Shaped by the Great Teacher

2020-01-31 – Year B – Epiphany 4 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28

Lord Jesus come and show us your power and your authority in our lives. Help us to see that our lives are so much fuller when we submit ourselves to you for apart from you we can do nothing good. In your holy and precious name. Amen. 

How are power and significance demonstrated in the world that we live in today? How do you identify someone who seems powerful? They usually are wealthy or have amassed what appears to be a lot of wealth. A large home, boats, docks, multiple houses, kids attending private schools. Perhaps having a large platform, today we call these people influencers who are able to reach thousands upon thousands of people through technology. People of power can capture thousands of people’s attention through their words and actions. 

Today lots of people in positions of power often do not realize the full impact of their words and actions. Today we can consume ideas and thoughts in the privacy of our homes or the privacy of our phone viewing. So it is easy to see how people can not realize the sheer quantity of people who are hearing their message. A number on the screen can not compare to human bodies in front of us. Rarely do we have to watch or listen to something in front of others. This is a profound difference in the way that humans have taken in information for all of time. With the invention of the internet and the invention of the cell phone we can quietly consume ideas without the input of others around us. Or we can feel as if we are surrounded by others who agree with this point giving us a false sense of approval for what it is we are viewing. When we take in information, other people’s thoughts and ideas we are being taught. When we want to learn how to fix something we can find a teacher on Youtube. When we want to learn how to can, put up food from our gardens, fix our fence, take apart our computers we can find teachers online. When we want a commentary on the current affairs in the world we can find a teacher or instructor online in a heartbeat. We all, whether we realize it or not have teachers who shape us everyday.   

Netflix had a show called the Social Dilemma and if you have a chance I would highly highly encourage you to watch it. In this documentary it explains from top people in the fields of social media who helped create things like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Instagram how they went about making these services and how they function. It is shocking and very eye opening to know how these services work. These sorts of advances in technology are based from the study of humans and how we respond to the world around us. Such as how do you get a person to look at something longer or to cause the brain to experience a dopamine hit, therefore causing the person to look longer. When I was in college I studied research psychology and great advances were made in the study of the brain. Social media and internet development utilized this research to design these technologies. 

Do you know that when you view a story or news article the internet platform is monitoring how long you linger, look at, or read a story and how long you gave it your attention. Then they have an elaborate computer algorithm that brings up a bunch of other sources in the same field providing you with an endless viewing opportunity with the exact same message. They also connect you with other sources of similar interests called rabbit trails that pull you further into a particular view. So as you view one article or video you begin to think that all people can see what you see. When in fact each person’s viewing experience is different. Fr. Chris and I can sit on the couch together and look at our Facebook accounts and they look completely different. His are full of technology and photography videos along with a whole different set of people’s status updates despite the fact that we have a very similar friend base. Mine is full of homesteading videos, natural medicine, women’s health issues, and essential oil education. When we both look up something on Google we will often get different lists based on what our computer thinks we want to hear. 

On the one hand all of the preselection done for us can sometimes be a gift. My facebook, youtube, and instagram experiences are beautiful because I have chosen to only watch clean wholesome educational content and this is what appears. On the other side if you watch one wrong video or website, one angry person rallying on about society then this is all you will be fed. You will get more and more and more content feeding your mind and shaping your thoughts and beliefs. The internet has become such a place of power and influence that entire groups of people are becoming mobilized to revolt against the government in places such as Germany, the Philippines, countries in Africa and even in America. Our teachers and people of influence that we listen to need to be listened to with an ear to God the Father and in the life lived out by Jesus Christ. 

We all follow teachers or people of influence and the question we need to ask ourselves is who are we to ultimately follow as a Christian? How do the messages of your teachers or people of influence compare to the life and ministry of Jesus and of those who follow him? You all know that we are to follow the life and example we have in Jesus Christ. In just a few weeks time we will begin the season of Lent when we are invited to challenge ourselves. To rid ourselves of the things that keep us from the Lord. We need to begin our planning for this time now. We need to get on our knees and ask Jesus what needs to go in our lives. 

