February 5, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: 1 Corinthians 9:16–9:27
EPIPHANY 5/B(2018): Isa. 40:21-31;1 Cor. 9:16-27; Mk. 1:29-39
Subdue, [N]ecessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!... I am entrusted with a commission… under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law… I have become all things to all men… [I]n a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize[.] So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things… [I] do notrun aimlessly… but I pummel my body and subdue it…” (RSV: vv. 16b, 17c, 21b, d, 22b, 24b, 25, 27a).
St. Paul writes to the Corinthian church of Sparta. Spartans were possessed of a war like ethos. Historically male children were given over to the state for military training under harsh conditioning and privation. In his commission to preach the gospel Paul would be “all things to all men”. He writes of spiritual matters to the Corinthians employing the imagery of discipline, the runner and the boxer, “Every athlete exercises self control in all things… I pummel my body and subdue it…”
So also Jesus has come out of heaven, the Holy One of God, to wage war on behalf of mankind. The pummeling of his body began at his Baptism in the sin-laden waters of the Jordan. By that immersion Jesus received his commission into his warrior calling. There he was marked for death.
Resurrected from the Jordan’s watery chaos Jesus was anointed with the HS to his mission and heard his Father’s approving voice and believing in the end he would be victorious over God’s enemies; sin, Satan, death, and the grave.
Last Sunday a demoniac suddenly and brazenly interrupted Jesus’ Sabbath sermon in the synagogue of Capernaum. Modernly we tend not to give credence to demon possession. In first world countries our complacency is no doubt the result of Christianity’s missionary success and historic influence.
Still one only need look to places in the world where the church has been suppressed to see evil in the lives of benighted men and women. And if we look to our own devolving spiritual lives it is hard to deny loss of civility, love, and in public discourse an ascendant animus among men and women holding differing values and views.
In any event the profanity of a demoniac confronting Jesus in the synagogue is but paradigmatic of mankind’s problem in general, that by sin we are misshapen, unholy creatures, no longer authentically human in the image and reflecting the likeness of our Creator. We rage against the will of God in our lives and like the possessed man are hostages to an alien spiritual nature.
“[We] do not do the good [we] want, but the evil we do not want is what [we] keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19), helpless of ourselves to change. If we are to change we must be exorcized into Jesus’ death for us. We must become new creations by faith out of Baptism’s washing with the Word, the Holy One of God.
By Baptism we have our new begetting from above with Christ to trust in God’s will and pleasure, and on the last day that he will raise our oft pummeled bodies in this life by profane men and death’s decrepitude.
The demoniac of Capernaum declaring that he knew Jesus’ identity, the Holy One of God, attempted to assert power over Jesus. But by “one little word” Jesus destroyed the demon consigning it to the dark, deep place, out of which it came, depriving it of the humanity on which it fed.
The man restored to health, Jesus immediately departed the synagogue to Peter’s house, portending a movement into the NT house church in his presence, where his word would be taught, not as the scribes, but with authority (Mk. 1:22).
Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering, laid low by a fever. Jesus immediately dispatched the punishing fever as the demon earlier. Jesus rendered the woman a fit helpmate for service among the disciples, our shared Christian vocation with the Lord.
At sundown, the Sabbath day concluded; the town folk brought all who were sick and demon possessed to Peter’s house. Throughout the night Jesus attended to the crowd. Exhausted from lack of sleep Jesus rose early in the morning going out to the wilderness praying to his heavenly Father, his sole reliance and source of strength.
Peter hunted Jesus down thinking he should return to Capernaum and follow-up on the previous day’s success. But Jesus was fully aware of why he had come, not only to preach the kingdom of heaven in his presence, but in doing so to also wage war. He would go throughout Israel casting out demon usurpers of God’s rightful rule in the world, warning of judgment for those rejecting his gracious reign.
To this mission, reclaiming contested territory from demons and those in the world aligned with them who rage against God and Christ (Ps. 2:1, 2); Jesus now invites his disciples to join his march, “Let us go on to the next towns” (Mk. 1:38a).
On his way to Jerusalem, the stronghold of those entrenched against him; Jesus invaded all of Galilee by the power of his word. In Jerusalem the death Jesus’ Baptism portended came to pass. At the cross,Jesus trusted in God (Mt. 27:43a) to glorify his Son (Jn. 12:28; 17:5) and vindicated his mission in the Resurrection.
At the cross Jesus our divine warrior exercised supreme self-control over his own will in favor of his Father, allowing others to pummel and subdue his sacrificial body in service to God and man; the forgiveness of sin and our new begetting for the new creation coming into being.
By Baptism in Christ we are commissioned to the law of Christ, of faith that trusts in God for all things in all circumstances. St. Paul urges us to a Spartan-like discipline of reliance on God through faith reminiscent of Isaiah, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength… they shall run and not be weary” (40:31).
In Christ water, blood, and Spirit cleanse us. In discipline we wait on the Lord coming out of the water to receive renewed strength and through the Baptized he is concluding his war against Satan and sin that inheres in our limbs and marrow.
Because of who we are in Christ we practice self-control and mortify our passions. When we fail we are given repentant hearts and the promise of abundant forgiveness, and nourishment in the Bodyof Christ on the Way. Amen.