Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

The Difference

January 29, 2012:

Getting Started
Potsdam
Call:   Deuteronomy 18: 15-20 (21-22)
Text:   Mark 1: 21-28
Read:   Psalm 111       (632)


[read Mark 1: 21-28]

Let's be honest:        many people - probably most people - today
have trouble relating
to a scripture that tells of Jesus exorcizing a demon.

In our time in history
In our community and in our country
We simply do not generally think in terms of demons.

We think in terms of faults, flaws and weaknesses
We think in terms of personality characteristics and traumatic experiences
We think in terms of mental diseases, conditions and addictions
        But not of "demons"

Now, we do use the term "demons"
to describe things that a person must get over
        in order to move forward in life
                "Once he got rid of his demons he became able to hold down a job or to be a good husband and father."
But we do not think in terms of anthropomorphic demons
        Shouting out like the demon in this story - and in some other scriptures as well.

In saying that, I do not mean to begin a discussion on demons
        What they are; whether they exist, etc

All I am saying is that
because 21st century Potsdamians or Potsdamites
        Do not generally think that way
        They/we may well have a tendency to dismiss this scripture
                In terms of its relevance to their/our lives.
And thus lose the value and the impact of the scripture.

That value and that impact come from what the scripture says
        About Christ
        And about his ministry.

The value and impact comes particularly from the lesson
        That how we begin our service for and to God
        Can have great value and a major impact on how the ministry proceeds from that beginning.

Certainly, therefore, nearly every pastor I know can relate to this story
        But as all Christians are servants
        That lesson should not be lost on any of us
                How we begin can set in motion an effective ministry
                Or it can put us in a position from which we need to catch up

I can tell you that I have clear memories
Of my first Sunday leading worship in each congregation I have served
I can even recall the dates of those first services.

In Jordanville  it was July 2, 1995
        I preached on the story from Luke 9
                Of Jesus and the disciples traveling to Jerusalem
                And the Samaritan village refusing to put him up
        [There was no Holiday Inn between Galilee and Jerusalem]

In that sermon, I likened James and John to mafia hit men
And made references to Hannibal Lechter and Woodrow Wilson.

And after the service, the congregation said
        "This guy is at least intriguing                Let's give him a chance."

In VanHornesville,      the date was November 1, 1998
        I don't remember my sermon there
        But I do remember that on that first day of my ministry there
                I broke the communion bread
                        And in the process, threw half of it off the chancel area
                                And onto the floor.

And after the service, the congregation said,
        "This guy is at least amusing           Let's give him a chance."

At Grace and Hogansburg,        I began on June 30, 2002
        Actually one day before my appointment officially began
                Because I was headed to Washington for two weeks

I preached on the calls to Peter and Andrew
        The one from John's gospel and the one from Matthew's

And I turned to the scripture reader
And I asked her which of the two scriptures was accurate
        Before explaining how the two scriptures taken together
                Illustrated and described my call to the pulpit

And after the service, the congregation said,
        "This guy is an interesting character   Let's give him a chance."

And then, of course, there was July 1, 2007
        My first day as pastor of this congregation.

I preached on the great commission
        As set forth in Acts 1 and Matthew 28

But what I remember most was telling the congregation
that in the late 1970s I made a point of going to hear Russell Clark
                Because I had heard that he was worth listening to
And that therefore, about 30 years later
I was awed to begin my ministry by serving him communion.

After the service, the congregation said,
        "This guy had the good sense to listen to Russell
        Let's give him a chance."

The very first worship in each of those congregations
        Resulted in people giving me a chance
        And had an impact on my ministries in and with each congregation
I understood that lesson from this scripture

The fact that I still remember so many of the details
        Is evidence of that

But how could I have missed that lesson?
Just look at the reaction Jesus got when he began his ministry          "They were all amazed,"
        They kept on asking one another, "What is that?"
        And they answered themselves
'a new teaching - and with authority"

They had recognized that Jesus was not just a gifted teacher
        That he was not simply intriguing, amusing, interesting,
or a person with good sense
They had recognized that he     taught with true authority
They had recognized that this guy was special.

They not only felt they needed to give him a chance
They felt compelled to follow him
        And to tell his story.

I was really pleased with, "Let's give this guy a chance."
        Even when it was based on (in one case)
                My throwing the communion bread around.

I don't believe that any pastor who is only human
        Has a right to dream of anything more


But my experiences at the beginnings of each of my ministries
        Cause me to be as awed, astounded and amazed as his listeners
                At the impact he had on them - as he began His ministry.

And at the impact their response had on others
For Mark tells us,
        "At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee/"

But despite their recognition of his authority and his "specialness"
        I doubt that those who were there
Fully recognized that he was the Messiah

In fact, I don't think it crossed their minds.

You see this man who had astounded them
didn't fit their expectations of the Messiah

He was a teacher - not a powerful military leader
He was humble - not royalty

I think, that his listeners thought he might well be a prophet
        Probably even the prophet
About whom Moses was talking in this morning's call to worship scripture from Deuteronomy
        "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people;
        You shall heed such a prophet."

        "(The Lord) will put words into the mouths of the prophet who shall speak to (the people) everything that (the Lord) commands."

Thus even without recognizing him as the Messiah,
they were right that he was special
        and that he had been sent, like Moses said he would be,
                with God's words in his mouth.

And they were right that they must heed what he said.

The great thing about their reaction and response was
That their awe at what they had witnessed
        Did not render them speechless

To the contrary, they went out to tell others
what they had heard     and what they had seen.
Thus his fame began to spread
        And those who were not there were eager to meet him.

As his ministry went on from this dramatic beginning
        Many others told his story as well
        And began to understand that he was even more than a great prophet - that he was indeed the messiah.

This excited some.              This threatened others.
Still others could not overcome their skepticism

But whether in fear or in excitement, the word spread.

It spread to Jerusalem and Samaria
Paul later took it out to Asia and then to Europe
The pilgrims and others brought it across the Atlantic

Even today, people continue to take it throughout the world
To Nicaragua    to Zimbabwe     to Nepal        to Jamaica

Today we gather to help take the word and actions of Christ's love
        To still another part of the world: the Philippines.
                By providing for inoculations against a killer disease
                        [A disease that 57 years ago killed my grandfather.
Not in Manila, but in Rome, NY]

Christ told his disciples to be his witnesses
in their own communities
in nearby communities
and to the ends of the earth.

Fulfilling that commission is the ministry of
His church and of this congregation of his church

Isn't it remarkable to think that ministry
has its beginnings
        In a teacher
        In a synagogue
        In Capernaum
        Twenty centuries ago

Demons or not, we had better be able to relate to this scripture
        And see it as relevant in our own lives.