Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Demons on the Inside” 01.29.2012 Sermon

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

Mark 1:21-28 • January 29, 2012

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

I want to check and see if you were paying attention as our gospel was read today. Today’s gospel from Mark is the story of the first healing, the first miracle of Jesus. The casting out of an unclean spirit from a man possessed. It’s something that we expect to hear and see Jesus doing in the gospels, BUT did you catch where this event takes place? Where does the possessed man show up? ____________ Right… In the synagogue. Right smack dab in the middle of the church. It absolutely blows me away that the very first miracle of Jesus in the gospel of Mark happens in a very special place. The church building itself.

Lutheran Pastor David Rhoads points out that in the gospel of Mark “Jesus wields authority over demons, illnesses (when people have faith), and natural forces (seas, deserts, trees) – nonhuman forces that oppress people. Jesus wields no authority, however, over people. He cannot heal people without faith, make them keep quiet if they wish to speak, or force his disciples to understand his teachings.”

Jesus doesn’t aggressively force his authority on people. He doesn’t “lord it over” people with a hammer. Jesus’ divine authority is to serve people.

Authority to serve people.

I’m not sure that I believe in being possessed by demons in the way that our gospel seems to portray them today. But I do believe that I see people nearly every day, including myself from time to time, who are possessed.

How have demons taken hold of your life to the point where they’ve become the very authority of your life? They may not be demons that make your head spin around as you shriek loudly while your eyes pop out of your head, but they are there.

Theologian David Lose says that the Hollywood stereotypes of demons are not true to the ones that we actually face. Lose says, “Rather than bless, [these demons] curse; rather than build up, they tear down; rather than encourage, they disparage; rather than promote love, they sow hate; rather than draw us together, they seek to split us apart.”

Demons like jealousy or addiction or pride or unhealthy life styles or excessive worry or an inability to forgive. Demons that need to be cast out in order for us to live the lives that God is calling us to live in Jesus Christ. The gospel writer of Mark is very clear that when an unclean spirit possesses us, it is in direct opposition to what the spirit of Christ wants to do in and through us.

Is that part of your struggle today? A part of you that is so bound up in the darkness of something that possesses you that you are afraid of what might happen if you actually release your grip and let the authority of Jesus say to you, “Be silent, and come out.”

In her book Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith, author Kathleen Norris writes, “When I think of the demons I need to exorcise, I have to look inward, to my heart and soul. Anger is my best demon, useful whenever I have to go into Woman Warrior mode, harmful when I use it to gratify myself, either in self-justification, or to deny my fears. My husband, who has a much sweeter nature than I, once told me that my mean streak grieved him, not just because of the pain it caused him but because it was doing me harm. His remark, as wise as that of any desert Abba, felt like an exorcism. Not that my temptation to anger was magically gone, but I was called to pay closer attention to something that badly needed attention, and that was hurting our marriage. It confirmed my understanding of marriage as a holy act: one can no more hide one’s true faults from a spouse than from God, and in exorcising the demon of anger, that which could kill is converted, transformed into that which can heal.”

So the point here for Mark, probably doesn’t rest on what Jesus says or does as much as it rests on how the people respond to what Jesus says and does.

I think the most challenging and transforming aspect of life in Christ is when we finally allow Jesus to release the demons that keep us tightly focused on our own selfish wants and desires and stop us from seeing the needs of others around us. These are demons that we seem to hold onto very tightly. But when we finally let go of them, we realize that we have been given authority by God, through Jesus, to heal, to proclaim, to change, to bring about redemption and forgiveness, and to cast out demons – for the sake of others. For the sake of our neighbor.

What bothered the religious leaders in the synagogue that day was not that Jesus prayed and preached. It was the fact that his prayers and teaching was moving people into action. So often, I think the church’s problem is not that we do not have authority, it’s that we don’t use the authority we have. Let’s quit defining the problems and then beating each other up with them – whether they are problems in another part of the world that we have no personal connection with like Egypt or Syria or they are right here in our own congregation – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – and let’s start applying the authority that we have been given by God, through Jesus to heal, to support, to cast out, and to lift each other up.

Life in Christ is not always easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never been engaged in a community of faith. They have never shared the life and death moments that these communities experience together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. It is in and through these communities that life and death walk hand in hand.

Thank God that this Jesus comes to us over and over. And thank God that this Jesus doesn’t and will never give up on us.
Blessing in the Chaos is a poem written by Jan Richardson that I pray serves us well as a final thought for today.

Blessing in the Chaos

To all that is chaotic
in you,
let there come silence.

Let there be
a calming
of the clamoring,
a stilling
of the voices that
have laid their claim
on you,
that go with you
even to the
holy places
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
with wholeness
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and demeans,
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.

Let there be
an opening
into the quiet
that lies beneath
the chaos,
where you find
the peace
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.

