Easter Wonder

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Resurrection by Arcabas

Year C,  Resurrection Sunday

March 31, 2013

David W. Adkins, Starling Avenue Baptist Church, Martinsville, VA

Luke 24:1-12

We do not arrive at Easter by cold logical deduction on the basis of generally held truth. Resurrection breaks into our circle of previous experience with new data.

Sometimes I watch babies and children and think what it is like to have to start with scratch. GKC wrote: “One of the profound philosophical truths which are almost confined to infants is this love of things, not for their use or origin, but for their own inherent characteristics, the child’s love of the toughness of wood, the wetness of water, the magnificent soapiness of soap.” (TWE, ch. 12) Of course there is some capacity for understanding the world that seems to be hard wired into our bodies and brains. The instinct to breathe and seek mother’s milk. Turning our eyes toward light or sound. But there is so much there we must learn about the world that we are not born knowing that a little child is forever puzzling, delighted, surprised, intrigued. Watch the child teeter as it learns to handle its muscles as the toddler learns to gauge gravity. Witness they process of adjusting to the rhythms of day and night, “But why does the sun have to go down?” They come at the world eager to taste, to touch, to see, to do it all again. Maybe when we are in our tweens we may act as if the world is now old hat, boring even. We may act as if nothing is surprising anymore.

But if we are lucky we will find again the capacity to wonder.

Ask most people who went into science and they probably will tell you it is the thrill of discovering something new that keeps them at it. That the real world is infinitely more interesting than one we could make up.

I don’t imagine we will ever run out of surprises.

The best surprise is discovering that the world is just part of something much larger than we first guessed.

It happened when the Hubble telescope uncovered that there as many galaxies as we had once thought there were stars. The pictures are awesome.

What a silly notion that somehow science enables us to put aside the idea of God, The vastness and order and beauty of the world makes God still more wonderful. Look up, the prophet said, and behold the stars that God brings forth each known by name and in the place God puts it. And let your mind see farther. God holds the universe as if it were a mere speck of dust in his hand. That all the might of mighty armies are a mere drop of water compared to the ocean of God. God’s resources and knowledge are unsearchable.

Alister McGrath wrote of how he started out as a proud atheist, determined to get on with the search for better knowledge through science and human reason. Somewhere on his way to the degree he picked up Plato’s Republic and, came across that story at its center. “I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows —and is meant to know —that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery. As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end o f the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it.”1

Those women were looking for Jesus in a cave where they had seen the body hurried laid as Sabbath sunset began to spread its darkness. They had no illusions. They knew death was real. They were just bringing the available tools to cope with the reality of a corpse: sad, sweet, practical embalming spices, helpless tokens of grief.

But something happened. Angels redirected them with an astounding question, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen. Don’t you remember what he told you?”

Those words still explode in our hands. Jesus is not dead. Those who try to treat Jesus as a matter of historical investigation only are premature. Those who go no further than thinking he is an especially important example of noble and inspiring human life, tragically cut short. Or who treat Jesus as if he could be reduced to a collection of wise teaching, or a creed, or an image, or an idea. We come to handle and preserve his memory with our embalming theology or archeology or philosophy. We come, as it were, to remember how he once was only to be greeted by heaven’s news that it is not over with Jesus. Drop your relic bag, he has escaped and gone on ahead of us. We do not have him in a corner or safely boxed. Jesus is not stuck in the past tense; Jesus is current and forever future.

Which means there is no telling where Jesus is liable to turn up, or how he might step into your life and turn things upside down or right side up.

The stories of resurrection break into several variations at this point. But all have the same core: It was Sunday (the first day of the week), there were women at the tomb and all gospels name Mary Magdalene, and the tomb was empty.

As Paul would say, the main thing you have to be clear about is that this really happened. He offered a long list of eyewitnesses, to which he modestly appended his own name– though he admits his encounter with the resurrected Christ was out of proper time frame– who knows how and where Christ will meet us on our roads to somewhere else. But resurrection is the sort of fact that messes with our previous grand theories of how the world works, our most basic premises about what is possible. It elbows out of the way our limited explanations.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

I want to remind you of some of the things that look different in the light of resurrection. Hope for creation looks different. The power of sin and death loose their power to scare resistance out of us. The power which can reverse death can transform our lives and our world. And forgiveness trumps our sin.

First resurrection means that God takes creation seriously. It is not as if the only thing that matters is getting safely out of this world to the safety of heaven. This is not a throw away life, useful only till a better one comes along. As Hebrew scriptures repeatedly tell us, the universe exists because God intended it into being and pronounced to beautiful each step. The world–the stuff of nature, our bodies– exist not by accident. We live in a creation, not an absurdity. Then comes the surprise of incarnation. The coming of Jesus tells us that God is the sort of God who can inhabit, dwell within, what he has made, who crawls into the world to fix it.

This is amazing. When God came within creation, it opens up a picture of how somewhat similarly to the way God is in Christ, God can enter our hearts so that we intimately communion with him within our depths. In the heart of our hearts we come to a harmony, like two voices blending in one song. We do not leave our body to be with God. God blesses and hallows our bodily lives as places where he may be present.

Creation and incarnation. What does resurrection add? That creation will have a future beyond the worse that humans can do. Resurrection is the coda.

The thief on the cross only hoped that Jesus might remember him, I can read it: “Jesus, it is just about over for me. But somehow I believe it is not over for you. When you come into that future power, just think on me, recall me.” And Jesus said, “I will do more than think of you. You will be with me. And not ‘someday’, but today when you die. With me in paradise.” Resurrection is not just that Jesus received life beyond death. Resurrection means Jesus is going continue the living relationship, and not just with us but with creation as well.

Resurrection enacts forgiveness. Jesus came back to the ones who denied, forsook, misunderstood. He has not given up on them and gone to heaven to get back to blessed existence. The risen Lord comes to those who failed; his love is a forgiveness.

Resurrection is a victory over the power of sin. The cross is typical of the escalation of human will to power to its last and strongest tool, intimidation with death. Even good people can resort in desperation to violence. The Romans bequeathed the world its genius for organization and law, but if that failed, they were prepared to hammer obstinacy into oblivion. The temple embodied centuries of piety. And yet in the crucifixion we see in terrible ways that even at its best human religion and politics can do grave injustice and violence in the name of keeping the peace and self-protection. Evil can be strong and dangerous. The cross is real

What resurrection says is that evil will not get the final word.

The Wisdom of Solomon foreshadows the gospel by saying that the wicked rulers of this world think when they have killed the righteous think that they are rid of them. Death is the end of that, they think. But recalling Exodus this Jewish writer dares declare there will be a different end to the story.2

Wisdom 3: 1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. 2 In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: 3 And their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace. 4 And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. 5 Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. 6 As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. 7 The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. 8 They shall judge nations, and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. 9 They that trust in him, shall understand the truth: and they that are faithful in love shall rest in him: for grace and peace is to his elect.

Wisdom 5: 1 Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them, and taken away their labours. 2 These seeing it, shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of their unexpected salvation. 3 Saying within themselves, repenting, and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they, whom we had some time in derision, and for a parable of reproach. 4 We fools esteemed their life madness, and their end without honour. 5 Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. 6 Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us. 7 We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. 8 What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? 9 All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, 10 And as a ship that passeth through the waves: whereof when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found, nor the path of its keel in the waters: 11 Or as when a bird flieth through the air, of the passage of which no mark can be found, but only the sound of the wings beating the light air, and parting it by the force of her flight; she moved her wings, and hath flown through, and there is no mark found afterwards of her way: 12 Or as when an arrow is shot at a mark, the divided air presently cometh together again, so that the passage thereof is not known: 13 So we also being born, forthwith ceased to be: and have been able to shew no mark of virtue: but are consumed in our wickedness. 14 Such things as these the sinners said in hell: 15 For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm: and a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind: and as the remembrance of a guest of one day that passeth by. 16 But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most High. 17 Therefore shall they receive a kingdom of glory, and a crown of beauty at the hand of the Lord: for with his right hand he will cover them, and with his holy arm he will defend them.

Resurrection is the act of God which renders the effects of violence and sin impermanent. Forgiveness is stronger than guilt. Goodness outlasts wrong. Life is stronger than death.

And therefore we live in hope that the God of Jesus Christ has the final say in how this story ends. Not with death, but life. We shall see our brothers and sisters again. The power which raised Christ from the dead can shake loose the death grip of sin on our souls. And even our bodies will be redeemed by a reconstitution, a transformation, a metamorphosis more profound than the bulb’s to the flower or the caterpillar to the butterfly or the chaos of fire to a habitable planet. We shall be changed, transformed to be like the risen Christ.3

We may have to deal with sin and death, but we have a sense that we belong to something larger. Our address may be this world but “your citizenship is in heaven.” And we walk the dusty paths of earth in company with the risen, very alive and present Lord. Christ is risen and on the loose.

And he comes to us as he promised where we share the bread and cup, where we do the loving ministry to our neighbor in their need, as we forgive his forgiveness saturates our soul. When he knocks and we humbly open our hearts Jesus still enter and sups with us.

