4th Sunday after Epiphany

January 28, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Deuteronomy 18. 15-20. God promises to raise up a prophet for the people. You will know to take the prophet seriously if what the prophet says turns out to be true.

Psalm 111. Great are the works of God: God gives us food, provides us with a wisdom (“precepts”) that directs our lives, redeems us and establishes a covenant with us. “Fear of God (reverent humility) is the beginning of wisdom.”

1 Corinthians 8. 1-13. Dealing with food sacrificed to idols. “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” Don’t cause others to fall.

Mark 1. 21-28. Jesus drives out an “unclean” spirit, “He teaches with authority!”

Preaching Thoughts

 Prophets aren’t people who predict the future; they speak for God about the present moment (as has been said, forth-telling, not foretelling). Their reference to the future is simply pointing out the consequences of people’s actions. They’re saying “Here’s where you’re headed.” You’ll know they’re authentic when it turns out they’re right.

1 Corinthians
Paul says idols aren’t really gods, so eating food dedicated to them doesn’t really matter—except that it may mislead some people. The important thing is not to be right, but to be loving. Don’t do what makes you look good; do what helps people.
       There’s a distinction to be made between what Paul sees as idols and what we know as various religions. In Paul’s experience no other religion besides Judaism (Christianity didn’t really exist yet) was actually a real religion. They all worshiped idols but not God. Well, we know better. Most religions in the world are not actually idol-centered, but worship God with different language and images and stories than we use—but it’s still God. (There are greater differences among Christian theologies than among some religions!)
       One question is about sharing in people’s observance of other religions. Is it OK to attend Muslim prayers, or a Buddhist meditation? Of course! To participate in another tradition doesn’t require you to renounce your faith. There’s no competition. Every religion is trying to connect us with God and help us lead good lives. We can learn from them all, and earnestly pray with them all.
      But a second question has to do with actual idols. What’s the real equivalent for us of “eating in the temple of an idol?” How about our worship of money, or political power? How we idolize beauty (narrowly defined by corporate powers) or status? Maybe saying the Pledge of Allegiance. (I pledge allegiance to God alone.) How do we act in ways that make our commitment to Christ clear, or on the other hand expose our idolatries?

       I’ve come to appreciate the notion of possession by spirits as a way to understand mental illness. It honors the mystery that one’s mental health is separate from one’s identity. You are not your illness. A good person can be possessed by a bad spirit. Even under the possession, the person is still a good person. We easily fall into judgmentalism toward people with mental illness as if it’s a moral failing. Understanding them to be “possessed,” beyond their control, helps us avoid that.
       It’s an “unclean” spirit. Technically it’s not evil, just unclean. But it is by the power of evil that the man is possessed. The spirit says,”Have you come to destroy us?” Mark’s implied answer is, Yes. Jesus is not just healing individuals; he’s out to do away with the idea of “uncleanness,” and in fact overpowering the power and structure of evil itself. He has come to destroy all unclean spirits. Our own actions for the sake of justice and healing, even opposition to the greatest human evils, takes place one small act at a time.
       People describe this exorcism as a “new teaching.” Jesus’s teaching is not doctrine; it’s healing. That’s a model for us: that the teaching of the church not be doctrine but action. What makes us the church is not what we believe, but how we love.

Call to Worship

Leader: Creating God, you made us in the image of your good love. You know what is in us.
All: We open our hearts to your grace.
Loving Christ, you reach out to us with tender mercy and healing. You set us free.
We open our hearts to your grace.
Life-giving Spirit, you fill us with your mercy and power. You bear us on a journey of grace.
We open our hearts to your grace.
Heal us, and make us a healing people,
in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Leader: Praise to the God who loves us.
All: Thanks to the God who heals us.
Praise to Christ, who sets us free.
Thanks to the Spirit who makes us one.
We worship you, Holy One, in gratitude and love.

Leader: Creating God, your grace overwhelms us.
All: Glory! Wonder! We praise you!
Your Word is made flesh. Your Truth is made real among us.
Blessing! Beauty! We thank you!
You dwell within us, giving new life, overcoming all that would diminish life.
Greetings! Welcome! We open ourselves to your Spirit.
By the power of your Word, set us free and restore your image within us.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit of Life, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: Christ our Savior, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.
All: You cast out evil spirits, and you heal the brokenhearted.
Cast out our sin, heal us in your tender mercy,
and grant us the power to serve with you, with courage and compassion.Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Healing God, we are a broken people. Only your Word of grace can make us whole. Speak your grace to us. Let your healing power enter us, change us, and set us free, free to be who you create us to be, free to love, free to live joyfully.. We pray in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.2.God of love, your servant Jesus taught with authority. We give him our obedience, our trust and our listening. Speak to us, that we may hear and be healed, that we may listen and obey. Amen.

God of Truth, you speak your word and bring us to life. You lay your hand upon us and heal us. You walk with us and show us the way of compassion. We open our hearts to you, to hear your Word, to be shaped by your Word, to be made new by your Word. Bless us, for we are listening. Amen.

