Lenten Blogging – day 2

(In case you’re wondering how day 1 and day 2 can appear on the same day, I’ve not gone mad (or at least not for that reason), nor have I fallen into a TARDIS.  Day 1 should’ve appeared yesterday but, er, didn’t.  So hopefully after this we’ll be back up to date and on track and everybody will be happy.  Or something like that…).

Today’s passage is Mark 1:21-45, with a specific focus on vv21-28.  I’ve recently been preaching on these passages as they’ve been the Lectionary passages, so much of this has probably been blatantly cribbed from those sermons.

(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: You can read more about these on my Greenfield Minister’s blog – please go and have a look!)

Anyway, the passage that Tom Wright suggests we particularly focus on is Jesus’ awesome demonstrations of His authority, both in His written teaching and His driving out of the evil spirit in the Temple in Capernaum.  By the end of all that, the crowds’ jaws are on the ground: “What is this?  It’s like nothing we’ve seen before!!  Incredible!”  And it’s Jesus authority that has them eyes wide open, mouths agog, babbling like our one year old.

Which can seem odd to us.  Authority can be a bit of a dirty word.  We don’t like being told what to do.  “The Authorities” are, in many people’s eyes, not to be trusted, sticking their nose in where it’s not wanted at the best of times.  At the worst of times, “the Authorities” are the governments of countries like Syria, using sheer brute, murderous, blood-shedding force to try and impose their will.  Authority down the barrel of a gun, with no regards for the people they’re supposed to be protecting.

Authority sucks, apparently.  And it’s not just teenagers who think that.

But here, authority doesn’t suck.  I doubt the people of Capernaum liked being bossed around any more than anyone else does.  Yet they’re amazed at Jesus’ authority!  It seems to put Him much higher in their estimations than the religious teachers who’ve gone before.

Huh?  What gives?

Firstly, of course, there’s something unique about Jesus’ authority in His teaching.  It’s authentic, it’s real.  It surely comes from His unique relationship with His Father.  And perhaps it touched the people in ways they’d not known before, in ways that even the wisest, most learned, most pastorally-hearted teacher could not touch them.

But not just that.  Jesus’ authority here brings freedom.  Jesus most dramatically displays His authority over the evil spirit that’s possessing the man who interrupts so violently Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus is “stern” the NIV says, in His dealings with the spirit.  He silences it, then orders it to come out.  You can imagine how dramatic that coming out must have been, how frightening for the people watching it.

Yet it worked.  The spirit did come out.  The man was free – free at last!  Jesus spoke and set this man free from what had been possessing and controlling Him for all that time!  You can imagine the slow dawn of realisation on his face, then the look of speechless gratitude to Jesus, before he dashes out in excitement and wonder, almost not knowing what to do with himself now that he can do something with himself and for himself.

Jesus’ authority here doesn’t put down the man, doesn’t seek to control him.  In fact, those are the very things Jesus frees him from.  Jesus’ authority is exercised over all those things that control this man, that over-ride his own hopes and dreams and desires.  Jesus’ authority sets him free.

Too often, religion is seen as controlling,  Us religious leaders are seen as people who want to tell others what to do, how to live and so on.  We’re seen as people on a power trip, insecurely working out our need to control and manipulate others.  Jesus shows a different way: authority that liberates, that sets free, that allows people to become all they want to be.  Authority that is as far as it’s possible to get from the dictators and authoritarian leaders of our world, secular or sacred.

What controls us?  What stops us from being all that God wants us to be?  What comes disguised as freedom, but is in fact killing us as it takes control of our lives?  Doesn’t have to be “dramatic” – almost anything can have that power over us.  Whatever it is, Jesus longs to free us from it, longs to show His power and authority to bring true freedom and true life.

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Lenten Blogging – day 1

As you no doubt know, we’re into Lent now (day 2) in fact. Now, I’m normally rubbish at Lent, I have some vague idea that I’m going to do “something”, but it never amounts to anything more than that. I’m also (you can’t fail to have noticed!) that I’m not so hot at blogging regularly, either.

So, my plan is to try and blog at least once a day throughout the Lent period (I have no idea whether this includes the Sundays or not – I’m just going to go for it and see where we end up by Easter).

But I also figured that just seeking to to blog about “anything” won’t do me much good. So, instead I’m going to combine this with my Bible readings for Lent, which are based on the Big Read 2012, using Tom Wright’s divisions of the book of Mark.  These posts based on the readings aren’t supposed to be deep, profound thoughts, nor will they come laden with huge scholarly insights (I wish I had the learning to do that!).  They will just be my reflections on the reading in question for you to take or leave as you wish.

So, here we go!

The first reading is Mark 1:1-20, focussing especially on vv.1-9.  Here we have the opening of Mark’s Gospel, his account of how this all began.  And already we’re in full-on mode here, Mark wasting no time in getting going and getting us into the thick of the story as soon as possible.  In the first 20 verses, we’ve covered John the Baptist, Jesus’ arrival on the scene, His baptism & temptation, the beginning of His ministry and His calling the first disciples.  Phew!

But what grabbed me about this was more than just the speed with which Mark moves us around the story.  He seems quite happy to play with our expectations and, rather than confirming our preconceptions of Jesus, he almost seems to want us to be left scratching our heads and saying “Oh… right… hang on… so he’s going to… nope, no he’s not… oh…”.

Jesus, apparently, is vastly superior to John the baptiser – He has the power to baptise with the Holy Spirit.  Yet here He comes, asking John to baptise Him with a baptism of repentance.  Huh?

When He comes up out of the water, Jesus’ unique status as God’s own Son is confirmed (and conferred?) in the most public way possible.  We’re all set for a glorious beginning to Jesus’ ministry.  Then suddenly, we’re in the desert – at the Spirit’s insistence – facing temptation and wild animals!  Sorry, Mark, did you get this right?

Yet this, it seems, is the way it has to be.  Whatever the specific reasons why these things had to take place, Mark seems to want to throw us on to the wrong foot straight away.  Whatever else this good news is, he seems to be saying, it’s not going to make everything straight-forward and easy.  Jesus is coming with His and His Father’s way of doing things and these are not our ways.  The Kingdom of Heaven has come profoundly near in Jesus.  But if we want to enter it, then it’s going to mean reconsidering all our preconceptions of what life’s about, about what’s important.  We’re going to have to allow God to turn everything upside-down in order that, just maybe, we can begin to see things the right way up again.