Sermon for 5/20/18 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 Pentecost

Trying to explain what the Holy Spirit is can be like trying to explain how the color pink sounds. Or maybe it would be like trying to explain how lightning tastes. Explaining to someone what the Holy Spirit is can be like describing what a hummingbird looks like when it is sleeping. I think just when we have the Holy Spirit figured out, or think we have her figured out, she surprises us. Instead of trying to explain what the Holy Spirit does, or how the Holy Spirit operates with God the Father and God the Son, I want you to think about how the Holy Spirit feels. Maybe some of you would rather go back and try to describe the taste of the color pink. I’ve been thinking about this off and on and I doubt my definition is any better than yours. But here is what I got. I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, or how she does what she does. But I do know that once the Holy Spirit enters any facet of my life, I am changed. And some may ask “changed how? Changed good? Changed bad?” And I say “neither. Just changed.”

There are a few things I know for sure about the Holy Spirit (other than it has the ability to turn my world upside down). The Greek word in the Bible for Holy Spirit is “paraclete.” Now, that can be translated a number of ways. And perhaps the way we interact with the Holy Spirit will color the way we translate this. But, some options are: to walk alongside, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage, request, implore, entreat, cheer up, comfort, mediator, intercessor, or helper. Did you have any idea that the Holy Spirit could do all that? And what I’ve been thinking about this week is the idea that I can’t tell you what the Holy Spirit does in your life. I can only tell you what the Holy Spirit does in mine. I can’t tell you the way the Holy Spirit feels to you. I can’t describe the way the Holy Spirit sounds to you. I can only tell you the way I interact with the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit acts, sounds, and feels the way that we personally need it to act, sound, and feel. Because when God wants our attention, God will do it in ways that will make us pay attention.

So here is the Holy Spirit to me: God’s most aggravating component. I say this lovingly of course. I just know that when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of me, nothing in my life stays the same. And this is aggravating. Doesn’t God know I have plans? Doesn’t God know that I’ve got things to do? Doesn’t God know I’m stubborn? Oh. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit has to shake me up every once in a while. What I know about the Holy Spirit in my life is this: as soon as I make some sort of bold proclamation in regards to my life, it’s as if the Holy Spirit steps in, lets me finish, and then says “that’s cute. You’re going to be doing this instead.”  

There are so many times in my life that I can look back and know that the Holy Spirit was at work in my life and for the better. I had sworn off dating altogether. Chris walked into my life. I had plans to go to graduate school for higher education. The Holy Spirit sent me to seminary (which, to this day has been her trickiest plan accomplished). I had just about given up hope that I would actually be called to a church as a Pastor. The Holy Spirit told me about an awesome congregation in the country that was a perfect fit. So yes, the Holy Spirit for me has been aggravating, soothing, exciting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a helper, and, much to my chagrin, 100% right every single time she pushed me. For me, the biggest problem with even acknowledging the Holy Spirit in my life comes down to one issue: trust.

The idea of trusting the Holy Spirit is one I don’t like. That is difficult for me (personally) because what happens is a shame spiral. I realize I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit or that I don’t trust her. Then I wonder what that means for my own faith if I’m not trusting the Holy Spirit. Then I shame spiral because I think that I, of all people, a woman of faith, should trust in God and all the persons of God (including the Holy Spirit) but yet I don’t. And that’s not a reflection of God or God’s love for me, but it’s a reflection of my own humanity. And once I realize that my faith isn’t as strong as I want it to be then I fear that people are going to realize that I am not perfect. (Shocker) Then once people realize I’m not perfect, are they even going to believe a single word I say from the pulpit? And if they don’t believe what I say from the pulpit then am I even doing what God has called me to do? Shame spiral. Maybe something like that happens to you.

Yet, at the same time, I think that our all knowing-all loving God knows exactly how we were created. So our all knowing, all loving God knows that when the Holy Spirit stirs that we may resist. Perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit is often described as fire or a mighty wind. God knows we need something that is going to get our attention. And it is totally and completely possible that the Holy Spirit may need to shove us, stir us, shake us, whatever it may take a few times to get us to pay attention. A few things happen when the Holy Spirit starts to take hold (or at least in my experience). The first step is doubting. “That wasn’t God, was it?” Or “certainly God doesn’t want me.” Then comes bargaining with God (which never goes well). Usually that sounds something like “fine God! I’ll go! But, if you do then X, Y, and Z!” Or we make deals with God. “Hey Holy Spirit! I’ll do that thing you’ve been encouraging me to do but only if you do this for me first.” Again, this usually never goes in our favor. Lastly, we succumb to the will of the Holy Spirit and our lives are much better for it.

