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Sermon (3) and Liturgy For The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28
"He Commands Even The Unclean Spirits"


READING:  Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28
SERMON :  "He Commands Even The Unclean Spirits"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or04su 867000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   
   The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Invocation are based on 
   materials by Peter K. Perry; and the Prayers of the People, the 
   Dedication and the Benediction are based on materials by John
   Maynard, all as sent to the PRCL-List on January 25, 2000 for
   Epiphany 4B.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP 
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  God comes into a world filled with uncertainties and darkness.  
P  God seeks out the voids of belief and conviction.  
L  God embraces the wounded and broken.  
P  God knocks down the walls of division and strife.
L  God is the candle shining in the darkness of our days.
P  God is the light of our lives.
L  God is the one who makes all things new. 
P  Praise be to God, now and forevermore!


* PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, whose touch can heal the broken places of life, touch us
today...  God of peace, whose spirit of peace can quiet our spirits of
confusion and despair, reassure us today...   Forgiving God, whose call to
repentance promises grace upon grace, place your mercy in our souls
today...  You who heal the sick and liberate the imprisoned, who bring
justice in the midst of oppression and strength in the midst of weakness,
pour out your spirit of power upon us today. Open our hearts to new
faithfulness, redirect our waywardness, and hold us gently in your
goodness.  We confess our need to you, and we turn to you with hearts
filled with hope, remembering the promises you have made to us.  May your
name be glorified in us and through us.  We ask it through Christ Jesus,
your only begotten son, he who is our Lord and our Saviour, our brother and
our friend.  Amen


* HYMN:  "Spirit of The Living God" (verse 1, 2, 1)                - VU 376


CHILDREN'S TIME:  Power, Authority and Love
Object:   Rock, Scissors, Paper
Theme:    Love is The Strongest
Source:   Self and Harold Uhl: Object Lesson From Gospel of Mark

How many of you know how to play the game "Rock, Scissors and Paper"?  Rock
is strong (fist) so it can break scissors (two fingers) and scissors can
cut paper (flat hand).  Paper can cover rock.  The way you play is to put
your fist in the palm of your hand and as a person counts to three you
bring your fist down three times into your hand.- on the third count you
make rock, paper or scissors.  Since each one is stronger than something
else you know who wins.  Lets do it..

Oh - The winner gets to slap the wrist of the other person.  Lets do it
again...

This is a game and it can hurt after a while.  That is because the stronger
person can hurt the weaker one.  He is given authority by the rules of the
game to do what he wants.  But every time you play someone new wins -
someone new is given the authority.  That is like life - some people have
authority and power over others - and they use it to do what they want. 
Sometimes what they want to do isn't nice - like in the game.

Jesus shows us that he is stronger than anyone today in the today's gospel
reading.  He shows that he has power over evil - that his love - that God's
love can defeat the worst enemy.  The wonderful thing is that Jesus uses
his power and authority to help others instead of to hurt them.  Instead of
slapping us - he heals people.  Instead of taking what he wants, he gives
us what we need.  Instead of telling people to kneel at his feet and to
wash them, he stoops down  and cleans our feet.   Jesus is the strongest
and the best.  When we follow him, his power and authority do good things
for us and through us.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
   Dear Lord God - we thank you for giving Jesus power and authority -
   we thank you that his power - is always for the good - and  that he
   always helps us - that he never hurts us.   - Help us follow him -
   and to use his power - to help others. -  Amen

   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but
   deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN:  "How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds"                      - VU 344


TIME FOR SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Welcome and Announcements     
- Birthdays and Anniversaries      
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


TIME OF SILENCE & AN INTROIT FOR THE WORD  (verse 2 - VU 371)
  Open my ears that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear
  and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see.
  Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!


A READING FROM DEUTERONOMY 18:15-20
   (NRSV)  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."

L  This is the Word of The Lord.     
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 111 (Voices United 833) & Gloria Patri (sung)

   Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
   As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  
   World without end.  Amen
 

A READING FROM MARK 1:21-28
   (NRSV)  They went to 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.

