Sermon for 6/24/18 Mark 4:35-41

So I will admit that I struggled and have continued to struggle with scripture this week. Did you know that Pastors do that? Knowing what to say to you week after week isn’t always easy. I pray a lot and listen to the Holy Spirit. But, sometimes like Job, I wrestle with God and with scripture. Many times, it is personal. I know what I need to say, but I don’t want to say it (mainly because I don’t want to hear it). Or I have a lot of people telling me what I should say, but they don’t know you like I know you. Sometimes I even know what I want to say but I just can’t find the right words to say it. Often, it is a combination of all of those things. This week, I wrestled a lot with faith versus fear. I didn’t like that they seemed to be pitted up against one another. Why can I not be faithful and have fear? Just because I am afraid doesn’t mean I’m don’t have faith. Does it?

I was always taught that a healthy amount of fear was good. It’s good to fear a lake you can’t see the bottom of. It’s good to fear going to a new country, new place, or when meeting new friends. I think fear keeps us aware of who we are and whose we are. But, lately, I think that fear is causing us to build walls and keep people away. Thanks to the news, social media, and pretty much everything that surrounds us, we have been drowning in messages of the “other” being dangerous. We are sinking in messages that we need to fear not being loved, not being enough, not measuring up, and being left out or left behind. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. There’s the fear that our teeth aren’t white enough, our hair thick enough, that we don’t drive the right car, and that we don’t smell the right way. If we let it, fear can control our lives.

The disciples were in a group of boats sailing across the sea of Galilee when a storm blew up out of nowhere. The sea does that on occasion. It is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s easy to forget that this wouldn’t have been strange for the disciples. After all, most of them were fishermen, remember? They knew the power of the sea. But let’s talk about the setting for a moment. It was night. Their boats were more like fishing boats than luxurious cruise liners. A great storm had blown up. The winds were fierce. There would have been tremendous waves that ebbed and flowed. The sailors must have known that they might have to literally abandon ship in order to be saved. This was a serious storm. So when the disciples woke Jesus, it wasn’t a timid, reserved, or even polite “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It was probably more of a “TEACHER!! DO YOU NOT CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?!?” And, as Jesus has done thus far in the stories that we have heard from Mark’s gospel, he doesn’t follow the rules.

Jesus doesn’t start throwing buckets of water out of the boat. He doesn’t console the disciples. He doesn’t prepare to abandon ship. Instead, he rebuked the wind and demanded peace of the sea. And it happened. The disciples went from “holy mackerel we’re gonna die” to “holy mackerel who is this guy?” in a matter of moments. Jesus didn’t calm the storm as much as he showed dominion over it. This leaves the disciples, and us, perhaps, to struggle not so much with the question of what Jesus is or what he can do to who Jesus is (and what does that mean for us). I also have to wonder if part of the disciples awe was a disbelief that someone with Jesus’ powers would be associated with such a ragtag group of guys. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And if he is capable of such things, what in the world is he doing with us?

Perhaps Jesus says what he says to the disciples because they had seen proof of his identity several times before. They had seen what he was capable of. This wasn’t his first miracle with the disciples as witnesses. After all, this group of 12 was to be his “insiders.” Perhaps they even thought they fully understood Jesus and who he was. But, fear won over and they forgot everything that they had learned up to this point. The disciples have been front-row witnesses to everything that Jesus had done up to now. If they can’t figure out who Jesus is, what hope do we have?I wonder, then, if the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us, and the disciples, is to never get too comfortable.

We should never rest to assured on our “Christian” laurels. We may assume we know and/or understand how Jesus would react to a certain situation, but we would most likely find ourselves in the wrong. I think the real fear in our lives should be any confidence we have in answering with vigor “I know what Jesus would do.” Because often our idea of what Jesus would do is colored by our own biases and misconceptions. I also wrestle with this idea: do we fear Jesus because we don’t know what he will do or do we fear Jesus because we think he would do the same as we would do? I don’t know that I have a clear cut answer to that one. As soon as Jesus exercises dominion over the storm, the disciples realized that he wasn’t as much of a what as he was a who. And once again, Jesus reminds us that he is all about relationships.

