because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business whether they use the word God or not.” [San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1991, p. 92] Sometimes we have to “let go and let God.”
Can the transcended Christ speak any word—or offer any hope—to you, or someone you know who is in some way possessed or in need of healing? Yes; today we learn the answer is “yes.” A healing took place in Capernaum one day according to Mark’s gospel. Can the first century power of Jesus speak to those who are in the grip of an addiction, or co-dependency, or illness, or in need of counseling? Again, I believe the answer is yes. Let’s see what Jesus did. First, he prayed to his Heavenly Father to ask for healing for those who were ill. Many were healed. People like Larry Dossey documented in his book Healing Words that people who received prayers and medical treatments got well faster than those just medically treated. All authority has been given to Jesus, so we pray for healing in his name. Sometimes people are healed; sometimes they are not. There are some people who believe that all it takes is more faith to persuade God to heal where there was no healing before. But could it be that, in some cases, God wants to use some illnesses or tragedies for some other teachable moment? When I first was diagnosed with diabetes, I prayed that God would take it from me. But then I found my diabetes as a starter for talking with others about Christ. I now believe that God intended for his glory to shine forth through my illness. If no healing takes place in the form you hoped it would take, then believe that God is still with you, and that God will take your sorrow and use it for good if you will let God do that. Remember, even Jesus could not pray himself out from under the anguish of the cross. That was part of God’s plan. Perhaps, even with the power of Christ, God has a different plan in store for you, as I believe he did with me.
Second, Jesus had authority over winds and waves when he was on the Sea of Galilee. We too can be bold to pray for calm amidst the storms we face. Our prayer group on Wednesdays prayed weekly for calm in our nation; and they can testify to the times that we were able to move certain people or situations from prayer concerns to prayer celebrations. It has happened! Still, there are some people who God seems to hate to disappoint! For example: years ago, a Methodist minister shared a graveside service with me. As we approached the cemetery, the rain that had come down hard ever since the funeral procession had left the funeral home came down steadily. I got out of my car at the cemetery, deciding to bring my umbrella. “Do you think we’re going to get wet out here?” I called the other minister. His wife was the one who answered him. “No!” she said with confidence. “It won’t rain during my husband’s graveside services!” As I was about to ask her how she could be so sure, he replied, “No, it won’t rain. You see, back when I had one of my first graveside service, it looked like we might get wet. So I bowed my head and said to Jesus, “Dear Lord: you did so many things, including calming the storm. I don’t think it’s too much to ask if you will hold the rain while I offer your blessing to a grieving family. Thanks for your help. Amen.” And in more than fifty years of that man’s ministry, it did not rain during his graveside services! Did his prayer to God protect his graveside services from rain?
Finally, as the serenity prayer says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that ought to be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.” Even Jesus could not change people’s wills. Nor can we. But we can be a Christian witness to others by our actions and our words; we can pray in faith for the things we want Jesus to do through us; and we can connect with that power as we pray. More power for the living of your days can be yours for a prayer.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, of our Savior Jesus, sometimes we do what the disciples often did: they called on Jesus to do everything. Through the years, people in crisis have said, “Call a priest, call a pastor, or call a chaplain.” But to those who claim Jesus as Lord, power is offered. Send us forth to use our voices, empowered by Christ to pray, to teach, and sometimes to heal or comfort. O God, you were in Christ, reconciling the world to yourself. Now we ask that your Spirit live in us, so that in Jesus’ name, we may banish darkness, heal what is broken, and bring hope where there is despair. Give us the courage to ask for the power to change the things we can change. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 31, 2021