Mark 1:21-28 – People of Integrity not Perfection

One of the early patriarchs of the church said, and I paraphrase, because I do not remember the exact quote, ‘Lord, I can never be right with you, but what pleases you is that I want to be right with you.’  I understand this to mean that we are not made right with God by being right, our being right with God has nothing to do with us.  However, it pleases God that we want to live and act according to what we understand God wants of us, how we understand God and, therefore, God’s righteousness.

It does not matter that we make mistakes and get it wrong, it does not matter that we may misinterpret the Bible, it does not matter that we may misrepresent God, it doesn’t even matter that we sin.  What does matter is that we have a go, that we do something, that we exploring our understanding of God in the Bible, that we speak about God with others, that we desire not to sin.

In the same way as we would not expect a new-born baby to be able to walk or talk, or a primary school student to be able to perform year 12 calculus, or a first year medical student to be able to name the 8 bones in the human wrist in anatomical order, we should allow those who are at different sages of their faith journey to be able to respond to the gospel in word and action at their levels.  Likewise, we would not expect a man to understand what it means to be a woman, nor someone who has found home a safe place to be able to understand someone whose experience of family and home has been anything but safe.  We can only encourage everyone to express their faith journey in word and action according to their experience of God and life.

When a high profile televangelist, for example, falls off his pedestal, it is not because he is a hypocrite that we are offended, it is because of the lack of integrity of his life.  In placing ourselves in a position where we are under greater scrutiny, the higher the demands of integrity are placed upon us.

Mark 1:21-28 reminds us of our accountability before God – to be people of integrity of faith.

God is a gracious God.  God does not leave us alone to work it out on our own.  He has raised up the ‘charism’, the gift of the Spirit, in his church of those who are to help the people work out the righteousness of God, the prophets.  God will hold accountable each person who does not respond to the message God will give through the prophet.  (Dt 18:19)  In this passage it does not state definitively what that level of accountability will be.  However, the accountability of those who are prophets is clear.  Those who speak in the name of other gods or speak a message that God has not given them—that prophet shall die. (Dt 18:20)  This is a call to the integrity of God’s people and the accountability of those who are prophets.

In the Markan gospel account, the comparison is made between Jesus and the scribes who taught in the synagogues.  This is not an indictment upon the correctness of the teaching of the scribes.  There is nothing to suggest that they were erroneous in what was being taught.  But those in the congregation marked a difference between Jesus’ teaching and that of the scribes, ‘for he taught as one having authority.’ (Mk 1:22)  Jesus authority does not come from any scholastic award, from any academic chair, or from any position of eminence.  Rather, his authority comes from the integrity of his life.  His words were supported by his actions, ‘What is this?  A new teaching—with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ (Mk 1:27; NRSV)  What he says happens.

Listen to what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has to say about our integrity.

32But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. 35Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. 36For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one will live by faith.  My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” 39But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39)[1]

Those of us who have faith will endure hard struggles, public exposure, abuse and persecution and plundering of possessions for the choices we make, the words we speak and the works, or actions, we do, as well as the choices that are made by those with whom we are friends.

Listen to the last verse, ‘But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost’ (Heb 10:39b; NRSV).  In this society it is so easy to want to call everyone to the lowest common denominator.  In order that we might be a pluralistic society of, amongst many things, culture and religion, we shrink back from the things we believe in to accommodate others.  Our society shrinks back and limits our definition of Christian to what is done, and our society calls those who seek for more small- or narrow-minded, and those who are prophets, who demand more, even only within the church, are called unchristian.

Be assured, and be prepared, our integrity as individuals and as church will enable others to respond to what we have already possessed, but it will also mean that we will endure hard struggles, public exposure, abuse and persecution and plundering of possessions.  We will make mistakes and there will be occasional times when people will fall off a pedestal and we will receive criticism, public exposure and abuse, which will be deserved.  But, we must not shrink back.  We must not be tempted by the arguments and criticisms of the world to shrink back from the things we believe in.  This means we must be clear within ourselves, individually and as church, of what it is we believe.  I am growing aware that, even though we have a vision and strategic plan, we need to find a way to more effectively communicate it.  Consequently, we will work this year at reformatting our Mission Action Plan so it is clearer and more adequately defined.

We must not shrink back.  Our personal integrity is based upon how we express our faith in God amongst others who believe and in the world.  Our integrity as a Church is based on how well we express our shared vision and goals of the purpose that God has assigned us.  This includes our understanding of God as a God of grace – a God who accepts that we will make mistakes, get it wrong and are at different stages of relationship with him.

[1] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989. Thomas Nelson:Nashville

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