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Worship, Prayers and Bible Resources

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Liturgical Colour - White

Introduction

In Mark's Gospel today we read that people were amazed at Jesus's authority and his "new teaching." In Jesus the people recognised that God was present in a unique and special way. The authority which Jesus had was given validity by the presence of healing and wholeness.

The exorcism of demons was not something unique to Jesus. At the time there was a widespread belief in demonic forces and exorcists chased them out using phrases like 'Come out' with the name of the person being used. These phrases were however only a part of the process which involved other means of expelling the demon. Attempts were made to scare the demon by using revolting practices such as putting a smelly foot up the possessed person's nose with the intention that the demons would be repulsed. Sometimes the name of a higher demon was invoked to drive out the lower one.

What is noticeable in this instance is that Jesus simply orders the demon to leave.

 

Opening Verses of Scripture

"God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).

 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

God our creator, who in the beginning commanded the light to shine out of darkness: we pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, shine into the hearts of all your people, and reveal the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

God of heaven, you send the gospel to the ends of the earth and your messengers to every nation: send your Holy Spirit to transform us by the good news of everlasting life in Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

First Bible Reading  Deuteronomy 18:15-18

Moses spoke to the people; he said: The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the LORD replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak - that prophet shall die.’ NRSV

Second Reading  

Revelation 12:1-5a

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. NRSV

1 Corinthians 14:12-20

Since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults. NRSV

Gospel Reading Mark 1: 21-28

The disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he 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 him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 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 him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. NRSV

Post Communion Sentence

Generous Lord, in word and eucharist we have proclaimed the mystery of your love: help us so to live out our days that we may be signs of your wonders in the world; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Commentary

We hear lots of competing voices which claim authority. Occasionally we will hear people preface their words of wisdom with phrases such as 'the Lord told me ..' Looking back I have been surprised at the number of times when God has told people certain things only to find that they never come to fruition. Examples might include ministers who have boldly proclaimed to their congregations that God had planned for them to build a new church or acquire a new building. In the epistle reading today, Paul warns believers who were overly confident about their Christian knowledge: "The person who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2). But it is the words from Deuteronomy this week which really act as a timely reminder that we have to be very careful about how we use such language claiming to be able to read God's mind,
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded,
or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.

How many people would be prepared to stand up and claim to have a 'word from the Lord' if they knew that their life depended upon getting it right? Truthfully when we use God's name to give credibility to our own hunches then it is a form of blasphemy and that is why we have to be very careful about claiming God's authority for ourselves. In Mark's Gospel today we read that people were amazed at Jesus's authority and his "new teaching." In Jesus the people recognised that God was present in a unique and special way. The authority which Jesus had was given validity by the presence of healing and wholeness.
The exorcism of demons was not something unique to Jesus. At the time there was a widespread belief in demonic forces and exorcists chased them out using phrases like 'Come out' with the name of the person being used. These phrases were however only a part of the process which involved other means of expelling the demon. Attempts were made to scare the demon by using revolting practices such as putting a smelly foot up the possessed person's nose with the intention that the demons would be repulsed. Sometimes the name of a higher demon was invoked to drive out the lower one. What is noticeable in this instance is that Jesus simply orders the demon to leave. No evil can challenge his authority and power.

 

Meditation

The Old Testament has little to say about the devil. The best know passage is the temptation of Job where Satan acts in obedience to God. However in the period before the New Testament was written evil spirits became much more important and this was seen in many religions across the ancient world. It was believed that devils and spirits were everywhere hovering around and torturing human souls. It should not surprise us that during the ministry of Jesus he had to contend with a world view which attributed just about any ailment as evidence of evil spirits, and hence people afflicted with leprosy or some other disease were not only unwell, they were not holy and could not worship. Because Satan and demons were thought to be all over the place and Jesus becomes like a burglar who has entered Satan's house and tied him up. Throughout church history there have been these phases when devils and demons have come in and out of fashion. In his commentary on this passage William Barclay makes note that in many ancient cemeteries skulls were found which had been trepanned, a hole was bored in the skull. This practice was often performed to allow a demon to escape from the body. Evil spirits were malignant beings which existed in the world to do harm to humans. According to Jewish belief they could eat and drink and beget children. There were according to some seven and half million of them, every man had ten thousand on his right hand and ten thousand on his left. In the 13th century the Inquisition gave no mercy in tracking down those witches who had made pacts with the Devil, in the same way that Satan had entered in Judas Iscariot. (John 13:27) In 1487 two German inquisitors published Malleus Maleficarum the text book for witch hunters and for over 150 years the craze spread across Europe. The reforming theologian Martin Luther said a great deal about the Devil and is reported to have chased him away when he threw his ink pot at him. Eventually the irrationality and depravity of the witch trials led to a decline in concern over the Devil and cohorts. The writings of Milton (Paradise Lost) and C S Lewis (Screwtape) have raised the profile of the devil and Wesley said 'no devil no God.' Today there are those traditions in which exorcisms still persist and whilst we have all read the stories of the exorcisms of children in some African communities, exorcism is also seen routinely in many white evangelical churches. Perhaps what we can all agree upon is the very real existence of evil. How could there be an inquisition or a holocaust without a real presence of evil in the world? Perhaps the greatest challenge for us as Christians is to avoid the temptation to blame demonic forces for that evil which all too often has very obvious human causes which we can all do something about. Charles Royden

Our society is possessed, Christians as much as anyone. We are possessed by violence,
possessed by sex, possessed by money, possessed by drugs. - Walter Wink

Hymns

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian,
if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.
 

 

Lord of the Universe, Master of All, look in love upon your people. Pour the healing oil of your compassion on a world that is sounded and dying.
Send us out in search of the lost, to comfort the afflicted, to bind up the broken, and to free those trapped under the rubble of their fallen dreams. Sheila Cassidy

O Creator past all telling, you have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe; you are the true fount of wisdom and the noble origin of all things. Be pleased to shed on the darkness of my mind, the beam and warmth of your light to dispel my ignorance and sin. Instruct my speech and touch my lips with graciousness; make me keen to understand, quick to learn and able to remember ; and keep me finely tuned to interpret your word, for you are God for ever and ever. Amen Thomas Aquinas 1255-74

Lord, in union with your love, unite my work with your great work, and perfect it. As a drop of water, poured into a river, is taken up into the activity of the river, so may my labour become part of your work. Thus may those among whom I live and work be drawn into your love. Gertrude the Great 1256 - 1302

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