Texts: Mark 1:21-28 & 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
My wife likes to tell people this story from my first call: our organist got sick on a Saturday, and because the congregation was so small, we couldn’t find a replacement. I grew up playing the organ in high school, so I decided I’d fill in for the Sunday. Unknown to the congregation that Sunday, after leading the confession and forgiveness and announcing the opening hymn, I walked over to the organ and began to play. A women in the pew behind my wife tapped her on the shoulder and said somewhat gushingly, “Is there anything he doesn’t know how to do?” My wife turned and said, “Well, he doesn’t know how to put the dishes in the dishwasher.”
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” This verse from the First Corinthians passage has been on my mind all week. It’s sort of a no-brainer for Christians, right? Love is greater than knowledge, and now matter how much we think we know or try to know, ultimately it is God’s infinite love that builds communities and people up. It isn’t knowledge that elevates our status in the eyes of God, but rather it is love.
So let me ask you then, “How are you doing?”
It would seem, if we think about life beyond these walls, we collectively seem more interested in being puffed up for what we know rather than built up in love. You don’t have to look very far, but you’ll find all sorts of people out there giving their answers, solutions, viewpoints, or beliefs. And they themselves or others puff them up as having the right ones. Now, maybe that’s you, or you can think of someone you know out there who’s like this, but the question on my mind this week is, “Why do we do it?”
Epiphany means simply “a moment of revelation.” Liturgically, we’re in the season of epiphany, which for the church means we celebrate the moment of revelation about God revealed in Jesus’ presence in the world. In the gospel of Mark, this is also about the revelation about what the Kingdom of God is like, as revealed by Jesus. Which brings us to the epiphany in today’s gospel story: We have folks gathered on the Sabbath, like we are gathered here today, perhaps looking to hear something of value, gain some knowledge or insight from the sermon. In comes Jesus, who teaches in a new and fresh way that amazes people, and instantly people buy in to what he’s saying. Then this man comes walking in, a man who the story tells us is possessed by an unclean spirit that has him held captive. Jesus calls out the spirit, and it departs from the man. Such an act of healing, mercy, and compassion, one that liberated and freed this man from that which held him in bondage and caused him suffering…..it was an act of love.
Yet, what I find interesting is that those present seem to be fixated on this as some sort of teachable moment that further validates Jesus’ authority as a teacher. And this is what elevates him to celebrity status. Yet what seems to get missed is the power of Jesus’ act alone: this act of love that liberated this man from bondage, restoring him back to the community, and raising him from death to life. And this story challenges us to think about the difference between how authority is defined in the world and in the kingdom of God. I think there’s a difference: For those looking on, authority resides in the correctness of the message, its truth, its meaning. In the Kingdom of God, authority resides in the act of love itself and how it restores this man back to the community, how it liberates him from his bondage, raising him from death to life. Such authoritative love has the power to do the same for us, liberating us from the bondage of our own individual sin and from systemic sin in the world that crushes and oppresses people.
So, what does such authoritative love look like for us today? While Jesus may not be with us physically, what do such acts of love look like today?
As some of you may recall when I’ve preached here before, I coach wrestling at First Colonial High School. It was the final round of a tournament, and one of my wrestlers was warming up before his final match that day. I could see that he was focused. Then, out of the corner of my eye, caught a kid walking excitedly through the crowd, trying to get people to wrestle with him. Two things were apparent: this kid loved wrestling and he also had a mental disability. As he tried to engage others, people did that thing most of us are familiar with, passing him off to someone else, ignoring him politely. Finally, he found his way to my wrestler, and he attempted to engage him in the same way.
And this is what my kid did: he wrestled with him. He started showing him some simple moves. And he did this all the way up to the start of his own match. Once it was his turn, he gave the kid a high-five, patted him on the back, and went out to wrestle his match.
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
We give thanks for the gift of God’s love in sending Jesus into our lives, a fact we celebrate around the Table when we share bread and wine; Christ’s body and blood. May such a love reign in our hearts with authority as we go on our way this week, building up our others, our communities, and a world that sorely needs such a love. Amen.