On Sunday February 1st I led worship at Harlow Hill Chapel. It was a very cold morning but fortunately there was no more snow. I was glad I could warm up by the radiator when I got there. Brian had come to see me on the previous Tuesday to discuss the service as he is a worship leader. He is always a great help. We began worship by reading Psalm 111 responsively, as the call to worship, before we sang, ‘My God how wonderful thou art.’ After leading the opening prayers I gave a short talk on the subject of authority. We then sang, ‘There is a redeemer, Jesus, God’s own Son’ before we heard Deuteronomy 18v15-20. We then did a dramatised reading based on Mark 1v21-28 before we sang, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, You have come to us.’
In the sermon I described how Jesus had come to Capernaum and gone to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As there were no permanent teacher in the synagogue, competent people would be invited to give the address and Jesus was called upon to speak. The people were impressed by his authority when he spoke. The scribes would always quote from past authorities but Jesus just spoke on his own authority. Whilst he was in the midst of his expounding of scripture a disturbed man with an evil spirit came into the synagogue and created a disturbance. Jesus healed him with a word of authority, unlike the usual Jewish or pagan exorcists who would use elaborate incantations and magical rites to perform exorcisms to try and heal a person. There was a widespread belief in demon possession in the ancient world and people believed themselves possessed and would cry out when they saw Jesus, as they knew some people believed him to be the Messiah; it was believed that the reign of the Messiah would put an end to demon possession. The power of healing was in Jesus not in an elaborate rite. Whatever we believe about demon possession being real it was real to the people at that time. Jesus responded to the need of the man who believed he was possessed and healed him.
Chaos can be caused in our ordered world by illness or manmade situations such as the introduction of the American grey squirrels into the UK, which began to wipe out the native red squirrel, so now we only have them left in protected areas. Invaders like the American signal crayfish, which escaped into our streams and destroyed the native crayfish and other wildlife in the stream, break the natural order of the world ecosystem. The sick man disrupted the order of the synagogue where Jesus was teaching and Jesus spoke a word of rebuke, healing the man and chaos was averted. The Jewish leaders feared any disruption of order so those who did not fit in were discriminated against like the poor, sick and those considered outcasts. However Jesus challenged such attitudes again and again and restored those who were sick or disturbed to full health. Do we find that today we unfairly stigmatise the poor, the vulnerable disabled, those on benefits and blame them for the ills of society? The man with the unclean spirit was a threat to order, so Jesus engaged with the chaotic and difficult man and transformed and healed him.
What can we learn from this? God values us all and no one is excluded. We tend to be judgemental but we have been created interdependent and need to support each other. God responds to the needs he sees and we are called to be like Jesus and respond especially to those who need to be restored to full participation in our society. Only as we commit ourselves afresh to follow Jesus daily can we be changed into his likeness and reflect his love and acceptance towards those who do not fit into our ordered lives.
Following the sermon we sang, ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’. Brian led the prayers of intercession on the theme of winter. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Jesus, lover of my soul.’