February 1, 2009
A Sermon preached at the Installation of Dr. Kent Lewis as Licensed Lay Minister at Christ Lutheran Church, Shelbyville, TN.
Texts: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20, I Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
Title: As One Having Authority
As a preacher and theologian with excellent academic credentials, I always get my sermon material from the best and most prestigious sources; in this case my fuzzy memory of seeing former President Jimmy Carter on the David Letterman show about 15 years ago.
As I recall, President Carter told a story of going to Japan to deliver a speech. He does not speak Japanese, so he had an interpreter. President Carter told what he considered a somewhat lame little joke. The translator translated and everyone laughed uproariously. Carter was surprised and pleased.
Afterwards, at the reception, he told a friend, a Baptist missionary who spoke Japanese, that he was not expecting the crowd to really understand the joke. The friend told Carter they didn't, the interpreter didn't even try, he just said, "President Carter has told a very funny story. Everyone should laugh."
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus begins his ministry by teaching in the Synagogue, and his teaching was met by astonishment. Their surprise was not at what he taught, but the authority with which he taught it. "For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
The scribes taught like translators, interpreters. Instead of saying "This is what God says," the scribes said, "This is what God means and this is how you should respond!"
We have gathered here this afternoon to install Dr. Kent Lewis into a position of authority in the community of faith. His title in this service and in the records of the Synod and the ELCA is Licensed Lay Minister, but within this church and this community, he functions as your Pastor, empowered by the Bishop to Baptize and Celebrate Holy Communion, to Marry and Bury, to Preach and Teach the Word of God in your midst.
He is called here, not as an interpreter, a translator, a scribe. He is called into your midst, "as one having authority."
And, he is called into your midst to lead this congregation in its calling to live out the Gospel in the world, which is an increasingly anti-Gospel place.
Each of our lessons deals with issues of a community of faith living faithfully in a world that is full of evil influences.
The entire book of Deuteronomy is presented to us as Moses' farewell sermon to the Israelites before they cross over Jordan into the Promised Land. It deals with two issues.
1) Moses is not being permitted to go into the Promised Land. Who will tell us about God when Moses is with us no more? Moses shares with them the promise that God will provide a prophet. "Your God will raise up for you a prophet like me, from among your own people.",
2) In words that are very harsh to modern ears, about not listening to false prophets, and about false prophets dying; the text calls the Israelites to separation. It is important to note that the Israelites were going among the Canaanites who practiced divinisation and child-sacrifice. The concern was about giving in to the spirit of the age.
The Lesson from I Corinthians about "food offered to idols" is another cultural stumbling block.. It seems to have nothing to do with us. The important thing for us today is to recognize that just as the Christians in Corinth lived in a culture that had values very different from those of the Christian Community, so do we. And in the midst of that culture, we look for a "word from the Lord, " to help us steer a Christian course, as individuals and as a community.
Our Gospel lesson from Mark draws these concerns about the world and about authoritative teaching together. We've already talked about how the people were astonished that Jesus taught with authority. The text goes on to show Jesus acting with authority to confront evil, even in the household of faith.
I am fascinated by the line, "there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit." I'm just wondering, was he a first time visitor, or was he on the church council?
Too often in the church, we identify the evil as out there and the good as in here.
The great Russian novelist and ardent Orthodox Christian Alexander Solzhenitzen said something to the effect that, "the line between good and evil does not go between countries or empires or religions or political systems. The line between good and evil goes right down the middle of every human heart."
Dr. Kent Lewis has been appointed by the Bishop and called by the congregation to speak as one with authority to the good and evil in the church, in the world, in each of our hearts.
He brings to that task a wealth of learning, experience and wisdom. Time as a parish priest, years of counseling, work on staff at Trinity Lutheran in Tullahoma, an earned Doctorate in Ministry from Vanderbilt. All these things add weight to his "authority."
But the core of his authority comes from this, the Word of God and his commitment to proclaim that Word to this church and in this community.
And Dr. Lewis be warned, folk often resist the Word, just as did the man with the unclean spirit. At times each and every one of us would rather not hear it.
An old friend of mine, Pr. Glenn Zorb, was pastor of Haven Lutheran Church in Salisbury, NC. He once preached a sermon series called, "Things I wish Jesus had never said."
Like the man with the unclean spirit, we sometimes wish the holy would leave us alone to live lives of selfishness, materialism and devotion to the pleasures of the flesh.
But, as the demons in our story recognized; Jesus, the Living Word of God, has come to us on a Mission of destruction, with an agenda of anarchy.
The Word comes to tear down the walls of separation that keep us apart.
The Word comes to break the chains that keep us in bondage to badness.
The Word comes to wipe out the diseases of the soul that keep us from knowing God's love and from loving one another.
Yes, the Living Word which is the Christ comes to destroy, but he came to destroy in order to rebuild, reconstruct, recreate, remake us in the image of Christ.
Dr. Lewis is called into this community with the authority to proclaim and serve that all powerful Living Word of God. This Community is called to Hear the Word and to Live the Word and to Spread the Word in the World.
I ask you today, Dr. Lewis, are you ready to take this authority? And I ask you today, Christ Lutheran Church, are you ready to respond?
Amen and amen