astounded and amazed: a sermon on a reading from mark 1

astonished and amazed, mark 1

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

January 28, 2024

The Reading

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he 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.

The Sermon

I was at work one day when I got a text from my wife with a picture of one of our kids, who she home-schools. The picture was of our 9 year old daughter who randomly asked for some paper because she wanted to draw a picture.

The picture she drew was of the progression of the life cycle of a seed, with each step showing growth, eventually with flowers and butterflies and everything. It’s not something she was studying, or asked to do. And I was blown away at her brilliance and creativity.

It was one of those moments as a parent when you look at your kids and start to realize how smart and wonderful they are and what amazing people they’re growing into.

And it’s that kind of amazement and wonder we see happening in the Gospel reading for today…

what’s happening in the reading from the Gospel of Mark

In the reading, we see Jesus and his disciples going to Capernaum. On the sabbath, they go to the synagogue where he teaches.

It’s here that we see that the people were astounded at his teaching. The gospel continues by saying that he taught as one with authority, and not as the scribes.

This is an incredible comparison!

Scribes, from the time of Ezra, were a group originally trained to write, mainly as transcribers of God’s law, who also served as readers in the synagogues. Eventually, they became interpreters of the Law who had the responsibility of teaching the Torah.

During the first century, they would also be responsible for producing legal documents, essentially functioning as a sort of notary, lawyer, and clerk of court.

As civic and religious leaders, they were often the most educated and influential people in the land.

And when Jesus spoke, this is what the people compared him to!

They were astounded at his teaching. That word astounded (in the English) means shocked or greatly surprised.

And it doesn’t stop there!

We then see how a man came in with an unclean spirit and Jesus cast that spirit out of him.

To that, the passage tells us that they were all amazed, saying, “What… is… this?”

Jesus was (and is) special, even stacked up against the most respected and influential people in society.

a calling to be different in the world today

When I read through something like this, everything in me wants to then think about how, then, we should be different and special today.

The church in the world today should stand out compared to other leaders in our society. That’s certainly not what we see when we watch the news.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see some big issue going on in our country, and the expert they bring in to talk about it is from in the church… bringing an unparalleled wisdom and insight into the situation? And not just that but to have a response that brings unity and peace and hope for everyone watching.

I certainly like to look at Jesus’ example as a model for how we should be as Christians in the world today.

And like I said, that’s the message that I wanted to share today.

But, we’re in the season after Epiphany.

on being astounded and amazed with Jesus

And an epiphany is about an insight or perception into the reality or essential meaning of something, particularly the coming of Christ.

So rather than stand here and preach to you about what you should be doing in the world around you, I want rather to encourage you to be astounded by Jesus at work in the world today.

When you walk out those doors today, I want you to look at a tree and listen to a bird singing its song and just wonder at the incredible Creation that God spoke into existence.

I want you to look into the sky around sunset tonight and marvel at the work of the Great Artist.

Where there is a homeless person getting a warm meal, I want you to see God our Provider caring for even the least of these.

I want you to find him in the readings we do every week and see that the Lord has been there pursuing us from the very beginning.

I want you to listen to the Eucharistic Prayers we’re about to do as we prepare to receive the Holy Communion and be astounded at what Christ did for us.

I want you to look at the people sitting next to you and see someone who was created in the very image of God and think about how God made them incredible and unique and valuable.

And I want you to look into the mirror and see the same thing in yourself.

I know what he’s done in my life to transform me into the man who stands here before you now. Not that I’m anything special, but I see what he’s done in me and is doing through me.

It’s times like this that the famous lyrics penned by John Newton resonate so deeply within me…

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

This is one of my all-time favorite songs, because I know what he’s done, and continues to do, with my life.

And you need to see that in your own life… and marvel at His work in you!

the psalmist describes the Glory of the Lord

Even in our Psalm reading for today, Psalm 111, we see the psalmist describing the Glory of God like this…

Hallelujah! (with excitement, this is an exclamation!)

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the deeds of the Lord!
they are studied by all who delight in them.

His work is full of majesty and splendor,
and his righteousness endures for ever.

He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

I’m not going to read the whole thing, but I wanted to give you a taste of what’s going on here.

This is a song and a prayer that responds to the very thing that the people in Capernaum were seeing and feeling when they listened to Jesus preach and watched Him cast out unclean spirits.

There’s this sense of utter wonderment about the Lord… who He is and what He’s doing.

I encourage you to read and meditate on Psalm 111 this week and let it light a fire in your soul with how you see Jesus working around you and in your life.

the science of everyday wonder

Even modern science is picking up on the power of this state of wonder and amazement.

Dachner Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says this in his recent book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

“Wonder, the mental state of openness, questioning, curiosity, and embracing mystery, arises out of experiences of awe. In our studies, people who find more everyday awe show evidence of living with wonder. They are more open to new ideas. To what is unknown. To what language can’t describe. To the absurd. To seeking new knowledge. To experience itself … To the strengths and virtues of other people. It should not surprise that people who feel even five minutes a day of everyday awe are more curious about art, music, poetry, new scientific discoveries, philosophy, and questions about life and death. They feel more comfortable with mysteries, with that which cannot be explained.”

Granted, this study isn’t done from a faith-based perspective, but what a powerful perspective as it relates to wrestling with the deep things of God.

It seems to me that a curious mind is one that does well when studying Scriptures, finding ways to extract every morsel of truth and life and hope from them.

And that idea of feeling comfortable with mysteries that cannot be explained… Christianity has its share of those, with the mystery of Trinity being one of the big ones.

One could likely make the argument that being in this state of awe and wonder and astoundment is an essential element of the Christian life.

final thoughts

And as I close, I want to give you one more thing to meditate on this week. It’s a prayer on page 814 in the Book of Common Prayer. So open that up and read along with me.

If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer at home, then get out your phone right now and take a picture of this prayer so that you have something to look back on later.

This is a prayer for joy in God’s Creation, and speaks to this sense of wonder we should have.

The reality is that Jesus is at work everywhere around us. We need to keep our eyes open to what He’s doing.

And if we truly catch a glimpse of it, it might just impact how we live… which, ironically, brings us back to the message I wanted to preach.

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty; Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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astounded and amazed: a sermon on a reading from mark 1

by Dan King time to read: 9 min