Monday, January 29, 2018

Ignoring the Demon in the Room

Mark 1:21-28
January 28, 2018

The man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue.
I wonder how long he’d been there hanging around Capernaum
what other outbursts he’d had.
How long the people in the synagogue had
avoided him, tried to get rid of him without dealing with him,
how long they had ignored him and his problem.

I mean, he was identified as
J. Kirk Richards
“the man with the unclean spirit”
he had reputation, he was known in the community.
But his problem was probably just too much
and no one knew what to do with it.
So they most likely just ignored it.

I’m probably filling in a little here,
which I feel is my prerogative since
I have to come up with stuff every week,
but I’m probably not too far from the truth
because this is what humans do.
We ignore things when we can’t deal with them
and when we can’t make them go away.

I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that
many people, upon hearing the smoke detector
go off in the middle of the night will just go back to sleep.
The house might be on fire, but it is just too much
to deal with and so the human
reaction is to just shut down and go back to sleep.

We have many unclean spirits in our country
Not necessarily possessed individuals, but spirits that have
taken a hold of our whole society and won’t let go.

Truly horrible things that we never thought
that we could ignore, but we adjust, we ignore,
we move on with our day and hope they go away.
The house is on fire, and we just keep going back to sleep.

There is poverty and homelessness all around us,
people work multiple jobs and still can’t sustain themselves.
There’s climate change which has started to have
some real repercussions in our country.
Racism is rising, Nazism and the KKK are
moving into the main stream again.

It seems that almost every woman has
experienced some kind of sexual harassment at one time or another,
and I can tell you from my experience and the
experience of the women I know, that it’s true.
So we’ve had to ignore that for a while.

We’ve ignored gun violence:
this week there was a school shooting in Kentucky,
and this was apparently the 11th school shooting in
the United States since the beginning of the year,
and we’re not even out of the first month.

We have basically ignored the despair, anxiety, and rage
in this country that is expressing itself
in addiction, violence, depression and other ways.
It makes one man with one unclean spirit seem minor.

And I mean we’re all part of it, even if our lives seem
under control right now and we feel secure
because the problems are not manifesting themselves
in us at the moment, we are still part of it.
I am part of it you are part of it.
But, I get it, it seems like the only thing to do
is to live our lives and let it happen.
I mean these problems are too huge to take care of,
about them, they seem overwhelming,
and we have to get on with our lives, right,
so the best thing to do is walk on by, go back to sleep
and let the house burn down.
Like those people in the synagogue did with
this man with an unclean spirit.

That is until Jesus came.
And he sends the unclean spirits away.

This is Jesus first thing that he does in the gospel
of Mark after he calls the disciples.
You could say that in the first public act
in each gospel, the writer is making a point
about what Jesus is about.

In Matthew, the first thing Jesus does is
give the sermon on the mount.
Jesus is a great teacher.

In Luke, Jesus gives a sermon
in his hometown about the poor and oppressed,
and they run him out on the rails.
In Luke Jesus is a prophet, a controversial leader, an upstart.

In John, it’s the wedding at Cana,
where Jesus turns water into wine,
Jesus brings abundance to the world.

But in Mark’s gospel, Jesus starts his public ministry
with confronting a demon.
Jesus is breaking the chains that bind.
Jesus breaks the man out of his own prison.

The people in the synagogue were dazzled
by his teaching and his presentation,
but the real center piece of his day
at the synagogue is to break what is binding this man,
the problem that this community is ignoring.

And that’s what Jesus reveals to us:
Every boundary that has been put in place
everything that we think of as impenetrable, impossible
God can burst through and bring change.
Even to the hardest most difficult issues we’re facing today.

At times it may seem at times like God has abandoned us
like God has left this country to its own devices,
to collapse in on itself.
But our savior is here and God is with us.

It may take a long time, and we may never see the end,
but maybe our children and our grandchildren
may be able to see us free of the chains that bind us now,
what keeps us from being the people that God wants us to be,
and the community that’s more like the kingdom of God.

And when the time comes, we know that God will
even break through the bond that death
has over us, and we will be free forever.

When we really look at the demons around us,
it’s easy to be filled with doubt,
but have courage to look at the world as it is
and believe in God all the more,
and hope and work for the world as it could be.

“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God

has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It's a Warning

Mark 1: 14-20
January 21, 2018

The Call
Jorge Orlando Cocco Santangelo
So on one hand,
this story seems so exciting.
Jesus walks up to the disciples and tells
and in the middle of their work day and
they just drop everything and
go and follow him.
Very exciting.

On the other hand,
I also find it kind of stressful
because it sets kind
of an unrealistic expectation.
Like the only way to be a good disciple
is to leave everything
you know at a moment’s notice
and follow an itinerant
preacher around the country.
I mean, it sometimes takes me 15 minutes to order
food at a restaurant, and I always have regrets.
This “immediately” stuff doesn’t work for me.

I’ve heard people reason this situation by saying
that the life of the fishermen
was so terrible that they had nothing to lose.
But that doesn’t sound right because
people stay in terrible situations all the time
because it’s what they know.
People don’t usually just up and leave everything
without a lot of consideration and thought.

I’ve also heard that Jesus message was so compelling
that they couldn’t help but go.
But to this point, Jesus hadn’t articulated anything
about his message or plan to the future disciples
and once they were with Jesus,
the  disciples would spend their whole time getting
his message wrong, so how could it be that compelling?

