Monthly Archives: June 2019

“Return Home & Declare” 06.23.2019 Sermon

Luke 8:26-39 • June 23, 2019

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

In our gospel reading today from the eighth chapter of the gospel according to Saint Luke, we hear a story that I’m guessing is familiar to many of us. The demons and the pigs.

In the story we have a naked man with a bit of a problem – he’s possessed by demons. Not just one demon either. A Legion of demons. Like thousands of demons.

The community has tried to get rid of him. They’ve chained him up, which doesn’t keep him under control. They finally think they have a plan, we’ll isolate him away from the community, in the cemetery, among the tombs. FAAAAR away from any of the normal people in the community.

And, now, as far as all the normal and good people in the community are concerned, this man is as good as dead. Note that the community hasn’t really solved anything, but the problem of this naked, demon-possessed man is at least far enough away to no longer be a nuisance to them.

In a reflection on today’s gospel reading, now retired Wartburg College biblical studies professor Judith Jones said, “Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. Jesus claims sovereignty not just over our soul, but over our lives here on earth. Many among us resist that news, finding deliverance from Legion too frightening, too demanding, too costly. But those whom Jesus has healed and freed know that his liberating love is indeed good news, the gospel that he commands us to proclaim throughout our cities and towns. Still today God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.” [www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4108]

Did you hear that? “Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. Still today,” Professor Jones believes, “God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.”

What I believe Jones’ is saying is that today’s gospel reading is not just a quaint little Bible story about a naked man and some pigs. It’s not a story we can ignore because we think it’s not about us anyway. I mean, how many naked men possessed by demons have you ever seen running through the streets of Bismarck? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.
What Professor Jones is saying though, is that this story is in fact about you. It’s about me. It’s about communities that we know and love like Bismarck or Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

The gospel of Luke was written around the year 80 a.d. In that time of human history, demons and unclean spirits were not just something that possessed someone and caused them to run around town naked saying strange things. Demons and unclean spirits were things that separated people from being in relationship with other people. And they didn’t just involve demons like a bad horror movie. It also included other kinds of illnesses – think of some of the other healing stories in the gospels like the hemorrhaging woman or the blind man or Jairus’ 12-year old daughter, which is the story that comes immediately after today’s story.

What’s maybe most amazing about the healing stories of Jesus is not just the healing. It’s also the restoration of relationships. And the freedom that restoring those relationships brings to someone’s life and to the community in which they live.

In the story before us today, the demon-possessed naked man is not the one who freed himself, nor is it the community, is it? In Jesus’ healing stories, people are healed because of their encounter with Jesus. It might be a dramatic encounter like the story we heard today with thousands of demons being cast into a herd of pigs that then run off a cliff and drown in the sea. It might also be someone reaching out and simply touching Jesus cloak as he walks by, as is the case with the woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years.

In whatever way these healings happen, they happen because of an experience the person has with the Savior Jesus. And they happen in ways that no one is expecting them to happen.

I’ll be honest, sometimes the miraculous healing stories we hear in the gospels are hard for me to wrap my head and heart around.

I’ve presided at way too many funerals of people who have endured evil journeys with the demons of cancer only to be taken from their loved ones in an untimely death.

I’ve sat with way too many people trying to stay sober in a world that makes it incredibly easy for the demons of alcohol, sex, and drugs to exist.

I’ve walked with way too many people who are on the receiving end of people possessed by unclean spirits. Unclean spirits that project racism and bigotry on other children of God. Beloved children of God who find it nearly impossible to find a safe place to live or be employed simply because of their skin color or sexuality. Even in a community like ours with an almost non-existent unemployment rate.

It’d be easy for me, to be very cynical and simply push aside the healing stories in scripture. These are just made up ancient stories anyway, that have no relevance to my life or the world in which I live today.

It’d be very easy for me, to simply ignore the reality of how I’m part of the healing stories and how they are trying to show me what it looks like to live as a faithful follower of Jesus.

