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Ever Interrupted a Sermon?

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., on January 29, 2012.

Mark 1:21-28

Have you ever interrupted a preacher while he or she was delivering a sermon? I’ve sat through a few sermons I wanted to interrupt and have preached some I wished had been interrupted. I hope this isn’t one of them!

Occasionally, I have the privilege of speaking to ministerial students and have told them if they cannot find a place to safely land their sermon, just crash it. The passengers in the pews will find their way out of the wreckage and make their way home.

I don’t think Jesus was struggling with his sermon the day he was interrupted. To the contrary, what he was teaching, and Mark doesn’t tell us what it was, must have been uncommonly good. The people were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes.”

I don’t think the people were looking at their watches, texting their friends or thinking about where they were going to eat lunch. I believe they were wrapped up in what Jesus was telling them and he had their undivided attention.

However, all of that changed when a nameless man appeared in the synagogue and found his way in front of Jesus. He was desperately ill. Mark said he had an unclean spirit, his way of saying that at times he was not himself and his behavior was not appropriate.

Whatever had control of him began talking to Jesus. “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 rebuked the spirit and said, “Be silent and come out of him!” Reluctantly and with great anguish, the unclean spirit did and the man was healed.

This impressed people, too. Just as they were astonished at Jesus’ ability to teach, they were no doubt equally impressed with his ability to heal.

Why do you think Mark included this story in his introduction? Obviously, it was important, but for what reason?

Could it be that Mark wanted his readers to understand what Jesus valued and what should be important to them as disciples? I think so, which leads me to wonder what was important to Jesus.

In this story, I see three things which had been and would continue to be important to Jesus as he began his public ministry: worshiping God, learning about life, and helping those who were struggling. Let me begin with the priority Jesus placed upon worship.

“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught” Mark 1:21.

When I was a child, I never woke up on Sunday wondering if I was going to church. Like the rest of my family, I just started getting ready. As a matter of fact, I began that process on Saturday night. Sunday and church went together like Friday nights and ballgames.

Jesus must have felt the same way, not about going to ballgames, but to the synagogue. All the gospel writers mention Jesus’ faithful synagogue attendance. The phrase, “as was his custom,” is sometimes used to describe this holy habit.

Why did Jesus make worship a priority? No doubt this was taught and modeled by Mary and Joseph, along with other authority figures. Beyond this, though, worship must have met a need in his life which could not be met in other ways.

In worship, his spirit was fed as he connected with God and other believers. This was too important for him to ignore by letting other things crowd it out of his life.

So, what should be important to us as his followers? Worship is certainly one. If Jesus made it a priority, so should we.

What is worship? It is an encounter between a Holy God and sinful people in which three things occur: We acknowledge God as our creator and thank God for being so generous and good to us. We confess our sins and ask for forgiveness and help to be like Him. We recognize God’s desire to partner with us to make the world better and offer ourselves in service for the week to come.

In addition, worshiping with others is one way we build community. We join hearts and hands even as we blend our voices in prayer and praise. We develop close relationships with those who need our help along their journey and those who can help us along ours.

Learning was also important to Jesus. Like many others, he took his turn reading the ancient texts, sharing its meaning for his life and theirs. He spoke and listened. He taught and learned. He engaged with others to ponder the mysteries of life and faith, and so should we.

All of us should have a holy curiosity like Jesus did. Our hearts and minds should stay open, ready to learn what we don’t know about life and faith.

While this can occur alone with the Bible or a good book, it most surely happens in a group with others. It is the exchange of ideas and stories which shed light on complex issues and difficult struggles in ways learning alone cannot.

I believe that every person I meet can teach me something, no matter how brief or long the encounter. Life from their perspective can shed light upon my path, keeping me from stumbling or getting lost. I hope you feel the same way and take advantage of every opportunity to listen and learn, grow and mature.

Helping others was important to Jesus, too. Healing broken people was his passion.

Who was the most important person in the synagogue that day? Was it the scribes and Pharisees? The community leaders? Jesus?

Not from Jesus’ perspective. It was this disturbed man who, no doubt, lived alone on the margins of society. No one was more important that day and nothing that would happen would be more important than helping him. Jesus even set aside his agenda and cherished Sabbath rules to help him, which made him a target of harsh criticism. At great personal sacrifice, Jesus restored this man’s health and standing in the community.

He also used this experience to continue teaching that day. He may have been interrupted that day while speaking, but his lesson was not. Through his actions, he taught those listening that people are important, all people, especially broken people, and it is our duty to help them when they need it most. This is one time actions may have spoken louder than words.

Who is trying to get your attention? Whose plea for help is being ignored by the rest of the world? Will you ignore this person, too? Not if you are a Jesus’ follower!

There is one more thing I would add to this list of things which should be important to us. Not only should we help those who are struggling, but we should seek help with our own struggles, and the place to begin is with Jesus.

Dr. Tom Long points out this text reveals Jesus is Lord over all the forces which seek to destroy us. This means the Lord will help us get healthy so we can live full and productive lives, achieve our potential, be good role models and help others. I hope you will let him.

I hope you will let us help, too, and then partner with us to help others. Transforming lives is the most important thing which happens at First Baptist. We know from experience.