Christ is risen. The world rejoices in its hope.

AMEN

——————————————

Paul Feyerbend suggested “…scientists need to develop their imaginations and open up their limited view of what makes up reality.” Morton Kelsey does not deny the importance of science in helping us to measure and analyze the nature of physical reality. He just wouldn’t stop there. “There is another reality beyond the physical world if only we will open our senses to it.

Frank Honeycutt:

But what if Easter doesn’t happen that way, not just for these women, but for anybody? What if Easter happens largely through remembering the words of Jesus, living the words of Jesus, being so thoroughly familiar with the words of Jesus that they’re more important than our next breath? Then they remembered his words. But what if we don’t know those words? What if we’ve forgotten them? Theophan the Recluse, a nineteenth-century Russian spiritual master, once wrote: “Everywhere and always God is with us, near to us, and in us. But we are not always with him, since we do not remember him.” Then they remembered his words. Our forgetting the words does not cancel the reality of the risen Christ in the world. But our lack of memory severely restricts Easter happening in us.

Richard Lischer

The resurrection of Jesus is a pillar of fire ahead of the whole human race. It is

testimony; not only to the pathos of human hoping, but to the justice of God. If you want to know where God stands on the issue of suffering or oppression, if you want to know what God thinks when he sees you walking away from a cemetery, if you want to know what God feels when he sees your tears—then go to the tomb of God’s son and listen for testimony.

1“A bridge between two worlds: how the Resurrection infused my rational faith with a passionate hope,”Alister E. McGrath, Christianity Today 56 no 6 Je 2012, p 32-35.

2“I did not suggest that a single word in [Wisdom] 5.1 ‘safely denotes resurrection’, but that the entire narrative of the first six chapters, read as a whole, runs like this: (a) the wicked kill the righteous and declare that death will be the end of them; (b) God, however, is looking after the currently dead righteous; (c) there will come a time when the wicked will be astonished because the righteous have not only come back again but are set in authority over nations and kingdoms; (d) the kings of the earth must therefore learn true wisdom, so that they do not behave as the wicked have done. This is then backed up, in the second half of the book, by a retelling of the Exodus, to demonstrate how God rescues his people and judges their persecutors. It is within this large-scale reading that the particular passages make the sense they do. Writer after writer makes the standard claim that Wisdom teaches immortality and therefore not resurrection, and then (a) ignores the larger argument and (b) wrongly assumes that these two (immortality and resurrection) are an either/or choice.” N. T Wright, “An Incompleat (but Grateful) Response to the Review by Markus Bockmuehl of The Resurrection fo the Son of God,” JSNT 26.4, 505-510.

31 John 3 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition) 3 Behold what manner of [love] the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth not us, because it knew not him. 2 Dearly beloved, we are now the [children] of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is. 3 And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy.

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Lent 5: As Wheat Falling

19368563570_49a78952b8_oMarch 18, 2012

 Year B Lent 5

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him. Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Scattered across the world are seed banks. Modern Noah’s arks with samples of thousands of varietes of plants. Saving biodiversity. “In 1950, about 15% of the Earth’s land surface was covered by rainforest. In fewer than fifty years, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have fallen victim to fire and the chain saw, and the rate of destruction is still accelerating. Unbelievably, more than 200,000 acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day.”1

“Edward Wilson estimates 27,000 species are currently lost per year. By 2022, 22% of all species will be extinct if no action is taken.”2

There has been a narrowing of varieties of fruit. “1 varieties now account for 90% of all apple sales in the US, with 41% down to a single variety.” 3 “One standard reference, from 1905, lists more than 6,500 distinct varieties. There are apples for keeping, cooking, eating and the making of ciders, with names as colorful as they are various: Scollop Gillyflower, Red Winter Pearmain, Kansas Keeper.”4 National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation is one of several organizations trying to hold on to diversity.

But how are you going to keep seeds alive indefinitely? In February science journals carried the sensational news that Russian scientists had successfully germinated and grown a chickweed plant from 32,000 year old permafrost. Cold storage is one way.

The final design for a “doomsday” vault that will house seeds from all known varieties of food crops has been unveiled by the Norwegian government. The Svalbard International Seed Vault will be built into a mountainside on a remote island near the North Pole. The vault aims to safeguard the world’s agriculture from future catastrophes, such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change. The facility preserves a wide variety of plant seeds in an underground cavern. The seeds are duplicate samples, or “spare” copies, of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The seed vault will provide insurance against the loss of seeds in genebanks, as well as a refuge for seeds in the case of large-scale regional or global crises.

But most gene banks require vigilance becasue many seeds lose viability if they are stored indefinitely. It becomes necessary to plant them and raise a fresh batch of seeds.

Only future is to pass life on to a new generation. Death of the species is inevitable without birth to continue the strain. When the seed sprouts the clock is ticking. If it fails to bear seeds it will be too late for that plant. But it may pour its life into those tiny vessels of DNA that have the power to replicate that life, so blooms again will appear on earth.

The seed really loses its integrity as a seed and is lost in the process of giving life to new plants.

In Jesus day farmers had long since mastered the skills of coaxing productive plants, Wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, olives– but above all wheat and barley.

It was a bit of a mystery and as much as we know today something still of a wonder, how life bears forth an abundance.

The practices required great discipline. Holding back the best as seed for the next year, the fattest, the most delectable. Rather than eating, to bury them in the ground. Putting the very thing you depended upon for survival into the soil could look like such a waste. Like throwing it away! Making it of no use whatsoever as a seed– especially hard if the winter had been tough and there was little left to tide you over till crops could be harvested. Perhaps that is behind the psalmist (126:6) He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

In today’s lesson Jesus sees this process as a parable of his death.

When the Greeks come asking to see him, Jesus responds in a surprising way.

He says “now is the hour for the son of Man to be glorified” What is this hour? What is this glory? Up till now Jesus has said, “my hour is not yet.” Not time yet. But now it is upon him. What hour? He means by it that now is the time of his crucifixion.

But in what sense is the cross part of glory?

Those Greeks who came would have known of heroes in their great literature who died in battle with great courage. Their feats of bravery and military skill insured they would be remembered and talked about for generations. That was glory.

But the cross? Here one dies not as a fighter inflicting wounds but as a victim who never stood a fighting chance. More a shameful end than a glorious one.

John knows what the disciples could not understand at that time– that the cross was more than it seemed. As they will sing it in a few years, “Our Lord has reigned from a tree.”

This cross is where the values of this world are turned upside down. Where love wins. What a paradox: this death becomes a glory. Can it be?

Jesus says, And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. The third time Jesus has referred to this death as a “lifting up.”

Last week we read in John 3 how Jesus tells Nicodemus “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

In John 8:27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

The reading today is the third time Jesus speaks of being lifted up.5

Here we are a week away from Holy Week. It is proper to ponder that cross.

What John sees is that it is all one mighty swoosh. When Jesus is lifted up for the world to see on the cross, it is in preparation for the Father to raise him from the grave, and the resurrection takes on a cosmic and universal meaning as movement continues taking Christ up into the presence of the Father in the ascension. It is a gigantic swoosh that begins on a cross and ends in heaven.

And when I am lifted up I will draw all people to me.

Why, the Greeks seekers have come wanting to know more, perhaps even exploring discipleship. Already the world is beginning to come. But that will only break loose in the cross.

We read that Jesus went underground at this point until the day when he is arrested. Jesus picked the time. And the time would be the eve of Passover. And if those Greeks ever saw Jesus it was on that cross.

More than once the people have tried to push Jesus into a different role. When the bread was multiplied in John 6: 14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

At the beginning of this chapter the crowd in Jerusalem hears that Jesus is coming toward them from Bethany where he has just been with Mary and Martha and Lazarus whom he raised from the dead. The crowd is excited. Unlike the other gospels in John the crowds rush out to meet him on the road waving palms, and in that way it is like the Feast of Tabernacles. But it is also like the warrior Maccabean brothers who liberated Israel from Greek rule a two centuries before (160 BC). 6 Twice we read it became an annual thing to celebrate the liberation of Israel and the cleansing of the Temple with palm branches.

Could it not be seen that their rushing out with palms and laying garments before Jesus was a hope that here was a military leader to change things up?

But we read that Jesus immediately looked around and found a work animal, a donkey to ride in– recalling by that action that prophet who said behold you king comes not on a war horse but a work horse, not with pomp, but humility.

They wanted Jesus to be a Rambo Savior. A Clint Eastwood Christ.

When a short while later they had trapped him and are maneuvering his riddance, they bring him to Pilate. Who asks, “Are you a king?” Jesus says “Is that your word or did some of my accusers write that script?

Are you a king?..

My kingdom is not of the world– else I would have bodyguards and followers defending me.

So you are a king?

That is your word. I came into the world to give witness to truth. Whoever is of the truth recognizes me. 7

Pilate is convinced. Whatever Jesus is, he is no political threat, but for political reasons he is willing to sacrifice Jesus to keep things quiet.