I have to admit, I spend a fair amount of time each week yelling at God and asking where in the heck God is and why God doesn’t heal anymore.

And in every one of those times, if I actually stop yelling and simply listen a little, I often hear Jesus say something to me like he said to the woman who’s hemorrhaging stopped simply by touching his cloak, “your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Or I hear Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” just like Jesus said to us in this very worship space a few weeks ago on Pentecost.

Or I hear something like the time Jesus said to the demon-possessed naked man after he was healed … “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Shortly after he was freed from years of unjust imprisonment in South Africa simply because of the color of his skin, Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects, and enhances the freedom of others.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, return to your home and declare how much God has done so that children of God who are possessed by demons like cancer can be reassured of the promise of eternal life simply because of your presence and healing touch. A presence and touch that sets people free.

Return to your home, and declare how much God has done so that children of God who are possessed by unclean spirits that allow poverty, hunger, addiction, and homelessness to still exist can be set free from those chains through your bold acts of compassion.

Bold acts of compassion as you and I support ministries like World Hunger, local homeless shelters and affordable housing projects, or even through a simple wooden box called the Little Free Pantry on the north side of Good Shepherd’s property. Bold acts of compassion that set people free.

As children of God, claimed, named, forgiven and set free in our baptism, you and I are followers of Jesus who are sent into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons and break the chains of bondage because God is at work in us and through us right now, today.

So you know what, if you haven’t realized it yet, maybe you do now. Today’s gospel is about us. Thanks be to God that it is. Never stop declaring how much God has done for and continues to do through you to bless the world in which we live right now. God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.

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“The Sound of Pentecost” 06.09.2019 Sermon

John 14:8-17, 25-27 & Acts 2:1-21 • June 9, 2019

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

red candle

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We celebrate one of the great festival days of the church this week. As important as Christmas and Easter without the shopping, credit card debt, and Easter bunnies.
Today…we celebrate Pentecost.

Pentecost is a celebration of the breath of the Spirit of God being received upon the first followers of Jesus. It is the start of what we now know as the church. The beginning of the Jesus movement so to speak.

Every year on this day we hear two readings from scripture – the first is from the book of Acts. A reading of nations and names that gives even the most experienced reader of scripture a little anxiety when they are asked to serve as a liturgical reader in church on this day.

The second is always from the gospel of John. Although the text varies from year to year, the readings from John are all highlighting times when Jesus is trying to explain, again and again, that God will send someone else to be with the disciples – the Advocate or the Holy Spirit –after he has returned to the Father. This is a teaching and a truth that I think disciples like you and me still struggle to believe or understand today.

And I don’t think we are struggling to understand these stories and our place in them today just because we heard it for the first time today in Pastor Selva’s native language of Tamil rather than English.

I’m guessing, there is a distinct possibility, that many who are gathered here today did not follow much of what was being said in either of today’s scripture readings. Either because you didn’t understand the language being spoken or you don’t have any idea what the difference is between the Parthians and the people who live in Cappadocia. Well, brothers and sisters, you’re not alone if you feel this way.

Those who witnessed the day of Pentecost as told to us from the book of Acts and those who had been following Jesus for nearly three years by the time the story in John’s gospel takes place, they didn’t get it either.

It’s ok if we feel like we need to join them and say “What does this mean?”

What does this mean? for those who were gathered in that house and experienced the Spirit descending upon them as tongues of fire. Well, for one thing, it meant a new life. Life as they knew it before that event and life after that event was different. A sudden and new way of being that would send them out of the confines of the house they were gathered in and into every house, on every corner, in every part of God’s creation. Truth be told, if Pentecost didn’t happen, nobody outside of this small little circle of friends would have heard of the story of Jesus or what impact this Jesus might have on them or on the world.

christening the dew the priest

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does this mean? Well, for Lutheran Christians, you and I believe that we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. And because of that truth, the Holy Spirit is alive in us…right now. We are being sent every second of every day to proclaim and share the good news of Jesus wherever we are with whomever we are with. As part of the faith community known as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, you and I do this in some pretty amazing ways and places.

