Sunday, February 10, 2013
Luke 9: 28-43, NT pages 69-70 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. Sermon There are a number of things that I can do, that I am capable of doing, but that I will only actually do if I absolutely have to. Exercise for one. I do not like to exercise, but I would rather exercise than get my wardrobe altered, so I do it, and this reluctance concerning exercise really extends out to doing any number of things that are healthy. The back page of the Daily Herald last Friday asked, “Are you eating enough fiber…?” “Not if I can help it,” is my answer. I applied the same logic to graduating college. People would say, “Joe, you’re about to graduate.” “Not if I can help it,” I would respond. I might have been happy to stick around a couple more years – to postpone entering the real world where I would have to get a job and support myself – but my parents would have been less than excited. I did know that my college graduation was coming. It did not fully take me by surprise. However, after receiving my diploma, upon cleaning out the old apartment, a certain reality sunk in. Of course I had been warned, but sometimes being warned isn’t enough, especially when it comes to the great life changes that redefine everything. Regardless of warning there are things that still come as a surprise. No matter how ready I should have been I wasn’t, and only knowing that I had to move on was I able to. In a way, the same was true before the birth of our first child. I knew that she was coming, and I had read books about how our lives would change, but it wasn’t until I assembled the crib that she would sleep in that the reality really sank in. Once I had assembled this crib in the living room I began to push it into the nursery – only it wouldn’t fit through the door way. There, in this moment of wondering what to do next, not only did the reality of this change really sink in, I also gained a profound sense of unqualification. In that moment I knew – and our scripture lesson describes a significant moment of knowing as well. The disciples had heard before that Christ would be leaving them, that he would have to suffer and die, but it isn’t until this moment described in your pew Bible as the Transfiguration, that all those warnings really sink in. Christ’s claims take on new perspective when accompanied by Moses, Elijah, a great cloud, and the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Now they suddenly believe what he had been saying all along. Now they are sure that he actually will be walking towards his death, and that he will be leaving them forever. But were they ready? Did they feel qualified to go on without him? When they came down from the mountain “a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” The disciples should have been able to cast this daemon out – Christ had given them the authority to do so long ago in the Gospel of Luke – but if they don’t have to – if they know Christ will be there to do it for them – why would they? I can understand that – as I said before, there are a number of things that I am capable of doing but would rather not, especially if I don’t have to. And so long as Jesus is around, the disciples don’t have to. Or maybe they were thinking – so long as we don’t, Jesus will be around. Whatever their reason, like a teacher frustrated by a student who won’t do what you know he can, or a parent forced to step back from a child too attached for her own good, Jesus is on to their plan and is without pity or patience saying: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” It’s as though he were saying, “I know you can do this, and I’m tired of doing it for you.” While I can’t blame him for being frustrated it’s really the disciples that I can relate to. There is a number of things that I will happily leave up to Jesus given the choice. Simple things like forgiveness that I’m happy for him to offer, but as for me, I might rather not. Loving the outcast – it seems to come so easy to Jesus, but I find it easier to keep walking than invest my time and energy. And then there is the cross. As Jesus walks down that mountain he knows what lies ahead, and I find this willingness to sacrifice self for the will of God easier left up to Jesus – but does Christ not demand that I go and do likewise? In reality – there are demands, there are expectations, and while you might be afraid to try, if you don’t try, than who will? If you refuse to give forgiveness – if you ignore the outcast and the oppressed – if you are not willing to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom of God – than who will? Now is the time. Great things will be done through you. And all will be astounded by the greatness of God. Amen.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Luke 4: 31-44, NT page 62 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. Sermon Twice Life magazine named Emily Post one of the most important Americans of the 20th century. When I first read that fact in a book review of her biography I was shocked enough to keep reading, wondering how a woman known to the world as Miss Manners, notorious for instructing people in matters of writing thank-you notes and using the correct fork at a dinner table, deserved to grace a list with the likes of Albert Einstein, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford. The author of the book review goes on to tell the story of a German immigrant who, in the early days of the 20th century, attended a dinner party in New York City that Emily Post and her husband also attended. The German man, who had only a few years ago passed through the gates of