Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

Psalm 111 – I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Concerning food sacrificed to idols: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. No idol really exists. So we are no worse off if we do not eat food sacrificed to idols, and no better off if we do. But take care that your liberty does not become a stumbling block to others.

Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus rebukes the unclean spirits, and they obey him on the Sabbath in the synagogue, and the people are amazed.

January 25, 2018 – 5th Annual Houston Ecumenical Prayer Service
Thursday, January 25, 7:00 p.m.
St. Paul Methodist Church in Houston

Lutheran Legislative Event
Join me for the Lutheran Legislative event at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Austin. Learn and talk to your legislators about the key moral issues of our day. Registration deadline: February 1.
Sunday, 2:45 pm – 8 pm – Opening worship and plenary
Monday, 7:30 am – 8 pm – Workshop/training on key issues
Tuesday, 8:30 am – 1 pm – Legislative visits at the Capitol


Three Sundays until Lent. The next few weeks we’re in for a lot of healing stories. This coming Sunday we read of Jesus doing an exorcism in the synagogue. This is the first miracle in Mark’s gospel. Changing water to wine in Cana is the first miracle in John. In Mark, the first miracle is an exorcism. February 4, 2018, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, then rises early the next morning to find time to pray. February 11 is Transfiguration Sunday already, then we are into Lent!

Epiphany B Gospels at-a-glance

Epiphany 1B (1/7): Mark 1:4-11 –Baptism of Jesus
Epiphany 2B (1/14): John 1:43-51 – Phillip and Nathaniel. Follow me. Come and see
Epiphany 3B (1/21): Mark 1:14-20 – Jesus calls Simon and Andrew
Epiphany 4B (1/28): Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus rebukes unclean spirits on the Sabbath
Epiphany 5B (2/4): Mark 1:29-39 – Jesus goes away to a lonely place
Transfiguration (2/11): Mark 9:2-9 – Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured

In this Sunday’s gospel we are told the man had an unclean spirit. There seems to be a clear message that Jesus is willing to encounter, care for and touch the unclean, as opposed to the religious leaders, who are distancing themselves. This is evangelism, Jesus-style. Jesus touches the untouchable, and loves the unlovable. When society ostracized, Jesus walked through the walls of stigma and fear.

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, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with 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.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.

Capernaum, (In Hebrew, כְּפַר נַחוּם, Kfar Naḥūm) is a lovely fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. It is on the 32nd parallel, ironically the same as Palestine, Texas.

I visited Capernaum nearly ten years ago. Driving north on Highway 6 from Jerusalem, the red soil stands out, excellent for growing citrus, avocados, figs, olives, carob and strawberries. In the distance, Mount Hermon rose up, topped with snow.


I remember it being intoxicatingly beautiful. A warm breeze rustled the palm trees. For lunch we had St. Peter fish, dropped completely intact into a frying vat and served up for us to dissect.

Capernaum synogogue ruins
Capernaum syagoge ruins

Capernaum is the home of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew, the tax collector. It is where they left their nets to follow Jesus. Here Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4) and a Roman centurion’s servant (Matthew 8). It was here that a paralytic was lowered through the roof of a house to reach Jesus (Mark 2). Archeological excavations have uncovered two synagogues, one on top of the other. We visited the site where Jesus taught and healed a man with an unclean spirit, described in next Sunday’s upcoming gospel reading. Most synagogues were small and met in homes. This was a substantial place. The ruins pictured above are of a synagogue built after Jesus, but the earlier ruins predate his ministry. Witherington says, “It is a mistake to underestimate the profoundly religious character of the Galilee in which Jesus operated.”

Ben Witherington III (The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary) says Mark conveys the sense that Capernaum is Jesus’ base of operations in Galilee. It is the hometown of half of his disciples, so there are plenty of places to find hospitality.