Within the membership of our congregation, we share the peace of Christ with one another by actively welcoming people who gather for worship; or by hosting Day Camp with our bible camp, Camp of the Cross; or by providing compassionate care for families following the death of loved ones.

You and I also do the Spirit’s work through our financial and physical support of local ministries like Ministry on the Margins, Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café, and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

The Holy Spirit also works through us as a Cornerstone Congregation of Lutheran World Relief helping sustain coffee farming committees in Nicaragua or through our shared ministry with our sister church, Cristo Rey Lutheran Church, in Santa Ana, El Salvador or across the countries of the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Madagascar.

The language of the Spirit’s work may sound one way as dozens of Day Camp kids run through the hallways of our church joyfully celebrating Jesus’ love for them, and sound completely different as people gather over the casket of a deceased loved one at the beginning of a funeral worship service. Both of these sounds of the Spirit were heard in our congregation this past week.

In every person, it’s the same Spirit.

The same Spirit that is calling you and me into this work as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

The language of the Spirit’s work may sound one way through Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota as we provide more than 1,000 units of quality, affordable housing to brothers and sisters in every corner of our state. Brothers and sisters who would otherwise not have a place to call home if it wasn’t for the Spirit’s work through us. And the Spirit’s voice may sound completely different as Cristo Rey Lutheran Church provides a sanctuary of peace on gang and drug infested Salvadoran streets. Streets where the smell of poverty is often overcome by the smell of gunfire and blood.

In every place, it’s the same Spirit.

The same Spirit that is calling you and me into this work as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

The language may sound and look different from one place to another, or one person to another, but it’s the same Spirit at work, bringing peace and wholeness in a world filled way to full with division and brokenness.

One theologian offered this insight on Pentecost that further illustrates what I believe God is trying to say to us through the sermon this week.

“The writer of John’s gospel describes it this way – the Advocate, the one whom the Father will send, will teach the disciples everything they need to know. God is not yet finished revealing who God is, and the disciples are not yet finished learning. Through the Spirit of truth, the disciples will do the work of Jesus, and his life will continue through them.

In holy baptism, the Spirit rests on the heads of young and old alike. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the baptized have an old, old story to tell of Jesus and his love – and a new, new story of how God is birthing sudden, surprising, and unmerited life all around us, every day. God is at work, here, now in the world through the lives of everyday Christians. Jesus’ work continues through the lives of all the baptized. We discover meaning from this Pentecost story today, not only for our own sake but for the sake of the world that so hungers for this life.” [www.sundaysandseasons.com]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Spirit’s work in you doesn’t mean that you have to run off to Nicaragua or serve on the summer staff at bible camp or even agree with all of the work that God calls us to do together through Good Shepherd or the other 151 congregations of the western North Dakota Synod or through partner ministries like Lutheran Social Services or within our denomination of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The fact remains that God is calling us to do God’s work. That the Spirit is at work through you, and through me. Period. That’s what Pentecost is all about. That’s what Pentecost means. That’s why Pentecost is so important for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.
Let me leave you with one simple way that we can demonstrate the Spirit’s work and presence in our lives even before we leave worship today. As you look around this sanctuary, I’m guessing you’ll see someone you do not know. I invite you to reach out to that person with a greeting of Christ’s peace when we come to that time in our worship service. In other words, don’t just greet those you already know when you share the peace of Christ today.
That simple act of sharing Christ’s peace with someone you don’t know, may be a great blessing to the one receiving Christ’s peace from you. It may bring peace to someone whose life may not be very peaceful today. It’s one simple way that the Spirit’s work through us is bringing us one step closer to that day when everyone will call upon the name of the Lord. Come Holy Spirit, come. Amen.