I’ve come to realize I fear the most when I don’t trust. It’s not as much of a faith issue as it is a trust issue. And the only way we learn to trust is in relationship. And this includes relationships even with things we may not think we can have a relationship with. You might have seen we got a new camper. I am going to learn to trust that camper by spending time with it, learning its noises (and what they mean), finding out all the ins and outs of it. We do the same with one another. We learn to trust one another as we spend time with one another. Trust and faith then slowly go hand in hand. We often say “I have faith in you” when really what we mean is “I trust you.” So I have to wonder if when Jesus asked about the disciples faith if he was really asking them “don’t you trust me?”

Jesus is the model for accompaniment. He has shown the disciples (and us) more than once already that he is going to be by their side and by our side no matter what. Here’s the thing, faith moves us from “what if” to “even if.” Perhaps the good news in all of this is that even if we do have fear, even if our trust is wavering, even if our faith isn’t as strong as perhaps we’d like it to be, Jesus will never leave us. Jesus always has a hold of us. In the greatest storms and in times of dead calm, Jesus will not only be with us, but will also provide for us and care for us. This is the Jesus that is relentless in caring for all of creation, and that includes us. This is the Jesus that may question our faith, but still goes to the cross willingingly. When we gather here every Sunday, we are reminded and remind others that we are loved. When we gather around the table, we are reminded that Jesus loves us. When we gather around the font and are splashed in grace, we are reminded of a relationship that lasts a lifetime and even through death. Jesus, who has the powers to calm even the stormiest of seas, will provide for us always and never leave us abandoned. Christ calls on us to have even the slightest bit of faith to believe it. Let us worship love and life, not fear and mistrust.

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Sermon for 6/10/18 Mark 3:20-35

Content warning: this sermon speaks of brain health (or mental health) along with self harm and suicide. Proceed with caution as needed.

 

I know that I talk a lot about brain health, or mental health, as some of you may call it. And it may get old for some of you. Maybe you get tired of hearing me talk about it. Maybe you’d rather talk about something a little more uplifting. I understand that. But there are a few reasons I talk about brain health so much. I think I’ve probably said this before. My hope in being open and honest about my own brain health issues is that if you or a loved one struggle with these brain health issues that you will feel less alone. I also talk about brain health issues because they are not something to be ashamed of. Stigma may tell us that we should be quiet, but I don’t listen very well. I call it brain health because it is a health issue: something that should be addressed just like any other issues in the body. And, I think another reason why I don’t shy away from talking about brain health issues is because Christ calls us to be a light in the darkness. Maybe I hope that I can be even just a small light. In case you didn’t know, I suffer from depression and anxiety as well as adult ADHD. I take zoloft, adderall, and engage in weekly therapy. I am one of thousands who have stories like mine.

Two celebrities died this week. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Maybe you don’t know those names. Maybe you didn’t know them before this week and hearing them on the news. Kate Spade was a Kansas City girl, just like me. She started a handbag empire. Having a Kate Spade bag was a status symbol for a while. She branched out from bags to wallets, glasses cases, then to actual glasses, perfume, and on and on. Like I said, she had an empire. Anthony Bourdain was a well known chef. He had a great show called “Parts Unknown.” He could be gruff but he was honest. He also showed his viewers that there was something very holy about sitting down with someone, even in a very modest hut, and sharing a meal. Both of these very talented members of God’s creation completed suicide this week. Them and thousands of others we didn’t hear about. And in the days following, there was the expected outcry, shock, and sharing of hotline help numbers. There was also a lot of really really bad theology and really horrible hurtful theology.

