Have you ever heard the term “jumped the shark”?
It’s a reference to an episode of the TV show Happy Days.
Happy Days was on the air for 11 seasons between 1974-1984.
As happens with all TV shows,
eventually its popularity began to wane around the fourth season. So in the fifth season,
the decided to try something a little different to bring viewers back.
The main character, at least the main character to me,
Arthur Fonzerelli, AKA The Fonz,
was a leather-jacket-wearing, hair-slicked-back,
fix-the-jukebox-with-the-snap-of-his-fingers biker dude,
played by incomparable Henry Winkler.
In order to draw viewership back to Happy Days,
it was alluded to and advertised that in the fifth season
The Fonz would get up on water skies and jump over a shark!
I remember the anticipation of it
as a kid nearly put my jaw through the floor.
(I didn’t know any better). For me, the gimmick worked.
I watched the episode, and when the moment arrived
– when the Fonz, in all his glory, jumped over an actual shark,
I was speechless. And I kept watching the show.
(Of course it was in re-runs at that point.)
These days, the term is very much a negative one.
It gets used when a show has tanked,
when the stories just aren’t there to tell anymore
for those characters,
so the writers and producers go WAY outside the box
to try and lure you back in.
And they come in a variety of different ways.
Sometimes it is the removal of a main character
or the addition of a new one.
For instance, The Brady Bunch,
a childhood standard if ever there was one,
jumped the shark” when in their fifth, and final season,
they introduced Cousin Oliver to the cast.
He only appeared in the last 5 episodes of that final season.
Jumping the shark is something novel and gimmicky
– and a bit desperate –
designed to make you stand up and pay attention.
It is something out of the ordinary.
When the viewing audience has become bored
with the predictable plot lines
they try to do something that you would not expect,
And while TV shows tend to “go big”
when they’re desperate to prove they’re relevant,
more often what happens in real life –
the moments that we remember vividly,
the ones that make us perk up and pay attention –
are the times when things change,
when something unexpected happens,
and there is no question about its relevance,
and it changes EVERYTHING.
If I were to ask you where you were or what you were doing
on June 10, 2006, you could probably make a vague guess,
because you would know the routine of that period of your life. Where you lived and where you worked.
For me though, that day made me stand up and pay attention.
It was the day Bri and I got married.
If I were to ask you where you were on November 22, 1963
I have no doubt you could tell me. (JFK)
What about July 20th, 1969? (Moon landing)
January 28, 1986? (Challenger)
or how about September 11th, 2001? (9/11 attacks)
These dates stick in our minds
because something unexpected happened
or something that made the world stop
and look in the same direction.
Most of us probably couldn’t remember
what we had for lunch last Saturday,
but those of us alive and old enough
to know what was going on
can remember a lot of details from those days.
Because those days were completely ordinary days…
until they weren’t.
Until something happened that raised the stakes,
that elevated the game, that made people pay attention.
Part of the reason the Methodist movement
in England in the 18th century was so successful
was because preachers like John Wesley and George Whitefield did something different.
They did something the people hadn’t seen for a long time.
Up until Wesley and Whitefield
any Anglican church you went to
you would hear one of 66 sermons on a rotation.
They did not change.
They were the same lesson
with the same interpretation and same application
every – single – time.
As the preacher I would get bored,
so I can only imagine what it would be like
for those coming to worship.
But that was the reality in a lot of churches
of the 16th, 17th, and 18th, centuries, especially in England.
The book of Homilies was two books of 33 sermons each
that were the prescribed sermons to be read in church
There were a lot of reasons for this,
but the primary reason was political.
The church in England had been all messed up
with Anglicans and dissenters and Catholics
and a few fringe Protestants.
And so, as a way of keeping political peace
and keeping congregations in line,
as a way of maintaining unity
and making sure the clergy didn’t go and get any ideas of their own, these homilies were the preferred mode of preaching at church.
As a preacher, I cannot fathom that.
Sure, there are some extra busy weeks
when it might be nice not to need to write a sermon,
but by and large, studying the scripture and praying
and discerning God’s message for this community,
here and now and today, is a huge part
of how I understand my ministry.
So I cannot imagine just opening up a book of sermons
that someone else wrote 30 years ago
and preaching that and thinking it will somehow be relevant
to our issues today.
It may have the ability to lay a ground work,
but it cannot build on that; it cannot help us to grow.
Wesley and Whitefield threw the book of homilies out the window.
They read the scripture and they preached relevant sermons.
They opened up the Word of God and people responded.
The people woke up. They paid attention.
And the world changed.
15th century England
didn’t have the market cornered on pre-written
and scripted sermons.
This same type of thing was happening back in Jesus’ day as well.
The people would gather.
