Faithlife Sermons

A Painted Face On A Baloon

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Dear Bob,

The following are SermonWriter materials for Epiphany 4B (Feb. 1). They focus on the Gospel lesson, Mark 1:21-28, the story of Jesus casting out an unclean spirit.

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A THOUGHT ON PREACHING:  My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing. (John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople who was known for his great preaching)

TITLE:  A Painted Face on a Balloon

SERMON IN A SENTENCE:  In a world where evil too often reigns, Christ calls us to a threefold ministry:  Teaching, healing, and casting out unclean spirits.

SCRIPTURE:  Mark 1:21-28



Mark begins this Gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist (vv. 1-8), the baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), the temptation of Jesus (vv. 12-13), a brief summary of Jesus' preaching (vv. 14-15), the call of the first disciples (vv. 16-20), and this story of Jesus teaching with authority and exorcizing a demon (vv. 21-28).  Next, he will heal Simon's mother-in-law and many others, the first of nine accounts of healing in this Gospel (1:29-34, 40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-5; 5:21-43; 6:53-56; 7:31-37; 8:22-26; and 10:46-52).  Mark also includes three additional exorcism stories (5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29).   This is an action and healing oriented Gospel.


21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority (Greek:  exousia), and not as the scribes.

"They went to Capernaum" (v. 21a).  Jesus made Capernaum his home after leaving Nazareth (Matthew 4:13; see also Mark 2:1).  Capernaum is a prosperous town at the north end of the Sea of Galilee and is also the home of Jesus' first disciples. 

"and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught" (v. 21b).  Luke tells us that it is Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 4:16).  There is only one temple, but synagogues are widely scattered and devoted to the study of scripture.  Sabbath worship includes prayer as well as the public reading and exposition of the scriptures.  The role of the president of the synagogue is more administrative than pastoral, so he invites qualified laymen to speak.  Synagogue rulers would welcome a fresh, promising voice, which explains how Jesus could teach in the synagogue.  Mark includes several accounts of Jesus' visits to synagogues (1:21, 23, 39; 3:1; 6:2), but none after Nazareth, where he will accomplish nothing because of their lack of faith (6:1-6).  Mark includes a number of accounts of Jesus teaching (2:13; 4:1-2; 6:2, 6, 34; 8:31; 9:31; 10:1; 11:17; 12:14, 35; 14:49).

"They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (v. 22).  Scribes are scholars who interpret and teach Torah and render binding judgments regarding its application.  They tend to be conservative, rendering judgments based on precedent -- deriving authority from their knowledge of earlier experts on the law.  By Jesus' day, they are powerful and enjoy considerable deference.  The best seats in the synagogue are reserved for them (12:39), and people rise to their feet when they enter a room.  People call them "rabbi," which means "great one" (Edwards, 54).  They constitute a substantial portion of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body.  They quickly become Jesus' opponents (2:6, 16; 11:27-28), and will play a major role in his crucifixion (8:31; 10:33; 11:18; 14:1, 43, 53; 15:1, 31).  "Their opposition to Jesus is far greater (and more fatal) than that of the Pharisees" (Donahue & Harrington, 80), in part because they consider Jesus to be sacrilegious, but also because Jesus poses a threat to their very comfortable lives. 

Unlike the scribes, Jesus teaches with personal authority.  His authority is based neither on his credentials nor his ability to cite precedents, but on the Spirit that descended on him at his baptism (1:10). Jesus is the Son of God (1:1) and his authority comes from God. 

As my literature-major wife notes, a literature class can spend days or weeks discussing an author's intent.  They can develop theories and supporting arguments.  They can debate endlessly.  Or they can invite the author to visit and tell them his/her intent.  But once the author explains it, that settles it.  Nobody can interpret a poem as authoritatively as the one who wrote it.  Jesus is God's way of sending the author (see John 1:1, 14). 

In this Gospel, Jesus' authority is a major theme.  Jesus will exercise his authority to forgive sins (2:10).  He will transfer to his disciples the authority to cast out demons (3:15; 6:7).  And he will easily sidestep an attempt by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders to challenge his authority (11:27:33).

Hare suggests that Jesus differs from the scribes in his eschatological power.  Eschatology (the study of last things) focuses on the Second Coming of Christ, and "reveals the end of history and how God reverses His curse upon the world by separating the good from the bad" (Lockyer, 351).  Hare says, "Whereas the scribes occupied themselves with decisions about what was permitted and what was not permitted in a business-as-usual world, Jesus was powerfully announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God" (Hare, 28). 