And with great irony he puts a placard on the cross: The king of the Jews. Not only that but in three languages. In Hebrew- the language of religion; in Greek the language of culture; in Latin, the language of Empire. So that all people could read it.

This unsuspecting prophetic word – here is the long expected hope of Israel, their deliverer, the fulfillment of covenant. Here on a tree.

Our Lord has reigned from a tree.

Here is where we see how he is king.

Jesus is the king who gives his life that others might live. KJV (Cambridge Ed.)

John 10:14-15 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep…..(18) No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

This is his glory. The glory of the Father.

In Hebrew the word glory is kabod, which means at root ‘heaviness’ something substantial that cannot be ignored. Paul speaks of the “weight of glory” I Cor 4. All else may be chaff, but this is the grain. This remains.

And the glory of God is the giving, the overflow, the grace of his love.

Whoever follows me will be where I am.

The cross is not only the mysterious redemptive act, not done by words but acted out in terrible form. The cross is not only our redemption, but the way of life to which we are called.

Our life will be grand only to the extent that we pour it out in service as our Lord has done. Holding nothing back, we let our lives be totally invested in the work to which Jesus leads us.

Whoever trusts their being, their meaning to God through such service even, if it results in the oblivion of death sh,all have eternal life now and forever.

Jesus says unless a grain of wheat dies it will remain alone and barren, but if it dies into the soil of the earth it will bear much fruit.

Now this is our call.

Craddock said we rarely are asked to write one big check on our life. Rather we are more often called to give it one quarter at a time. By a act of forgiveness here, and a small act of kindness there. By speaking up in one place and praying in another. Our treasure, our life gets spent over a long obedience.

[Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. “To give my life for Christ appears glorious,” he said. “To pour myself out for others. . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom — I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.” We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table– ‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’

But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.

Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.” ]

The truth of the matter is, everybody throws his life away for something. We look at our children when they won’t listen, they go the way of the world, waste their potential, and we say, “You are just throwing your life away.” And it’s true. By living for themselves they are throwing their lives away. But you know, we want them to throw their lives away. We want them to throw their lives away in service to Christ and other people. If you throw your life away living for yourself, you will lose everything, but if you throw your life away for Christ’s sake, you gain everything.8

Sometimes having a reason to live is more important than mere survival. And if we give our lives to the really important things, if we give our lives to follow Jesus, everything else falls into place and even physical death is nothing to be feared.

What if the life of church depended more on concern that we are like Jesus than with our continuation as an institution? Only way a church lives is when it refuses to cling to survival more than discipleship. What if death meant that we are willing to hold all things loosely but our dependence on God.

In 1956 Jim Elliot and four other courageous souls heard the call of God to take the Gospel into a dangerous region of Ecuador. Just two days after arriving all five men were dead, having been savagely killed by the Ecuadorian Indians they had gone to reach for Christ. Elliot and his colleagues left behind five young widows and nine fatherless children. The blood of these five martyrs became the fuel for the fires of spiritual awakening that broke out in the region. God used their witness, and the witness of their wives who remained in Ecuador to reach the people who had murdered their husbands.

In a journal entry six years before his death Jim Elliot wrote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

The Mann Gulch fire of 1949. On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Less than an hour after their jump, all but three of these men were dead.

What is amazing about this story is how one of the three survived. Two of the men were ahead of the others and were able to escape into a cave. But the foreman was with the rest of the men as the fire came upon them. Knowing that he could not outrun the fire Wag Dodge, the crew foreman, lit a fire and commanded his men to jump into the ashes so that the main fire would quickly pass over them and not burn them.

You have to understand, this was not protocol. No one had ever done anything like this before. With no other options, Dodge came up with the idea and ordered the men to jump into the ashes.

How do you think the men reacted? Not a single man entered the ashes. In fact, Dodge described what happened after giving the order by saying, “I heard someone say, ‘To hell with that, I’m getting out of here!’” Dodge goes on to say, “For all my hollering, I could not direct anyone into the burned area… and within seconds after the last man had passed me, the main fire hit the area I was in” (Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire, University of Chicago Press, p. 99).

Markquart

I noticed a huge salmon, a whole bunch of huge salmon, lumbering along the bottom, slowly, every so slowly, their noses worn white from the long trip up this mountain river, their bellies and backs were colored black. They had traveled literally hundreds of miles, thousands of miles, to that swimming hole to spawn. For a half an hour, we watched these old hogs, as the fisherman fondly call them, old hogs lumbering like logs along the bottom, swirling, preparing to die. ….. I know the stories about the instincts of salmon. A salmon has an instinct inside of it to bring it back to the place of its birth. After spending a year or two or three out in the ocean and swimming thousands of miles back up to the stream of their birth, the salmon are preparing to die. These salmon come back to the place of their hatching, being driven over rocks and dams and waterfalls. They finally at the end of their long laborious journey and dig a hole, lay their eggs and they die. And out of those eggs comes new life. For it is ONLY through dying that there is new life among the salmon.

When Jesus finished telling the parable, he said: The person who has ears to hear, let him understand the riddles about the kingdom of God.

……………………

(Called professor who said:) Every embryo has a root and a shoot; and inside that little embryo, (and this is really a miracle), there is an “on” and “off” switch. [I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that seeds have “on” and “off” switches. But they do]. Every seed has a little “on” and “off” mechanism. And when you plant a seed into the ground at 40 degrees for 40 days, that mechanism goes on, but if the temperature is at 20 degrees, the mechanism stays off. There is a miraculous mechanism which goes on and off. Now there is also a thin coat around that seed which protects the oxygen from coming in prematurely. And then when this dormant seed is planted into the ground, for 40 days at 40 degrees, the switch goes “on” and the seed takes in water, and it miraculously begins to expand, and the seed coat is broken, and it begins to mature and produces sugar and protein; and then out comes the little roots and the little shoots, and the shoots produce more seeds which produce more fruit. And that’s what happens when a seed dies,” said the professor. “It’s a miracle.” Thank you, Dr. Gibbs.

Jesus said, “Unless a seed dies, it remains a single seed; but if it dies, it produces many seeds and then much fruit.”

And so there is a parallel, is there not, between the seed and the salmon. That is, in both the seed and the salmon, death is necessary for life. Dying is important for living.

I would like to suggest to you that this is a fundamental law of life; that dying is important for living. This is a law of human psychology; it is a law of human sociology; it is a law of human relationships. It is a law of divine spirituality.

And the law is this: it is in dying that we begin living. It is only by first dying before we will ever begin living.

St. Francis of Assisi knew this law well when he wrote in his famous prayer for peace; “it is in giving that we receive; it is in dying that we are born again.”9

There is no gain but by a loss;

We cannot save but by the cross,

The corn of wheat to multiply

Must fall into the ground and die;

O should a soul alone remain

When it a hundredfold can gain?

O should a soul alone remain

When it a hundredfold can gain?

Our souls are held by all they hold;

Slaves still are slaves in chains of gold;

To whatsoever we may cling,

We make it a soul-chaining thing.

Whether it be a life or land,

And dear as our right eye or hand.

Whether it be a life or land,

And dear as our right eye or hand.

Wherever you ripe fields behold,

Waving to God their sheaves of gold,

Be sure some com of wheat has died,

Some saintly soul been crucified;

Someone has suffered, wept and prayed,

And fought hell’s legions undismayed.

Someone has suffered, wept and prayed,

And fought hell’s legions undismayed.10

4“Apples, Apples, Apples”, By VERLYN KLINKENBORG, NYTimes, November 5, 2009

5The Greek verb hypsoun means both “exalted” and (more literally) “lifted up.”

61 Maccabees 13:49-52 — Capture of the Pagan Fort in Jerusalem

The enemy troops in the Jerusalem fortress still could not go into the country to buy food, and many of them starved to death. Finally, the survivors begged Simon for peace. He agreed, then ordered them to leave the fortress, so he could remove everything that made it unclean according to their religion.

On the twenty-third day of the second month in the year 171 [141 BCE] of the Syrian Kingdom, Simon led his soldiers into the fortress. They carried palm branches [baion] and praised God with all kinds of songs and musical instruments. God had completely crushed their powerful enemy! Simon decided that a joyous festival should be held on this same day every year.

And Chanukah was observed likewise.

2 Maccabees 10:1-8 — The Rededication of the Temple …. But now they walked around carrying sticks [klados] decorated with twisted ivy and holding up branches, including some from palm trees [phoinix]. They sang hymns and thanked the Lord for making our holy temple clean again. Afterwards, everyone decided to make this a yearly festival for our whole nation.

7John 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

8Throwing Our Lives Away –A Sermon, March 18, 2012, by the Rev. S. Randall Toms, LA.

9From Mark Macquart

Lent 2: Faith when Fulfillment Is Delayed

06f94cce72a1121c174ebba4f531b565March 4, 2012

Year B Lent 2

Genesis 17;  Mark 8

Why do you think God took so long to give Abraham and Sarah the child he promised? When Abraham was 75 God told him to begin the journey on faith. Not without some incentives. God declared that he was God. That is incentive enough really. But in addition to having the right as Almighty God, God also said there would be blessings. Land for one. And family for the other.

