Sermon – St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut – Informal Inuktitut-Speaking Service
by Rebecca Osborn
Sunday, February 1st, 2015, 7:00 pm
Reading: Mark 1:21-28
I would like to begin by thanking you for having me here. Everyone has been very welcoming to our family. Thank you Jonas for asking me to speak this evening. Your welcome has been very gracious, because we are so new to your land, your ways, your lives. In that way, I stand before you as a little child, waiting to be taught. I am humbled to be standing up here preaching to you. But I take courage, because I know Jesus loves you, and so I trust Jesus has something to say to you today, and he has the power to do it.
In fact, that is what I will be speaking about today: how the authority of Jesus gives us courage in the face of fear.
The psalm for today is psalm 111, a psalm praising God for his character. It concludes with these words in v. 10:
Psalm 111:10: “The fear of the LORD Is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. These words might not make sense at the start. The whole psalm has just described how trustworthy and true God is. Are we then to be afraid of God?
Perhaps, we think, that was the Old testament. We know that in Jesus, our sin was taken away. Does that mean we do not have to fear God any more? Not at all!
In fact, it is in Jesus, that the God whom we are wise to fear, is shown to us most perfectly.
Indeed, that is the Jesus we meet in Mark 1:21-28. In this dramatic passage at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus walks into a synagogue and shows us a God worth fearing. Everyone that morning in the synagogue met God in a new way, and through the Scripture we meet him too.
Jesus and his disciples entered a new city, Capernaum, and Mark says that immediately, they go to the synagogue on the sabbath. The synagogue was a place of teaching, for passing on the faith in a community. But there was no one person who was dedicated to teaching; every week any competent person could be called on to preach. In this way, Jesus could sweep in, immediately, and start preaching his message.
But Jesus was not just any preacher. Mark says that Jesus preached not like the scribes and teachers the people were used to hearing, but with authority. What does this mean?
When a scribe preached, his sermon was full of references to other authorities, to other interpreters of scripture. It would have been like listening to a research paper, because he was completely dependent on other sources for authority. We know that these sermons could be sometimes confusing or unclear.
Jesus was different. He spoke with authority in himself, with independence, quoting no other sources or experts. He spoke with finality, as if with the voice of God.
This is because Jesus is the voice of God. He is the word, the expression of God, made into a human. When God speaks, it sounds like Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
When the people heard this, it was like nothing they had ever heard before. They were astonished. The Greek word for astonished means “struck out of themselves,” so surprised and amazed that they barely had command of themselves. Have you ever been shocked like that?
But then, Jesus’ authority was driven home even more fully by what happened next. Immediately, in the midst of his teaching, a man was there with an unclean spirit. This man was possessed, out of control, and he starts raving and creating a great disruption in the service.
This was no mere madness, though. There was a demon in control of this man, and that demon knew exactly who Jesus was, though no one else had guessed it yet. The demon knew that this is the Holy One of God – the messiah – and the demon knows that when the final judgment comes, he will be doomed. So he demands of Jesus, raging and despairing, do you come to destroy us? Is this the end?
Now, for the ancient Jews, demon possession was an accepted part of life. Where I am from, the enemy is more hidden, and many people don’t know what to think about demons. Perhaps some of you are more like the Jews, and know that this sort of thing is real.
The Jews knew about demons and would make use of magical rites to try to cast them out. They would use elaborate incantations and spells, that sort of thing.
But Jesus, again, shows that he is different. He has authority not in words or rites or incantations. He has authority in himself. He says to the demon, “Be still, and get out!” That’s it! And with a loud shriek, the demon is gone!
Again, Mark says the people were amazed to see this. But it is a different greek word: they were not just shocked; they were terrified. What is this? They asked themselves? They had met God, and he was a God worth fearing.
What does this mean for us?
We still live in a world full of terrors and fears. 1 Peter 5:8 tell us that we must still “be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Perhaps you do not struggle with the fear of spiritual darkness, but other things. Perhaps you are afraid of being out of work, afraid that you do not have a future. Perhaps you are afraid of failure, or of being alone. Perhaps you are afraid for your health, or the health of your family. How do we live in a world so full of fear?
We can live in such a world by first fearing the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All other powers tremble before him. Demons are as nothing before him.
We fear, but we do not live in fear. We do not need to be afraid. Why? Because if we are in Christ, if we belong to him, the God worth fearing is on our side, so we need fear nothing else.
Martin Luther was a great German theologian. And he struggled with fear of demons. He was afraid at night, when demons kept him from sleeping. This is why he wrote that great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” from Psalm 46. [305 in Inuktitut hymnal.] When he felt afraid at night, he would sing that song to frighten away the demons and strengthen his heart.
We do not need to be afraid if we belong to God, if we have been born again by water and the spirit. In baptism, we hear the words, “you are marked as Christ’s own forever.” Baptism is not a magical rite; we are linked to God by grace alone through faith alone. But baptism is a moment God gives us to remember when we are afraid, because we hear Jesus calling us his own, and Jesus does not lie.
If you do not yet belong to Jesus as your Lord, I commend to you to give your life to him. He is holy, and he is good. Put your faith in him.
Martin Luther said once that baptism is like a great boat. You can jump out of it, but you can’t wreck it. We are faithless, but he is faithful. We are weak, but he is strong. We can run away from him, but we cannot outrun him. There is much to fear in this world, but we belong to the God whom the devil fears, who makes the demons tremble. So we learn to fear the Lord Jesus, and so learn to walk in this world with wisdom, because we are free from all other fears.
I would like to conclude by reading Psalm 111 as a prayer.
1 Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown the people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!