In other words, this Gospel celebrates the arrival of the kingdom -- Jesus' triumph over evil -- the salvation that he brings.  It emphasizes the authority of Jesus' teaching rather than its content. Mark tells us nothing of what Jesus says at this synagogue -- only that he packs a wallop and astounds his listeners.  In this Gospel, "the person of Jesus is more important than the subject of his teaching.  If we want to know what the gospel or teaching of Jesus consists of, we are directed to its embodiment in Jesus the teacher" (Edwards, 56).

This Gospel frequently refers to Jesus as teacher or rabbi, usually in an action-oriented context that confirms his authority: 

- The disciples, in the midst of a storm, address him as teacher, and he stills the storm (4:38-39). 

- Neighbors tell Jairus to face the reality of his daughter's death and not to bother the teacher anymore, but Jesus tells the little girl to get up, and she does as he commands (5:35-43).

- Peter addresses Jesus as rabbi (a title similar to teacher) at the Transfiguration, and a voice speaks from the cloud saying, "This is my son, the beloved.  Listen to him" (9:5-7).

- A father asks the teacher to heal his son, whom Jesus' disciples could not heal, and Jesus does so (9:17-29).

- The blind man addresses Jesus as teacher, and Jesus heals his blindness (10:51-52).

- Peter addresses Jesus as rabbi and notes, in wonder, that the fig tree that Jesus cursed has withered and died (11:12).

- Pharisees and Herodians, addressing Jesus as teacher, try to trap him with two difficult questions, but he easily gets the best of them (12:14-27).

- In one of the few instances where a scribe is portrayed favorably in this Gospel, the scribe addresses Jesus as teacher, asks a question, and acknowledges that Jesus has answered well (12:32-34).

The people are "astounded at his teaching"!!!  Imagine the hush as the crowd struggles to grasp Jesus' teaching -- and the hubbub as they begin to talk among themselves about what they have heard.  Their response raises a question. "Are we sufficiently astonished at Jesus' teaching?  Has it become so familiar, have we taken it so much for granted, that we no longer really see it in amazement?" (Luccock, 660).

Mark doesn't tell us what Jesus said that caused such amazement.  However, we can imagine the kinds of things that he might have said based on the controversies in which he will soon be involved -- calling a tax collector to be his disciple (2:13-17) -- defending his disciples when they fail to fast (2:18-22) -- defending the disciples when they pluck and eat grain on the sabbath (2:23-28) -- healing on the sabbath (3:1-6) -- teaching about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (3:20-30) -- warning against the tradition of the elders (7:1-23) -- and teaching about marriage and divorce (10:2-12).

This story inspires us stand in Jesus' shoes and teach, as he did, with authority.  We are tempted to dismiss the scribes as men of small vision and no courage, imagining that we have a larger vision and greater courage.  However, if that is true, it is only because we have the advantage of NT revelation.  Jesus "is the (only) one who can speak with direct authority.  We interpreters remain essentially in the position of the scribes, dependent upon a prior authority and responsible to a scriptural tradition.  We deceive ourselves and those we teach if we try to deny these limitations" (Williamson, 52).


23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with (Greek: en -- in -- suggesting the complete integration of the spirit and the man) an unclean spirit, 24and 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." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

"Just then there was in their synagogue a man with (en – in) an unclean spirit" (v. 23).  Note the reference to "their synagogue" (v. 23), which may be an early hint of Jesus' estrangement from traditional religionists.  "Synagogues will appear another half-dozen times in Mark as places where demons are present (1:39), and where there is antagonism from religious leaders (3:1; 12:39), hardness of heart (6:2), and persecution (13:9)"  (Edwards, 54).

It is odd to find this man in the synagogue, because his unclean spirit renders him ineligible for synagogue worship.  However, the synagogue would not have a guard posted at the door, and this man can trespass.  Jesus and the unclean spirit are the central figures in the story.  The man is mentioned as briefly as possible in verse 23, and Mark tells us only that the unclean spirit convulses him and comes out of him (v. 26). 

Traditionally, verse 23 is translated "a man with an unclean spirit," but a literal translation is "a man in an unclean spirit," suggesting that the man is completely immersed in and overwhelmed by the unclean spirit.  This alternate translation gains credibility from the confusing identities in verses 24-25.  The man cries out, (literally, "he cries out" -- singular, v. 23), but says, "What have you to do with us" (plural, v. 24).  Then Jesus "rebuked him" (singular -- v. 25), but the context shows that he is rebuking the unclean spirit.  There is a complete fusion between the man and the unclean spirit.

