A Useful Word — Mark 1:21-28

Our devotional guide to reading
through the scriptures this year, A Guide to Prayer for All
God’s People
, invited us to pay attention to God’s word
this week.  As I pondered how the Bible transforms our lives I was
drawn to these familiar words.

All scripture
is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness
(2 Timothy 3:16).

What snuck up on me this week was
the word “useful.”  I often use words like authoritative,
inspired, God-breathed, and holy to talk about scripture.  But last
week, while wandering in my thoughts through another book, I came
back to the word “useful.”  My experience in Bay Saint Louis
leads me to see the word “useful” in a new context.  That
community does not need any more authoritative pronouncements – it
needs useful actions of love.

Let us turn in our journey with
Jesus at the start of Mark’s gospel.  Jesus has been baptized by
John, blessed by God, tempted by the evil One, called his first
disciples, and we are only on verse 21.

They went to
Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, [Jesus] entered the synagogue
and taught.  They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them
as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Just then there was
in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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."  But
Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice,
came out of him.  They 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."  At once
his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee
(Mark 1:21-28).

Jesus and his newly called disciples
settle what will be the emerging center of Jesus’ ministry in
Galilee.  Jesus moves into the synagogue on a Sabbath and settles
into a seat of authority reserved for the spiritual leader of the
community.  From this “seat of Moses” came the words  that
ordered the life of the village and kept folks walking in God’s Way
(Torah).  Jesus settles into that sacred seat and offers a word that
amazes the congregation, not because of its academic rigor.  No, I
think they were amazed to receive a “useful” word that day.

Just then (kai euthus
immediately) the action in the room changes from word to deed.
Suddenly, a man with an unclean spirit, a man possessed by the evil
One, a man addicted to something of his age, could it be one of our
addictions … who knows … appears and amazingly calls Jesus by
name.  Jesus speaks the truly “useful” word and liberates the man
from the spirit that clings so closely.  Is there one among us today
who has experienced this liberating power?  Has someone touched you
with a “useful” word that brought healing?

The place was a high school English
class. The subject was modern drama, and the exercise was a class
reading of the script of Frank Gilroy’s "The Subject Was
Roses."  The reading moved toward the final scene, one in which
a young man named Timmy is leaving home and attempting to say
farewell to John, his stubborn and unfeeling father. The readers were
dutiful and lifeless.

Timmy’s lines call for him to say
to his father that he has had a dream the night before, a dream he
has dreamed many times. In the dream he is told that his father is
dead, and, when he hears this news, he runs into the street crying.
Someone stops him and asks why he is crying, and he says that he is
crying because his father is dead and his father never said he loved
him. The boy reading Timmy’s part faltered on these lines, his
voice taking on a strange timbre. The boy lifted his eyes from the
script and looked directly at the teacher. "My father has never
said that either," he whispered.

Suddenly the class was attentive. An
electric silence filled the room. All eyes were on the teacher, who
motioned for the reading to continue. The boy looked again at the
page and hoarsely read the next line:

Timmy – It’s
true you never said you love me. But it’s also true that I’ve
never said those words to you.

John – I don’t
know what you’re talking about.

Timmy – I say
them now …

John – I don’t
know what you’re talking about.

Timmy – I love
you, Pop … I love you.

The teacher was now standing by the
boy, his hand gently on the boy’s shoulder. As the teacher held the
boy close to him, first one member of the class, then another, spoke
quietly and thoughtfully of the difficulty and of the healing power
of loving another, even when that love cannot be returned.  When the
students left the class that day, they left neither bored nor merely
informed, but changed (Thomas G. Long, “A Understated Masterpiece”
quoting Frank D. Gilroy, About Those Roses, and the
text of The Subject Was Roses, Random House, 1965, p.

What is this?  A new teaching?  A
useful word?  The useful word that came to me this week is from Psalm
29.  Hear the following excerpts from this song to the LORD.

Ascribe to the
LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.

The voice of
the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the LORD,
over mighty waters. …

The voice of
the LORD causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare; and
in his temple all say, "Glory!"

The LORD sits
enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

May the LORD
give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with
peace! (Psalm 29:2-3, 9-12).

The “useful” word?  God will use
us to bring a blessing of peace.

LORD God, we sing of your Majesty
and we worship your majesty.
We are humbled by the power of the
wind and the force of the flood.
We are called to love our far
away neighbors … the task looms large.
We are called to love
those close at hand and the task looms as large.

Give us a “useful” word to share
with a neighbor in need of your love.
Give us a “useful” word
to confront our resistance to change.
Give us a “useful” word
to guide our children in right paths.
Give us a “useful” word
as we debate the distracted politics of the age.
Give us a
“useful” word that strengthens your people.
Give us a “useful”
word that blesses your people with peace!  Amen.