Or maybe this was the first of Jesus miracles:
to make grown men leave their work and families
and follow him. But that seems kind of manipulative.

So usually, it’s put on us.
The disciples left everything immediately,
you should be able to as well.
You are too attached to our life, your families,
friendships, work, and you need to
be ready to drop our proverbial nets,
cast aside our whole lives and follow.

And the preacher with the house
and the family and the comfortable life similar to yours says,
“What are you willing to give up for Jesus?”
And if you’re not willing to immediately let it all go,
then you’re not good disciple material.
And I just don’t think that’s the point of the story.

So what do we make of this story that Mark tells us
and that we hear from each gospel writer around this time every year?
Here’s what I’ve been thinking,
and maybe I’ll think something different next year,
but this year here’s what I think now:

I think it’s an exaggeration,
a hyperbole, a fast-forward story for effect.
Maybe it didn’t happen exactly as quick as it said,
but it’s an important metaphor about our life with Jesus.
(Follow me even if you don’t like the sound of where this is going.)

I don’t think it’s proscriptive, like
“Give up everything immediately and then you can follow Jesus.”

I think it’s descriptive,
“When you follow Jesus, here’s what happens.”
When you go on the journey with Jesus,
You end up dropping things you thought at one time were important.

I think this story is kind of a warning:
“Follow Jesus and your life will change.”

We are asked to follow The Way of Christ.
Not necessarily the road that Jesus took,
but the way that Jesus did things:
loving your enemies, being servants, caring for the least among us.
Whatever we do, we always try to do it in the way Jesus did.

And like those disciples did, if we follow Jesus way,
and going on that road with Jesus,
valuing those things that Jesus valued,
and rejecting those things that Jesus rejected,
we will end up dropping those nets.
Those things that we once thought were important,
things that we once thought we couldn’t live without.
Things that we once thought defined us. will eventually fall away
because they’re not serving you or the kingdom well.

Maybe it’s your love of money
Maybe it’s your addiction to something or someone.
Maybe it’s your security, your isolation, your lack of commitments.

Maybe it will be our prejudices, our privileges,
our preconceived notions about other people,
about who is worthy and who is not.

Maybe we’ll give up our anger, our self-centeredness,
our stubbornness, our bitterness,
our clinging to the past and the old ways.

Or maybe it will be our job, or our career,
or maybe it will be the comfort of our home,
and maybe our relationships will change.

The story of the disciples leaving everything
all at once is a fast-motion warning to the gospel’s readers:
“Following Jesus will change you and your life.”
It may not be a dramatic, all at once transformation, but
Jesus will not leave you the same as you were when he found you.
And even if you’ve known Jesus for a long time,
he won’t leave you the same as you are now.
Jesus is always getting you to drop something you think you need,
there’s always more change to be done.

But here’s the deal, and it’s a good deal:
When the time comes to give those things up, and move on from the old,
it will be obvious that the net will need to go.
You’ll be like the disciples that day at their boats.
Those nets will not hold you back, you will be given the
ability to release what doesn’t serve you or the kingdom.

When we’re willing to go where Jesus takes us,
we won’t spend our time counting the cost.
We will have the power and the courage to do what needs to be done.

Like the people who started Gethsemane 70 years ago
They were motivated to start their own church for the people
on the north side of town.
It was exciting, they followed the call from God and they did great things
that we still appreciate today.

Now in the process, they traded in the comfort of their large,
established downtown church with its big sanctuary,
and organized programs
and they worshipped in a damp and dingy basement
in someone’s home for three years.
From the council minutes and notes, it was obvious that all of them
gave up a lot of their free time and independence and their money.
It certainly would have been easier not to have done it,
But they didn’t sit there counting their losses.
it was obvious what they needed to do, and they did it.

And when Gethsemane left the Missouri Synod,
the denomination we’d been a part of since our  founding,
and since many of our member’s birth,
the people gave up their security, the only church body they knew,
and it was painful at the time to lose members and friends.
But it was obvious that, for us, the net needed to be dropped,
we needed to move on to serve our people and the kingdom.

And if we’ve been doing this for a while,
and we look back on our lives,
many of us have given up things for the sake of the gospel,
We are not the same as we were when we started.
Maybe if we were asked to do it all at once,
we would have said no, but when the time came,
we’ve changed careers, left our homes,
gone to different countries, changed paths,
we’ve given our time, our money, our hearts, to things and people
we never thought we would have.

But it’s not like we count those things as losses now
they are gains for the kingdom,
wonderful reminders of how far God has taken us.
We don’t wish we had our nets and our old lives back.
It’s just part of our journey with Jesus.
And our journey with Jesus is never over.
More nets will fall before the party is done.

I guess we could always be like Jonah and run away
when God calls us to go somewhere and do something.
We could be like him and insist on holding onto our prejudice
and end up sulking because God didn’t do it how we wanted to.
Plenty of Christians have followed that path.

Or we could heed the warning and the promise
of this story of the disciples, this metaphor:
“If you’re going with Jesus, get ready to drop some nets.”

If you are in this room right now,
God has chosen you to do something wonderful in this world.
Jesus has called you to go to places unknown,
by roads that you are unfamiliar with.

But don’t worry about dropping your nets right now.
Just follow where Jesus leads you
and know that you won’t be the same as

when he found you.