Jesus is a teacher and an exorcist in Mark’s gospel. They are impressed with his teaching, more so than their scribes. Witherington says scribes are simply the very few in the area who can read and write. As such, they would become the local “authorities.” Jesus appears to be out-scribing the scribes.

While teaching, a man comes up to Jesus. He is unclean, so he should not be there in the first place. He should be shown the door. The unclean spirit initiates the conversation. “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Judges 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 1 Kings 17:18) The spirits recognize Jesus, and his authority. Jesus evicts the spirits and the man convulses. Most of Jesus’ miracles in Mark are exorcisms. Witherington: “Mark wishes to stress the supernatural war that Jesus is taking part in…” Once again, the people are astonished – both by his teaching authority/power and his healing authority/power. His fame spreads.

Last week we heard Jesus calling the disciples. “Follow me and I will teach you to fish for people.” What will Jesus have to teach them about fishing for people? Well, here it is: This is what fishing for people looks like, Jesus-style. For Jesus, fishing for people means teaching and healing around Galilee. Teaching with authority (power, strength), and embarking on an itinerant healing ministry, engaging the suffering and outcast of this world.

What would this look like in your neck of the woods? How are you bringing healing and teaching in your community? I want to point out that the teaching is an important part of this. They are astounded at his teaching. There are congregations that serve at a food pantry and then wonder why no one notices. There is more to evangelism than social work. A healing ministry without teaching doesn’t feed the soul and invite others into the dance. A teaching ministry without a healing ministry in the community is hypocrisy.

Teaching and healing will not necessarily make you popular. Speaking up for people who are getting a raw deal, sometimes irritates people. It pricks the conscience. It also means people have to confront their selfishness, and deal with the inequities in the system. And then there’s the very human: More for you means less for me. It’s a zero-sum fear. Try speaking up for any group of people that are struggling or outcast. See what happens.

Someone in a former parish once said to me, “Why don’t you stop talking about immigrants and just preach the gospel?” I responded, “Which gospel is that?”

I don’t know of any gospel without a call to love the stranger, feed the hungry, love the unloved, preach good news to the poor.

I read somewhere: How effective would Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God have been had it not been accompanied by his ministry of healing in the community?

Think about this. What if Jesus had just preached? I believe his message would have lacked authenticity. Our preaching informs our ministry in the world. Our ministry in the world informs our preaching. One without the other is bereft of substance.

How effective will our preaching be if it is not accompanied by a healing ministry in the community? Will it be bereft of substance? Will it lack the inescapable sense of real world truth? “Preach the gospel always,” said St. Francis, “if necessary use words.”

Friar and priest Brennan Manning challenges our churchy private clubs: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

If we really want to get people to respond to the call of the gospel, the preacher might consider providing a list of opportunities to participate in healing ministries of the congregation, of other congregations, and in the community. It could be part of the worship registration card or another piece. Give people an opportunity to sign on the dotted line. “I’m interested in finding out more about…” This doesn’t commit them, but gives them a chance to respond tangibly to your message. Too often we inspire people, bring them to the edge of the water, the send them home without a chance to respond to the good news and call of the gospel.

Have your stewardship team follow up with these responses. Don’t limit yourself to what your congregation is doing. Another neighboring congregation may have a great Alzheimer’s program. Include it. Meals on Wheels is looking for volunteers. List it. List contact information, so that they can take initiative, but don’t leave it at that. Have a team ready to call with information and questions. “What interested you about this? “What have you done before?” “When have you served in the past in a way that moved you?” “Where is God calling you to serve these days?”

The power of Jesus’ witness lay in the irresistible combination of his teaching with authority and his healing with compassion. It’s an unbeatable combination, still today. If Jesus is teaching his fledgling disciples to fish for people, they will learn to do the same. So will we. Our best evangelism program, our best fishing, will be lives given in love for the world. When people see the church doing what it’s supposed to be doing, what Jesus did, they will sit up and take notice. People want to be part of a movement that is making a difference in the world, impacting lives, serving in Jesus’ name.