I am reasonably certain the promise of offspring was more important than land. In those days the notion of existence after death seemed farfetched. If there was anything it was a pale echo of real life in this world, a shadowy fading sort of thing. For most of the Old Testament it was assumed that we get one shot at life and then it is over.

So the one thing of a person that they thought could possible go on after death was children. A child was a little piece of you that lived on even after you were gone. Ecclesiastes says God has put eternity into the souls of humans. For the earliest people all that hope of immortality was poured into hope for children.

So, in Abraham’s understanding, God was offering him a life that transcended death. A life that would expand and grow over many generations. “I will make of you a great people.”

God does not offer any reason why he has decided to bless Abraham. It comes like a gift out of the clear blue.

Years ago in ancient times when there were only three networks on TV, there was a show called “Millionaire.” With inflation it would be called “the Billionaire” today. Without disclosing anything about his reason or for that matter much about who the giver was, each week a different unsuspecting person was delivered a check for one million dollars.

The rest of the show was about how it changed their lives, this gift out of the blue.

Well, that is God’s covenant with Abraham. “Let me guide you and I will take you to a land that will be yours, and I will give you children and you will be blessed and through you many peoples will be blessed.”

The trick is God did not tell Abraham when all this would take place.

Now Abraham did not ask, because this was a covenant not a contract.

It always pays to read the fine print if it is a contract. All those conditions we don’t read to download a program, we just click accept and go on.

Abraham does not ask where this land is or how soon he will start having children, he just packs his bags and goes.

This simple response says something so fundamental that it echoes down through the pages of scripture and the history of the church. This response says it all, “Abraham trusted God.” I don’t know how much went on before we read about this call and don’t know everything that went through Abraham’s head at the time he headed out. All I know is he trusted God enough that he didn’t ask to look at a contract. He accepted, he went, because you don’t need legal document with someone who is bound up with your life. There is a deeper connection here than paper documents can create.

Imagine trying to spell everything in a marriage out in a contract. He will pick up the groceries on the way home from work. She will pay the gas bill. You don’t need to get someone to notarize an agreement to pick up the child after school. You don’t need all this because you have a commitment to each other, a connection and you can work out all the details because you belong to each other. You trust the other person to be and do the things that build up the relationship.

The difference between a covenant and a contract is that if it isn’t spelled out in a contract, you have no reason to expect it to happen. In a covenant you count on the other person and because your have a bond, there is more happen than could ever be spelled out on paper.

In some communities still people are able to seal a deal with a handshake, they trust each other to act in good faith, not to try to wiggle around or do something underhanded or deceitful. Their word is their bond. They have faith.

Abraham is the father of all people who live by the kind of trust in God that doesn’t depend on a bunch of “whereas’s” or “party of the first part.” or “until’s)

It is for keeps.

Marriage is a covenant.

Alimony is a contract.

Child support agreement is a contract.

So God can be trusted and Abraham trusts him. Why does he have to wait so long to receive what God promised?

God had promised him abundant offspring which had the impact of abundant life, eternal life.

Maybe if Abraham is the father of all who trust God’s promises, he is also the father of all those who have been baffled by God’s delays.

For the longest time all Abraham had was God. He was blessed with property, yes.

But there was no land in his possession. There was no child to carry on his life, and death kept coming nearer and nearer.

So this time when God comes to Abraham after a silence of thirteen years:

God referred to Himself as “God Almighty” (El Shaddai).5 So far, the primary name by which the Lord has revealed Himself is Elohim, meaning the God who creates and sustains nature. El Shaddai, on the other hand, refers to the God who constrains nature, the One who actually causes nature to do what is against itself. In other words, God is capable of working miracles. He created natural laws; He can violate bend natural laws.

El Shaddai is a designation, which emphasizes God’s infinite power (Exod 6:3).6 Interestingly, the word El means “the strong one,” while the word Shadd refers to the bosom of a nursing mother. This suggests that God is the One from whom Abram was to draw strength and nourishment.

Will you trust God when all you have is God.

We have sung several times “If you will only let God guide you.” Powerful words. I am not sure why I felt led to have us sing it 3 or 4 times in worship.

If you will only let God guide you,

And hope in Him through all your ways,

Whatever comes, He’ll stand beside you,

To bear you through the evil days;

Habakkuk knew to wait. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

We don’t understand it all, but we still trust.

My grandmother told me of how her first little son Austin died at age six, some convulsion. It broke her heart. Her first baby. She said sometimes she would be at the sink and the song would come to her,

By and by, when the morning comes,

when the saints of God are gathered home,

we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,

for we’ll understand it better by and by.”

Abraham is the father of such faith.

Despite the approaching of his own death he hoped against hope in the God who can do miraculous things.

As Paul says, call into being things that do not yet exist and bring to life even the dead.

So here we come to the gospel and Jesus has just told the disciples how he is going to Jerusalem where he will be arrested and killed. Peter scolds Jesus . “That is so negative. And you know God is not going to let such a thing happen to his Messiah!” You will have “a ring side seat on miracles!” (From Prayer of Jabez)

Jesus said “That’s devil talk. that’s the way Satan twists things!”

Jesus not only is going to go forward into the darkness ahead, he invites not just disciples but anyone who will to follow him. Only if you follow me, you have to be willing to give up grabbing at life. You have to let go of yourself. You have to realize that it can mean trouble and trial and being misunderstood and maybe you will even lose your life.

But if you are going to follow me, you have to pick up whatever cross has your name on it. And you can’t be ashamed of me. You can’t be ashamed to be a Christian. If you follow me you are going to have give up embarrassment about it.”

The truth is you will discover there is more of you when you stop thinking of yourself.

Simone Weil put it Why should I be anxious? It is not up to me to think of myself. It is up to me to think of God. And it is up to God to think of me. (Simone Weil 1909-1943)

When we give ourselves we discover true riches.

Prayer of St. Francis was altered by Mother Teresa:

Make us worthy Lord to serve our fellow men throughout the world,

who live and die in poverty and hunger.

Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread

and by our understanding love give peace and joy.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.

That where there is hatred I may bring love,

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony,

That where there is error I may bring truth,

That where there is doubt I may bring faith,

That where there is despair I may bring hope,

That where there are shadows I may bring light,

That where there is sadness I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved.

For it is by forgetting self that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Amen.

Not focusing on ourselves, but on God, we give up our demands that our own needs be met and begin to follow Jesus who in dedicating his life to the Father gave his life for others.

Dallas Willard puts it this way:

Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were put forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays. Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser… True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.

God promised Abraham a life that would go on beyond death. A blessed life here and a blessing that would outlive him. God promises life always.

Lent is not so much about sorrow for sin as it is about the joy at new life. The goal of God always is to give life, abundant life, life whole and at peace. The life that really is life, as Paul put it in I Timothy.

6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

6:17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

We can only receive the abundance of God if our hands are not full of the things of this world. Emptying is part of the path to blessing. “Whoever loses life for my sake and for the sake of the good news will discover what real life is.”

Communion is in the shadow of the cross.

We recall the body broken and the blood drained out of Jesus on the cross. You cannot avoid the image of death in this meal despite all the other themes that are also there.

This is the place where we put ourselves beneath the cross of Jesus. One who died for me because his bond with us was so total. He died with us and for us.

Now here he asks us to join him in a meal, a covenant meal, That as he died for us we will live for him. That as he was broken for the world, we are willing to be broken in the hands of God to be given to the world. Christ in us and we in him, our lives channel his grace, his compassion, his zeal for justice.

We seal our lives in solidarity with Jesus in the very sharing of the bread and cup.

This is not just memory. It is our dedication, our membership in the sufferings of Jesus that we may share too his resurrection. AMEN

Lent 1: Fasting

christ-in-the-wilderness-the-scorpion

by Stanley Spenser

 

 February 26, 2012    Lent 1  Year B

Mark 1

Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days. The ancient practice of Lent invites us to do the same. Of course, in reality most of us are not going on a 40 day retreat anywhere. We will do well to have a few hours here and there out of the hustle and bustle of responsibilities. We are going to have our Lent in the thick of things. But the challenge is to take the coming 5 weeks and within the usual, to pay attention to our Spiritual health.

There is a time for everything, the writer of Ecclesiastes assures us, but usually the urgent fills our calendar and there is no time left for what we still want to claim is important. Steven Covey offered an exercise. Write down the values that define and guide you in life. Having done that he asks us to show on our calendars the time we give to those important values and relationships. What really soaks up our time?

When our girls were toddlers I remember being struck by the advice. “Youngsters spell love, T-I-M-E.” Maybe love gets real according to the time we give to the things we love.

