God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 24 -- Fourth Sunday of the Green Season

“Lord don’t you care that we are perishing?”  Don’t you care that our friend is dying?  Don’t you care that hunger and homelessness is overwhelming in our nation and around the world?  Don’t you care that another hurricane is headed for the coast?  Don’t you care that so many are out of work?  Don’t you care that our bodies are aching and aging?  Don’t you care that we are mourning?  Lord don’t you care that we are grieving, angry, lonely, and scared?  Don’t you care?!

What are your storms about which God and anyone else, for that matter, doesn’t seem to care? I don’t think it’s too difficult to apply today’s texts to our situations.  David and Goliath too: What are the Goliaths in your life?  Or WHO are the Goliaths in your life?  The bullies, the intimidators, the taunters, the gloaters, the “dementors” (from Harry Potter—the ones sucking your spirit), the ones and the things keeping you up at night or waking you early in the morning?

And yet here you are today, in the face of giants and storms.  Here you are.  For whatever reason, you came.  Maybe you wondered into this church, maybe you knew exactly why you were coming, or maybe you just came because that’s what you do.  Anyway, you’re here.  Amid the storms, you’re on the ship.  You decided to brave the ship, on this particularly stormy day.  And Christ is here too.  And the waves are getting worse, and the more we “think about it”, the scarier and sadder and more overwhelming it is.  The more we “think about it”, the more the boat is being swamped.  Our anxiety takes over.  Our fear and anger and pain causes us to lash out at Jesus.  Why not?  After all he’s sleeping up there, at the front of the ship.  Fast asleep! 
How could we not also, shout out, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?  That we’re sinking?”

But here’s the thing: First of all, let’s remember that Christ is with us in the ship.  He’s not just watching us from far away, be it the shoreline or heaven.  No, he’s right here with us as the waves come crashing.  That right there is a wonderful image: Jesus sleeping in the same boat where we the disciples scurry about, as waves crash and the boat tosses. 

Maybe Christ is modeling something for us by sleeping: maybe he’s modeling being calm.  Now I don’t know about you, but when crisis strikes that the last think I want to do, is take a nap. 

The day Micah was born, came 5 weeks earlier than we expected.  That day started with Heather’s water breaking, and without going into the whole story, there was a time at which the staff talked Heather into having a little medicine that would simply help her body rest, before she reached 10cm and needed to push.  Micah wasn’t born until the evening, and this was at about lunchtime that the nurse administered this drug that caused Heather to drift off.  Everything was going so fast: I was a first-time dad, it was at Christmas time and all our seminary friends had gone home for the holidays, our families were far away, and I had no idea what was going on – I hadn’t even read the baby books yet, I thought I had 5 weeks left to do that.  I was so scared and anxious.  And I had just watched my wife go under like she had just taken a dose of heroine.  And that was terrifying. 
And then that nurse, I remember, turned to me right after Heather went to sleep, and said, “This would be a good time for you to get some rest too.”  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  DON’T YOU CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?  I just wanted to scream at her.

To suggest that we sleep during a storm sounds ludicrous, but there Jesus is, asleep. 

I think “sleeping” is pushing it, for people like me, but what I do believe Jesus is showing us is being at peace in the midst of crisis and tragedy.  Breathing deeply, like we do when we sleep.  Filling our hearts with love and compassion, not anxiety and anger.  Let’s breathe our way through these times….because Christ is in the boat with us.

When we “think about it” it can become too much to bear, but when we “pray about it” that burden is shared.  And anyone who has been the recipient of prayers knows that that is such a gift.  Jane knows it right now as she and Margaret and the rest of the family are at the center of our prayers these days.

And in the end, sisters and brother in Christ, in the end he does wake up.  He does come back, and he does defeat the storms.  And in the end there is peace.  That promise we can trust.  In the end, Christ is victorious, the monsters fall down, face first, the waves smooth out, and everything is still.  And we can breathe.  And our bodies are still, our heart rates calm, our shoulders untighten, our backs open up, and we are able to rest in the confidence that our God brings peace. 

Watching the Sundes this week, is evidence of that.  Margaret has been so brave and so loving.  Jane, and Barbara, the third sister, and Joy the daughter, while they are all exhausted, they are all just so full of love and ultimately peace at this inevitable progression of things. 

I wish the stone in the slingshot was a cure for cancer.  That’s my Goliath right now.  But the truth is, that in Christ, the stone that strikes down the monstrous forces of our lives, in Christ, because of Christ, that stone is not a stone of violence or of my will and wish, rather it is a stone of love.  And a stone of peace.  We can’t crush the dragon of cancer with a rock, but we can—and only with Christ’s help and the Spirit’s movement in our midst—we can overcome the dragons with love.  “Peace.  Be still.”  Christ says.  “Peace.  Be still.”              

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10 -- Second Sunday of the Green Season

Well, welcome back to the Gospel of Mark, sisters and brothers in Christ!  Welcome back to the stories of a Jesus who disquiets and challenges us.  We’re in for some tough ones this summer – I’ve joked with our worship planning committee that I’m glad we’re getting these texts in the summer when many are going to miss them (which subtly shows my own lack of faith, my own captivity to sin).  But Mark is tough…more aptly, Jesus is tough in Mark.  Welcome back to Mark.  I’d encourage you to read Mark this summer.  It’s short, but packs a punch.  Welcome back to Mark, where Jesus shakes the foundations, and questions even something that I always thought was a sure bet:  family.

