Home Sermons Sunday 31st January
January 31st, 2021
I will never forget that Saturday in Hamilton over 20 years ago.
Everything was ready for Sunday service apart from the final editing
of the sermon. I also had everything ready for the wedding I was
officiating at in the afternoon so I was feeling pretty pleased with
how my week had gone.
Arthur was on his way to Auckland for a flight to Wellington I realised
that my keys were missing. I looked in all the obvious and not so
obvious places but they were nowhere to be seen. Finally in
desperation I rang Arthur on his cellphone just in case he had seen
them. “No, definitely not,” he said …. Then “wait a minute, they’re
here in my pocket!” What on earth had possessed him to put my
clunky bunch of keys in his pocket! but there they were on the road
to Auckland. It wasn’t just my house and car keys – I had spares of
those – it was my office keys that were so vital. So eventually we
decided that he would leave them at the check-in counter at the
airport and that Liz and Andrew would go to Auckland and get them.
About an hour later I thought I would put everything together for the
wedding so I was ready in good time. I went to my filing cabinet to
get the marriage licence and the register sheets and they weren’t
there! I clearly remembered the bride had called in with them the
previous week and that I had taken them from her and put them in
my marriage file. But they weren’t there now!
Again I searched high and low – moving every piece of paper in my
study several times, and in the process getting rid of a lot of rubbish.
Then I wondered if I had taken them over to the church and put them
in the Marriage register – but no, they weren’t there. Maybe they
were in my office – but I couldn’t get into my office because the key
was on the keyring in Auckland! I finally got hold of someone who
had a spare key to the office but the necessary papers weren’t there.
What could I do? I had seen the licence so I knew the marriage
would be legal and I did have all the details in the Church’s register
book. So all I could do was to marry the couple and deal with the
rest of the paperwork later.
It was 2pm when Liz and Andrew arrived home. I told Liz what had
happened and she began to look for the papers as well and within 5
minutes she found them! What a relief!
It must have been quite a relief for the people of Moses time to know
that there would indeed be another prophet – another leader for
them – after Moses had gone. The prophet was a very important
figure in the religious life of the Hebrew people and it is quite clear
from the passage from Deuteronomy that the prophets were held
accountable to God. The prophets had profound authority and were
to be taken seriously and honoured by the people. As we know this
was not very often the case as they were more commonly
disregarded, ignored and treated with hostility!
The prophets were not fortune-tellers or predictors of the future, but
were those who had the gifts of being able to see things in new ways
and to talk about the consequences of present actions. However, it
was important that the prophets stayed within the Mosaic faith
claims and were witnesses to the God of the exodus, the covenant,
the commandments and the promises. There was always the
temptation for the prophets to tone down the demands and be
seduced by other gods who were less demanding than Yahweh.
Such a prophet would become a witness to idols and betray the faith
However, the people too, had a responsibility to listen to the
prophets and to heed their warnings. The nature of the faith
community was to host the prophetic voice however unpalatable it may have been. And the faith community also needs to be willing to
see things in a new light.
The gospel story is also about seeing things in a new way. It would
be easy to focus on the healing and faith aspects of this story, but I
would like for a moment to look at the reaction of the crowd?
“They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another
‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority – not like the
scribes! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey
him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the
surrounding region of Galilee.”
It is obvious that Jesus was accepted and recognised as a rabbi by
the people in the way that he was teaching in the synagogue and
they were amazed at the way he spoke with such authority. There
was a directness and self-authentication about his teaching that
contrasted with the reliance on quotation and precedent that
characterised the normal preaching of the times. Jesus spoke out of
his own convictions. There was no equivocation or ambiguity and
unlike John the Baptist he did not “point ahead” to someone else.
Then the unclean spirit bursts into the synagogue and confronts
Jesus with both a challenge – ‘have you come to destroy us?’ – and
a title – ‘the Holy One of God.”
As happens in many of the stories in Mark, it is the unclean spirits
and others who are outside the religious power structures who
recognise who Jesus is, while those who might be expected to know
Jesus do not. However, despite this display of knowledge on the
spirit’s part, it obeys Jesus and departs, but unlike what is usually
expected after such a healing, there is no demonstration of the
effectiveness of the cure. Instead Mark focuses on the reaction of
the crowd. This is something new. This man does indeed have
Perhaps in both our readings there is a reminder for us that we need
to be to be open to looking at things in a different way and to new
ways of being the church. Jesus’ example is of one who functioned
outside the traditional religious hierarchical structures. He did not
deny the faith but brought a new vision of what it could be when
stripped of all the unnecessary baggage that had weighed it down
We often continue to do things because this is the way they have
always been done, but I believe that it is important to stop and take a
look at what we are doing and begin to ask some hard questions.
Questions like why do we do this? Is there another way we could do
it that would be more effective? Is there a new thing we could be
doing to be more effective in our community? Are there ways of
tapping into resources outside our immediate group to enable us to
There is a continuing need to find ways to reframe the gospel
message so that it is readily understood by the society in which we
live. Reframing doesn’t mean that the gospel is changed or
watered down. It simply means looking at it from a different angle or
in a different light. The frame we put around a painting or a
photograph makes an enormous difference as to how the picture is
seen, and it is the same with the gospel message.
Over the last hundred years a number of new ways of looking at our
theology have emerged, all of which have shed new light on the
gospel. There has been liberation theology that grew out of the
exploitation of the poor, particularly in South America. Feminist
theology that arose with the women’s movement has reminded us of
the faith of women through the last 2000 years. Each of these has
enriched and re-directed aspects of Christian thinking. None has the whole picture but each offers a new perspective – a new window,
through which we can look at the gospel message.
Different ways of understanding the universe are also forcing
theologians into discovering new ways of talking about God which
will have a more immediate impact on contemporary ways of
I believe that we are always being called upon to find different ways
of being the people of God. I am not suggesting that we throw out all
that we hold dear from our traditions or our own particular history.
What I am suggesting is that we need to try to look at what we are
doing with new eyes.
That Saturday in Hamilton I couldn’t find what I was looking for even
although I knew it was there to be found. I couldn’t see for looking.
It took someone else with a fresh approach to find what I couldn’t
find. The people in the gospel story saw new things happening in a
place where tradition and rules took priority and they were excited
and energised by it. How can we reframe what we are doing and
saying so that others too may become excited by it? Let us be still.
God you are mysterious, inscrutable, baffling,
So far beyond our limited human perceptions
That we cannot describe you with any finality nor with any
We struggle, we grapple, we wrestle with words, but our words are
And in the end we must just be.
But in our struggling we glimpse truths that hold us tightly;
In our wrestling we discover facts we bet our lives on;
And in our searching we sense realities that are beyond us yet within
Encompass us constantly, we pray,
Surround us in our strengths and in our frailties.
Keep pushing us onward in our pilgrimage of faith even when it hurts
or upsets us, for in the end, in you, life is eternal. Amen.