Now I know some of you are pulling back. “What is he trying to get us to add to our schedule? What else do I need to do, or read, or pray about?” I know sometimes it seems that we are in situations that we don’t have much say over, stretched by demand and duties that we feel no right to ignore. I may have had the same 24 hours as everyone else, but it felt like most of them had been spoken for before I got a choice. What I am going to suggest is the first step to a holy Lent is, before you add any day for meditation, or times for prayer– before adding– subtract.

Give up something for Lent.

We have all heard of giving up for Lent.

What is it all about?

A few weeks ago I noticed my tires were riding rough and even more annoying- they were getting noisy. I got out and inspected them and noticed that they were wearing unevenly, which was one reason for the noise and the shaking. Going faster only made it worse. And I have heard it can create long term problems and lessen fuel efficiency. Goodness know nobody needs lower fuel efficiency. My tires were out of alignment.

And I thought, that is what Lent is all about. Our lives get bumpy and noisy and going faster only makes it worse. Get things straight. Lent calls us to get our lives realigned. “Turn to me, O man and be saved.” Return, turn, refocus.

There are three things Jesus prescribed for people who are serious about the spiritual life, about staying vital in their faith. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus lists them as three things that we ought to do as a matter of course: Prayer, Alms, and fasting.

Jesus says of all three that they are to be done in secret– that is they are to be done without regard for applause or congratulations. Without any thought to impressing other folks. They are to be done for ourselves and for God.

Publicity is terrible corrosive of virtue. True, we are not hide our light under a bushel. But the point of having good done where folks see it is not so we will get accolades, but so that others “will see your good works and give thanks to your Father in Heaven.”

Pray alone, do good behind the scenes, and when you fast don’t go around groaning about it and moaning. Look cheerful. Keep it between you and God.

So what is fasting.

We see an example of it in Mark’s lesson. Jesus went into the wilderness right after his baptism. The Spirit drove him there. The wilderness is empty. It is quiet. There is no excess of water or food or comfort. There are few distractions. The wilderness is fasting from distractions and comforts of everyday life.

What is the purpose? For Jesus not having the usual distractions and amusements created a space for looking inside. He really was able to look into his heart and ask “Who am I? What am I to do?”

A mother camel and her baby are talking one day and the baby camel asks, “Mom why have we got these huge three-toed feet?” The mother replies, “To enable us trek across the soft sand of the desert without sinking.” “And why have we got these long, heavy eyelashes?” “To keep the sand out of our eyes on the trips through the desert ”replies the mother camel. “And Mom, why have we got these big humps on our backs?” The mother, now a little impatient with the boy replies, “They are there to help us store fat for our long treks across the desert, so we can go without water for long periods.” “OK, I get it!” says the baby camel, “We have huge feet to stop us sinking, long eyelashes to keep the sand from our eyes and humps to store water. Then, Mom, why the heck are we here in the Toronto zoo?”

Modern life sometimes makes one feel like a camel in a zoo. And like camels in a zoo we need sometimes to go into the desert in order to discover who we truly are. Lent invites us to enter into this kind of desert experience.1

As we read about the temptations in the other gospels we see that they are about Jesus examining what does it mean to be a beloved Son of the Father? What are my motives for what I shall do? What links am I willing to go to to accomplish those goals? Is it possible to use means that will undermine my purpose?

I know parents who have worked to hard to provide for their families materially, that they have no time to provide for them spiritually or emotionally. Do my means undermine my goal?

Fasting, giving up the everyday hustle and bustle provided a space for considering his life and realigning his life to the Father’s call. But fasting was not only the necessary context of the wilderness, it was the content.

  1. Notice that answer to each temptation was a kind of self-denial. Jesus giving up an option. “No, I cannot, will not, do that.” Self-denial is part of having a real self at all. A person who cannot say no to themselves goes in all directions and gets nowhere. There is no effective “yes” you can say unless you can say several important “no’s.”

One of the first buddings of self is when a child learns to say “no.” The discovery that she has a will that is not the same as her parents’ fills her with delight. About the time the child learns to say “no”, they are discovering others things they can do for themselves. She can walk. Use the potty, put up toys, fetch mommy a towel. But pity the child who does not learn to say “no” to herself.

Self-Denial is exercising the muscle of self- control. A person who is driven by urges and impulses is a scattered person.

Jesus said “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” Self-denial is not for the sake of self-denial. It is so we can be self-aware, focused, purposeful.

  1. Simplification. Fasting is about the discovery that less is more. When I take out stuff my life actually becomes larger. There are shows on TV now about folks who have an addiction to stuff. It has killed people.

One of the most famous cases involved the wealthy and reclusive Collyer brothers. In 1947, their bodies were discovered in a crumbling New York City mansion packed with more than 100 tons of junk. Last year, a resident of Shelton, Washington, was smothered when a massive pile of clothes toppled on her. And a few fatal fires have even made headlines. Hoarders tend to fill their homes with flammable material and often block hallways and exits in the process, which can make escaping a fire impossible.2 There are many types of categories of hoarders: food, trash, clothes, antique furniture, even animals.

Our lives can be smothered by all the things that we have packed into them, so that we are caught in a prison we made.

So fasting means taking things out of my life till I am free.

Non-possessiveness is a key part of spirituality in many religions. We have lost touch with it in the West, because we are so materialistic as a culture.

I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each of them withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland.3

But you don’t have to go to a Yogi to hear a different path. It is right in the gospel, much ignored, but there all the same. “A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of thing.”

Moses knew the peril of prospering, the perils of life beyond the wilderness. “Beware lest when you come into the land of promise and become blessed with all its material blessings that you think ‘I have done this’ and cease to think of God.”

Possessions betray us when we hold them too tightly. “Have as if you did not have.”

Fasting is a way of practicing letting go and discovering how much more there is to us than what we have been clutching. To discover trust for grace, rather than dependence on grab.

Jesus said we worry about food and clothes and how tall we are and what people think of us. Fast. Give up worry.

  1. Now there are other things that we can give up besides our chocolate treat. Basically it involves giving up those things that we think we have to have.

Try this. Give up TV or Cell phone. See people at restaurant sitting across from each other and googling on their blackberries, texting on their cell phone. They can’t be here until they give that up.

Ultimately God calls us to give up stuff so we can give ourselves. Let go of what we are padding our lives with so we can pay better attention to the people around us.

My first experience of Lenten fasting was at  Duke Divinity where I took the time I would have spent in the dining all to visit a nursing home. I discovered in my weakened state, I slowed down and was more attentive to the residents’ aches and pains and weakness. The best use of Lent is what we use it to do or others.

Isaiah 58 speaks of fasting but fasting that God is not pleased with.

“I will tell you why!” I respond.

“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.

Even while you fast,

you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting

when you keep on fighting and quarreling?

This kind of fasting

will never get you anywhere with me.

5 You humble yourselves

by going through the motions of penance,

bowing your heads

like reeds bending in the wind.

You dress in burlap

and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting?

Do you really think this will please the Lord?

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want:

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;

lighten the burden of those who work for you.

Let the oppressed go free,

and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry,

and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them,

and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,

and your wounds will quickly heal.

Your godliness will lead you forward,

and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer.

‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.

Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!

10 Feed the hungry,

and help those in trouble.

Then your light will shine out from the darkness,

and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

11 The Lord will guide you continually,

giving you water when you are dry

and restoring your strength.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

like an ever-flowing spring.

12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.

Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls

and a restorer of homes.

In the desert Jesus encountered beasts and angels. There are wild beasts and angels in everyone of us. Sometimes, owing to our superficial self knowledge, we fail to recognize the wild beasts in us and give in to vainglory, or we fail to recognize the angel in us and give in to self-hatred. But in the silence and recollection of the desert we come to terms with ourselves as we really are, we are reconciled with the beasts and the angels in our lives and then we begin to experience peace again for the first time. Lent is the time for the desert experience. We cannot all afford to buy a camel and head off for the desert. But we can all create a desert space in our overcrowded lives. We can set aside a place and time to be alone daily with God, a time to distance ourselves from the many noises and voices that bombard our lives every day, a time to hear God’s word, a time to rediscover who we are before God, a time to say yes to God and no to Satan as Jesus did.4

Amen.

1Munachi.

2BURIED ALIVE WITH 250 DOGS: Extreme Hoarding

Abilene : TX : USA | Dec 12, 2009 at 12:54 PM PST

3Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America. Ed. J. P. Mayer. Trans. George Lawrence. New York: Anchor, 1969, 692.

4Munachi

 

A Glimpse of Glory: Transfiguration

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Transfiguration by . Sieger Köder

March 6, 2011

Year A

Transfiguration

Matthew 17

Transfiguration is a strange story. This event comes at a pivot in the gospel account. Up till now Jesus has gathered followers, selected 12 to be “the twelve”, he has taught and healed, and fed thousands in a deserted place. His fame has spread and the crowds have grown.

When we get to chapter 16 Jesus has taken the twelve on a retreat far from the pressing crowds. There with just his closest followers Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” All sorts of things have been floated. Maybe a prophet, a teacher, Elijah come back.