The Holy Spirit is always and will always be part of our lives. Illa and Lars are about to experience the Holy Spirit for the first time. An all powerful, all knowing, all loving God will inhabit these waters, claim them both as beloved children of God, and then proceed to turn their world upside down in the best possible way. The Holy Spirit is the most uncertain and unpredictable person of God. That may make it seem scary. But the Holy Spirit is nothing to fear. Let us let the Spirit be the Spirit. Let us wait in anxiousness. Let us wait in our fear. Let us wait in our joy. Let us wait in our grief. Let us wait on a Sunday in May or a Tuesday in November. The Holy Spirit will show up and in her own time. In her own time. Not ours. Not always in the way we may want her to show up. But she will make herself known in our lives. And the only thing we know for sure is that our lives will never be the same.

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Sermon for 5/13/18 John 17:6-19

Alleulia! Christ is risen! Not too long ago, I was visiting with Arlene Thompson. We were just about to wrap up our visit when I offered to pray for her. This is a very normal part of our visits. In fact, I usually offer to pray with everyone I visit. So, we joined hands and I prayed for her. Almost as soon as I said the word “amen,” something happened: Arlene started praying for me. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to do. I am not used to people praying for me. I pray for people all the time. But, when someone does it for me, I don’t know what to do. I kind of got mad at myself in that moment. Because instead of appreciating this prayer that someone was saying for me, I immediately felt full of guilt and didn’t know how to respond. Prayer is such an intimate thing that when it is done for you, your vulnerability is on display.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus is praying. This, of course, isn’t strange. It’s what Jesus does. But, he is praying for the disciples and the disciples can hear him. And the prayer is intimate and personal. I often wonder how the disciples felt upon hearing this prayer. The way this story is placed, right after Jesus finished this prayer, he and the disciples head towards the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Despite all of that, Jesus prays for the disciples anyway. He knows that he will be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him and yet prays for them anyway.

And when Jesus prays for the disciples he uses language of belonging, protection, joy, holiness, and truth. This is not a relationship that is surface only. Jesus truly know his disciples and, I believe, they truly know him. As Jesus prepares to become powerless, he does the most powerful thing possible: he uses the platform of prayer to show his love, concern, and devotion. And on top of that, the disciples get to hear Jesus pray for them. It’s one thing for Jesus to pray for the disciples, it’s another for him to do it out loud. I think to pray for someone already insinuates that there is a level of intimacy happening. But, to do it vocally with the other person listening could be a risk. The risk is two fold: the person doing the praying is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame. The person receiving the prayer is vulnerable to judgment and thus shame.

When we ask someone to pray for us, we are putting ourselves out there. We are admitting to the places we have fallen short. To do that requires us to be vulnerable and admit that we are not perfect. In a world that demands perfection, to admit to imperfection is a risk. When the person doing the praying actually prays, they may not be “in the moment” and instead focusing too much on the words. Are we saying the right thing? Is this what the person needs or wants? Instead, we should just say what is in our hearts and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. There are times that I have prayed “God, I don’t even have the words or know how to begin…” and then pray.

Like I said, praying is an intimate act. I think that alone can make it feel uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in a bad way, but uncomfortable like fidgety. That intimacy is humbling. For people to share holy moments with one another is humbling and also awe inspiring. You might think it is easy for someone like me, who practically prays for a living, to pray out loud. And, you’d be wrong. Well, kind of. There are times when it’s very easy for me to pray out loud. Before a meal? Sure! Every Sunday up here? Yep! But, when it’s a personal relationship, it can be difficult. As you all know, Chris has been having a lot of back pain and will now have surgery on Tuesday. Earlier last week he was in a lot of pain, couldn’t get comfortable, and was just generally miserable. We laid in bed, quiet. I heard him breathing and also holding his breath. I grabbed his hand and said “I’m going to pray for you.” I took a big breath and remained silent. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to say. There was a lot riding on this prayer. I wanted my words to mean something. I wanted my words to bring relief. I wanted my words to deliver a message of love. When I finally relaxed after about 30 seconds (which actually felt more like 5 minutes) I remembered that it’s not about me. A prayer is simply a conversation with our best friend, our loving parent, our most trusted confidant. Words don’t matter in this case. What matters is that we trust in God enough to speak our most personal thoughts.