Our 6-year-old son has picked up yet another saying from his friends: “Awkward.”   

Our Gospel text today ("awkward") starts out with Jesus being accused of insanity.  In ancient times, this was the equivalent to being possessed by a demon, actually THE demon, Satan himself.

Which sounds strange to our modern ears.  Satan is more the object of jokes nowadays than someone or something that is taken seriously.  I love SNL’s Jason Sedakis, who does a great Satan on Weekend Update, the spoof news skit.  He’s complete with horns and a pitchfork and a red tie and likeability.   But in mocking Satan and demonic images, or by relegating them to tv shows and books that entertain, we cover up or mollify some realities that a text like this forces us to confront:  that evil is real.  Whether you believe in a person named Satan or not is not important.  What’s important is that we must acknowledge the presence and the reality of evil in the world and even more importantly in ourselves.  That we are subject to some powerful forces, that are mostly subtle, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I’m not sure how many of us grew up in homes where racism, for example, was “just the way it was”…good, nurturing, loving, safe homes, but the demonic was as pleasant and as present as the smell of your mother’s lasagna.  Or sexism – nothing to argue about it, it’s just the way the world works, in the home where I grew up.  Loving nurturing, good place.  Or perhaps violence was how problems were solved, ultimately: A good smack across the face or the bottom.  Many of these were good, nurturing homes, and yet something divisive and wrong had slithered in.  The demonic is never obvious…and it often preys on our certainty and our pride. 

This is the stuff of Mark’s gospel.  Complicated, tricky, “awkward”.  And Jesus goes there.

And good people, families, well-meaning faithful Jewish families are the ones in this Gospel text today who are out there accusing Jesus of being demon-possessed…because he was rattling their safe little worlds.

A quote from Richard Eslinger, helps us catch this mood:

"He is possessed," [the people] say. These things he does must be from Satan. Such a situation threatens the whole community. Banish him, or put him away; that is what we must do. If he will not conform to us, he should be excluded from our world. If he acts to disrupt the world we have created, then declare him insane and restrain his activities. Otherwise, Jesus will shatter our world with his words.

What about Jesus’ words shatters our safe, little worlds? 

[pause]  Today is a day for honesty with ourselves, confession, and transformation. (“strong man” quote)  We’ve got to put our icky stuff out there.  Tie it up on a post look at it.  “Yeah, I’m racist.  Yeah, I’m sexist.  Yeah, I’m homophobic.  Yeah, I’m elitist.  Yeah, killing and fighting is really my last resort, in the end there’s only violence.  Yeah, I hate [these] people or [those] people.”  There is often a truth about ourselves, or our backgrounds, that we don’t always like to admit – maybe we’ve never admitted it – but it’s always lingering deep down there, like that tub of yogurt that’s been forgotten in the back of the fridge.  It never gets moved, but it comes out in other ways.
And we know it needs to get moved.  We know our sin needs to be exorcised.  The fridge needs to get cleaned out.  And we know it.  We want to be cleaned out, but it could get stinky.  To have to admit to the racism, or the sexism, or the violent tendencies or the destructive phobias of my own family or my own soul, that could get stinky.  And I could be persuaded to just let Jesus move along, to “clean someone else’s fridge,” like I pass on a salesman at the door.  No, thanks (i.e. go away).

But Jesus comes on strong.  And he doesn’t go away.  Jesus works on us, he waits on us.  He sits outside and waits and watches and loves us.  He sits through all our blaming and running and hiding and throwing stones.  He even sits through us calling him the demon-possessed.  “I’m not demon possessed, I’m not stinky, you are, Jesus!”  He sits through our immaturity.  And loves us. 
Jesus waits. Jesus loves. Jesus forgives.  And Jesus encourages us to be honest, to point to the “strong man” – put it out there and name those things that possess us, whether it’s money or prestige or violence or addiction to stuff or fear or bigotry.  For Jesus does the cleaning.  Only Jesus truly exorcises our demons, our bigotry, our arrogance, our tendencies toward violence, our fear, our pride, our hatred and lingering anger.  All those things that stink.  Jesus cleans us out, ties up the strong man, and plunders our house, our bodies with forgiveness.  How about that: plundered by forgiveness, plundered by God’s mercy and grace.  And we are made whole again at this font, at this table.  And now we are free…

Free of sin, free of Satan, free of attachment to the things of this world, so that we can now live lives of love for each other and for the stranger, live of service and peace, lives of risk (because we know that in the end God’s love, not any kind of violence, wins the day).  Forgiven and freed we can lift our hands, and our wallets, and our familes and our voices up to God and say, take it all God and use them, use me to your glory.  Take me, all of me, transformed and healed, forgiven and freed, take me and make me an instrument of your peace.  A vessel of your love.  A mouthpiece to sing your praise and cry for your justice.  Take me, Gracious God.  Into your hands, I commend my self, my body and soul and all my things.  Take me and use me for your purposes. 

The demon is gone.  And we can now live. 

For now we are possessed…possessed by Christ.   AMEN.