Ellis Island to become an American citizen and made a name for himself as a successful businessman had become wealthy enough to qualify for the New York City aristocracy, but he used the wrong fork for the salad course, wiped his dirty hands on the table cloth, and finally, rather than excuse himself to blow his nose with a handkerchief like a civilized person, this man just used his left hand right at the dinner table. There is a way to deal with such people – you suffer through the evening the best you can, pretending to ignore the rougher edges of your guest, and then you never invite him to your house again. But what made Emily Post important is that she had a different idea. In her book, Etiquette: In Society, In Business, In Politics and at Home she wrote down the rules for how one should conduct himself, enabling every new immigrant to the United States to learn how to act like a proper American. How should you dress when invited to a wedding? What should you bring with you? And when you go to speak to the bride and groom, what should you say? The answer to these questions may not seem nearly so profound as developing the theory of relativity or inviting the airplane, but think about how the woman who wore white to your wedding was talked about – or imagine if someone left a pair of live chickens with the other wedding gifts. Or what about the man who compliments the bride by remarking how suited for childbearing she appears to be? These things have happened, because it was appropriate back in the old country so newcomers assumed it would be appropriate here; and rather than have them be left out from proper society because they didn’t know any better, Emily Post wrote a book so they could learn how to get back in. Before her there was no pamphlet new immigrants were handed telling them that the fork farthest from the table is the one you use first, and even though the table cloth is right there, it’s not for wiping your hands on. And in the same way, there was no sign on the synagogue door saying, “during the service, it’s inappropriate to shout out at the preacher” – everyone just knew those were the rules, and as for the people who broke the rules – they would not be invited back. Thank goodness he didn’t clap – then it might really have been over – but what this man did do was he broke a standard of proper behavior right there in the synagogue. However, when the unclean spirit that possessed him caused him to cry out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! 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,” Jesus was not offended. He did not call the ushers to escort the man out, and neither did he politely ignore him hoping that he would not be back next week. Instead Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” The second chapter of this Gospel lesson is not so different. “Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever” in a society where diseases weren’t treated, doctors weren’t called; instead people with diseases left their home until they could be sure that the disease was gone. Men and women who suffered from leprosy left home and lived in leper colonies, the sick could not re-enter society until a priest certified them clean. Just as bad manners meant not being invited back over for dinner, and an unclean spirit meant dismissal from the synagogue, when they asked Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever they were probably asking whether or not she should leave. “Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.” “As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.” They knew he was the Messiah, because whereas any human being would cast out the person from their home or their church after acting incorrectly or showing the signs of disease, the Messiah can see the difference between the person and the thing that afflicts them. He cast out demons to enable the outcasts of human society to come back in. He cured diseases so that those men and women sent to the borders of the community might come back home. And while we are often tempted to send away the whole person due to unacceptable behavior, unclean spirit, or disease, the Messiah casts out what afflicts them so that the person is not harmed. You see – he does not push away the man with the unclean spirit – he cleans the man of the unclean spirit. He does not push away the alcoholic – he casts out the alcoholism. It is not the addict that he turns away from – instead he embraces the addict and casts out his addiction. He does not turn away from the sick – but cures their disease. Embracing the prostitute as a child of God, he tells her to go and sin no more. He does not guard himself from the impure – but casts out the impure’s impurity. And if you suffer from any such thing there is no need to hide – for unlike the short-sighted who cast judgment on the afflicted, push those who weren’t trained for proper society back where they came from, and look down their nose at those who aren’t as accomplished at hiding their sin from the light of day – Christ did not come to condemn the world but to save it. He will not ever cast you out – for Christ is about the work of casting out your daemons and not you. It is not you who are unclean – and Christ will rid you of every affliction that threatens your purity. And while proper society – maybe all society for that matter – confuses the person with what afflicts him – Christ removes demons and illnesses alike as obstructions – for this is what he came to do – to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow anything that would separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.