Jesus prayed. Just saying that is amazing. Jesus prayed. Even Jesus himself called on God in hope, in joy, in pain, in suffering, in confusion, in all circumstances of life. Jesus prayed. And so often when Jesus prayed, he did so out loud. Jesus gives us an example of what it looks like to be vulnerable, to be exposed, to be needy (so to speak). And yes, we aren’t Jesus. But, in following Jesus’ ways, we may be bold enough and brave enough to not only pray, but to pray out loud. Praying for someone is a gift. Being prayed for is a gift. Prayer is one of the ways that we can be in communion with God. How is your life different in knowing that God prays for you, God is protecting you, God is guiding you? When someone else prays for us, it is almost like a love letter from God.

The thing about praying out loud is that we’ll never have the “right” words (whatever the right words are). It may always feel vulnerable. We may have problems getting out of our own head. But all that matters to God is that we do it. We are made and created to be the community of God together. Part of being in community with one another is speaking when others don’t have the words. To pray for one another not only is a gift, but sometimes it is a requirement. If you have ever been in a situation where your emotions or the situation is just too much that you don’t have the words to express your status, to have someone pray for you is a gift. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can change lives. Prayer can bring peace and comfort. Prayer is a gift. I would encourage you to give the gift of prayer to others. And if that idea is still to overwhelming, give the gift of prayer to yourself. Pray out loud for yourself. God is always listening.

Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness isn’t exactly an unfamiliar story to many. You may have heard variations of it over the years. But it is in Mark’s telling of the Gospel that we get today that has the least amount of details. Here’s what we know: Jesus had been baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Here’s what you need to know about the wilderness. This isn’t wilderness like Denali National Park or someplace in the Colorado Rockies. This is wilderness like a desert. Like the area between Lincoln, Nebraska and the Colorado border (if you’ve made that drive). The wilderness in this story is stark, barren, full of uncertainty, and temptations. We don’t get a lot of details in this story. We know Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan, he was with wild beasts, and angels waited on him. That’s it. That’s all we know. We don’t know the ways that Jesus handled Satan. We can assume he did handle Satan because we hear more of the Gospel story.

But, often when we are in the wilderness, we may not know how to handle it. We may not know what to do or say. When Satan tempts us in the wilderness, we may cave to those temptations. And the wilderness looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And when you’re in the midst of your own wilderness, directions seem few and far between. Christ has called me this moment and this time to speak truth. I am called to speak truth even if it isn’t popular and even if my voice shakes. My beloved, we are in a time of wilderness. And Satan has taken on the form of the powers in this country refusing to do anything about gun control.

Before you turn off your ears, I am begging you to hear me. I am not anti-gun. I know many of you in these pews own guns. I fully support your right to do that. I have made the decision that I will never own one. But, that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. I am not anti-gun. However, it is time for us to get serious about how someone can own a gun and who can own a gun. How many of our children must die before we get serious about this? We will be in a wilderness until we repent. We will be in the wilderness until we can turn our hearts from worshipping guns to worshipping God.

We don’t know how Jesus handled the wilderness in Mark’s Gospel. But we know that Satan was nothing to be messed with. After all, when Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his own death, Jesus looked at his disciple and said “get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:33) The trouble with not knowing the details of how Jesus handled the wilderness is that we are left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. And the temptation may be to give ourselves more credit and abilities when it comes to fighting Satan or the wilderness. We now find ourselves in the wilderness. We’ve been in this wilderness since April 20, 1999 when we first heard of a place called “Columbine High School.” And it seems no matter what we do, nothing changes and we stay in the wilderness.

We certainly aren’t Jesus, we know that. But, and I don’t know about you, I know I don’t want to stay in the wilderness for the rest of my life. Jesus didn’t even stay in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a life-giving place. Part of what can help us start to escape the wilderness is what we talk about a lot during Lent: repentance. But, repentance cannot happen without confession. We can’t hurry this process. Sometimes confession is less about us speaking of the ways we failed and more about listening to the ways we failed through the words from other people. Confession is about being honest. Confession is about exposing our failures not only to other people but to God as well.

