Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon for Sunday, February 1st: We all have our demons

Mark 1:21-28

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21 They (the disciples) went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Just then 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 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

This church year is the year of Mark’s gospel.  We have read five stories from the book of Mark since our church year began in November, four from the first chapter.  And now we will be hearing from Mark for the next couple of weeks.  So let’s refresh Mark’s gospel.  The book of Mark is sixteen chapters long, around twenty five pages in a standard Bible.  It would be a great read if you are looking for a study or devotion to begin soon, or during Lent.

Mark begins the good news of Jesus Christ with the strange wilderness preacher, John the Baptist, ‘preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’  Jesus himself is baptized in dramatic fashion with the heavens tearing open and the Holy Spirit descending and the voice of the Lord declaring this is my beloved Son.  Then Jesus is driven to the wilderness where he is tested by Satan for 40 days and nights.  Immediately after overcoming this temptation, he calls the first four disciples.  And now today, he begins his public ministry with an exorcism in Capernaum.  Capernaum is in the region of Galilee, the region Jesus is from.  Right away, Mark is shows us that this Jesus is not the God we expect.  We expect God to be in heaven, and Mark tears open the heavens- and now heaven and earth are mixed up.  God has come near.  God’s entrance is dramatic and unexpected.  God has crossed the boundary from heaven to earth.  And that’s only the beginning of the boundary crossing for Jesus, God in flesh in Mark’s gospel.

His first act of public ministry as reported by mark’s gospel- casting out an unclean spirit…

Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in the local synagogue, and right away we see that his teaching is different- he teaches with authority.  Although Jesus may not have any experience in ministry, I suppose this would be his first call…  he has authority.  He has the authority of the overcomer, who has just battled Satan in the wilderness and won.  He has the authority of God.  This authority is recognized by the unclean spirit, although strangely it will not be recognized by the scribes and religious folk and even his first disciples.  This talking spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as the Holy one of God, and the spirit is afraid of his power.  As we studied this story on Wednesday night with our children, one of the teachers mentioned that the curriculum was too advanced for her group and she requested the youngest level, which worked well.  After all, exorcism is a bit disturbing for young children.  In fact, if you were not a little disturbed by this story, you must have missed the part about the talking unclean spirits, or demons as we could call them.

In fact it may cause us to wonder why we read this story in church, anyway.  After all, we live in a world that doesn’t talk about demons much.  Maybe because our worldview is less spiritual than that of the ancient world… Maybe because demons do not exist in the same way that did in Jesus’ time.  Maybe because we simply do not want to talk about it.Whatever the reasons… it simply seems easier not to go there.  And yet, it seems there are some powerful lessons we can learn from this story about Jesus casting out the unclean spirits.

This week, I attended a conference at Luther Seminary, entitled “religious but not spiritual?” with a question mark at the end.  For a while now some people more along the new age perspective have claimed to be, ‘spiritual but not religious’ because they wanted to distance themselves from religious institutions.  Some evangelical Christians also teach, it’s a relationship NOT a religion, in reference to Christianity.  Of course, there are valid reasons why people have wanted to distance themselves from religion.  And yet, as we examined this question at the Seminary- it became more apparent that we need both.  Spirituality connects us to God in a personal way.  And yet studies show that without a faith community in the form of religion, people do not sustain spirituality.  You can’t be spiritual alone.  You need a community of people to sustain you.

Nadia Bolz-Weber shared how the rituals, liturgy, and scriptures of our religion are truly the most meaningful parts of our faith.  These rituals give us space to hold life’s experiences….  Sorrow, heartache, angst, joy, love. She said that religion helps us find meaning in our difficult reality, rather than hide or escape from it.  At first glance, Pastor Nadia would seemingly be the last person you might expect to be sharing the beauty of religion.  With her arms covered in tattoos, her spiky hair, and swearing like a truck driver (sorry truck drivers!), she lives up to her twitter handle @sarcasticlutheran.  But when she talks about her congregation in Denver creating a shrine to honor the 150 children killed in their school in Pakistan- you begin to understand.  You begin to see that boundary-crossing-God from Mark’s gospel- right in front of you- God speaking through a woman, with tattoos, dropping the f-bomb- the sacred and the profane co-existing.

