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Puffed Up

Mark 1:21-28

The Rev. Jon Roberts

28 January

2018

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

21 And they went into Caper′na-um; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; 24 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

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Jesus rebukes the Unclean Spirit, Illuminated page from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry c. 1415, Chantilly, France

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. [1]

Once upon a time a frog lived in a pond. Well, of course he wasn't the only frog in the pond, and for a long time he lived among the others, croaking and dancing, playing and singing, leaping and laughing. But one day the frog looked at his family and friends and said, "I'm tired of your croaking and leaping. You look and sound ridiculous." The others were stunned into silence. They simply stared at him." Look at you," the frog said. "Look at those patches on your skin. Look at your silly feet. And listen to you! All that croaking, day and night." He plugged his ears and held his breath and puffed out his chest. "I'd much prefer to spend time with a creature with stature. Someone big and strong and handsome and brave." The others croaked a little. "What do you mean?" they asked. "You're one of us." "Oh no," the frog said. And off he leaped to see what he could find.

For a while he lived alone in a pond among the water lilies. He was waiting to meet someone new. And then one day, just as he had imagined, a big ox wandering from his home stopped at the frog's pond to have a drink. The frog looked up and saw the handsome ox and knew at once that he wanted to know this grand fellow. So he began to croak, and leaped out of the water, up and down, this way and that, doing everything he could to attract the great ox's attention. Now the ox had been wandering all day and was very thirsty. So he stood at the edge of the pond and drank and drank, never noticing the leaping, croaking frog. "Never mind," the frog said to himself. "I'll just wait until he's finished drinking. Then he'll talk to me." He swam close to the ox's face and waited, croaking now and then, hoping the ox would soon notice him.

At last the ox finished drinking his fill, but when he did, he noticed the water lilies. "How beautiful," the ox said, and the frog, hearing this, puffed out his chest. "Croak, croak," he cried. But it was not the frog the ox had noticed. He sniffed at the water lilies, and nudged his nose against them, and inhaled the sweet fragrance. He admired the way they floated so peacefully upon the water. When the ox sniffed the water lilies, frog sighed. "Oh, never before have I seen such a magnificent creature. He is so majestic, so mysterious and strange!" So frog puffed, and puffed, and puffed, puffing himself up to twice his size, then three times his size. "Any moment now he'll notice me," frog told himself. And in between those puffs, he croaked, calling to the ox. Still the ox did not notice the frog, not even when the frog leaped from one water lily pad to the next, for by now the ox was dazzled by the sunlight glittering on the water and delighted by the rich smell of plant life and light.

"Croak, croak, croak," frog called, puffing himself up ever larger. "Please notice me, ox. Surely we're meant to be partners." Soon frog had puffed himself up so much, he could not stand any longer. He rolled onto his side, twisting his head this way and that, trying not to lose sight of the ox. And still he grew, and still the ox did not seem to notice. But the frog puffed himself up so large and grew so full of hot air, he could no longer hold himself together. "I'll make him notice me!" Suddenly, poof!...He was gone.[2]
The moral of the story is this: If you’re too puffed up,…you’ll surely croak!

Knowledge puffs up but Love builds up. These are the words of St. Paul to that church in Corinth, almost two thousand years ago. He was speaking to a few bloated frogs in his day. Can you imagine how difficult it was for Paul with the challenges he faced in Corinth? Sexuality, lasciviousness and political upheaval was constant. He continued to caution them, especially over the more important dilemmas…circumcision and whether or not they could eat meat. Spiritual purity in the form of what you could eat and how you identified were most important to these folks. They are getting bogged down in the multiple laws that built up one hundred fold since the original ten commandments. Love was not the building up, so that is why he said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”[3]

Jesus was teaching with great authority and many challenged the same issues regarding what was pure. An unclean spirit and idolatry were presented. [4] All of these things stirring up around the big pond. Jesus must have appeared like that magnificent ox, whose words had power, yet his sight was on the beauty of creation; not the vane croaks of a bloated frog. He breathed into the man with an unclean spirit life because he gave this person his love. Jesus comes in and balances both love and knowledge by his authority. He is able to keep all the critters of the pond where they belong and to see the larger picture, but all it takes is one person, or one group of people, who like to croak and croak until the community goes, “poof!”

It is like that for the church as well and we should be mindful of what we are doing. Whenever something or someone robs us of our joy, because we are told we are inferior by those who have greater knowledge but who have no love, then the economy of our communion is disrupted. Several people will come to a church to impress others. It is a suitable pond where we learn each others’ stories in order to get closer. Before you know it, one person is taking all the air. They are bragging about all they have done and how wonderful it is for us that we can be in their presence.

May we never lose sight, may we always call out, not for the sake of being recognized, but for the sake of glorifying the one, true God found in Jesus Christ. When you embrace others, even with, and specifically for their differences, not weighing their achievements less than your own, then you are able to love others as God has loved us. It may be important to know you are a follower of Jesus, and to share that news with others, but it is far greater to enjoy being a follower of Jesus. It can be exciting and it can be fearful. Sometimes you will not be afforded to look before you leap. By offering your faith in Jesus, he will make sure you never go, “poof.” He will give you the beginning of all wisdom when you love the others.[5] Love Christ so that you never get puffed up.

[1] 1 Corinthians 8:2
[2] This story is based on a fable by Jean LaFontaine, who published his "Contes and Fables" between 1664 and 1668.
[3] 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
[4] Mark 1:21-28
[5] Psalm 111:10

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