Monthly Archives: June 2013

“Return Home…Tell Someone” 06.23.2013 Sermon

Luke 8:26-39 • June 23, 2013

Click here to watch a video recording of this sermon.

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

Hopefully you’ve been paying a little attention over the last few weeks of worship. If you haven’t, I encourage you to go back and check out the gospel readings from the last several weeks again. Maybe use it as part of your prayer and devotion time this week. We’ve heard about a slave, a dead man, a sinful woman who might even have been a prostitute, and today a madman possessed by a demon who identifies himself as “Legion.” Which indicates that it’s not just one demon, but probably thousands of them in this man. This section of Luke’s gospel piles one exciting story on top of another.

This isn’t a time for summer vacation brothers and sisters. It’s time to experience first-hand how Jesus widens the circle of the people of God to include those who are seen as contaminated and outside the community or dirty and unclean. You know who I’m talking about, people like you. People like me.

The characters in our gospel readings over the last month or so reflect somebody that we’ve all seen before, somebody we may even know. And ultimately, somebody who forces us to open our eyes and take an honest look at ourselves.

But usually we live more like the couple from Good Shepherd as they drove through the mountains of western Montana over Memorial Day weekend.

“Every time he raced around one of those narrow curves, I was scared half to death.” is how the wife of this couple described the weekend experience.

“I couldn’t understand what she was so scared about.” The husband told me. “I kept telling her to just do what I do. Keep your eyes closed!”

If we define “demons” as forces that capture us and prevent us from becoming what God intends us to be, then I believe that you and I are surrounded by – even possessed by – as many demons today as those that Jesus encounters in the Bible. Our demons take many forms: mental illnesses, addictions, obsessions, destructive habits, accumulation of material possessions, and many other things that you are thinking about right now.

If we look at other Gospel stories of “demon possession,” all the demons Jesus confronts have three things in common: they cause self-destructive behavior in the victim, the victim feels trapped in that condition, and they separate the victim from normal living with family and community.

Sound familiar? Don’t many of us suffer from the same kind of burdens? Notice the similarities between the demon-possessed man in today’s gospel reading and the demons that possess us. The demons hurt him and cause self-defeating behaviors. Don’t our own obsessions, addictions, bad habits, even resentments cause self-defeating behaviors that hurt us, and others, deeply? They can cause us to feel bound up and trapped, flailing to free ourselves but powerless to know how.

The man in our story today is cut off from all things that enable him to be human. He doesn’t live with people or in a home, but “in the tombs,” probably in caves that were used as burying places like what we would know as cemeteries. He is “driven by the demons into the wilds.” In other words, he’s experiencing a “living death,” separated from people and normal living. When you and I are plagued by our own demons, don’t we feel dead inside? Don’t we feel separated from ourselves? From others? From God?
To any of the demons that possess us, the message from Jesus, today and in all days of our life in Christ, is one of hope and new life. So the point of the story before us today, and really of all the demon-possession stories in the Gospels, is that the power of God can cast out demons.

That’s a key to the success of programs like Alcoholic Anonymous. The twelve steps of AA begin with these three: 1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.; 2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.; 3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.

Alcoholism remains a great problem – a great demon if you will – in North Dakota and the United States. It’s even worse in places like the former Soviet Union. Before the collapse of the USSR, Soviet officials appealed to American Alcoholics Anonymous members to help them set up AA groups in their country. However, because the Soviet Union was officially an atheistic nation – it was actually against the law to believe in God – they asked that the first three steps to be taken out. The Americans refused, stating that the first three steps are the basic ingredients to the success of the program. God is important to the healing that can happen through AA. And members of AA realize that they not only need God’s help but the support of people around them. Becoming free from our demons is never a “do-it-yourself” project. You and I need God to free us from our demons. We also need the support of the community around us.

So Jesus walks into this desperate situation of a demon-possessed man and chases the demons away, offering him healing and hope for a new life. Jesus walks into our broken lives today and offers you and me that same healing and that same hope. And let’s be very clear hear. It’s not because of “how much we have done,” it’s because of “how much God has done for us through a savior named Jesus.”

One final thought. We call the end of the Gospel of Matthew the “Great Commission.” It’s where Jesus sends the disciples into the world saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

At the end of today’s gospel reading there is another bold commissioning for those who seek to follow the risen savior Jesus. After the healing has taken place, Jesus is chased away by the people of the city. Only the healed man remains and according to verse 39 in today’s gospel reading, the man couldn’t stop talking about what Jesus had done for him. He wants to stay with Jesus, but Jesus commissions him for God’s mission and says, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

His ongoing witness reminds us that this is our role too. Jesus sets us free from the demons that possess us. People around us will try to chase Jesus away. Our calling as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that Jesus commissions us to be part of today is to keep talking, to keep witnessing to Jesus’ work in this broken world, to keep hoping that at the end of the day, everyone will know the love and power of Jesus that they may have been chasing away.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you leave worship today, return to your home, and for the sake of the good news of our risen savior Jesus Christ – tell someone, open your eyes and tell someone, about how much God has done for you. Amen.

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“A Really Big Deal” • Sermon 06.16.2013

at-the-feet-of-jesus

Luke 7:36-8:3 • June 16, 2013

Click here to watch a video recording of this sermon.