Then Jesus asked them, “Well you have been closest to me;  who do you say that I am?” I don’t know how long they looked at their sandals before Peter finally blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the special chosen one of God.”

Jesus did not deny it. He said it was not something a person could deduce without help from God.

Having said that, Jesus let the other shoe drop. “I need to tell you. I am headed for Jerusalem where I will be arrested and executed and the third day rise.” [Maybe we should note that “third day” was an expression that could mean ‘in a little while’]

Peter pulls Jesus aside to correct him, “Master, you can’t say that. The Messiah is a victor not a victim. He is not treated like a criminal, but greeted as a conqueror.”

Jesus’ response was hard. “You are thinking the way most of the world thinks. not like God. That is Devil talk. Not only must I suffer, anyone who follows me has to be prepared for a hard time. But it is the way to gain real life.”

All of that had to be hard to take in. But then, “six days later,” comes the transfiguration. Jesus surrounded by a brightness, glowing with glory, conversing with Elijah and Moses. Why those two? Maybe because their mission had been like the one Jesus was on. Moses confronted Pharaoh, liberated God’s people and taught them the way to live as God’s people. Elijah confronted Ahab and brought showdown to force the people to chose the real God. Jesus was confronting the powers of this world to liberate and teach the ways of God. Jesus was going to force people to choose between their idols and the real God.

What is this all about? I feel this mysterious, strange event, gave them a glimpse of the majesty of who Jesus is.

Sometimes it happens to people today, maybe in a less grand way. Somehow they feel as if they have had some kind of confirmation from God that firms up a decision they made. Or maybe something came over them that they can’t exactly explain except they felt a strength in a time of need or a peace in a time of loss. Or someone popped up in their mind with this feeling that they were meant to go see what is happening.

I suspect more people brush against the divine than talk about it. A divine nudge, illumination, or inspiration. And while not quite the degree of Transfiguration, they get a peak behind the veil. Elisha prayed for the eyes of his scared servant to be opened and in a sudden flash the young man glimpsed an army of angels around them protecting them from danger.

Lately some of you have mentioned two books about folks who had neared death experiences and say they glimpsed heaven. One is about a little boy brought back who describes people who died before he was born. Another is by a preacher who had a wreck on the way to church and who doctors thought they had lost a couple of times on the operating table. He also talks about glory he saw.

We don’t know what to do with these stories when other people tell them. And truth be told if something like that happened to us, we might not talk about it for fear someone will think we are hallucinating or bragging.

Paul wrote about a vision he had and seems shy about it. “Whether he was in the body or out of it I cannot say.”

I guess in one way what you do after those visions, what you do as a result of those visions is the real question.

Peter’s first instinct is to build lean-to’s and to stay there. Digging in and mark the spot of the vision. The holy land is cluttered with churches and monuments to mark the supposed place of almost every event in the Bible. And a gift shop not too far away. But whether Moses on Sinai or Jesus on Tabor of Elijah on Horeb, the vision is meant to charge the battery for a mission somewhere else.

II Peter gives one example of how the experience was used.[ Ostensibly we can track this down to the way Peter told it even if II Peter is not actually something he dictated, as I Peter is. ]

In II Peter the author is combating professional religious circuit riders . He accuses them of using faith as a way to make money. Of living as if they would never face God as their judge. They could do this because they openly or covertly had concluded that they had seen all of Jesus they would ever see. Maybe, since he had not come by then, he never was coming back at all. Maybe we live in a God-forsaken world. Some folks see it that way today.

The author argues, God doesn’t count time by years and hours the way we do. To God a thousand years is like a moment, and eternity can be in the flash of a moment.

But he pulls out this event, this transfiguration, as the thing that proved it for him. We do not make these things up. We saw it with our own eyes, Jesus was transfigured with heaven’s glory. And for him it was the assurance that all the prophecies could be trusted, that all history is bound for a rendezvous with glory. What he had seen in that flash was still with him.

And the bottom line is: we ought to pay close attention to Jesus.

Why this is exactly where the gospel story takes us.

Will Willimon said there is an icon of the Transfiguration– I have not seen it– in which there is this huge hand coming out of the clouds with a finger pointing to Jesus.

That is the purpose of the event. What is going on with Jesus is connected to all God was doing through law and prophets. And when God pulls back the curtain to give a moment of clarity, He says “What I have to tell you is what Jesus is saying– listen!” Jesus alone sums up God’s self-revelation. Stop babbling and listen to what Jesus is saying.

Listen to what has Jesus just said. Jesus is the Messiah– that the disciples came up with, but what Jesus said is that the Messiah is also the Suffering Servant. And to follow him means not just glory but hardship and maybe death too.

But listen also to what Jesus say next! What does God want us to catch?

When the voice came out of heaven they fell on their faces in a fright. But Jesus comes and touches them and says, “Do not be afraid. Arise we must be going.”

We come aside to just be with the Lord today. Whether we ever have the vision, we can know something of his presence. With no clouds and vision and blinding glory, we still can feel sometimes his touch that takes away our fear and makes us feel his presence giving us deep peace that passes understanding.

II Peter says, “You have the words of Jesus. You have scripture. And all of it is given by God. We ought to pay attention to it as to the one light in a midnight world. Hear it till somehow the day star arises in our heart that assures us that there is more than this darkness. The morning star that gives inner assurance that dawn is almost here. There is more to this life than grief and failure.

A day coming in which we will see.

The use of transfiguration is so we will go on to serve in hope. That we follow knowing that behind all that ever happens there is a glory

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If we had finished the Sermon on the Mt, we would have read the conclusion about houses built either on sand or rock. Jesus offered that only live built on this words would stand through all the storms of history, all the dreadful crises of life. And a life is built on his words not by praising him but by following him. Not approving of his words, but practicing them. Not hearing only but doing also.

Clarence Jordan once asked his brother, Robert (who became a state senator and a justice on the state Supreme Court), to be Koinonia’s attorney. “I can’t do that. You know my aspirations. I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.” Clarence said, “We might lose everything, too.” “It’s different for you,” Robert responded. “Why? You and I joined the church the same Sunday as boys. The preacher asked, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ What did you say?” Robert replied, “I follow Jesus – up to a point.” Clarence: “Could that point by any chance be the cross?” “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.” “Then I don’t believe you are a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus. You ought to go back to that church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.” Robert: “Well now, if everyone like me did that, we wouldn’t have a church would we?” To which Clarence applied the coup de grace: “The question is, Do you have a church?” Later, Robert saw the light, became a disciple himself, and boasted that his brother was “the greatest Christian I have ever known.”

The Lord still comes to all who earnestly follow in his way.

Peter offered to build three tabernacles and stay where thy had had the inspiring vision. I know God uses temples and churches and schools and broadcasting and all the other institutions we use in an attempt to hold on to God. Unfortunately we sometime substitute the these things that are suppose to be about Jesus, for Jesus himself.

The sole way to hold onto the presence of Jesus is to keep up with him as he leads you to the next place. That is to say, Jesus becomes an abiding presence to those who are obedient.

Once upon a time a group of disciples asked an elder, “Does your God work miracles?”

The elder said, “Well, it all depends on what you mean by a miracle. Some people say it’s a miracle that God does the will of the people. We say, it’s a miracle when people do the will of God.”1

AMEN

 

Glimpsing Glory: Transfiguration

 

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by Wanatabe

Transfiguration Sunday, Year C

February 10, 2013

Luke 9:28-36

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 18

My grandson Samuel’s favorite books right now are two pop-up books. You know the kind of book: when you turn the page characters or animals mushroom up into 3-D figures that are larger than the book they came from. Add to that, his dinosaur and sea animal books have sounds. Maybe you have seen the Hallmark cards that play music when you open them. (Some even let you record your own message to be played.) So there is the book that moves as you shift the page slightly, makes sounds, with insides larger than the covers.

I think the transfiguration readings have that quality. Once you open the page you are facing something that will not lie flat, that looms up larger than the text.

Now, there are plenty of stories in the gospels that are not like that. Human-scale stories about Jesus with which we can identify. Jesus beckons little children to come unto him. We have done that. Jesus had compassion on the hungry and the hurting. So do we, usually. Jesus befriended the outcast. We can at least imagine doing something of the sort. When the gospels tell about his trial and execution, we know that that is an old story, how people suffer unjustly and cruelly. History is littered with those sad stories. The Jewish artist Marc Chagall pictured a Russian Jewish village being set upon in a vicious pogrom, homes burned, people fleeing in fear, and in the midst he painted a large image of Jesus on the cross, wrapped about with a prayer shawl. He is saying, Jesus knows what this suffering is.

And such human-size stories we have little trouble crediting.

Back in the 1980’s a group of scholars called the Jesus Seminar, began going through the gospels and grading each story according to how close it was to the actual word of Jesus or the actual event.

Adapting the convention of the “red-letter” gospels, in which every saying of Jesus is in red ink, they voted for each passage with colored marbles. Red would mean “this is verbatim Jesus’s words,” pink would indicated it was mostly his words, gray would mean something Jesus may have intended, but not a direct quote, and black was something that was made up later. Perhaps piously but not with journalistic purity.