Gracious God, people gathered around the house to hear Jesus and to be healed. We, too, come to hear your Word proclaimed and to receive your healing deep in our hearts. Speak, for we are listening. Touch us, for we are still. Feed us, for we are hungry. Love us, for we are yours. Transform us, for we are ready to share your grace with all the world. We pray in the name and the spirit of Christ, who is present. Amen

Gracious God, Jesus worshiped in the synagogue and taught with authority. Gather us among his listeners, so that he may heal us, and your Word may have authority in our lives. Grant that we may be guided not by our own demons and desires, but by your Spirit alone, by the grace of Christ. Amen.

God of grace, in Christ you bring healing to broken lives and hearts; you restore our faith and call us into new relationships. Anoint us with the power of your Spirit that we may bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the brokenhearted, and proclaim justice for the oppressed, that we too may faithfully offer healing to the world, in the name of Christ. Amen

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of healing,
quiet the demons in us,
still the fears, silence the many voices,
and let us listen for your word,
wait for your touch,
and open ourselves to your life-giving work. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God of love, many spirits inhabit our hearts.
Help us see the loving ones and the fearful ones.
Heal our fears, forgive our sins,
strengthen our love,
and make us whole in your Spirit.

Loving God, we confess that not all that is within us is of you.
Not all that is within us gives life.
Forgive our sin, heal our wounds,
and cast out whatever in us would diminish life.
By your grace, re-create us in the image of Christ.

Healing God, we lay our lives before you:
all that is, and all that has been,
what is helpful and what is hurtful.
We lay open to the light of your grace
all that has distanced us from you and from others,
what we have done, and what we have left undone,
the wounds that led us to these choices
and the wounds these choices have caused.
Accept us as we are, we humbly ask you, tender God:
receive our sorrow and disappointment,
heal us, and cast out all evil spirits.
Forgive us and set us free,
so that we may live in your grace alone.


Psalm 111, A paraphrase

God! You! Glory!

I thank you in my deepest guts,
         echoed by the whole tribe of God!

Your magic amazes me,
         confounds anyone who tries to understand.
Your miracles, brilliant and vast,
         come from such tender, loving hands!
The universe shimmers with grace,
         glows with your gentle mercy.

We are in awe: you feed us;
         you are steadfastly thoughtful toward us.
We see your grace in all that you do,
         mighty Creator, tender nursemaid.

Your love and justice sing through the world.
         When we hear it we know how to dance.
The song is eternal.
         To live is to sing it, sing it out loud,
         with eyes closed.

The bound ones you set free;
         the abandoned ones you marry.
This is your holiness,
         what sets you apart.

(Wisdom is rooted in awestruck wonder,
         overwhelmed by God.
Practice wonder,
         and you will know what you need to know.)

Lovely One, the universe is your praise.
         Infinite Beauty!
         Infinite Glory!

Response / Creed / Affirmation

      We trust in God, Creator of all things,
who is pure compassion,
who loves us unconditionally,
who is present with us in good times and bad,
who is our salvation.
      We trust in Christ, the embodiment of God’s love,
the love and healer of our sols,
who saves us, forgiving our failures,
washing away our betrayals,
who teaches us life’s deepest things:
how to pray, how to love,
how to be gentle with each other.
       We trust in the Holy Spirit, God’s power flowing in us,
that comforts the faithful,
empowers us to love as we have been loved,
and joins us together as the Body of Christ.
We believe we are sent in that Spirit
to heal, to forgive, to do justice,
to radiate the love of God, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for the mystery that you give yourself to us. You bless us by your grace and your presence, heal us of our demons, and empower us to work with you for the healing of this world. Send us forth, in the name and authority of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Becoming Whole (Original song)             
Multiple verses are provided. Sample lyrics:

We are a broken people becoming whole again.
We are a wounded people being healed again.
We are a captive people walking free again.
We are a sinful people given grace again.

Christ Our Healer      (Tune: Joyful, Joyful)

Christ, our healer, you have touched us, reaching through the dark divide,
healing broken hearts and bodies, casting death’s old shroud aside:
raised us from our bed of sorrows, put your arm around our pain,
raising us to new tomorrows, bringing us to life again.

Christ, our teacher, in our healing you have given us your gift:
grace to bless, your love revealing, pow’r to heal and hope to lift.
In your Spirit, your forgiveness, your compassion we embrace
ev’ry wounded, shamed or silenced child of God with gentle grace.

Christ, our savior, you are going on to every town and field,
on to every land and people, on until the world is healed.
Use us in the whole world’s mending, use us as your healing hands,
’till as one the world, made whole, takes up its mat with joy and stands.

Jesus, My Healer          (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

Jesus, my healer, come to me and touch me;
lay your hand upon my soul.
All of my woundedness gently embrace and bless
and, though I’m broken, make me whole.

Source of our healing, God, our Re-Creator,
your deep joy is to raise and bless.
Your faithful promises and all our trusting hope
are stronger than our dark distress.

Spirit of healing, move among your people
to bear the blessing that flows from you:
with tender love to bless the world’s brokenness
and share the grace that made us new.

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