Mark uses "unclean spirit" and "demon" almost interchangeably.  The former suggests ritual impurity or unworthiness, and the latter suggests evil.  Talk of spirits and demons seems primitive and makes us uncomfortable today.  We would rather speak of mental illness and attribute bizarre behavior to the person's impoverished environment as a child or, perhaps, some sort of chemical imbalance.  We hesitate to use the word evil, which sounds judgmental, and look to medical science to save us from our demons.  Medical science has accomplished a great deal in that regard, and promises to achieve even more as it burrows ever more deeply into our cells and molecules.  However, medical science is unlikely ever to solve the problem of evil, which is neither a medical problem nor a primitive idea but a spiritual problem and a present reality. We have only to read a newspaper to confirm the pervasive presence of evil in our world.  "No service is rendered simply by announcing that we no longer believe in demons.  Although that is true, for most, not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world" (Craddock, 92).

"The ministry of exorcism brings us face-to-face with a form of evil that we would prefer to forget....  The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have never abandoned this ministry.  What makes exorcism possible is the healing power of Jesus available now through the ministry of his church.  As Christ's body, we are equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit to confront the powers of evil and deliver the captives from bondage" (Abraham, 177-178).  We, the church, have a responsibility to name evil as such.  We have a responsibility to confront it, as Jesus did, by the power of the Holy Spirit, which we also received at our baptism. 

The unclean spirit cries out, "What have you to do with us?" (ti hemin kai soi  -- literally, "What to us and to you?") (v. 24a).  Note that the possessed man has not asked Jesus to help him -- nor does Mark tell us that Jesus has stopped to help him.  However, the unclean spirit senses Jesus' power and its (the spirit's) peril.

"The Greek phrase exact rendering of a Hebrew expression used in Judges 11.12 and 1 Kings 17.18 with the meaning, 'Why are you interfering with us?', and this is probably its meaning here" (Hooker, 64).  In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses a similar phrase (ti emoi kai soi -- "What to me and you?") when his mother tells him that they have run out of wine at the wedding feast (John 2:4).  "It functions as a 'defensive' formula denying communality with the person to whom it is addressed" (Donahue & Harrington, 80).

The spirit calls Jesus by name, "Jesus of Nazareth" (v. 24b), perhaps hoping to gain power over him by the magical formula of calling his name.  The spirit also identifies Jesus as "the Holy One of God" (v. 24).  The word holy "is roughly synonymous with 'clean'... and the antonym of 'unclean'....  Reflecting this idea of holiness as separation from impurity, the unclean spirit in Mark acknowledges its estrangement from Jesus, 'the holy one of God,' by saying, 'What do we have to do with you?'" (Marcus, 189).  This title, "Holy One of God," is particularly apt for this Gospel, in which the holy Jesus comes to deliver the world from that which is unholy.  It is not Jesus' earthly origin, Nazareth, that troubles the spirit, but his real nature as "the Holy One of God" (France, 104).

The spirit asks a second question, "Have you come to destroy us?" (v. 24c).  The unclean spirit in verse 23 was singular, but now the spirit asks if Jesus has come "to destroy us" (plural).  The idea might be that the man is possessed of multiple spirits or the one spirit might be asking whether Jesus has come to destroy all demonic forces.

"I know who you are, the Holy One of God" (v. 24d).  The spirit does a better job of understanding Jesus than does his family (3:31-35) or the disciples (4:41; 6:37, 49-50; 7:17-18; 8:4, 21).  Peter almost breaks that mold by correctly identifying Jesus as the Messiah (8:29), but almost immediately receives a stinging rebuke for failing to understand (8:33).  The only other person in this Gospel who understands Jesus is the centurion at the cross, who will say, "Truly this man was God's son" (15:39).

Jesus responds, not with words of explanation but words of power. He commands, "Be silent (Greek:  phimotheti -- literally, "Be muzzled") and come out of him!" (v. 25).  He uses no incantations or formal liturgy, but simply orders the spirit to come out of the man.

"And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him" (v. 26).  The spirit comes out -- "convulsing (Greek:  sparaxan -- mangling, tearing, convulsing) the man and crying with a loud voice." Jesus will also cry with a loud voice at his death (15:37), so perhaps the spirit's cry is a death wail -- but Mark does not tell us the fate of this exorcized spirit -- or of the man.