And it hurts my heart and my spirit when things are said of people with brain health issues that tie these issues to their faith. “Well, if only your faith was stronger” some people say. Or “maybe if you just prayed more.” The worst is when people declare that those who complete suicide are automatically in hell. To that I say, Romans 8:38-39 “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Bible speaks nothing of suicide and hell. The blaspheming of the Holy Spirit isn’t suicide. Some of you may have been taught that growing up. Scripture today says “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is this: doubting the divinity of God or Jesus Christ. Doubting that God is God. When we deny that Jesus’ work of healing and “releasing of captivity” is of God and from God  that is the unforgivable sin (Saliers 118). So hear me loud and clear right now, my beloved: if you have a friend or family member that has completed suicide, the promise of a place in God’s kingdom is just as real for them as it is for you or me. The hope that we will see them again is just as real as seeing those we lost to cancer or old age. The resurrection promise is real for them. Being face to face with Jesus or even learning at his feet is a very real possibility.

The scribes claim that Jesus is of Satan; that he himself is Satan. They are doubting Jesus’ actions in the world and during his ministry thus far. Jesus answers as only he can: in parables. This probably did nothing but confuse and anger the scribes. Jesus riddles them with this “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” But Jesus was talking about truly doing battle with Satan himself. Jesus had already done that. He had already spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan and it didn’t work. Jesus called Satan on his bluff. Because here’s what happened: Satan found out he had no power over Jesus. Jesus tied up the so-called “strong man” when rebuking and denying Satan. And in that, freed us. Jesus was stronger and greater than John the Baptist (remember, John just pointed to the one greater than him, which was Jesus). Jesus is stronger than Satan as well. And the good news in this, my beloved, is that Jesus is stronger than any demon you are fighting.

At the core of this story is Jesus’ win for the kingdom of God. When Jesus is stronger than Satan, and he always is, captives are freed. And we, my beloved, we are those captives. It doesn’t matter if you are captive to brain health issues, your body betraying you, broken relationships, or an old friend of self doubt, Jesus is stronger than all of those. And what may feel like binding will be loosed by Jesus himself. Jesus’ love is stronger than evil. Jesus’ love is stronger than the evil that may attempt to keep us hostage, yes. But, Jesus’ love is also stronger than the evil we may attempt to project onto others. Because when God made humankind, when God made man and woman, they were made in God’s image. Any attempt we may make to demonize another human being will be rejected by Jesus and has no place in God’s kingdom.

We cannot and will not be called siblings of Christ if we are not doing the will of God. Jesus himself says “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” So, what is the will of God? For me, it basically goes back to the greatest commandment. We shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This means we love our neighbors when they are perfect and when they are imperfect. We love our neighbors when they are happy and laughing and we love our neighbors when they are barely keeping it altogether. We love our neighbors when they lead the cries of social justice and when they can’t even find their way out of a paper bag. And most importantly, when love our neighbors when they find the courage to say “I’m not okay.” Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus came so that any demons and captors, internally or externally, may be removed.

It would be a mistake for me to end this sermon without saying this: if you have struggled with suicidal ideation, and you have been scared to even speak of it at church for fear of judgement, let me assure you that you are loved. You are loved by me, and you are loved by God. We need you on this side of the ground. I don’t have all the answers, but I am always here to listen and tell you that your demons are liars and Christ is stronger than them. You’re not alone.

Sermon for 6/3/18; Mark 2:23-3:6

In Luther’s Small Catechism (which I know some of you had to memorize), we are told of the third commandment says that we “shalt sanctify the holy day.” And (as Luther would ask) “what does this mean?” It means that we are to “fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” Great! What in the world does that mean? I think that the Pharisees in our story today are as confused about the third commandment as we may be after hearing Luther’s explanation. Well, bless their hearts, as we used to say in the south. Let’s get a little reoriented here first. We find ourselves back in the Gospel of Mark, which is where we will be for some time. It may also be good for us to remember that no matter what the Gospel message is, Jesus is always looking to stir things up, challenge the authorities, and challenge us in what we may think it means to be disciples.