I do not quibble that many of these scholars are earnestly seeking the truth. My largest problem is that their conclusions are predetermined in many cases by their presuppositions.

Some freely admit that they doubt miracles really occur. Since miracles do not really happen, according to them, most of the wonder stories in the gospels are, they conclude, embroidered if not totally invented.

You will not see what you refuse to see. We can excuse all evidence to the contrary of our assumption, if we are not open minded to the possibility of things being otherwise than we expect. If we cannot allow for being surprised.

Needless to say such scholars for the most part do not believe something like the Transfiguration, or Resurrection, ever happened.

They want the gospels to lay flat, when, as I see it, there is at the heart of scripture the irreducible beyondness, a transcendence. A God who does in fact pop out of creation occasionally.

What do I mean by “transcendence”? Basically I think it means that the world we live in and experience and do business in has more to it than our senses and reason can simply point to. There are things that are higher that we do not see.

You will remember that our vision is limited to wavelengths between infrared and ultraviolet. There are energies higher and lower and some other creatures navigate by them. We are just not made to see them with our senses. We can infer them from what we come to understand. Just so there are sounds too high and too low for our ears, though a dog on the high end or a whale on the lower notes may hear them quite plainly.

The same is true of concepts and emotions. We must be apprenticed from childhood and mature in body and mind to understand feeling of others, theories of a higher sort.

Among modern developments has been a tendency to deny the reality of “the higher.” To attempt to scale everything down to its elements. “X is nothing but….” So some will say that Valentines just boils down to chemistry, love is really just hormones and instincts doing their thing in us. But most of us will know from experience that love is not really grasped if we think that is all there is to it.

I watch my older grandson attempt reading. He knows the letters, but cannot always catch the word that they make up. And even when you know a word, it takes something more to know what it signifies.

This is not to deny the reality or necessity of the lower, but just to say that is not all there is.

John Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest as well as Nobel-prize winning physicist. He has a wonderful illustration of how both higher and lower explanations can be true at the same time.

If you come to my kitchen and ask “Why is the water boiling?” I can tell you that the heat source underneath has been conducted through the metal and the energy added to the water molecules has excited them to the point that some of the water is changing state from liquid to gas, that is boiling.”

That would be accurate.

Or I could answer, “I’m making tea. Would you care for some?”

The higher explanation may depend upon the lower, but is not explained by it. The higher explanation reveals intention and purpose behind the lower process.

Karl Marx once said that if we just don’t ask about transcendence may of our intellectual problems won’t matter. You may go ahead and make the world as you wish without bother of asking about its “Being.” Reduce everything to a materialism and you do not have to worry about a higher principle, But as a great scholar pointed out (Eric Vogelin) this is an “intellectual swindle” for how can a philosophy be really serious about truth if it says, “don’t ask this question.”

The truth is that if any person really begins to ponder their life they will be led to ask the questions Marx forbade. For I know that I have not always been. I am not my own explanation. I am here because I had parents. And they were because of their parents and so on till even a primitive man can wonder, “Why is there anything at all?” What explains this universe.

Secularism is in part an attempt to numb such questions. “It is just… ”

But still, I think, such questions will arise even if repressed for an age.

And it opens us to the possibility that the presence of God is above and beyond and around us.

Anthony De Mello has a parable of a little fish that came to the old turtle, “You are the oldest creature I know and wise. Will you help me find an answer?”

Of course, little one. What is your wonder?”

Tell me where I can find the ocean.”

Dear heart, it is all around you. You are in the ocean.”

No, this is only water. I want to see the ocean!”

What keeps peeking through the seams of scripture is that there is something all around us and beneath all that we see.

Beneath what appears to our mind and senses there is a light everlasting.

In John 1:18 we read, “No one has ever seen God…” That is true. In Exodus 33 Moses asks to see God. It is not enough that he has experienced the voice of God; he wants a vision. God tells him it is impossible. This is not because God is jealous of his space. Humans cannot see God for a similar reason to why they cannot walk on the surface of the sun. We lack the equipment to take that in.

But God does allow to see the Divine glory after God passes by. Moses is hid in a clef of the mountain, sheltered by God’s hand until God has passed by and then the hand is lifted and Moses saw the “departing glory,” he saw where God had been.

I tell you, there is more in those words than may be apparent. Where is God in your life? Perhaps we see God best looking at where we have been rather than where we are. For what are you thankful as you look back on your life? There is where you may see the glory has brushed past you in your life. We may see God at work better when we look back than we can glimpse it in front of us.

But back to John 1:18. “No one has seen God, but the Son has made him known.”

There are radio waves, cell phone communications, television programs passing all around us in this room right now. We do not see them. We do not hear them. Don’t tell anyone if you do; that would make us wonder about you. It takes a radio being turned on and tuned to translate those waves into the music or speech that is floating around. The cell phone communications require the right equipment turned on for the energy to become available to our mind and senses.

God has transferred himself into frequencies that we can receive through Jesus Christ. In Christ we see God “Face to face.”

We do this, Paul is quick to say, nor by our own ambition and cleverness, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which makes us able to receive what Jesus would reveal. The Father reveals himself through the Son; the Son reveals himself to us by the Spirit working within our spirit. Faith is our consent to this Divine self-revelation. We no more create God than a radio creates a newscast. But we do decide whether to turn the radio on!

Glory! The world is surrounded by glory. “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

And even when the glory fades or we cannot see it or sense it, we have, as did the disciples, “Jesus only.” And the divine word is “Listen to him.”

To follow that voice, to come along the way Jesus goes, will take us finally to where “faith becomes sight.” And to follow Jesus is to begin to reflect him even as he reflects the Father. It does not happen all at once, but as Moses glowed from being with God. As Jesus was bathed by glory of everlasting light on that mountain, so we will be changed by our contact with God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. From glory to glory.

II Corinthians 3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

AMEN.

 

Jesus Confronts Demons

1371252_10201976831894455_1189944952_nJanuary 29, 2012

Year B Epiphany 4

Deuteronomy 18,   Mark 1:21-28

Don’t you wish you could have been there that Sabbath? For one thing to hear what Jesus sounded like this first sermon. Of course there would have to be subtitles, since our Aramaic isn’t too good. But the voice and face would have conveyed what the others got. After all, Mark doesn’t even mention the content of the sermon. Just that everyone who heard this new preacher was astonished. He spoke as one with authority not as the scribes and Pharisees.

What is authority?

A DEA (Drug Enforcement Authority) officer stopped at a ranch in Texas and talked with an old rancher. He told the rancher, ”I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”

The rancher said, “Okay, but don’t go in that field over there…” as he pointed out the location.

The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me!” Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher.

See this badge?! This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish… on any land!! No questions asked or answers given!! Have I made myself clear?! Do you understand?!!”

The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores.

A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis bull…

With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified. The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs…

Your badge! Show him your BADGE!!”

Exousia is the word that Mark uses. Authority. The power to do something. Literally it means out of essence or being of something. There was something in the essence of Jesus that radiated this sense that he could make things different.

I wonder what he preached about? Did he use the text from Isaiah 61 that Luke says was his scripture when he preached for the first time back in Nazareth.The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Did he offer some of the teachings we have in the Sermon on the Mount that in Matthew is his first teaching? Did he talk about how the upside down kingdom of God? Or maybe a parable? Did he tell the outrageous story of the loving father who received his bad son back into the house when he came broken and needy. Did he talk about how there was a place in God’s kingdom for people who had been lost like that?

Whatever he said he did not hide behind what other “authorities” had said. He spoke with his voice and authority. And what he said or how he said it or both threatened to change how they had understood things, threatened to make things different. Was that it? Was that what provoked a member of the congregation just then?

There was a commotion and someone in the crowd stood up and started talking, right in the middle of Jesus’ sermon, mind you. You assume that this was someone the people probably knew. It might have embarrassed them for the sake of the man, for the sake of the guest preacher, for the sake of the service. Why didn’t the deacons usher him out? Did they know this man? Did he come to church often?

Martin Copenhaver, a pastor in Illinois, writes of having a man named Bernie in his congregation and choir with Tourette Syndrome, who exhibits his condition by barking without warning. Bernie’s disability has kept him from holding down a job, and in fact his family couldn’t handle it and turned him out. But Bernie was a gifted musician and one day he joins the choir in this church that has accepted him. Sounds great when he is not barking. Most times Bernie would turn the bark into a coughing fit to try to cover it. People in the church get used to it. First time a visitor hears it they may ask, “did someone just bark?” They look around and the rest of the congregation doesn’t react. it happens again. And the visitor wonders “what kind of place have I wandered into?”1

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.”Now the unclean spirit does not lie. It knows Jesus’s home address. It accuses Jesus of having come to “destroy us”, to undo evil permanently. And calls Jesus the “holy one of God” .

But Jesus does not seem to miss a beat. He zeroes in and addresses not the man but something in him. “Shut up and leave him!”

