A Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy (18:15-20)
Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’”
PSALM 80: 111
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (8:1-13)
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him. Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (1:21-28)
Jesus and his disciples went into Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
It is interesting to see how our pre-conceived notions color the meaning of the things that we see or hear. Sometimes, we read into events what we expect or want to find there.
In the current series of political primaries and caucuses, for example, the various candidates each provide a different spin on each state’s outcome. The one who comes out on top, no matter how slim the margin may be, cheerfully announces that the people support him and his vision for the country. Those who haven’t done quite so well reflect that they just didn’t get their message out — not that the voters did get their message but actually preferred some other candidate’s message; and they go on to declare that their second- or third-place finish shows that they are rising in the competition and will ultimately be the party’s choice. Each sees what he wants to see — and each hopes to get us to buy into that interpretation as well.
We do the same sort of thing in many other areas of life. Even when we look at stories in the gospels, we sometimes find there what we expect to find. At one time, for example, people’s reading of the gospels focused on Jesus’ signs or miracles, and at least some Christians tried to use them to somehow “prove” Jesus’ divinity. Several editions of the Bible that I have consulted entitle today’s reading “A Healing of a Demoniac” or “A Healing of a Man with an Unclean Spirit.” Their emphasis is on the miracle or sign.
But a closer look shows that Mark’s focus is not on the healing but on Jesus’ teaching about the coming of the kingdom of God; and the healing is portrayed as a part of that teaching. All through the story, the teaching is primary. The passage starts by noting that, on the Sabbath, “Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.” The people are astounded at his teaching because he taught with authority. It is during that teaching that the man with the unclean spirit comes in and Jesus heals him. And the people, Mark tells us, are amazed and begin to ask one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority!” Clearly, Jesus’ work of healing this man was a part of his teaching, part of his proclamation of the gospel, part of his assertion that the kingdom of God was breaking into the world.
Over and over again throughout the gospels, Jesus brings healing in all its forms. He heals those who are physically sick as well as people like this man, whom we would probably refer to as being mentally ill. He feeds the hungry. He reaches out to those who, for one reason or another, have become separated from the rest of the society. He repeatedly addresses the various down-to-earth needs of the people whom he encounters. And Mark sees all these works as an integral part of Jesus’ teaching ministry: as part of his God-given work of proclaiming the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
There have been times in the church’s history, and there are places in the church today, in which people insist that our work in the world is a purely spiritual one: that the church’s work is one of caring for people’s souls, not their earthly needs. They see the church’s Outreach or Service ministries as being good things to do, nice add-ons, but certainly not works that are integral to our mission. Our primary concern is for another world, not this one.
The problem for Christians who take this approach is the fact that Jesus himself did not work just to save people’s souls. Jesus worked to save people. He brought to those whom he met the life and healing of God, addressing their needs as full and complete human beings. And he sent his followers to do the same.
Works addressing the needs of the hungry, the uneducated, the homeless, the physically sick, the mentally and emotionally ill, and so on are not mere additions to the church’s teaching ministry. They are part of the church’s teaching ministry just as they were part of Jesus’ teaching ministry. They are part of our mission, carrying on Jesus’ own work, of proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God and of working to make that kingdom a reality in this world.
In our baptismal promises, we solemnly vowed “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” and “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” In other words, we promised to do what Jesus did: proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God in our actions as well as in our words.
St. Francis of Assisi framed it in a classic statement when he urged his followers: “Preach the gospel at all times; and, when necessary, use words.” Our actions in living the gospel and serving the needs of the world in God’s name are an integral part of our mission to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.
As we gather today for our Annual Parish Meeting, we take this occasion to look back on the wonderful work that this parish has done throughout its history in caring for those in need in the community and world in which we live. We look as well at the various ministries in which we are currently involved: seeking to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, educate and support the children, and care for the elderly. And we look for ways to involve even more members of this parish in at least one of those direct, hands-on ministries; because the work of the gospel is not one that can be contracted-out to others. Rather it is a work entrusted to each and every one of us who has been baptized into Christ.
Our work of healing God’s people and healing God’s world is not something that is separate from our proclamation of the Good News of God in Christ any more than Jesus’ works of healing were separate from his proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God. They are instead an integral part of that proclamation. And it is in his name that we rededicate ourselves to the work that God has set before us: to proclaim, both by our words and by our actions, the goodness and universal love of the God who has given to all the world the gift of new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.