I think the way we have marked the Sabbath has changed over the years. Technology has made it too easy for us to ignore the Sabbath. Devout Jews would literally not work on the Sabbath. There are some that are so religious that they may even tear toilet paper off the roll the day before so that they don’t have any work to do on the Sabbath. But, we now live in a world (at least in our western culture) that has us believing that unless you’re working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, you’re not really working. Unless you’re putting in as much time as the boss, you’re not really working. And for so many of you, taking Sabbath isn’t always an option. If it’s not raining, or if we’ve finally got a sunny day, or if the tractor is finally fixed…you work. Somewhere around 9 million of us take prescription sleep aids and 50-70 million of us struggle with sleep disorders. So to say that we struggle with rest is an understatement.

But why do we need a Sabbath in the first place? It’s not a reward for our hard work. I know sometimes it may feel like that, especially if you’re taking Sabbath on the beach. At the base of Sabbath is one central concept: “a reminder that we belong to God and not to our labor, or to the money generated by our labor, or to the money spent from our labor in consuming products that make us feel so much better” (Stroupe, 97). Sabbath is a reminder that we belong to God. It is a reminder that we all belong to God. Sabbath isn’t just for us Americans. Or us Lutherans. Or even us that have jobs or are retired. Sabbath is a reminder that we all belong to God despite any status in life.

And if we are going to observe the Sabbath (which we should) and we are going to take it seriously (again…which we should) then we should remember that all people are in need of Sabbath and deserving of Sabbath. This is completely contradictory to everything that has been ingrained in us. Even our language around Sabbath is completely contradictory to what Christ teaches. “I deserve a day off.” Or “this is a hard earned day off.” Or even “only 3 more days until a day off.” That language is what drives home the idea that Jesus was trying to teach. The Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. Don’t you see? It’s a gift. When God was creating everything, Sabbath was the only thing that God created and called Holy. Everything else was called “good.” But no, God called the Sabbath “Holy.” And Sabbath is more than a break. Sabbath is rest. Rest, not for the sake of reward, but genuine rest. Rest that allows life to continue. We rest because the work must continue. God rested and continued to work. So must we.

Perhaps part of our discussion should be “just what difference the Sabbath makes in your life– and not just your personal, individual, and autonomous life, but how Sabbath-keeping creates a Sabbath perspective. A Sabbath perspective sees that observing the Sabbath is not optional. We keep the Sabbath so as to look around and ask who needs rest? Who is in need of life when no one else seems to notice? We keep the Sabbath to be reminded that without it, it becomes too easy to give up on fighting for those for whom life has been taken away. We keep the Sabbath for the sake of resilience and ongoing resistance, to fight the righteous fight” (K Lewis).

See, keeping Sabbath is what helps us to remain steadfast in our call as disciples. So, when Jesus lectured the Pharisees about eating on the Sabbath it is because that eating was literally saving a life. And he cured the man with a withered hand. Something he should not have done on the Sabbath, according to the law, but by healing the man, he gave him life. Keeping Sabbath helps us to reorient our lives to the lives of those around us. Sabbath allows us to have fresh eyes to see those who need help. Sabbath allows us to have fresh ears to hear the cries of the needy. Sabbath allows us to have fresh hands and feet so that we may work and move as the body of Christ in the world.

When we keep Sabbath, we keep it not just for the betterment of ourselves, but so that all of humanity may be better. If we are truly and genuinely going to keep the Sabbath, then we should not and cannot overlook those whose lives are threatened daily. We cannot and should not overlook those whose mere skin color or gender is a threat to their lives. If we are truly and genuinely going to keep the Sabbath, we cannot and should not limit who does or does not deserve abundant life. Because honestly, none of us deserve it. Abundant life and Sabbath both a gift from God. Keeping Sabbath is Holy work. But we cannot and should not keep the Sabbath at the risk of denigrating any of the rest of God’s creation. Sabbath is what allows us to continue doing the work of being a disciple. We cannot remain tireless in the work for the Gospel if we are just remaining tired. We cannot allow the call to discipleship to make us restless without rest. We cannot advocate for all of God’s creation to get Sabbath if we ourselves do not receive this gift. So you see, my beloved. Sabbath keeping isn’t just for us. It is for the good of the whole creation God calls us to abundant life. God calls us all to abundant life.