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

 

First of all, Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads and those who are dads to us in so many ways. You are a gift from God that we give thanks for, most especially on this day. I especially give thanks to those dads here today. That you chose to worship today instead of playing golf or going fishing.

There was a family with three small children who deeply wanted to get a puppy. The mother in the family protested strongly because she knew that she would be the one who would end up taking care of the new addition to the family. The children, and even dad, vowed that they would in fact be the ones who would take care of it and that mom had nothing to worry about.

Please mom, please, please, please, please…they pleaded. After months of pleading, mom finally gave in and the family got a dog. They named him Danny and the children actually did care for him diligently as they had promised – at first. But as time passed, mom found herself becoming more and more responsible for taking care of Danny the dog. Increasingly frustrated, she decided that the children were not living up to their promise to take care of Danny, so she began to search for a new home for him. She found one and broke the news to the family as gently as she could. To her surprise, they had almost no reaction at all.

One of them said rather matter-of-factly, “We’ll miss him.” Another added, “Yea, I guess it’ll be ok without him around.”

“I’m sure we will,” mom answered, “but he is just too much work for one person and since I’m the only one that seems to be doing all of the work, I say he has to go to a new home.”

“But,” protested another child, “if he wouldn’t eat so much and wouldn’t be so messy, could we keep him?”

An interesting defense thought mom, but she held her ground, “It’s time to take Danny to his new home.” All of a sudden, tears started streaming down and crying filled the room from all three children. “Danny? Not Danny! We can’t give up Danny!” they cried. “We thought you said Daddy!”

Anyway…Happy Father’s Day!

Words are important, aren’t they? They shape us. They form us. They lift us up. They heal us. They free us. But they also inflict pain. They divide us. They destroy relationships. They rip apart peace. They kill. And how we receive or send words is just as important.

Words that we use in email or online conversations, texting or even in worship – are a really big deal. Each week, hours are spent crafting the words that we use in worship at Good Shepherd. The words in our hymns and songs, the words in our preaching and prayers, the words that gather us together and send us out are a big deal. I’m not sure we are always aware of that. Or really even care. We come to worship and hear words of confession and forgiveness, offer words in prayer that yearn for healing and peace, sing songs with words of praise for all that God has done for us, and often fail to acknowledge any significance that they offer us in our journey together in Christ. The words in our worship life are a big deal – but so often they seem to disappear and vanish into thin air before we leave the parking lot. We don’t allow them to impact who we are as children of God or transform us in our life in Christ at all. Is it because the words aren’t the right words or is it something else …?

I think the writer of the gospel reading that is before us today, wrote it for us – for you and for me living in today’s world in 2013. The words in today’s gospel are a really big deal. They are words that offer us forgiveness and peace right alongside words that sting with accusation and judgment.

Simon, a Pharisee, invites Jesus and some other important guests to dine with him at his home. As a Pharisee, Simon is someone who prides themselves on doing things strictly according to the letter of the law. Always trying to uphold the law at all cost. One could assume that Simon would have everything perfectly in order for this little event. After all, it’s a perfect opportunity for him and his family to show off a little for these distinguished guests. But right in the middle of showing everyone just how much of a big deal he thinks he is, Simon’s spotlight is taken away by someone else. And of all people, this someone else is a woman.

And not just any woman, but a woman who is a sinner! And she draws quite a bit of attention to herself by wiping and bathing and anointing Jesus.

Simon the Pharisee doesn’t take this woman’s actions that remove him from the spotlight very well. And he assumes that Jesus is unaware of who this woman is and just how great her sin is. But come on…this is Jesus…he knows what’s going on here. And Jesus has something to say to Simon and to the woman. His words expose Simon’s thoughts and the woman’s actions.

Jesus offers a short parable exploring forgiveness and in turn nothing is hidden during this dinner party. Simon’s inhospitable actions – his failure to give Jesus a kiss or wash his feet or anoint him – reflect not only his lack of hospitality, but also his negative thoughts toward this woman whom he thinks bears greater sin than he does. In essence, Simon sees little need for forgiveness and even less interest in being grateful.

The woman, on the other hand, understands the depth of her debt and the forgiveness that Jesus offers. She departs in a state of peace that only forgiveness can create. However, the forgiveness made possible by the presence of Jesus is not exemption. The woman stands guilty as accused in the presence of Jesus. So does Simon. They both realize their sin has been placed before them. Thanks to Jesus’ words they see more of themselves than would have been possible otherwise.

It is all too easy for you and me to develop an almost superficial attitude toward sin and sinning because we know that forgiveness is possible. It is also dangerous to think that we can freely sin and just repeatedly turn forgiveness on or off whenever necessary in order to keep our conscience clear.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, to be forgiven is more than a feeling of being sorry for what you’ve done, because the forgiveness that our savior Jesus offers changes your past, your present and your future. Forgiveness from Jesus wipes away the shame of our past, pours peace into our hearts right now in the present moment and radically opens new doors of opportunity that compel us into a future filled with hope.

Twice in our gospel reading today, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those words are a really big deal folks. Jesus knows that you think your sins aren’t as great as that woman sitting in the pew next to you or walking away from you at the grocery store. He also knows about all of the other sins that make up you – and he wants you to know that he loves you still.

May you and I also hear Jesus say to us today, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Those words are a really big deal too. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[I’m grateful to Pastor John Essick and his writing in The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 for much of the inspiration contained in this week’s sermon. Abingdon Press, ©2012, pg. 190-192]