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.’”
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
For the Episcopal Church – as for the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and certain other churches – the liturgical year is color-coded. The vestments and hangings that we use at worship reflect the season. For these Sundays after the Epiphany, that color is green, which is why I wore a green chasuble and stole last week and will again next Sunday.
But today, instead of green vestments, I chose to wear my white, baptismal stole. I received it as a gift from one of our Sunday School, or Religious Education, classes about 12 years ago. They decorated it with a variety of baptismal symbols. Among our students at that time were Lauren and Justin Rubino.
Little could Lauren have imagined, at that time, that the stole which they were giving me would one day be used at the baptism of her own child. And yet, that is both very appropriate and very much in keeping with the nature of our life of faith, because our life in Christ looks, not just to the present, but even more so to the future: to God’s future. And we are called and commissioned in baptism to be co-creators of that future with God.
In today‘s gospel reading, St. Mark tells us of Jesus’ first work after the call of his first four disciples. He comes into his adopted hometown of Capernaum and immediately is confronted by a man suffering terribly. At that time, suffering of all kinds – physical, mental, emotional — was attributed to unclean spirits or demons. This particular demon has so taken over the life of this poor man that it speaks through him. And the demon asks Jesus directly a key question on behalf of all unclean spirits, on behalf of all forms of human suffering: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” In the context of Mark’s gospel, that query is, in fact, a rhetorical question. And the simple answer is “Yes.” Yes, Jesus has come to destroy all of these so-called “demons.” Yes, Jesus has come to destroy all forms and sources of human suffering and death. Yes, Jesus has come to set all people free for the fullness of life which is God’s will for all people.
And in baptism, God calls us, God cleanses us, God anoints us, God commissions us to be one with Jesus and to work along with Jesus in that greatest of all struggles: the struggle to destroy suffering and death in all its forms. That is what Lauren and Paul, and Paul Jr’s god-parents, and all of us will be promising here in just a few minutes. We will be solemnly promising to dedicate our lives to destroying “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” And, with the help of God’s Spirit, we will be promising to dedicate our lives to working toward “justice and peace” and respecting “the dignity of every human being.”
Carrying on that task and completing that task is obviously not something that is ever going to happen very quickly. It is a lifelong struggle. More than that, it is a struggle that transcends generations and is one that will continue far beyond the lifetime of all of us put together. As the great American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, put it: “Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”
And it is that hope that requires us to focus our attention, not on the present and on its immediate rewards, but on the future and on what God might be accomplishing through us in the long term for the sake of those who are to come after us. And it is our immersion into that great work of God that enables us to find meaning in our lives as followers of Jesus.
Several weeks ago, David Brooks published a column in which he contrasted the quest for happiness with the quest for meaning. He put it this way: “A meaningful life is more satisfying than a merely happy life. Happiness is about enjoying the present; meaning is about dedicating oneself to the future. Happiness is about upbeat moods and nice experiences. People leading meaningful lives experience a deeper sense of satisfaction.” He then went on to describe that meaningful life as one in which we dedicate ourselves to working for the greater good, based on “eternally true standards of justice and injustice.” The comparison that he makes between mere happiness, on the one hand, and genuine meaning in life, on the other, seems very similar to the contrast between what often passes for peace, on the one hand, and that “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7), on the other.
The latter in each of those two sets of terms — a genuinely meaningful life and the peace of God — come, not from a search for contentment or happiness or from a search to avoid problems and suffering for ourselves, but only from immersing our lives in God’s work of overcoming suffering and death in all its forms, in God’s work of enabling all people to experience the fullness of life, which is God’s greatest gift.
And as we engage the world around us in God’s name, we, like Jesus, will find ourselves confronting a legion of unclean spirits, or demons: poverty, hunger, homelessness, physical, mental and emotional suffering, lack of adequate health care, lack of education, lack of decent jobs, bigotry, loneliness, hopelessness, and so many more. And if they could speak, those demons would ask us, who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the same question that the demon once asked of Jesus himself long ago: “What have you to do with us, people baptized into Christ? Have you come to destroy us?” And, if we are faithful to our calling, our simple answer will be “Yes. Yes, that is exactly what we have come to do. We have come to destroy all that degrades and devalues that image of God in all people: that image in which we were all created. And we come to help raise up all people to the fullness of life which is God’s greatest gift to us all: to raise up all people to the glory of God reflected in the face of Jesus Christ.”