I wonder whether any of you have had a ‘wow’ moment……. Have a think for a moment………. The phrase ‘wow moment’ might mean different things to different people and so there are no right or wrong answers………. A recent wow moment for me, which I will remember always, is my ordination, but when I put my mind to it I thought of a few………. Giving birth to my children, seeing Mount Kilimanjaro for the first time, arriving at the gates of Disneyland, receiving a thank you letter from a student I taught, receiving overwhelming love, support or generosity from others…………… some big events, some seemingly small, but all that filled me with a sense of amazement, all made me say, or at the very least feel, ‘wow’.
And I don’t know about you but it’s often those sorts of moments which change me –not necessarily dramatically, but change my perspective or my outlook.
And it was the amazement in this morning’s Gospel reading which struck me and it’s this amazement which I want us to reflect upon this morning. ’And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions 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’.
This passage from Mark’s Gospel comes sandwiched between two occasions where we hear of Jesus’ teaching. It is a common feature in Mark’s account of the Gospel, where an event is strategically placed in the narrative between two other events to help explain or emphasise its meaning – it’s posh name is a pericope, but also known as a Markan sandwich. And it seems that the emphasis in today’s reading isn’t on what Jesus is teaching (as we are given no detail of this), but on the authority which he demonstrates and it is this which gives rise to amazement.
Amazement is defined as ‘A feeling of great surprise or wonder’ and as Christians the idea of amazement isn’t alien to us. How many of us know the hymn ‘amazing grace’? Or perhaps less well known is the worship song which opens with the line ‘your love is amazing’. But I find that it’s not that often that we simply reflect on our amazing God, revealed to us in Christ, certainly not as often as we could or perhaps should.
There are two specific things which I want to share with you and the first of these is how Jesus caused those who encountered him to be amazed.
Mark mentions on a number of occasions of the amazement of those encountered Jesus, but interestingly did not always lead to faith – and this a thought I want us to hold on to for the time being. At my count – and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – in Mark’s Gospel the word ‘amazed’ is used 6 times to refer to people’s reactions to Jesus and a fair few times in Luke and Matthews’ accounts too. And these are references to various aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. So throughout the Gospel it is not just the authority of Jesus which made people say ‘wow’. There were his many miracles or signs, his compassion for the marginalised and vulnerable, his radical message of justice……… to name but a few.
And not just in the Gospels but throughout Scripture we see ‘wow’ moments – we see God’s initiative of love and grace and his mercy, of his purposes being revealed, and for me the amazement doesn’t get more powerful and poignant than in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we remember in the Eucharist today.
Secondly, and not unconnected, I want us to consider how we can grasp something of the amazing love, grace and mercy of Jesus in our own lives. Now I’ve preached it once, and I’ll continue to do so, that following Jesus and being amazed by him doesn’t mean things will always go smoothly – and we don’t have to look far to see that the world can sometimes make us gasp ‘wow’ in amazement for quite different reasons as we see pain, suffering and brokenness. It’s a little like when I talked in Advent about the joy found in Christ but how this certainly did not mean we’d be happy all the time. But alongside the love, grace and mercy of Jesus which we have talked about, we also have the hope and promise of his peace, his perfect peace, and this offered to us both in the good times and the challenging times when it’s hard to feel that sense of amazement and awe.
And as disciples of Jesus, inspired and amazed by his example, we are to consider how we can live our lives according to this example. How can we, in our words, attitudes and actions, reflect something of Jesus and how can we share this amazing Jesus – his works, teaching and example – with those in our own lives.
It’s unlikely we’ll perform wonders and miracles, we won’t all get flashes of blinding light or epiphanies, but we are to open the Gospel and read, digest it, allow ourselves to be amazed – as we get ready to journey through Lent we can be prepared afresh to say ‘wow’ at the events of Holy Week, as we see the climactic moment of that amazing love on the Cross.
I mentioned near the beginning of this sermon that although Mark, and the other Gospel writers, speak fairly frequently of the amazement Jesus stirred up in those around him, this doesn’t necessarily appear to lead to faith, but as Christians we are called to respond in love to the love we receive from Jesus. As the ‘wow’ moments I mentioned at the start can provoke a change in us, so it is when we reflect upon Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection.
My prayer is that as we reflect upon the love, grace, mercy and peace poured out to us without condition, our response is not only a ‘wow’ moment but also a deepening of faith and desire to live our lives according to Christ’s example.