 No matter what genre or topic of learning you follow you always need to remain vigilant as to where the person is coming from and what perspective they are trying to impart on you. Something that really stood out to me in the documentary was that all of the former executives of these major social media outlets say that they limit or refuse to allow their children to view these platforms. They have come to realize their destructive qualities on the minds and lives of those who use them. They even set up careful boundaries around their own usage of them. I held off getting a smartphone for a very long time because I knew their addictive qualities. One day I was outside with the children feeling overwhelmed from parenting and losing myself in my phone and I quietly heard the voice of the Lord ask me if I wanted to look back and only remember my phone screen or whether I wanted to look back and remember real life. 

All of us are prone to addictive habits and unhealthy voices and teachers. The question becomes how do we stop and carefully think about who it is that we listen to and do they help us live  a godly life? You can not know what a godly life is unless you read your Bible and study God’s Word. I am sorry to say but Jesus is not on Facebook, google, twitter, and any other internet platform. The word of God has to shape our lives and everything in our lives. I mean everything in our lives must be held up to the Word of God. We are all born selfish broken people who make bad choices and need someone to set us back on the right path.

Our family loves to hike. Early on in our parenting years Fr. Chris and I realized that being in nature calms children and therefore parents down. Walking together in nature takes us away from our electronics. It takes us away from those things that distract us. It gives us beautiful memories of gazing upon a spider web together, or cheering on a child who continues to walk when they want to give up, or seeing that bear in the Smoky Mountains. When you hike with small children we find it important to have an adult in the rear of the people train because small children often fall, stumble, or go the wrong direction. They often need to be picked up, set back on the path, and encouraged to keep going. Jesus is like that for us. Jesus can guide us if we let him. Jesus can be our teacher or influencer in our life. 

Today in the Gospel passage Jesus comes into the town of Capernum. I love Jesus because he often goes in places no one else would think of going. First century Capernaum probably had about 600 people in it total, the number could actually be as low as 100 people. Jesus was the Son of God and could have done his work in front of millions. He and his disciples came to Capernaum on the Sabbath and went to the Synagogue. Synagogues were centres of communal life: they functioned as courts and places for political discussions, storage of archives, education of children, public reading and teaching of Torah and prayer. Regular meetings in the synagogue took place on the Sabbath, the day of rest at the end of the working week. And all faithful Jews were expected to be there for Sabbath. So as a visitor who appears to be a teacher with his disciples Jesus is called upon to be a teacher during the service. In the Jewish custom He should have pointed to what other rabbi’s think. Jewish teachers were supposed to never rely on their own opinion but rather the history of words of wisdom written down about the Mosaic law from other Rabbis. Jesus spoke in a humble way as a person with authority. When we think of speaking with authority we think of someone with a booming voice, large commanding body, and a presence that really fills the space. Jesus however speaks with clarity and authority that commands action. 

A man with an unclean spirit immediately sees Jesus and  the demonic spirit recognizes him as Jesus of Nazareth and tries to oust his identity to all the people who are around. It is thought that the demonic spirits do this to try and evade the person seeking to control or influence them. Jesus however commands the spirit to be silent and to come out of the man, and the unclean spirit convulses the man and leaves at once. Jesus’ authority is demonstrated not with might and power but rather with action and the immediate release of bondage. The audience in the synagogue is amazed at Jesus’ teaching since he taught as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. The teachers of the law often translated ‘scribes’ were professional experts in the Mosaic law who studied, explained and applied the law to specific situations. Mark mentions the ‘teachers of the law’ twenty-one times: they are mentioned beside the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the elders and the chief priests. 