L  This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


* HYMN:  "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"                        - VU 326


SERMON:  "He Commands Even The Unclean Spirits" 

   Bless now, O God, the words of my lips and the meditations of our
   hearts, and when we go from this place - help us to continue to hear
   and to see, and to do and be - all that you would have us hear and
   see and do and be.  We ask it in the name of the blessed one - Jesus
   Christ our Lord.  Amen

"And on the next Sabbath he went into the synagogue and started teaching. 
Everyone was amazed at his teaching. for he taught as one with authority
and not like the teachers of the Law of Moses."

This past week, in considering the idea that Jesus taught as one who had
authority, and not like the scribes, I remembered an old story about a
gathering in which  a noted actor was called upon to give an oration.  

   He stood, cleared his throat, and recited the 23rd Psalm, with
   perfect dramatization, inflection, and so on.  When he finished, the
   room was filed with applause.   

   Then, an elderly priest stepped forward, and proceeded to recite the
   same  words.  When he finished, there was not a sound in the room. 
   But nearly  every eye was filled with tears. 
 
   Someone asked the actor what the difference had been.  "Well, you
   see," he  said, "There's no doubt that I know the 23rd Psalm
   backwards and forwards.  But the Padre here, well, he knows the
   Shepherd." 

The Gospel today says that the people were amazed because Jesus taught with
authority and that he commanded even the unclean spirits.

The word for "authority" that is used twice in the Gospel text today is the 
Greek word "exousia" - - which literally translated means "out of being".  

An author is someone who speaks out of his/her own being. 

As with the priest in the story, Jesus spoke out of His being - out of who
He was - out of where he came from.

People could sense that, and they were drawn to him on account of it.
In him they saw something different than they saw in the scribes and
teachers of the law.

The scribes and teachers of the law interpreted the law of God for the
people of God.  Appealing to the teachings of the most respected scribes
and teachers before them they told the people what the scriptures said
about how they should live and what they should believe.  They were good at
it - they got it right.  On one occasion Jesus told his followers that they
should listen to them "for they have the seat of Moses".
  
But somehow the reality of the word they taught was not part of them in way
it was with Jesus.  It did not arise out of their own being in the same
way.

Jesus, as we see in the story of his temptations in the wilderness, lived
the word of God, he applied it to his own life  - even when it was hard to
do so.  He was fully focussed on doing what God wanted of him and did it. 
When he spoke the truth it was his truth as well as his Father's, and this
communicated itself to others. 

The people were amazed because Jesus taught with authority.

They were impressed by how he taught and what he taught 
- they were awed, in fact, by his very person,

But, they were then even more amazed, more impressed, when the man with the
demon entered the synagogue and this demon, this unclean spirit within the
man, recognized the authority of Jesus, and cried out, and then Jesus, by
the simple command  "be quiet and come out" cast the demon out of the man.

Are there demons in our church?  
In our lives?  
Are there even such things as demons?

I am a product of this 20th century scientific world view.  I believe there
is an explanation for almost everything and that empirical research is one
of the best ways to study and understand our world.  My undergraduate
degree is in History and Philosophy.  One of my areas of interest is
Quantum Mechanics.  Yet I believe in demons! 

I believe in demons because of the empirical evidence.  

Think about it.

In ancient societies people avoided darkness and protected their homes
against demons.  They put special markings on their doorposts, at special
times they put jack-o-lanterns on their stoops and kept themselves hidden
away in their homes during the witching hour.

Today people avoid dark places and protect their homes against crime and
random violence.  They put signs in their windows saying that they are
protected by alarms.  They put motion lights up.  They remain at home when
groups of young people are roaming about on the streets.

The results today are the same as the results so long ago: People are bound
by a type of fear, even terror, that robs them of a good quality of life.   

In ancient societies it was believed that people were possessed by demons
that took over their lives and made of them a living hell.  Today people
are possessed by lusts and addictions that have the same result - something
else controls them and makes their lives unmanageable - unbearable -
unpleasant in the extreme.