And if we are real enough to admit it- that is how the Christian life truly is.  As saints and sinners at the same time, we live in the beautiful, messy reality of this world that God created.  This world is not picture perfect- there is suffering and trials- right alongside our miracles and laughter.  Nor is our world black and white- and our scripture today reminds us of this.  We may not all have experiences with spiritual warfare, like Jesus did.  But metaphorically, we each have our demons that we battle.  And here is where the power of this passage comes into play for each of us.

We all have our demons…

Some of us, like Pastor Nadia suffer from addictions like alcoholism- she is a recovering alcoholic.  Other addictions plague us as well- overeating, shopping, nicotine, working too much, and many others.  Some of us suffer from mental illness in the form of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other forms of chemical imbalances.  Some of us battle inner demons of self-doubt, hatred, and never feeling good enough.  Still others have physical ailments that cause us despair.  All of these demons can taunt us telling us that we are not worthy of God’s love, of the love of other people, of self-love.  They want us to alienate ourselves- because that is where they have the most power over us.

And yet, Jesus has power over all of our demons.  Jesus has the authority to say, “Be silent.”  And when our demons are silent- we can hear the voice of God.  This voice says, “You are forgiven.  You are good.  You are loved.  You do not have to hide. I am with you.”  That is the gospel news.

Just last week here at Hope, we had some people share their stories of addiction and the affects of addiction in their lives at our confirmation class.  It was a bit risky- after all some people do not feel these subjects belong in church.  There are boundaries about what is acceptable to talk about- and what is not.  And yet, whether or not we talk about it- it exists.  And when we hide it, and when we keep silent- it allows the demons to have the power.

But when Jesus hears the demons in the synagogues, or in our case, our church- they stand no chance.  Compared with Jesus’ authority they are powerless.  And when people are gathered together in the beauty of Christian community sharing their struggles and their brokenness- suddenly it does not seem so hopeless- because we are not alone.   That’s the wonder and power of the religious life- it brings us together, together in Christ.

Sermon for January, 18th Epiphany 2: Come and See

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John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Come and See

When Phillip found Nathanael, he tells him, “We have found him…. Jesus of Nazareth.”  We have found him.  And Nathanael questions.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Phillip’s reply is not an explanation, or a debate.  Rather he shares three simple words in the form of an invitation.

Come and See

Because to truly know this Jesus, you cannot simply hear about him…  You cannot know facts about him.  You have to know him.  You have to experience the presence of God in Jesus for yourself.

Come and See

Today in our scriptures we see three call stories.  One of the young prophet Samuel from our Old Testament reading, and two apostles, Phillip and Nathanael, in our gospel reading.  In each of these stories we see that God if first moving.  God calls the prophet Samuel when he is just a boy, and he does not even recognize the voice of the Lord, because he does not yet know him.  But God had been working in Samuel’s life long before Samuel could be aware of it, long before he could choose to respond to God.  In fact, God had been working in his life before he was even born.  Samuel’s mother’s name was Hannah.  She was a faithful woman, but she was barren and could not have children.  It brought her a great deal of pain and unhappiness.  Her husband Elkanahhad two wives and his second wife had children and would, ‘taunt and provoke’ Hannah because she had none.  When they went to offer their sacrifice to the Lord at the Ark of the Covenant, Hannah prayed to the Lord.  She prayed for a son and vowed that if she conceived this son, she would give him to the Lord’s service.  The priest Eli hears her desperate prayers, and at first thinks she is drunk.  But soon, he realizes that she is simply pleading with God to grant her prayers and he takes pity on her and prays to the Lord that this prayer will be granted.

Hannah conceives and bears a son, and names him Samuel.  And when her child is weaned she is faithful to her vow and she brings him to the house of the Lord and presents him to Eli.  And instead of bemoaning her great sacrifice, Hannah sings a song of victory!  She tells of the faithfulness of God who, ‘raises the poor from the dust.”  Every year Hannah would make her son a little coat and bring it to him when they came to offer their yearly sacrifice.  Hannah went on to bear three sons and two daughters, and Samuel was raised in the Lord’s presence.  Samuel went on to be a just prophet and judge of the Lord, and eventually anoint the first two kings of Israel.

