God Wants to Teach You a Better Way
(Lectionary Starters)

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
February 2, 2003
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28
Jim Killen, a minster of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, Texas

As Morrie Schwartz was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, he shared his reflections on life with a young friend, Mitch Albom. They were published in the best selling book, Tuesdays With Morrie. One day he said, “If the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy into it.” Later he reflected, “People are only mean when they are threatened and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. … When you are threatened, you start looking out for yourself. You start making money your God. … Which is why I don’t buy into it.” (From Tuesdays with Morrie, Doubleday, 1997, p. 154)

Lots of people who take an honest look at the way in which they and everyone around them are living eventually realize that , “This really isn’t working. We really need a better way.”

God wants to teach us a better way of living. We know that because Jesus came trying to teach people a better way of living. What Jesus did, God does. God sent Jesus to make God known and to show us what God is trying to do in our lives. What Jesus teaches and how we should respond to it may surprise us. Only a person who is ready for an adventure can enter into it. But those who dare to do so can discover an exciting new possibility.

This is one of a series of sermons on things that God wants to do for you, things that God will do for you if you will let him, things that can make your life better.

I. We all learn some way of living

The people who went to the synagogue in Capernaum on that day that Mark tells us about went expecting to learn a way of life. That is what you go to church for. They went expecting to learn a way of life based on the teachings of Moses. But somehow the teachings they were accustomed to hearing had gotten rigid and formal. That was O.K. for people who wanted nothing but security from a way of life. But those who were restless may have wondered, “Was it really this way with Moses? Wasn’t his story more of an adventure?”
Some of the people may have remembered that the book of Deuteronomy promised that there was to be another prophet like Moses. Was there still more there to be discovered?

We learn a way of life too, don’t we? We are drilled in its disciplines by going through our daily routines and we are “brainwashed” into its ideologies by endless television commercials.

We too go to church – our synagogue. We hear good things there but, too often, we just assimilate it into the way of life we are learning from the world and claim some religious sanction for the things our culture is teaching us.

What are we learning, materialism, secularism, competitive relationships? What effect are the things we are learning having on us? Are they making us better people? Are they making us really happy? Are they making us feel secure? Or are they just making us anxious and unhappy?

By now, we may even have built Jesus into our culture. But wait. Take another look.

II. Jesus came to teach a new and better way of life

When Jesus went into the synagogue in Capernaum, he was a different kind of teacher – and the people realized it. They said that he taught like one who had authority.

Jesus taught a new way of life that is appropriate to the new possibility that God offers us. Jesus had been preaching, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15) The kingdom of God is both a new understanding of reality and a new possibility. It is a new understanding of reality based upon the belief that God is really the most real and the most important of all realities. It is a new possibility that is open to all who will allow their lives to be shaped by that belief. Jesus taught a new way of life that is appropriate for people who are living in that new possibility.

Are you familiar with the sermon on the mount? (Matthew 5Matthew 6Matthew 7) Its teachings may have become too familiar to us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” “Blessed are those who mourn…” “Blessed are the peace makers…” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake..” If we fail to realize how radical these teachings were and are, we have missed the point.

For Jesus, teaching and healing went together. It is true that most of the people were more interested in the heals than in the teachings but, Jesus healed as a way of teaching. When Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man, the people recognized that he was a teacher with authority, one who could make things happen.

Have you ever seen faith push fear or hate or greed out of a person’s life? It made a difference, didn’t it?
Jesus came to Capernaum teaching as one with authority, a new prophet like Moses, one who could restore the dynamic quality of people’s relationship with God. He came offering a new way.

III. How can we learn that new way?

We don’t do it by just sitting and absorbing information, even scriptural information. A pastor serving on a prison ministry team was surprised to find that five out of the six inmates with whom he was assigned to work had read the Bible from cover to cover. He knew that the leaders of his own church could not measure up to that standard. Some scriptural knowledge will be needed. But, there is more to learning the way than just learning information about it.

Moses gave the people the law. But he also led them out on a spiritual adventure in which their lives and their destinies were shaped by living according to their covenant with God.

Just so, Jesus came calling disciples and saying, “Follow me.” He called them to leave an old way behind, to learn about the new way from him, to venture out trusting that it is true that God is the most important of all realities – and that God loves us all, and to become involved, in partnership with Jesus, in serving the purpose of God.

What would it mean for us to undertake the adventure into which Jesus calls us? What would it mean to believe that God is the most real and the most important of all realities, to trust God rather than the other things we depend upon, to serve God rather than the things we serve?

God wants to teach us a new and better way of life – and, if we learn it, we will be glad.

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