Called to Listen
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:21–1:28
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 31, 2021
“Serving Jesus – Living in Community 2021: Called to Listen”
How good are you at listening? Most of us could use a little help in this department. With the nearly year-long impact of the pandemic on our lives, lots of people have discovered that noise cancelling devices like headphones and ear buds help us to listen better with all of our Zoom meetings, working from home, and online learning. These things help to shut out much of the background noise while we’re trying to get things done for work and school. And we’ve all been in those online settings when things are disrupted by the dog that’s barking, the music that’s blaring out of control, or the very loud background conversation that just doesn’t stop. It can be hard to listen and focus with all of these distractions. Today’s Scripture memory verse is a call to listen as Moses tells the children of Israel: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him that you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). That prophecy from Moses is fulfilled in Jesus, who in today’s Gospel lesson casts out demons and teaches with authority as the Holy One of God. Our Epiphany series, Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2021, continues today under the theme, “Called to Listen.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Anybody watch the NFL playoff games last Sunday? Super Bowl LV next Sunday (February 7) will bring Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against last year’s champions, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. It promises to be a really good Super Bowl game next Sunday. But what happens if the linemen or receivers don’t listen to the quarterback? What happens if the quarterback doesn’t listen to the head coach? What happens is that it’s not football anymore, but a free-for-all. Without listening, it degenerates into chaos. Listening is critical, not just for the Super Bowl, but for life. Unless we listen, we will start alienating people around us.. Unless we listen, our work will pretty soon go off the rails. Unless we listen, our relationships with loved ones will wither away. Not only are we called to listen to one another, we are called to listen to God.
In today’s Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), God’s people were preparing to enter into the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering through the wilderness. The whole book of Deuteronomy is a review session before they go into the Promised Land. In fact, that’s what the word Deuteronomy means: “deutero,” meaning two or second, and “nomos,” meaning law. Moses goes over God’s covenant at Mt. Sinai a second time with the people as they prepare to cross over the River Jordan. It was revealed by God to Moses that he would not enter into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:37; Numbers 20:10-13; 27:12-13), and so the big question became what is the plan of succession for the leadership of God’s people? Who would follow in Moses’ footsteps and fill those very big shoes? In sure confidence that the Lord God would raise up this new person and provide that needed leader at the right time, Moses tells the people: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him that you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Later on, at the right time, that individual would be revealed as Joshua the son of Nun “who was full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deuteronomy 34:9). As the people listened to Moses, so they would listen to Joshua. And here’s what it gets problematic: the people didn’t always listen to Moses, nor did they always listen to Joshua. And if they weren’t listening to Moses or Joshua, they weren’t listening to the Lord God, either. They were, like us, prone to listen to other voices. We’re no different from God’s people of old. How often do we listen to every other person in our lives before we come before the Lord and seek his guidance? What should be the first thing we do becomes our last resort. Why do we wait until everything else has been shut tight in our face, and only then listen to the Lord and seek his face? The closing words from today’s psalm speak truth to us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10). Faith calls us to listen to the Lord. The fear of the Lord is that holy, awe-filled reverence for the Lord. That is what we are called to listen to.
The prophet whom the Lord God raised up as Moses’ successor was Joshua, Yeshua, which means “he saves.” But the ultimate fulfillment of this came through another Yeshua, whom we know as Jesus, who is our Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the one who has saved us from sin, death, and hell. The Gospel lesson today reveals Jesus as the One who taught with authority, “and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). Jesus is the One whom even the unclean spirits obeyed. It is sadly ironic that in Mark’s Gospel especially, it is always the outsiders – the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the Gentiles – who recognize who Jesus truly is. God’s own people do not; they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and recognize Jesus. It is those unclean spirits who also recognize who Jesus is, as we hear today: “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” (Mark 1:24). That is who Jesus is: the Holy One of God, and we are called to listen to him. The unclean spirit in the Gospel lesson did indeed listen to Jesus, and so Jesus became the fulfillment of his very Name, Yeshua, “he saves,” by saving that poor man whose life had been taken over by the forces of evil. What Jesus did for that man he is more than capable – he is ready, willing, and able – to do for each and every one of us of, for every person who comes to him with great needs and heavy burdens, trusting that in Jesus there is mercy and grace to help in time of need. Nothing is too hard for Yeshua. He is our Savior, the one who saves. The power of evil, death and the grave have all been overcome by our Savior who has saved and redeemed us, not with gold or silver, but with his holy and precious blood shed on the cross for our salvation (1 Peter 1:18-19). Let us then listen to him.
Even after Jesus taught with authority, even after he saved that man from the unclean spirit, the people responded with something less than faith: “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves…” (Mark 1:27a). Again and again in the Gospels, mere amazement and questions don’t necessarily equate with saving faith. We can attempt to intellectualize what Jesus has done. We can question among ourselves. We can try to explain it away, but at the end of the day it comes down to this: do we believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God? Do we believe that Jesus is Yeshua, our Savior? We have to decide who we’re going to listen to: Christ or the crowd. May the Holy Spirit work powerfully through Word and Sacrament to draw our hearts and minds to Jesus that we may rejoice in how we are called to listen to him. And as we listen to Jesus, we are then able help others listen to him also. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.