God was working in Samuel’s life before he was even aware of it.  God called Samuel first, and Samuel responded.  When God began calling Samuel, Samuel mistook the voice of God.  It took his mentor Eli to help him see that it was God’s voice.  Samuel had been responding, “Here I am.”  “Here I am.”  And yet, it seems this was not the response that God was looking for.  Rather, when Samuel responds, “Speak, Lord- your servant is listening,” God does speak.

God often calls us before we are even aware of it too.  God works in our lives before we make the conscious decision to have faith or become a Christian.  Look at our baptism.  In our church, we baptize babies along with children and adults.  Somehow we believe that God gives faith to that person who is baptized, even though they are unaware of it.  And the same is true with all baptisms and all lives of faith- God first calls us.  God gives us the gift of faith.  It is not a decision we make for ourselves.  It is not a work that we do.  Rather it is a gift.  The call of God is a gift.

And what is our response to God?  Maybe we can learn a lesson from the boy Samuel.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  How are we taking time to listen to God in our lives?  What is God trying to tell us?  Personally and as a church?  In order to respond to our call from God, we first have to listen.  We have to pray and discern where God may be leading us.  We need to watch for the signs as we learned from our epiphany story where the wise men are led to the baby Jesus. Listening and watching for the rare and precious word of the God, is our response.

In our two call stories from John’s gospel, we see Jesus acting first.  Jesus decides to go to Galilee.  He finds Phillip.  He says, “Follow me.”  He seeks us and finds us too.  Jesus knows us even as we stand afar.  We all have a desire in this life to be truly know, and truly loved.  And we find that in our relationship with God.  God knows us completely- and loves us completely.  Part of Phillip’s call to follow Jesus is to bring others to Jesus.  He says to Nathaneal, “Come and see.”  And truly that is the call of every Christian- say, “Come and See.”  Come and see Jesus- this God who knows you and loves you.  What a gift we can offer to the world.

Come and See

There was once a time when it was sort of assumed that people in America would go to Church.  Maybe that’s the way that some of you grew up in the beginning to middle of the 20th century. Most people were Christian and most people were engaged in a faith community.  The truth is, that is no longer true today.  There are many competing viewpoints in our world.  There are many more things to do on a Sunday morning.  The world is different.  And evangelism was in many ways, simply an invitation to our church.  Come to us, come to our building.  But today, we have to think deeper about what it means to invite people to Come and See Jesus.  Because many people will never make it into a church building.  That is why we try to think of Church today more as a way of life and less as a building.  When we are serving at the community table and beacon house, we are saying, Come and See Jesus.  When we are packing kids meals so that kids at Sam Davey don’t go hungry on the weekends, we are saying Come and See.  When we give quilts to people all around the globe, we say Come and See.  When we welcome children and families here at Rachel’s Place we say Come and See.  When we go to El Salvador and participate in medical missions we say Come and See.    When we provide a safe space every week for groups like AA and Al-anon, we say Come and See.  When we embody God’s love, by loving the world- we say Come and See.

We love because God first loved us.  God called us first.  God gives us the gift of faith, and the gift of knowing Jesus.  Come and See.

Sermon for Sunday, January 11th The Baptism of our Lord

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Mark 1:4-11

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Sermon for Sunday, January 11th The Baptism of our Lord

“And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

The heavens are torn apart.  Many times when we think of baptism we envision a very peaceful scene.  A peaceful sleeping baby with glistening water droplets on their forehead….  But Jesus’ baptism from Mark’s gospel is quite wild, untamed, maybe even chaotic.  The scene which nearly begins the gospel of Mark, starts with John the Baptist in his camel’s hair, eating locusts as he preaches about repentance. Throngs of people come out to be baptized in the river. And Jesus is of them.  Jesus’ baptism only gets wilder.  As God looks at the Son the heavens are torn apart.  The love and pride and passion of God is so great, the entire heavens are ripped apart.

Maybe you have an idea of what that feels like, as you have looked at your beloved.  Maybe you’ve looked at your child and have loved them so deeply, you feel as if you have been torn apart.  This little piece of your soul walking around the world…  The love and fear nearly overwhelms you.   Your heart is torn apart… the heavens torn apart as you look at them- my beloved.

