January 28, 2024- sermon- Betsy Wooster

Sermon Text...


January 28, 2024 Homily                                         Rev. Betsy Wooster

Scripture and Theme:

Mark 1:21-28; “Taught with Authority”


Mark 1:21-28

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a person with an unclean spirit who 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 the sprit, saying, “Be silent, and come out!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing the person and crying with a loud voice, came out. 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.” At once Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Let us pray:

Holy One of God, let us love the questions that arise from your teachings. Let us live the questions until we can, with your help, ease into the answers. In the name of your beloved, Amen.


In the community of faith is a person who is not well. He is gripped by something that won’t let go. In this synagogue in Galilee, 2000 years ago, they called it an evil spirit or a demon. Whatever it was, it felt like it controlled him. Then Jesus showed up. Today’s gospel story immediately picks up from where we left off last week when Hamilton preached on Jesus bringing the good news of God by calling his early disciples as they set off to follow him. I presume that they didn’t exactly know where they were going or what was in store for them, but they followed him into the world of discipleship. These 4 fishermen left their boats to join Jesus’ campaign to share the lifesaving love of God with the world. Clearly, Jesus’ campaign was not what we are used to experiencing in a campaign.



He is not promoting the particular things that he will do for us if we just vote for him. Rather, the first thing Jesus does in his ministry is to enter the synagogue and teach. While in the midst of it, his teaching led to the miracle: the healing of a man possessed. The people in the synagogue asked… “What is this? Who is this Jesus, who commands the unclean spirits to leave, and the spirits obey him?” Imagine if Jesus were with us here, in the flesh, teaching us and then healing someone fraught with pain right in front of our eyes.


Wouldn’t we say “what is this?” What the heck just happened?” Where does this power come from? The Gospel says that Jesus spoke with authority. In our modern day, we hear the word authority and think what?

Power. Being in charge. Leadership. But the people hearing Jesus teach, and watching him heal great suffering, witnessed a power that was new. The essential Good News of God is that the authority of Jesus is not power over others, or to hold power over others, but a power to heal and restore. The idea of a person being possessed with evil spirits seems largely foreign to us today. We have medications and health professionals who can help us with our variety of illnesses in body, mind, and spirit.


We have modern medicine to treat and often heal many of the physical and mental ailments from which we suffer. But what about a very different kind of ailment? What about the people who are possessed by not feeling loved?

Some people are gripped by the need to mask their pain with distraction or high adrenaline experiences. Staying busy with our pain is a form of distraction from what is painful or uncomfortable. In the synagogue that day, the gospel says that there was one man who had an evil spirit. But what if it was not just him? What if this person who is possessed is the most honest of everyone there?


Maybe everyone really isn’t feeling fine and okay. Maybe, it is actually all of us, possessed or obsessed with one thing or another, and God comes to us with the authority to heal, to restore us. Maybe that healing comes when you realize that you are not loved for your achievements, but for just being who you are from the day you were born. Maybe it comes when you realize that you have enough support to stop distracting yourself from your pain or your grief because God gives you strength to face it, and slowly, morning by morning, you come through the other side.


Jesus’ mission, Jesus’ AUTHORITY, is about looking at us, all of us. Jesus is looking at our joy and our suffering, and Jesus is committed to making what feels upside down righted within us. He sees the marginalized. Jesus sees those who carry their ailments and suffering in a way different than their more polished exterior. What are the details of Jesus’ teaching authority? His authority is not about power, it is about bringing justice, about seeing that justice is served to those left on the margins.

A person who was spirit-possessed is now set free.

Authority is not only in the word of Jesus; it is also in the action that is produced by the word that affects real change; that causes good things to happen. When Jesus healed that person, the people in the synagogue, people just like us, were awed by his teaching and authority.


Are we not, as the modern-day readers of Mark’s story, perplexed that no one, except the demons, understands that Jesus has the authority to heal the man that the demon inhabits? While the people are trying to figure out who Jesus is, and how he has this authority, isn’t it interesting that the unclean spirit already knows? Yes, the spirit that possessed that man knew Jesus right away. The spirit said  ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, you’re the Holy One of God.’


And isn’t it true that when you are in the grip of something that eats you up, that the spirit understands the cure before anyone else. That’s why the thoughts start rolling with all those bad messages:

“You can’t trust them.”

“They wouldn’t welcome you if they knew your secret.”

“You won’t be accepted unless you impress them.”

“You’re not really living if you feel vulnerable.”

 But the authority of Jesus cuts through all of the noise.


Jesus teaches us what we in many ways already know, that we can be set free by the power of love when it finds us, the power and authority of Jesus. Jesus, who tells us repeatedly that we are loved just as we are. That the way we disparage ourselves only overshadows the truth of who we really are, who God made us to be. For in God’s eyes, we are precious; we are created beings made through the power and authority of God, who loves us unconditionally.

To know this, we can start small. We can set aside quiet time with God to contemplate the riches of being alive, and we can find ways, morning by morning, to see the person God sees when looking upon us. When we are faced with the truth of things, and when that truth opens our eyes to who we truly are, God is at work. We can find ways to rejoice in the truth of our own lives, which also makes us passionate about helping others to see the truth of their lives. What is this truth? The truth is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and morning by morning, we can look to Jesus to remind us who we are.


Today’s story, in the sacred text of our faith, shows that above all of Jesus teachings, which in and of themselves are the grounding of our faith, it is the healing that comes from the teachings that frees us.  No longer will the demons of guilt possess you. No longer will the demons of “you should have” or “you’re not loveable” play the tapes on repeat in your head. No longer will the demons of status or insecurity or shallow judgements define you. Because nothing that diminishes you has the authority of Jesus. Amen.