"There is no struggle. From the very first, Jesus stands before a defeated enemy, an enemy that knows it is defeated" (Boring, 65).

"It is not accidental that Mark presents an exorcism as the first miracle in this Gospel.  He wishes to make evident that Jesus has come to destroy the powers of darkness.  His ministry involves waging war on these powers" (Witherington, 90).

This exorcism confirms Jesus' authority, first revealed in his teaching (v. 22).  Jesus could have chosen any kind of miracle to authenticate his authority, but chooses an exorcism for its symbolic value.  In this Gospel, Jesus comes to defeat evil and to effect salvation.  He begins that process by his teaching/healing ministry in this synagogue.  His teaching and healing are seamless parts of the same salvation work. 


27They 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." 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

"They were all amazed" (v. 27a).  Again Mark notes the amazement of the people.  They ask, "What is this?  A new teaching -- with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him" (v. 27b).  It is only after they note the authority of Jesus' teaching that they note his authority over unclean spirits.  His teaching authority and healing authority are intertwined.  His teaching authority prepares people to receive his healing authority, while his healing authority confirms and reinforces his teaching ministry.

"What makes the question raised by Jesus' exorcism the more intriguing is that so many contemporary Christians believe that miraculous events, if ever witnessed firsthand, would produce unerring and unwavering faith.  The Gospel writers know otherwise" (Brueggemann, 133).  Mark's Gospel devotes more space to miracles in proportion to its length than any of the other Gospels, but "does not attempt to employ them as compelling proof of the deity or authority of Jesus.  They become 'proof' only when accompanied by faith" (Brooks, 51-52).

The disciples will "engage in exorcism as part of their mission (3:15; 6:7, 13; cf. 9:38, 40), but it is made clear that they can do so only as commissioned by Jesus (3:14-15), specifically empowered by him for this task (6:7) and 'in his name' (9:38-39)" (France, 100).

"At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee" (v. 28).  We will see further evidence of Jesus' fame as his story unfolds (1:33, 37, 45; 2:1-2; 3:7-9).  "The wider spread of his reputation will come in 3:7-8, and will lead to unpleasant repercussions in 3:22" (France, 106).

CHILDREN'S SERMON:  What a Surprise

By Lois Parker Edstrom

Object suggested: A yardstick.

Isn't it exciting to learn new things? New information can be so surprising you feel like saying, "Wow, I didn't know that!"

Would it surprise you to know that a giraffe can clean its ears with its tongue?  A giraffe's tongue if 21 inches long.  (Demonstrate length with a yardstick.)  We sure can't do that!

Here are some other animal facts that might surprise you:

Ants don't sleep.

Rabbits love licorice.

Cows produce about forty glasses of milk every day.

Bees have five eyes.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open.

Camels have three eyelids to protect their eyes from desert sand.

The original name of the butterfly was flutterby.  Butterflies taste with their hind feet.

Some of this information is quite surprising, isn't it?

The Bible teaches us that when Jesus taught in the synagogue he said some surprising things.  He gave people new information that they hadn't hear before. Jesus brought the "good news" of God's love to all people and he also had the power to heal.

The people who heard him and saw him perform miracles of healing were astounded and amazed and "they kept asking one another, 'What is this?  A new teaching….!'"

Today some may still feel surprised by the good news that God loves us, but as Christians we believe this is true.


Some years ago, Max Lerner made this statement.  He said: 

    Our demonic civilization

    is like a painted face on a balloon.

    As the balloon swells,

    the face becomes more and more monstrous.

    If we take it at face value

    we will be terrified....

    But actually it is hollow within.

    One pinprick will destroy it.

I ran across this statement as I was preparing this sermon, and was struck by its appropriateness for the time in which we are living.  Not long ago, we were living in a world of endless wonders.  People were getting rich -- making millions or even billions of dollars.  All of us were watching the value of our houses soar.  We were spending money like crazy -- buying luxuries we never expected to afford.

But we failed to notice that the balloon was swelling -- and that the painted face on the balloon was becoming more and more monstrous.  We didn't see it, in part, because we didn't want to see it.  Nobody wanted to see it.  Business people didn't want to see it, because it would have required them to manage their businesses more conservatively.  Politicians didn't want to see it, because the raging fire was keeping all of us warm -- and who wants to yell "Fire!" and see the party come to an end.  We didn't want to see it, because we were making money and buying things and watching our retirement accounts soar.  It was a great life, and nobody wanted to see it come to an end.  

