Sermon for 1/28/18 Mark 1:21-28

I have not shied away in sharing with all of you my struggles with mental health or “brain health” as I like to call it. I don’t do this because I am hoping you will care for me, although I always welcome your prayers. I share my struggles with brain health in the hopes that if you struggle with your brain health, you will feel a little less alone. Whenever any of us battle anything, whether it’s the common cold, cancer, brain health issues, loneliness, or even financial troubles, there is something wonderful in knowing we are not alone. The wilderness is a lonely, scary place to be. To know that we are not there alone can help to keep us going. I have no doubt that we all have some kind of struggle. Some of you have shared your struggles with me or even the majority of the congregation. You know the power of prayer and the power of community. But, I also have no doubt that some of you in the pews this morning are struggling and you pray no one finds out. Maybe you are having marital issues. Maybe you justify that one more drink you take every night. Maybe you too are struggling with brain health issues. Whatever it may be, you’ve kept quiet.

Usually we have a lot of excuses for keeping quiet. We don’t want to bother people; we don’t want to be a burden on anyone. We don’t like the idea of people worrying about us. Maybe we’re just private people and prefer to keep struggles to ourselves. But, often, way too often in fact, we keep quiet because of one major issue: shame. Even though common sense will tell us otherwise, when you are the one in the middle of a struggle storm, the brain has the power to lie to you. You will hear lies like “no one will understand.” Or “you’re gonna lose friends over this one.” My brain through my depression and anxiety lies to me all the time. It tells me things like “you’re a terrible mother” or “that’s a dumb idea.” Let us not kid ourselves, friends. These voices are real for many of us and they are nothing but Satan trying to win us over.

The story that we hear in today’s Gospel reading is the first act of public ministry performed by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Yes, he called the disciples (we heard that last week). But this is Jesus actually doing the things Jesus is known for while in the company of other people. This act is basically an exorcism. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to engage with an unclean man. Jesus’ first act of public ministry is to go someplace where no one else will. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this, but our society, Americans especially, spend a lot of time and money trying to keep up the perception that we are clean. We have entire aisles filled with various kinds of soap. We have soap for our hair, bodies, clothes, dishes, floors, pets, furniture, cars, and on and on. To be called “dirty” is still considered an insult. We are obsessed with being clean. Many in our society still don’t want to engage with those that are “dirty.”

We may look at the homeless, the drug addicted, the prostitutes, the undocumented, or the working poor and only see their dirtiness. As if touching these people would cause us to catch homelessness or being poor or whatever. They are dirty and we’d rather ignore or brush them off. But Jesus saw the man who was in a synagogue with unclean spirits and instead of brushing him off, Jesus rebuked those spirits to leave the man. Let me review really quickly here: the man was in a synagogue, a church, and we hear of no one before Jesus attempting to help him. This wasn’t just an issue in Jesus’ time. People who we might classify as “dirty” often come to church and we as the church turn them away. We may not actually turn them away, but we turn them away with our actions (or inactions), unkind words, or judgemental looks. We don’t want “them” in our pews.

But, in his first act of public ministry, Jesus crosses boundaries. Jesus starts his ministry by showing us exactly who he is and exactly what he is willing to do. Christ goes to the places where no one else wants to go. In his ministry, Christ is going to encounter many battlefields. He is going to be challenged on the road, in synagogues, in Rome, in front of crowds, in front of Pharisees, and on and on. It is interesting to me that the first battlefield Christ engages in is the human body. Because no place is off limits to Christ. Before Christ takes on various kingdoms, God, through Jesus Christ, enters the body to go to battle for us. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but this is good news for me.

I need that word of hope desperately. I need that promise that Christ will save me from myself. I need to hear that Christ thinks I am worthy of going to battle for. Our salvation is nothing but a relationship with God. And it’s nothing we can do. It’s an ongoing relationship where we trust that God is already active in our lives and trust that God is working in our favor. It’s acknowledging that there are parts of us that are unclean, but that those parts have no hope against Jesus Christ. I need to hear that I am not alone, and maybe you do too. And by knowing that Christ will go to the ends of the earth for me and for you, that promise of accompaniment is real. Because, as far as Christ is concerned, there is no one that is unclean. There is no one that is lost that can’t be found. There is no one that is fighting something alone.

God starts fighting for you from the moment you are splashed. In her baptism today, Zara will receive a promise that no matter what she goes through, Jesus is going to fight for her. We all have received that promise in our own baptisms, but maybe we just need to hear it again. Maybe we need to hear that promise again for ourselves. So hear this, my beloved. You are not alone. There is nothing that you are enduring that you are enduring alone. No matter what terrible lies and evil thoughts Satan tries to whisper in your ear, you are not alone. You are never alone. Your battles are being fought by more than just you. And if you fight the evils of this world and it brings death, Christ still has won. I know that there are some whose demons make this earth feel more like hell. In death, Christ wins. In death, we are freed from anything anything that may have held us hostage on earth. The demons in this story today are the same many of us still fight today. And here’s the thing: the demons recognize Jesus. They know who he is, but they don’t worship him, trust him, obey him, or love him like we do. And our love for Christ has no bearing on whether or not he will go to battle for us because he always will.

Christ will cross any barrier, any border, any obstacle that comes between us and the ability to love Christ fully. And Christ does this because you’re worth fighting for. Do you hear me, my beloved? You are worth fighting for. No matter what demons you are fighting today, no matter what demons you may fight tomorrow, Christ is with you. Christ is with you through water and the Holy Spirit. Christ is with you through bread and wine. And Christ is with you no matter how strong the demons may try to be. Christ is with you because you are worth fighting for. If you were worth dying for, which you are, then you’re most definitely worth fighting for.