The people’s amazement implies the recognition that Jesus’ teaching was out of the ordinary, indeed ‘new teaching’. Jesus’ teaching seems to have focused on the explanation of the fulfilment of God’s promises that the prophets had spoken about and on the new period of history marked by the arrival of the kingdom of God. He taught that repentance, faith in God, membership of God’s kingdom and thus identity as an authentic member of God’s people depended on one’s response to God’s initiative connected with his own person and ministry. Jesus was teaching by his words and his deed of rescuing the man with an unclean spirit spoke of a new way to live that was not just following the mosaic law and not just for the Jewish people. 

Jesus teaches us that He has power to reach inside of our broken lives and to radically change our life if we want it. The only way for you to receive this gift is to see your brokenness and long for Jesus to heal you and set you free. Your life and mine need to be redeemed and made right. We need to be put back on the right path over and over in our life and need to be told what we should be doing and how we should be thinking. Right thinking is not an automatic in our life and if anything we all need to be shown what is good and true and lovely on a regular daily like 25 times a day daily kind of way. We all need to have Jesus as our teacher and influencer in our life. The Word of God will never deceive you or never lead you astray as long as you hold to it in its entirety. As long as you learn, mark, and inwardly digest the Bible everyday you will grow and you will know more of what you should be doing and what you should not be doing, of what you should be listening to and what you should not be listening to. 

The kids and I are covering World War I right now in our homeschooling and we are reading aloud Sergeant York and the Great War. It is a book about the life of Sergeant Alvin York who was a soldier in World War I. He was a devout Christian man who was called upon in the draft to serve in the military. He hailed from the state of Tennessee very near the Kentucky line and considered himself a mountain man. Because of his faith in Jesus he seriously struggled with serving in the war and went through many times trying to apply for being a conscientious objector. He ended up being denied this and decided to faithfully serve in the military after much vigorous biblical debate with a commanding officer. 

York had very little education in the way of being able to read and write however he longed to do that which was right in the world. He longed to be faithful to God in his actual life. He read and studied his Bible in any moment that he had free. Despite desperately not wanting to kill another fellow person York served faithfully as commanded in the military. He ended up almost single-handedly capturing 132 German soldiers and leading them back to the Allies camp. His work in the war was praised on a very large scale and yet he continued to have right thinking about what he had done, what God had done for him, and what kind of life he wanted. 

Jesus is the only way to know what we should and should not be doing and taking in. Jesus can keep our feet steady in a world constantly changing where we are constantly tempted to do the wrong thing. Jesus can show us the way to go and He can love us to change for the better. Every single one of us, despite how long we have been walking with the Lord, needs to submit our lives to His good will. Jesus can teach us to live lives that are holy and focused on the things that truly matter. Jesus can teach us how to live peaceful, meaningful lives, that love others and deny ourselves. 

When Jesus was teaching the man with the unclean spirit interrupted him calling out. The expression ‘a man with an unclean spirit’ indicates that the personality of the man ‘has been so usurped by the demon that the demon has, as it were, swallowed him up. Our sin in our lives is much like that demon in that it can almost swallow us up. We can so quickly lose our way in anger, resentment, jealousy, unkindness, unfaithfulness, and judgement. If you are listening to teachers in the world who cause you to feel these things then flee. If you listen to people who speak of other human beings made in the image of God as evil or wicked or spawn then flee. If you listen to teachers who stir you up to unrighteous intentions then turn your ears and run. It’s only through humbling ourselves looking up to the face of Jesus that we can be corrected, and changed for the better. 

Jesus rebuked the spirit he forces the evil powers into submission, preparing the way for the establishment of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ power and teaching for us today is meant to bring about change in our real lives. Jesus’ gift of himself is to rescue us out of our sinful broken hearts and to give us peaceful lives. In Philippians 4:8-9 we hear St. Paul says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do:and the God of peace will be with you.” Run to Jesus and He will help you and give you grace to face into the wrong things in your life and give you a chance at freedom and peace in Christ. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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