The evidence seems irrefutable to me.  Forces of evil exist.
Some of these forces of evil are social in nature
and some of them are personal.

My friends, there are evil powers that can and often do take over people's
lives.  Not just the demons that modern psychology tells us about - the
fears, anxieties and appetites that crouch in the dark places of people's
hearts and minds and control them until we shine the light of day upon
them, but also the spiritual powers that take over a person's soul when the
door is left open to them - those powers that often have ancient names, if
they have names at all.

I have felt their presence -seen their presence in others.

They are not simply the demonic forces that we give into that cause racial
violence and domestic abuse. 
   
They are not simply the tempters that entice people to throw their lives
away for money, or sex or drugs.  

They are the Spirit Guides that people consult to determine what they
should do next; they are the forces that have personalities of their own -
and that people allow to rule their lives as they play with Ouji Boards and
practice "Automatic Writing" and turn to the Stars to see what they should
expect to happen next and who they might look out for and what activities
they should engage in.

There are "real" demons - demons that are the source of the darkness and
confusion that seems emanate from certain folk and cause you to just want
to back away from them and avoid them - or to pray over them with someone
that has a good understanding of the powers of both good and evil.
 
But the existence of demons is not what our gospel reading today is about,
whether those demons be forces of unwellness that we think we understand
or the more mysterious forces that I have mentioned.

The real issue in today's reading is the authority of Christ
   his authority in teaching
       and his authority over the demons, over the forces, 
that bind and control people and make their lives unwell.

The reading opened with the people being astounded at the way Jesus
teaches, for he doesn't teach like the scribes - like those who were always
saying "Rabbi so and so said this," or "The prophets said that", but rather
he simply proclaims the word of God from inside himself.  Jesus says what
he says as if his word should be enough.

From other passages in the Gospels we know that some people were offended
by his way of teaching, by his person, "Who does this carpenter think he is
and what is he doing?"  

The demon in today's reading answers that question when it cries 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."

Jesus is the Holy One of God.  
That is why he can speak with such authority 
  his words and God's word are one.
.
But more - and here is the real point of today's gospel reading:
Jesus has the power and authority to banish evil from our lives!  

Imagine, if you will, the forces of evil gathered before us.  

There is Violent Crime making people cower for fear behind bolted doors. 
There is Drug Addiction dragging her victims around in chains.  
Here is Teen Pregnancy enticing would be victims.  
Tere is Domestic Violence abusing those closest to him.  
And here are Racism, Materialism, Me-ism, 
- and all the other demonic forces that invade our lives. 
Scary bunch aren't they? 

Maybe if we close our eyes they will go away... (close and cover eyes for a
few seconds)  No, that doesn't work.  They are too real to just ignore.  

Maybe we can run from them? 

But that won't work either.  
Escapism is waiting to take us if we try. 

The simple truth is that we can't defeat the evils or the demons around us
and within us by ourselves. 

That is the message of all those proverbs we like to quote,
you know the ones - the ones that tell us that there is no hope:
  ones like: 

   "a leopard can't change his spots" 
   " you can't teach an old dog new tricks"

And that is the message of all the 12 step programs - which say first off:  

   "Our lives are out of control" 
   "We are powerless over alcohol"
   ... or drugs, or  sex, and so on and so forth"

And then, secondly - and this is the key to recovery -
that there is a higher power who is fully able to help us.

The Scriptures are far older than the 12 Step Program
but their message is the same.

We don't have the strength or ability to defeat the social and spiritual
evils around us and within us - we are powerless over the demons that
afflict us.  

But THE higher power is fully able to help us.  
And that Power is found in Jesus.  Jesus can help!  
He came to destroy evil, and evil knows it.  
Because of his arrival, it's doom is sure. 
Christ has the authority and power to tell evil where to go. 

The message this has for our lives is two-fold.

First it means that we can be set free.  

As we yield ourselves to the Holy One of God the holy one of God can banish
from our lives those things that afflict us.