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Sermon for 1/21/18 Mark 1:14-20

It was a blazing hot day in late July as we unpacked our moving truck into what would be our new home in Wichita Falls, Texas. We were newly married, just returned from our honeymoon, and Chris was to start his new job in just a few weeks. One of the first things we wanted to do was find a church. The door to our apartment there on Weeks Park Lane was wide open and we heard a knock at the door. This lovely looking woman with beautifully coiffed hair (as only they can do in Texas) stood at the door. She introduced herself as a neighbor and then immediately invited us to church. “We’d love to have you come visit us at First Baptist.” Chris, jumped in and said “no thanks! We’re Lutheran.” I think she asked if that was even Christian before leaving. Chris and I both thought that had she grabbed a box off the moving truck, we might have thought about it. We kind of chuckle about it now, but I have to admire her commitment to discipleship.

Today’s text is probably familiar as we hear many stories throughout all of the Gospels of Jesus calling the disciples. In today’s story, Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John. And they all follow Jesus. Not only do they follow Jesus, but they do so immediately. I have to commend them for that. It seems like I can’t even get out of the house without at least an hour’s worth of planning. And it’s easy for me, at least, to admire Simon, Andrew, James, and John. To have that kind of faith; to leave everything immediately; to pick up and follow Jesus without a second thought. And maybe, just maybe, I can be a disciple like that someday. Following Jesus without a second thought, without a concern of worldly things, without hesitation! If only I could be like Simon, Andrew, James, and John.

So here is where I burst your bubble: Simon, Andrew, James, and John were not, by any stretch of the imagination, perfect disciples. This calling that takes place in today’s story is merely the beginning of their journey. They don’t immediately drop their nets and become some sort of super holy sin-fighting gang of super-disciples. Ahead of these four is years and years of learning and experiences. They will fail multiple times. They will have some amazing epiphany like experiences. They will think they’ve got it all figured out only to find out they don’t. Their journey to discipleship will ebb and flow. It will be full of sin and death, love and light, success, and multiple failures. I don’t know about you, but to me, this sounds a little bit like my own journey to becoming a disciple. I read a quote this week and I love it, so I am going to share with you today. Elton Brown says “Becoming a faithful Christian disciples takes both a moment and a lifetime.”

Being a disciple isn’t something you can just do once. Christ calls us daily. Whether we answer or not is another question. The goal of being like Simon, Andrew, James, and John is awesome. But remember, in the moment when Jesus was on the cross, at his most vulnerable and yet most powerful moment, those guys were nowhere to be found. I’m guessing if there was a disciple handbook, showing up at the crucifixion would probably be required. But they missed it. And the truth is, we all mess up when it comes to following Christ. No one is perfect. Do you hear me out there? No one here is a perfect Christian, or a perfect disciple, or a perfect Lutheran, or a perfect whatever. Because here’s the thing: if we were perfect, we wouldn’t need Christ. And God knows, we need Christ daily.

Our “moment” for many of us, was baptism. This was the moment that, through nothing we did on our own, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we were claimed and washed as children of God. Pretty cool, right? We got to see it last week and we will see it again next week. But for many of us, it takes a lifetime of getting the hang of this discipleship stuff. I had a visit not too long ago with a senior member of this congregation. They are over 90 and were lamenting their Christian life. “I just don’t feel like a good Christian, Pastor” they told me. I asked why and they gave me a list of things I’m pretty sure we all do. “Well, I used to do my daily devotional, but I missed a day and then another, and I haven’t picked it up in a few weeks. I don’t pray daily. Sometimes I pray before bed and I fall asleep in the middle of praying.” I assured this person that they were no different than any other Christian and that God knows our hearts and the true intentions of our hearts. Discipleship can take a lifetime. So, if you’re feeling like you’re failing at it, be gentle with yourself.

In baptism, we make promises. And we make promises as a community. This is why baptism should happen within a community of believers. We need one another. Jesus called the disciples in pairs because he knew they would need to be in community and he knew they would need one another. This is why when I lead the Lord’s Prayer at council, we hold hands as we do: as a reminder that when I’m weak, you’re strong and vice versa. We are disciples in community with one another. The promises we make at baptism are made out loud because we need a way to hold one another and ourselves accountable for what God is already calling us to do. See, we don’t believe in decision theology. We don’t believe that we are the ones who decide to follow Jesus, or claim him or whatever. Jesus is already active in our lives. God has been calling us since the day we were born. Our response is discipleship.

The promises we make are simple: live among God’s faithful people, come to the holy supper, teach and learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten commandments, have and give gifts of Scripture (aka the Bible), and to nurture our prayer life. But we can’t do it alone. This is why we need one another. This is why we return to this place week after week: to disciple camp, so to speak. We aren’t perfect Christians. But, Jesus isn’t calling perfect Christians, he’s not calling pensive Christians, he’s calling willing Christians. Disciples who are willing to fail and keep trying. Disciples who sin, but also believe they are saved. Disciples who mess up from time to time and instead of beating themselves up, us it as a way to point to Christ and his redeeming ways. Christ isn’t looking for perfection. Christ is looking for you.

Fishing takes a lifetime to get right. Discipleship is the same way. We’re all still learning. But, thanks be to God, we’re doing it together.