Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church
Reverend John Zachary Flack
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Have you guys heard about the measles outbreak? 98 people infected from a case in Disneyland, and many more potentially exposed to the virus. We may be lucky here: according to the Washington Post, the CDC estimates that about 20 million people get the disease each year and 122,000 people die from it. But the measles was eliminated in this country in 2000—save for the few people who came in and out who weren’t vaccinated in their homeland. This outbreak comes in a place that attracts visitors from all over the world—some of whom are not vaccinated, they are in an area of the country where denying vaccines to children is more common than others. There is a great article from The Onion written in the perspective of such a parent. It goes: “Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I fully stand behind my choices as a mom, including my choice not to vaccinate my son, because it is my fundamental right as a parent to decide which eradicated diseases come roaring back. The decision to cause a full-blown, multi-state pandemic of a virus that was effectively eliminated from the national population generations ago is my choice alone, and regardless of your personal convictions, that right should never be taken away from a child’s parent. Never.”
And it’s amazing that this is the case in the United States of America. Of all the scientific advances human beings have made, vaccines must be one of the greatest benefits. The whole point of science is to proceed forward on evidence, accessible to all, incontrovertible. To examine each assumption critically, to subject existence to examination and proof. It’s amazing, and whether it’s vaccines or climate change, despite evidence and reason and the trustworthiness of the scientific method and its employment, people don’t trust what science shows. And I suppose that’s because there is always a story of how science didn’t get it right. The authority of science is great —but there’s always that small crack, that time when something like eugenics was considered scientific. And so people, with good intentions and ill, exploit the crack, and call into question the authority of science.
And if something even as clear and rational as science is questioned, how much more is that we have difficulty trusting God? How can we trust God, whom we cannot see, who speaks to us through a historically conditioned text, who asks us, before anything else, to trust him?
The texts today converge around one word: authority. Authority resides in Jesus, who is the trustworthy Word of God. Mark tries to tell us this from the very beginning of the Gospel, when Jesus is baptized. Today, we are supposed to immediately know that Jesus is different in this pericope, because Jesus comes to the synagogue and begins to teach without any invitation at all. The common way to preach was to receive an invitation. It would be as if some guy from Phonecia came and walked in here on a Sunday morning and just started preaching. But, Mark writes, “they were astounded at his teaching, because he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Now this is a fascinating remark—scribes, you would think, would have great authority, since they were the most educated people of that place. But the scribes remind me of the Old Testament and New Testament scholars of my experience, who often consult every other source and make only qualified and disputed conclusions. Of course, one of the signs of a good education is that the more you study, the less you know, so we should not be too hard on modern scholars or the scribes of Jesus’ time. But to hear that a rube from Galilee came, without invitation or warning, and the people heard authority in his voice, should give us pause. It should also give us pause that the people, recognizing his authority, still handed him over to the authorities to be crucified, and often mistook his message. Even Jesus wasn’t completely trusted. Even Jesus, today, isn’t completely trusted.
In Mark, you’ll see the juxtaposition of the demons and the people. The demons always know who Jesus is, and they are forever terrified. “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!” Here there is a power struggle—the demon attempts a bit of magic. He thinks, along the lines of popular magic theory at the time, that if you know the name of a spiritual power you can control it. “I know who you are,” is an attempt to place Jesus in his control. But Jesus has none of it. Without naming the demon, Jesus simply says, “Be silent and come out of him.”
Well, I shouldn’t say simply says. Mark says Jesus rebukes the demon. And this is important because it is a sign of authority manifest. God brings chaos and evil to heel, and prepares the way for order and light. The Word of God is an authority which can neither be resisted nor denied. And in places where it seems dark and confusing, where trust is hard to give, the Word of God breaks in to rescue the floundering and the fallen.
And the Word of God is this person Jesus Christ, in whom resides the fullness of God. At this moment, when Jesus faces the forces of chaos, we can also think of the moment at the beginning of time, when God’s spirit moved over the formless void, and God spoke chaos into form. It can be difficult, sometimes, when we see the outbreaks of Ebola and measles, sometimes due to our deficient will to help, or our willful obstinate ignorance, to see the order that God makes out of chaos. But God continues to speak to us, and God’s strong word still rebukes the demons of our lives.
To trust is also to take a risk. Trust doesn’t always mean certainty. It can imply certainty, but it can also imply faith. But our lives are better when we trust God. When we trust God, we understand the world as it proceeds to the coming of Christ and the final healing of all the nations at the end of time. When we trust God, even in our moments of darkest pain and despair, we trust that God will take even those moments and shape our lives into beauty, that we can overcome even the longest-lingering addictions and afflictions and habits of our lives. In fact, when we trust God in the darkness of life, the glory of God shines forth even brighter than in the good moments. After all, who has the authority to make good out evil? God, whose Word was made flesh for our sake, who speaks to us still today. Amen.