But it took only a pinprick to bring the whole thing down.  Just a pinprick! 

Now everyone is trying to figure out what happened and who is to blame.  Business people and politicians who were blowing up the balloon a year ago are now trying to paste it back together.  They are trying to get it to hold air again.  They haven't really managed to paste it together, but they are already pumping massive amounts of air (meaning our tax dollars) into the broken balloon to try to stave off disaster.

And so we are mortgaging our children's futures by throwing money at failed corporations in the hope that we can breathe life into their dying bodies.  It seems too much like putting a corpse on a respirator.

I must admit that I don't have all the answers.  My concern is that we seem not to be learning anything from this massive failure.  We got where we are by greed and excess, and we seem to be trying to repair the damage by applying more greed and excess.  The whole thing offends our common sense.

Once again, let me read the quotation with which I started this sermon.  Keep in mind that Max Lerner wrote these words long before the bubble burst.  He said:

    Our demonic civilization

    is like a painted face on a balloon.

    As the balloon swells,

    the face becomes more and more monstrous.

    If we take it at face value

    we will be terrified....

    But actually it is hollow within.

    One pinprick will destroy it.

What attracted my eye to that quotation as I was working on this sermon were the opening words -- "Our demonic civilization."  Our Gospel lesson today talks about an encounter that Jesus had with the demonic -- the Gospel of Mark calls it an unclean spirit.  When I saw that quotation about "our demonic civilization" -- and Max Lerner's image of a painted face becoming monstrous as the balloon swelled larger and larger, it spoke to me somehow.

We don't talk much about demons these days.  We've outgrown that kind of talk, haven't we!  But we have not outgrown the reality.  Max Lerner talked about "our demonic civilization."  He said that it was like a painted face on a balloon -- a face that grows monstrous as the balloon swells -- until a pinprick pops it.

If you think that the word demonic is too pre-scientific -- too extreme -- not in keeping with our modern sophistication -- just read your newspaper or watch the evening news.  If you can't find something demonic there, you need to get your glasses checked. 

Or Google "Zimbabwe" and read about Robert Mugabe, who has wrecked that country and blocked humanitarian aid for his people, who are starving and dying of cholera. 

Or listen to the tapes of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (bla-GOI-a vich) trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. 

Or consider the human wreckage caused by the recent collapse on Wall Street -- a collapse brought about by people who cared nothing about long-term consequences as long as they could collect their right-now paychecks.

Or remember the terrorists who killed thousands on 9/11 and more thousands since. 

Every new day brings new evidence of the demonic among us.

Whenever I think of the word demonic, I am tempted to talk about Hitler or Stalin.  Or I could talk about Pol Pot (Cambodia) or Idi Amin (Uganda).  Or, as I mentioned earlier, there is always Robert Mugabe.

But then I read a story about Maya Angelou, who went to a conference in Texas.  The theme was "Facing Evil."  A man stood up and said:

    "I really have seen evil.

    I have felt its force.

    I went to Germany

    and I went into the concentration camps."

To which Maya Angelou responded (with an indignant tone):

    "Do you mean to tell me

    that we've come from all over the world

    and we're going to talk nonsense?

    You had to go to Germany,

    you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote,

    you who don't want them to even live next to you,

    you have your own history of slavery --

    you had to go to Germany?

    I don't wanna hear it!"

Maya Angelou was right.  We don't have to look very far to find the demonic.  We don't have to go to Africa or the Mideast or the ghettos of our big cities.  How far from the doors of this church would you have to go to find a man who abuses his wife or a parent who abuses a child?  How far would you have to go to find a young person who is destroying his or her life with drugs or alcohol? 

As far as that is concerned, if we were to examine the depths of our own hearts, isn't there a possibility that we would uncover something demonic there -- something we really wouldn't want the world to know.

So we need to be careful when we read a story in the Bible about Jesus casting out unclean spirits.  We need to be careful lest we say, "How primitive!"  We need to be careful lest we deny the presence of evil in our midst. 

But Jesus walked about Galilee teaching and healing and casting out unclean spirits -- three things -- teaching and healing and casting out unclean spirits.  He took broken people and made them whole -- not just spiritually, but in every way.  He tended to their minds with his teachings -- and to their bodies with his healings -- and to their souls by cleansing them of the evils that possessed them.  And Jesus is still doing that today. 