This is the deep and excruciating love that God has for the Son, and that God has for each of us.  That resounding voice declaring: YOU are my son, the beloved; with you I am well please.  YOU are my daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Jesus’ baptism is a dramatic event: with the tearing apart of the heavens, the voice of God, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove.  John tells the people, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  We have been baptized through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit.  As Martin Luther says in the small catechism, “It is not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word.  Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is a life-giving water which by graces gives us the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”

Clearly, our baptism is different than Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus’ last command to his disciples is to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the father and of the son and of the Spirit.  After his death and resurrection- baptism takes on a new meaning as the entrance into the Christian life of discipleship.  Still, in our baptism we too have the same spirit of God breaking into our world.

Still, maybe you do not feel that your baptism was as exciting or dramatic as Jesus’ baptism by John.  Perhaps, because you were just a baby and not aware of what was happening.  Or maybe you didn’t feel any different after your baptism.  And yet, every baptism done in Jesus’ name has power.  Something powerful has happened.  God calls us to baptism and God’ works through baptism, whether we fully realize it or not.

I had the privilege of seeing this holy power up close and personal in a baptism I was a part of.  Here at our church Pastor Rick and I baptize.  That is part of what you call us to do as your spiritual leaders.  And yet in an emergency ANY Christian can baptize.  After all it is God’s power and Spirit that do the work.  Before I was ordained and called as your pastor, I baptized someone.  During Seminary I was working as a chaplain in a hospital and a young boy came in who had drowned.  He was on life support and I was caring for his family.  His parents had not been to church in a long time and so he had not been baptized.  They asked me to baptize him.

As I dripped the water on his forehead I was overcome by the irony of the water- the very cause of his immanent death- now proclaiming his new life in Christ.  I marked the cross of Christ on his forehead and called him a child of God.  It was a holy moment for his family.  When there was nothing in the world to offer this little boy, no money or medical treatments could save him-  Baptism gave a gift to his family.  One holy moment surrounded by all of the grief and pain.

As our team of chaplains later debriefed with the staff and nurses, I became even more aware of how incredible this gift was.  Three of the nurses shared stories of spiritual experiences relating to the baptism.  I myself had a powerful dream about the family of the little boy.  We were in the hospital after the baptism and yet the little boy was well and we were all hugging and celebrating as if we were long lost loved ones- as if we had done his baptism at church like any other baptism.  It gave me a glimpse of the power of God’s kingdom breaking into our world.  An unexplainable peace and love, which transcends all boundaries…

Here I realized the spiritual power of every baptism in the name of Jesus.  It also helped me see how influential our own baptisms can be in our own lives.  Scholar Timothy Wengert, wrote about Martin Luther in this month’s issue of the Lutheran.  In it he debunked some myths about Luther the man, and he also referenced Luther’s writing and teaching about baptism in the Large Catechism.  He quoted Luther writing, “Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps.  …In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. …Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say… ‘But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body…”

The one-time event of our baptism is a promise of God’s love for us that lasts forever.  That is why we feel it is so important to remind ourselves of our baptisms, and to support those who have been newly baptized and their families in their Christian faith.  Because baptism is not simply a fuzzy-feeling ritual.  Rather it is the initiation into a life of discipleship with Jesus Christ.  It is a rebirth into our new spiritual selves.  It is something we must rely on daily as a sustaining source of grace and forgiveness in our lives.

And as we see in Jesus’ baptism it is often something that takes place in the wilderness of life.  Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” where he would spent forty days tempted by Satan.  Maybe it was the power of his baptism and the confirmation in the Spirit’s presence that sustained him, along with the angels, during that wilderness time.

In our baptism we see the truth of who we are as God’s beloved children.  God’s love for us tears open the heavens. It is wild and unpredictable.  It comes in surprising ways.  It can reach across any divide to give us the forgiveness, healing, and love that we are searching for.  The Spirit at Jesus’ baptism is the same Spirit of God present at creation- and the same Spirit present in our church community today and at each of our baptisms.  This Spirit proclaims good news to the poor and oppressed, offers healing to those hurting, and sometimes drives us into the wilderness to endure the difficult trials of our lives.  Still, through it all God’s promise of grace and love in our baptism is forever.