Speak With Authority

Mark 1:21-28
1 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Speak With Authority
Congregational Church of Easton – January 28, 2024

Since January 7th the lectionary has us reading the Gospel of Mark straight through from the beginning. On the 7th we heard how John the Baptizer said one more powerful than he will come who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus is baptized by John, the heavens are torn apart, and a voice calls Jesus his beloved son. Last Sunday Jesus returns from the desert and says the Kingdom of God is near. Then four of the first disciples are called to enter God’s Kingdom.
I wanted to review these first twenty verses of Mark in order to highlight verse 15: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” These are the first words Jesus speaks as he begins his ministry.
When he says, “…the Kingdom of God has come near,” that’s his inauguration speech. Everything else that happens in marks account of jesus’s life, death, and resurrection can be read as an expansion or clarification of what God’s Kingdom is and what it means for disciples like us to enter it and speak about it to others.
Jesus is the first Kingdom-bearer. God’s government of peace, justice, joy, and love breaks through the heavens at his baptism and descends onto his person. And human history is torn apart and turned upside down again and again in everything he says and does.
“Gospel” means “good news”. Mark obeys Jesus’s call to shout the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom as he writes this gospel.
Ever since I read a book about “Preaching the Kingdom,” I’ve been passionate about communicating what God’s Kingdom looks like. I’ve tried to write sermons that can help you understand ways in which the kingdom is present in yours and my daily lives.
When the Bible talks about God’s Kingdom, it’s always in contrast to the kingdoms of this world. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Good news! The time is arriving when God, not the Romans, will be in charge.” So today, you and i can say, “Good news! God is beginning to rule society, not governments or corporations. Yours and my work is to recognize and talk about where we see that happening.
I’ve often said that you and I move in and out of the Kingdom every day. How can we tell when we’re in it? Several ways: the feeling of joy is an important way of knowing we’re in the Kingdom. A wise woman has said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Sometimes we experience peace, at other times tingles of excitement. A sense of lightness and freedom is another. And, love for everyone and everything is always a way of knowing we’re in the Kingdom. Father Richard Rohr says, “We live, move, and have our being in love.”
In our reading in mark today Jesus brings the Kingdom into a synagogue, and his listeners have another feeling: astonishment. Jesus teaches with both his words and his actions, astounding is listers. What’s astonishing is the way he speaks with authority. Listen to Mark 1:21 and 22 again:
…when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
Jesus speaks and acts with authority. His listeners don’t realize it, but they are having an experience of the Kingdom in his presence. Jesus is constantly in the Kingdom. That’s where his authority comes from. So, his listeners are astounded at the authority with which he speaks and acts.
They are so moved that they feel compelled to go out and speak about the experience they’ve just had, and Jesus is fame begins to spread. Those members of the synagogue must themselves have spoken with authority about what they saw and heard.
Here’s the question I’d like us to wrestle with this morning. What would it mean for you and I to speak with authority about our experiences of the Kingdom?

Last week the lectionary reading talked about Jesus calling his disciples. He needed help spreading the word about the coming of the Kingdom. Those humble fishermen were pretty ordinary. But after Christ’s resurrection those ordinary people began to speak with authority about their experiences of the Kingdom.
You and I, like the disciples come up are also called to speak with authority about those moments when we are in the Kingdom of God. When we describe our kingdom moments to others, we can speak authoritatively with divine power. Does that sound astounding? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
As you may know, last weekend Susie and I were in the Poconos for our annual winter reunion with two other couples with whom we have been friends since our days at Union Theological Seminary.
Sitting around the table after breakfast, our friend, J.Vik, told a story about an organization in his city of Arlington, Virginia. It’s an organization that collects food from all over – mostly from community gardens and unsold food from supermarkets. They collect enough to serve 2200 families a week at soup kitchens and pantries! — mostly done by volunteers!
The scale of this Arlington food assistance center is astounding. Our friend spoke with huge enthusiasm about their work. I heard what he was describing as an example of God’s Kingdom on earth — a love-filled, hunger-fighting, community-creating operation.
As I listened, I felt inspired and had an aha. This is exactly what I’m trying to communicate today! J.Vik was speaking with authority about an experience of the Kingdom.
At a Rotary meeting two weeks ago, another friend spoke enthusiastically about a recent Rotary trip to Uganda to furnish an intensive care unit in a local hospital. Since roads are poor, without this ICU it would take seriously ill people 4 to 5 hours to get to one in a larger city.

Speaking enthusiastically is the same as speaking with authority. “Enthusiasm” stems from the Greek words “en theos” which means possessed by a God. Our friend was speaking authoritatively about an experience of the Kingdom during that Rotary trip.
When have you experienced the Kingdom? When have you been in a joyful situation in which loved flowed? Perhaps you were volunteering or caring for a friend or neighbor. Perhaps you were moved by the music during worship. When you told family members or friends about it, did you speak enthusiastically? If so, you were speaking with authority about God’s Kingdom.
I’m saying this so that you will trust and talk about your experiences of being in the Kingdom and then talk about them. Your experiences of God’s Kingdom of peace, love, joy, and justice are significant! They are important! Others need to hear them!
When you tell people about your experiences of the Kingdom, you counter the pessimism and cynicism that are so prevalent today. So many people feel hopeless about our society.
I’m aware of muting my enthusiasm sometimes. I’m often afraid of being too out there or drawing too much attention to myself. Maybe some of you are like me, as well.
Having studied this passage in Mark, I’m intending to be bolder in expressing my enthusiasm. I will speak of experiences where I see the Kingdom with more authority. I wish the same for you.

Let us pray: Lord, help us understand that when we speak enthusiastically and authentically out of our experiences of being in the Kingdom, we speak with authority, and people feel moved. Thank you for the opportunities you give us to be disciples, opportunities to proclaim the arrival of your reign of love.