The man is convulsed momentarily, but then he is in his right mind. And now the congregation is really impressed. This is some kind of preaching, if the preacher is able to command demons out of people and the demons obey!

Word got around that Jesus had power, authority, could make things happen by just saying the word. In a dramatic way we see that Jesus’ preaching about the effective rule of God is not just words. It is backed up by real change.

What are we to make of the unclean spirit? I don’t know if you feel comfortable with talking about possessions. People can get possessed about possessions, poltergeists, haunted houses, Ouija boards. Charles Williams warned in Witchcraft that one of the great ironies of church history is how people who got passionate about exorcising evil ended up doing Devil’s work. The Inquisition is only one example of people going to such extremes to fight the Devil, that they ended up acting like him. Devil wins when we fall into using the devils methods. Mark tells us Jesus wrestled with temptations 40 days before he began his ministry. Matt and Luke tell us one of those was over whether Jesus was willing to use the Devil’s skill set to accomplish his holy purpose. Jesus saw right through the offer. If you use devil’s tools, the devil has won. Getting too fascinated with evil may be just the thing to loop us into giving evil too much power in our lives.

As someone said, whether you believe in the devil or not, watch out for people who talk about keeping his company.

But on the other hand we can dismiss evil as a chemical imbalance or a neural flaw, or some other “it’s only”, with the result that we can surrender responsibility of the evil person and even our responsibility to address it. As if evil was just there and nobody could do anything about it. “You can’t change the way things are.”

Doubtless many times we need to be humble about how much we are going to be able to change the world.

A young minister complained to a church mentor he was frustrated that he had not been able to change the people in his congregation. The old man offered, you don’t understand. God didn’t put you there to change them but to love them and minister to them. Do that and leave changing to God.

But sometimes we have seen people get so stuck in sick behaviors, self-defeating lifestyles, we just get jaded and lower our standards and our hopes to maybe just things not getting any worse.

Sometimes the problems we are stuck in are so intractable we think nothing we do or say will make any difference.  Think how Wilberforce faced the evils of slave trade, 2

William Harrison was the offspring of prosperous slaveholding Virginians, despite his attempt to present himself as a country boy who had come out of humblest conditions to be a great Indian fighter– “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” When the issue arose whether to allow slavery in the new Western states, Harrison waffled. He did not think slavery was something that ought to be spread, but he was swayed by folks who said if you don’t allow rich plantation owners to bring their slaves, they won’t move here and invest in our territory. Can’t ask people to just let go of so much of their resources like that. Can’t change things.

When the civil rights movement was building in the mid-1950s, President Eisenhower responded to a church sermon on the need for civil rights legislation by saying “You can’t legislate morality.” Morality only changes gradually. Martin Luther King responded that while Eisenhower was correct in one sense, he was missing something else: “A law may not make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me.” Law can never make a society perfect, but it can make its rules a little more just. The law can’t change hearts, but the law can lead.

Years later, Dr. King wrote in his marvelous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” of the   cost of waiting. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ … This ‘Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.'” 3

I think sometimes we need to hear this gospel lesson so we can know that Jesus is more than talk. Jesus has the power to alter the way things are, Jesus can change the status quo.

Walter Wink has done a great deal of work exploring what unclean spirits and powers of evil meant and mean.

Paul writing about meat offered to idols says he can see the point of those who are superstitious about eating anything connected to the old gods they recently worshiped. But he himself shares the opinion of those who think that there are not such things as those gods to begin with, so their existence is not an issue in eating the meat– it is just meat. On the other hand as Paul continues, my eating such meat in front of someone who still has superstition about those gods might nudge them into doing something against their conscience. So Paul says he will give up eating the meat like that –but not because there are such things as pagan gods or demigods.

On the other hand, Paul writes in Ephesians 6, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

There are forces at work in my life and your life that are “superhuman” they are greater than any one of us. It is what is going on when decent people do terrible things because they are caught up in some immoral system?  Call it “the system,” the spirit of the times.  Racism, hatred, fear, panic– all can be powerful forces that have a transpersonal reality– they are bigger than an individual- they are principalities and powers.

You know people probably who are decent, responsible, and caring people until they get drunk. And then the restraints that keep ugly possibilities at bay break down and the demons get loose. Domestic violence, gambling away security of your family, road rage–addictions of every sort– it is as if something else has come in and taken control. Yanked the steering wheel out of your hand and you can’t fight away from this possession.

Matthew 10:28: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Our freedom is real, but we are never isolated. We are influenced and we are an influence. If we are good, there have been influences which helped you do right. If you have gone wrong there were influences that paved the detour from the straight path.

When we choose what is right, it is with God’s help, though the choice is ever our own. and in doing what is loving and right we become freer still.

When we chose what is wrong we become more tangled in web of lies, a slurry of confusion, less free, emptier, co-opted. Fear that which can destroy body and soul.

We cannot blame the Devil or our genetics for our mistakes. They may have helped tilt us in the wrong direction but they did not push us into it. When the serpent strikes up the conversation with Eve he directs her attention to other things than her duty. But he does not force the fruit into her hands or into her mouth.

If we are defeated we bear some responsibility.

But we may not be able alone to right the wrong, to regain our freedom.

It make take a lot of steps to get back to where life can be what it should again.

Maybe 12 steps is one way:

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What a healthy balance of doing what we can and asking for God’s help for what is too much for us alone!

That “higher power”, we know it is personal. You can address that higher power. The God who comes close to us in Jesus is able to come closer still in the Spirit.

But David, do you believe in the devil or unclean spirits? Do you believe in the powers of evil? Are such powers personal?

I do not know how to speak of such things. They are hidden.

Karl Jung suggested that these dark possibilities are in fact the shadow of our own self. The shadow I could say of our freedom. For if you are free personally, then it is surely possible that you could do wrong with that very freedom. So that in you lies the seed of good and evil.

But sometimes it seems that that “evil urge”, as the Jews speak of it, is other than me– is something opposed to me, against me. And at that moment it is possible to speak of it as a foe, a force that is intentionally against me, attacking me.

Luther felt the devil trying to push him into despair and depression. He wrestled with those temptations and threw his ink well at the devil. But he wrote:

A mighty fortress is our God

a bulwark never failing;

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever…

Did not Jesus teach us to pray, “Deliver us from evil”? … or as the Greek says “from the evil one”

For thine is the power… the authority…

When the disciples were sent out Jesus gave them a message to preach, and the power to heal and cast out unclean spirits. They returned amazed and Jesus said, (Luke 10) “17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 4

Oh, the battle is on.

John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (KJV)

I John 3:8 The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith,

Jesus said to his disciples before ascension, his life transcended earth– “all Power is given unto me (by the Father) all power in heaven and earth.

Therefore– Go into all the world making people into students of the way

And lo I am with you always.

Jesus has the power to command evil to let go of us, to come out of us, to come out of families and churches and communities, and let us be free.

Salvation is more than a word, it is a deed. Jesus heals the whole of who we are– body, mind and soul. The goal of Jesus is to redeem us not so much from punishment for sin but from the power of sin over us and in us.

In the epilogue to his book The Powers that Be, Walter Wink wrote: “The passion that drove the early Christians to evangelistic zeal was not fueled … by the desire to increase church membership or to usher people safely into a compensatory heaven after death. Their passion was fired above all by relief at being liberated from the delusions being spun over them by the Powers [and principalities]. Being thus freed determined them to set others free.”5

The passage in Mark’s gospel does not focus on the origin of demons or disease; or the spiritual or medical origins of demon possession and the presence of diseases but rather on the ability of Jesus to effect both conquest and cure. 6

Thanks be to God. Amen

1This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers

By Lillian Daniel, Martin B. Copenhaver, 98.

2“In our culture, if we don’t accomplish something in six months or a year we will often abandon it and move on. But Wilberforce relentlessly put this bill on the floor of Parliament — year, after year, after year for seventeen years. He fought for this thing until finally it was passed on February 23rd, 1807.Then he turned around and spent the next twenty-five years fighting for the abolition of slavery itself. British Parliament passed that bill in 1833 and then three days later Wilberforce died. Before his death, William Wilberforce heard that slavery was abolished.

3Mark Byrnes,” The Past Is Not Past,” blog, March 13, 2010.

4Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

I beheld Satan … – “Satan” here denotes evidently the prince of the devils who had been cast out by the seventy disciples, for the discourse was respecting their power over evil spirits. “Lightning” is an image of “rapidity” or “quickness.” I saw Satan fall “quickly” or rapidly – as quick as lightning. The phrase “from heaven” is to be referred to the lightning, and does not mean that he saw “Satan” fall “from heaven,” but that he fell as quick as lightning from heaven or from the clouds. The whole expression then may mean, “I saw at your command devils immediately depart, as quick as the flash of lightning. I gave you this power – I saw it put forth – and I give also now, in addition to this, the power to tread on serpents,” etc.

52 Walter Wink, The Powers that Be (New York: Doubleday, 1998)

6Gino Geraci 05/15/11