- The stories are legion concerning men and women whom Jesus has delivered from alcohol and drugs and pornography and other addictions. 

- The stories are legion concerning men and women who have done monstrous things, but have turned their lives in a new direction after encountering Jesus. 

- The stories are legion concerning Christian men and women who have left comfortable homes and promising jobs to go to primitive places so that they could tend to people's minds in by building schools -- and tend to people's bodies with medicine and food and clothing and clean water -- and tend to people's souls by loving them and by teaching them about God's love.

We in this congregation are involved in that (talk about mission or charitable works in which your congregation or diocese or denomination is involved).

And it isn't just our congregation.  Churches throughout this community are involved in caring for people in a thousand different kinds of ministry.  Churches throughout this nation are involved in teaching and healing ministries.  Christians around the world are working with Jesus to cast out unclean spirits of every kind.

You don't need a theological degree to engage in these ministries.  There are hundreds of small but important ways to serve Christ and neighbor in this church.  There are thousands of people in this community who need help.  We should all be engaged in prayer for people around the world who are suffering from hunger or disease or poverty or war.  There is no shortage of ways for you to make your life meaningful

Just love Christ, and let him show you the way. 



See the Maya Angelou story in the sermon above.


The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. 

It is the overcoming of evil by good.

Alfred North Whitehead

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy drew a picture of a heart and used a piece of charcoal to color half of it black.  She told Charlie Brown:

"This side is the dark side, Charlie.

The other side is the good side.

They fight each other all the time."

Charlie put his hands on his chest, and his hair began to stand on end.  He said:

"I know what you mean.

I think I feel them right now."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

C. S. Lewis says, in the introduction to his brilliant and witty and quite orthodox Screwtape Letters, that the devil is equally pleased by either of two errors about him:  thinking about him too much or too little; being obsessed with demons, as many people were in the past, at times like the Inquisition and the witch trials, or denying their existence altogether, as many people do today.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

We must never fool ourselves. 

The powers against which we wage the lamb's war are very strong. 

Satan prowls about like a "roaring lion"

seeking those whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). 

This is no minor league game we are playing; we are in the major leagues, and the stakes are high. 

The principalities and powers do not just have power -- they are power. 

They exist as power;

power is how they manifest themselves. 

To dominate, to control, to devour, to imprison, is their very essence. 

How then do we defeat the demons without and the monsters within?

Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex and Power

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Let us cease arguing about the existence of demons and concern ourselves with what the demons are actually doing.

Donald Bloesch in Theological Notebook

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


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Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW)

Lutheran Service Book (LSB)

Lutheran Worship (LW)

Presbyterian Hymnal (PH)

The Faith We Sing (TFWS)

The Hymnal 1982 (TH)

The New Century Hymnal (TNCH)

United Methodist Hymnal (UMH)

Voices United (VU)

With One Voice (WOV)

Wonder Love and Praise (WLP)

Worship & Rejoice (WR)


All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (BH #200-202; CH #91-92; CO #521; CP #321-322; ELW #634; GC #484; JS #463; LBW #328, 329; LSB #549; LW #272; PH #142-143; TH #450-451; TNCH #304; UMH #154-155; VU #334; WR #100, 106)

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (BH #206, 216; CH #5; CP #306; ELW #886; LBW #559; PH #466; TH #493; TNCH #42; UMH #57; VU #326; WR #96)

Rejoice the Lord is King (BH #197; CH #699; CO #515; CP #379; GC #487; JS #406; LBW #171; LW #179; PH #155; TH #481; TNCH #303; UMH #715-716; VU #213; WR #342)


Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies (CO #424; CP #5; ELW #553; LBW #265; LSB #873; LW #480; PH #462, 463; TH #6, 7; UMH #173; VU #336; WR #91)

God of Grace and God of Glory (CH #464; CP #577; ELW #705; LBW #415; LSB #850; LW #398; PH #420; TH #594, 595; TNCH #436; UMH #577; VU #686; WR #569)

He Touched Me (CH #564; UMH #367)

Hope of the World (CH #538; LBW #493; LSB #690; LW #377; PH #360; TH #472; TNCH #46; UMH #178; VU #215; WR #404)

O Christ, the Healer (CO #406; CH #503; CP #291; ELW #610; LBW #360; PH #380, TNCH #175; UMH #265; WLP #772; WR #638)

Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit (CH #186; TH #620; TNCH #176; UMH #264)

This is a Day of New Beginnings (BH #370; CH #518; TNCH #417; UMH #383)


Lord, Speak to Me (BH #568; ELW #676; LBW #403; PH #426; TNCH #531; UMH #463; VU #589; WR #593)

    Also known as Lord, Speak to Us

O How I Love Jesus (BH #217; CH #99; TNCH #52; UMH #170)

    Also known as There is a Name I Love to Hear

Rise, Shine, You People! (CO #548; ELW #665; LBW #393; LSB #825; UMH #187; WR #89)

HYMN STORY:  God of Grace and God of Glory

Harry Emerson Fosdick was the author of this hymn.  Fosdick was ordained in 1903 as a Baptist minister.  He was obviously a man of great talent, but controversial. 

John D. Rockefeller, however, recognized his talent and asked him to serve as pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church.  Fosdick refused, in part because of Rockefeller's wealth and in part because Park Avenue Baptist Church was too swank.  Rockefeller didn't give up, though, and finally persuaded Fosdick to be the pastor of a new church that he would build in a more modest area near Harlem -- Riverside Church.  After gaining a number of concessions, Fosdick finally agreed.  He wrote "God of Grace and God of Glory" to be sung at the opening service of that great church.

This hymn is a prayer -- a prayer for God to bestow power upon the church -- and wisdom -- and courage "for the facing of this hour."  The hour that they were facing at that time was the Great Depression -- an economic disaster that drained the nation of life and hope.  "For the facing of this hour," however, is a timeless phrase, because there is never a time when we do not need God's help "for the facing of this hour."

"Save us from weak resignation" is an important part of the prayer.  "Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore."  We are always tempted to believe that the evils that we face far outstrip our resources to deal with them -- tempted to retreat into a safe place and wait for the storm to blow over -- but evil unopposed doesn't blow over.  It takes the sacrifices of dedicated men and women to build a better world.

"Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour."  That was a good prayer when Fosdick first wrote this hymn in 1930.  It is a good prayer today.


We follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and use Sunday texts only.  When possible, we use supplementary mailings to accommodate denominational differences.

   Feb 8 Epiphany 5B      Mark 1:29-39 AND Isa 40:21-31 (exegesis and link to sermon)

   Feb 15 Epiphany 6B    Mark 1:40-45 AND 1 Cor. 9:24-27 (link to one sermon)

                                        AND 2 Kings 5:1-14 (exegesis + sermon links)

   Feb 22 Transfiguration    Mark 9:2-9 AND 2 Kings 2:1-12 (exegesis)

                                         AND Isaiah 43 (exegesis + hymns)

   Feb 25 Ash Weds         Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (exegesis and sermon links)

   Mar 1 Lent 1B             Mark 1:9-15 AND Gen 9:8-17 (exegesis + sermon link)

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.


Abraham, William J. in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

Arthur, John W. and Nestingen, James A., Lectionary Bible Studies: The Year of Mark: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Study Book (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1975)

Barclay, William, Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954)

Bartlett, David L., New Year B, 1999-2000 Proclamation: Advent Through Holy Week (Minneapolis: Fortress, Press, 1999)

Boring, M. Eugene, The New Testament Library, Mark, A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006)

Brooks, James A, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991)

Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV -- Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)

Donahue, John R. and Harrington, Daniel J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002)

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)

France, Dick, Daily Bible Commentary:  Mark (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1966)

Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001)

France, R.T., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)

Grant, Frederick C. and Luccock, Halford E., The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)

Guelich, Robert A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 1 - 8:26 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)

Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)

Hooker, Morna D., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991)

Hurtado, Larry W., New International Biblical Commentary:  Mark (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1983, 1989)

Jensen, Richard A., Preaching Mark's Gospel (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., 1996)

Lane, William L., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974)

Lockyer, Herbert Sr., Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)

Marcus, Joel, The Anchor Bible: Mark 1-8 (New York: Doubleday, 1999)

Moule, C.F.D., The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible: The Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965) Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)

Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (NY: American Book Company, 1889)

Waetjen, Herman C., A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark's Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989)

Williamson, Lamar Jr., Interpretation: Mark (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983)

Witherington, Ben III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

Wright, Tom (N.T.), Mark for Everyone (London: SPCK and Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001, 2004)

We welcome your feedback!

Copyright 2009, Richard Niell Donovan

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