“What’s In Your Net?” 01.22.12 Sermon

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Mark 1:14-20 • January 22, 2012 • “What’s in Your Net?”

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

So how many of us would have been like these first four disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, and John? This guy Jesus walks by, you’ve never met him before. From what we know at the surface of our text today, you’ve never read about him in the papers, heard his voice on a radio or television, or watched any of his movies or YouTube videos. Would you have been confident enough, or maybe foolish enough, to say, “OK, Jesus. I’ve never met you before right now, but that doesn’t really matter. I’ll drop everything. Leave my business and family and employees behind and follow you into the future even though I have no clue as to what that may be. By the way, where are we eating dinner tonight?”

If Jesus walked by me while I was sitting at my desk writing liturgy for an upcoming worship service and said to me, “Let’s go.” I think I may have said, “What? Are you kidding me?” I think it’s entirely true and probably a bit hard for you and I to admit – that – most of us admire what the first disciples do in fact do, but few, if any of us, are actually willing to do the same.

One thing is for sure when reading the gospel of Mark. You better buckle your seat belts and hang on for the ride. Mark wastes no time getting to the point of this Jesus and what his mission and ministry is all about. Mark is not like Matthew’s gospel with a beautiful birth story complete with detailed genealogy and wise men and adventures to Egypt. Mark is not like Luke’s gospel where we encounter the drama of Jesus’ dedication at the Temple and a party at Aunt Elizabeth’s house and a bit of political intrigue with King Herod. Mark is not like John’s gospel, an eloquent poetic and theological journey of God becoming flesh through this one Jesus and literally moving in.

Mark doesn’t waste any time. Mark wants those who hear these words to know that the time is now. Ready or not, here we go. Put down your nets – it’s time! Let’s go! With the arrival of Jesus, the world has changed forever and will never be the same again. One of Mark’s favorite words throughout his gospel is the word – “immediately.” It’s a word that Mark uses over and over in his gospel. What’s the hurry Mark? Why the urgency?

Methodist Pastor Ted Smith said that “Mark begins like an alarm clock, persistently declaring the time and demanding some response.” The response of the first disciples is to leave everything behind and follow. Go. Now!

But Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that we are missing the point of this story if our focus is on what the disciples gave up and whether we are in fact able to do the same today. In her sermon “Miracle on the Beach” Taylor claims that this story is really about God, not the disciples or us.

The “miracle story,” as Barbara Brown Taylor calls it, is really about “the power of God – to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.”

I don’t think Jesus was asking the first disciples to just add something to the list of things they already had to do. Jesus doesn’t give them a new list. Instead he’s offers them a new identity. A new way of doing. A new way of being.

I’m not afraid to tell others that I love the church. I am passionate about being part of a church that is deeply and intimately connected to strange folks like Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These men weren’t people of extraordinary talent or wealth, yet Jesus saw them as they were, doing what they did as ordinary people trying to make a living and care for their families and the community in which they lived. Jesus called out to them and asked them to follow.

I’m also not afraid to tell others that I don’t believe everything about the church is perfect either, just look at us. You and I have nets just like Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And most of us have far more than fish caught in our nets. That’s what makes it so very hard for us to let go of them and follow this Jesus.

Back to Barbara Brown Taylor. She thinks that “What we may have lost along the way is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices, to invade the most hapless lives and fill them with light, to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.”

I think that may be the reason why the gospel writer of Mark seems to be in such a hurry with his abundant use of the word “immediately” in his story of Jesus. He’s afraid that we’ve either become so concerned with looking at what someone else has in their nets or that we’ve become so complacent with what the power of God is doing in our lives that we really don’t care anymore.

I remember reading a short story in a pastoral care class about a young boy who asked his older sister a question about God. He asked her this, “Do you think anybody can really see God?”

“Of course not.” was her quick response. “God is way far up in heaven so that no one can see God.”

A few days later, the boy was still thinking about that question and thought maybe his mother would have a different answer, so he asked her “Mom, can anybody really see God?”

More gently than his sister had answered, but with a similar response, his mother said “No, not really. God is a spirit and lives in our hearts, but we really can’t see God.”

His mother’s answer helped a little, but still didn’t satisfy his search. A few days later he was fishing with his grandpa. The fishing wasn’t really all that good, so he posed the same question to him, “Grandpa, I wasn’t going to ask anyone else, but I can’t stop thinking about this, so I need to hear what you think. Do you think anyone can really see God?”
His grandpa looked at his wise young grandson and simply said, “Son, it’s getting so I can’t anything else.”

In Jesus, the disciples saw God and for whatever reason believed that nothing would ever be the same again. Stay with their nets or go with Jesus – it really didn’t matter anymore which choice they made – God had come to them. Nets and all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. It’s time to put down our nets and follow. Amen.