For some it is immediate - the bondage they experience is utterly and
completely removed - for others it is one day at time process - until lo
and behold - when we look back we see that we are new creatures, that our
lives are now filled with light rather than with darkness.

The second thing it means is that we can play a part in casting out the
evil that exists in the world around us - that when we get with the
program, when we get with Jesus, then Jesus is able to help us help others,
that his authority becomes our authority.

The Apostle Paul tells us in the sixth chapter of Ephesians that 

   "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against
   the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of
   this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the
   heavenly places."

We should not be too quick to downplay the continuing reality of spiritual
warfare and the need for spiritual healing in our own lives and in the
lives of those around us.  

The more we are inclined to 'down-play' the reality of an evil over which
we have no control, the more we distant ourselves from the Spiritual force
that is able to set us free from that evil. 

Jesus has the authority to teach and to heal, 
the power to cast out demons 
and to grant new life to those will receive it.

And Jesus gives those who follow him 
- and who believe in him and trust in him  - that authority.

In the Gospel According To Mark it says this about the first disciples of
Jesus:

   "And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with
   him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have
   authority to cast out demons."  --Mark 3:14-15  

And they did.  They went out and they proclaimed his message, and they were
able to cast out demons, to heal people, through his name, both before
Jesus died and after he was raised from the dead.

In the Gospel According to John, 
Jesus says this to his disciples - and to us here today,
we who gather because we have been touched in some way by Him:

   "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the
   works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,
   because I am going to the Father".  John 14:12

Christ grants to us his authority as we walk with him day by day.

As we, like the old priest in the story at the beginning of this sermon,
enter into a relationship with the shepherd - he empowers us to speak and
act - as he himself spoke and acted.

As we diminish - he increases in us.
As we let go of our own understanding - his truth grows in us
As we acknowledge our weakness - his power is magnified in us.
As we follow him - his life giving word is able to go forth from us,
and as he was able to expose and cast out the unclean spirits,
so we too will be ones who bring healing to and wholeness to the world..

Blessed be the name of God, day by day.  Amen



PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE   (Singing #400 at the start and end of the prayer
time.  Our prayer response to "Lord, hear our Prayer" is "And in Your Love
Answer")
               
       Lord, listen to your children praying,
       Lord, send your Spirit in this place;
       Lord, listen to your children praying,
       send us love, send us power, send us grace!


O God, you know that we cannot withstand the dangers that surround us on
our own.  Strengthen us in body and spirit so that, with your help, we may
be able to overcome the weakness that sin has brought upon us... Lord hear
our prayer...

Lord God, You showed Your glory and led many to faith by the works of Your
Son.  As He brought gladness and healing to people, grant us these same
gifts and lead us to an ever more perfect faith in Him...  Lord hear our
prayer....

We bless you O Lord for your power and authority - for your authority to
not only teach - but to cast out the evil that haunts human life.  We pray
that we and all the people might acknowledge their spiritual need and turn
to you day by day.  Grant that as we walk with you that we might be
instruments of your grace - men and women who have your authority and are
able to do your works....  Lord hear our prayer...

Father, we pray today for those who are burdened and afflicted - grace them
with the comfort and healing power of your Spirit and help us to minister
to them with the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.  We pray especially for ...
(Bidding Prayer) ... Lord, hear our Prayer 

We ask all these things in the name of Jesus.  Amen


MINUTE FOR MISSION


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   Loving God - you are never far from us, you are as close as our
   breathing.  We recognize you as the one who heals the wounded spirit
   and gives new life to the broken hearted.  We offer these gifts to
   You, O God, as a sign of our commitment to Your grace and authority. 
   Take us and use us and all that we have, so that the Kingdom of
   Heaven will be realised on earth; through Christ our Lord.  Amen 


* DEPARTING HYMN:  "God, Whose Almighty Word"                      - VU 313


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.


* BENEDICTION
Go in peace - love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may God's Word direct your every step; 
- God's Spirit give power to your every act, 
- and God's Love sustain you and protect you from all danger,
and keep you forever in his tender and joyful care.  Amen


* THREE FOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"            - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2003 - 2006
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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