A scroll would be brought out and read aloud,
and then the scribe,
or whoever happened to be speaking in the synagogue that day, would give the standard interpretation.
These were Interpretations that came
from the highly respected rabbis.
Interpretations that hadn’t changed much at all over the years.
This is what’s happening in the synagogue in Jesus’ time.
The same scriptures, with the same interpretations,
are repeated and recycled over and over again.
Until Jesus walks into the synagogue in Capernaum.
Everyone is there. Waiting.
Everyone is expecting to hear the passage read
and the same old application given
and complete their obligation.
But today, this ordinary day, in Capernaum,
the reader is Jesus, and his application of the scripture
is anything but old.
In this instance,
we are not told which scroll he is reading from
nor what his teaching is
– but what matters is how the people respond.
We are told that those present,
those who were expecting the same lesson,
expecting to show up and do their duty
while balancing their checkbook or catching up on email,
what we are told, is that they paid attention. They were astounded by this teaching
because it had authority.
It was not the weak tea of the scribes
who merely regurgitated the ancient rabbinical teaching.
They were amazed.
And I am sure, for more than a few moments,
they were speechless. Dumbstruck.
Tongue-tied. They were slack-jawed.
Its was an ordinary day, a day like any other… until Jesus showed up.
And the crowds chose the right word to describe him.
I don’t want us to miss that this morning.
They described Jesus as one “having authority.”
Now authority can have negative connotations.
Deep inside, there’s a part of us
that still feels like teenagers.
We relate to that time of life
when we don’t want to submit to any authority but our own,
and those in authority are the ones
who are trying to ruin our fun and make us follow the rules.
Even as adults it can carry bad feelings.
When the red and blue lights start flashing
in our rearview mirror, for example
– that is a type of authority that we are not very fond of,
at least at that moment.
Or the type of authority granted to your supervisor
who has the power to make or break your career.
The word “authority” here in the first chapter of Mark
doesn’t really mean any of of that.
It is actually more in keeping with the idea of an author.
For instance, there is a series of books that I love;
they are guilty pleasure to be sure,
and if you do not like science fiction
or special forces kinds of books,
I don’t recommend you seek them out.
But they are written by a man named Jonathan Mayberry,
a very gifted writer who has won many awards.
So as I said, I love the books he writes
about a character named Joe Ledger.
This character is layered and deep and witty,
and perhaps, suffers from split personalities.
But, as a lover of these books,
as one who has read everyone of them in the series,
I have caught discrepancies,
bits of information about a timeline
or a character trait that just doesn’t seem to make sense
or work in that universe.
So I do what anyone of my generation does,
and I take to the internet to find other fans
and see what they think is happening.
And they all toss around the same three theories,
and none of them fit for me.
So I decided to do the only thing I can
to get the answer I am looking for..
I wrote to Jonathan Mayberry…
well, I tweeted at him anyway;
that’s what writing to people looks like these days.
And he tweeted back to me.
We had a conversation.
He answered my questions.
He was the only one who could, really,
because that universe, those books, and that character,
they originate, they were created, in his mind.
He is the author, he is the authority.
So for Jesus, to teach as one having authority,
is to speak as the author,
as the one who wrote the book as it were,
as one who was there to witness it.
It was not speculation on his part.
It was not a good guess or a new interpretation
for the sake of a new interpretation. For the first time in a very long time,
the Hebrew people are hearing about their faith,
their belief system from the one who created it.
And they can do little else
but pay attention and marvel
at this amazing thing that is happening.
More than that though,
more than teaching as the author,
Jesus teaches as the one who has the power to change things.
While Jesus is teaching
a possessed man walks into the synagogue
and exposes Jesus for who he is,
and Jesus casts the demon out and heals the man.
He doesn’t just have authority as the one who created the universe, but he has authority as the one with the power to recreate it,
to rewrite and edit it, to reshape the world still.
The power to heal and to command evil spirits.
The power make all things new.
So what? What does that mean to me?
Jesus is still Jesus.
Jesus has never stopped being Jesus.
Jesus is alive and working in the world.
Jesus is still the author, still the authority,
and still the one with power to make things new.
And while you may find balancing a checkbook
or updating your facebook status
more interesting than what I am saying,
don’t for a moment, for an instant,
enter these doors or open this book
and not expect to be dumbstruck.
To be astounded. To be speechless and slack-jawed.
Because Jesus is the authority,
and if we listen to him,
and to what he is trying to teach us
through the word and through each other,
this ordinary day
could be a day written in your hearts and minds
as indelibly as the moon landing
or the day you met your true love.
It could be today.
Our lives can be changed today,
and every day,
any day when we choose to pay attention to our teacher,
the author and finisher of our faith.
Let’s invite the author in. Amen? Amen.