Too often when tragedies like this happen, we talk around one another. We talk over one another. But we rarely engage in conversation with one another. Instead of having difficult conversations, we just hop online and try to one up one another with articles, statistics, and engage in “I’m right, let me tell you why you’re wrong” conversations. And instead of throwing our hands up in the air, what might it look like for us, for the church to model hard conversations? We can model these conversations because Jesus in the midst of these conversations promising that relationship built on accompaniment. What would it look like to have a cup of coffee with one another and talk about those difficult topics and find the places where we can agree. Talking together and trying to find a solution has to be much more productive than “thoughts and prayers.”

What might change if we engaged in these conversations looking to learn from one another rather than prove one another wrong? I want to hear your story, what you’re passionate about, and why you believe what you believe. And, in exchange, I want you to hear my story, what I’m passionate about, and why I believe what I believe. And then, together, we can confess the ways we have failed to see one another as full and amazing creations of God. And together we can repent from our previous ways and work towards finding common ground centered in Christ. We don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Christ is our key out of the wilderness. Worship centered on Christ, living surrounded and centered on Christ, and conversations centered on Christ are our keys. Thoughts and prayers will not help us escape the wilderness. Looking Satan and all of his lies right in the eyes and repenting, turning to Christ is the only thing that can help us escape.

We may think we can’t change anything. The government seems so big and we are just but one person. But we have something that seems to be forgotten about at times: we’ve got Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shows us things can change. Jesus’ temptation shows us things can change. Jesus’ ministry shows us things can change. And most importantly, the resurrection shows us that things can and do change. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is also God’s kin-dom, then yes, things can change. Thoughts and prayers are fantastic. Prayer and action is what we’re called to as disciples. Yes, these acts of violence are terrible and seem almost too big to take on. Let’s show that big problem our big God. Satan will tempt us not to leave the wilderness. Well, get behind me, Satan. I’m ready to answer the call God has on my life, the call God has had on all our lives since baptism. Let’s start these hard conversations here and now. Conversations are much easier to have than prayer vigils. It starts today.

Ash Wednesday 2018; Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

We come fully prepared, or so we think

Privately prepared for this public outing

Fasting on our mind, alms prepared, personal piety on lockdown

Oil is on our heads, our faces are washed. We are ready.

And then you meet us here, Lord

All of the preparations in the world can’t

Measure up to that face to face moment.

You see us. You see the real us, the real me.

The me you’ve loved from first splash to now.

You see what we’re trying to hide with all of these

Preparations

You see our secrets

You see our shame

We knew we couldn’t hide. But we tried.

You find us. You seek us out

Have mercy on us

We tremble in fear and are knocked to our knees

Humbled, but not humiliated

Thankful. Prayerful. Remorseful.

We thought we were prepared.

But in prayer, you find us.

In the meal, you find us.

In the darkness, you find us.

You always find us, Lord.

Sin is a disruption to our daily lives.

We can’t escape it by ourselves.

You are the only thing to set us free with your cross shaped key

We have failed in the ways you have called us.

We were silent in the face of injustice.

We were complacent in times of persecution

We were frozen when the moment needed movement.

We weren’t who you created us to be.

We desire to do good and fail.

We desire to love and instead judge.

We desire to serve and instead become self serving.

Forgive us. We beg of you, forgive us Lord.

We follow you from death to life

And our life now has meaning.

The only bags we need are the ones you fill with mercy

Grace

And love

The next 40 days we will hear of your travels,

Of your healing

Of your teaching, preaching, and learning.

And we will hear of your entry into Jerusalem

Shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!”

Will quickly escalate into

“Crucify him”

Our voices carry, but we’ll deny like Peter

We’ll say it wasn’t us but then the cock will crow

And yet

Yet

You meet us here.

In all of our brokenness

In all of our lost promises

In all of our failed attempts at love.

You meet us here.

And somehow. Some way

We are reminded

That we are yours.

That we’ve always been yours

That we will always be yours

You rescue us from ourselves

You save us from our sin

You remind us that we belong to you

You have marked us with the cross

And sealed us with the Holy Spirit

We are dust

And to dust we shall return

 

Sermon for 2/4/18 Mark 1:29-39

Many of you may recall that in my first year or so here, I had a few hospital stays. I was quite sick. Thanks to a super-bug that will not die, I caught something called “clostridium difficile” also known as c-diff. It is basically an overabundance of bad bacteria in your gut and colon. I will spare you all the symptoms, but if someone who is older or who already has a weakened immune system catches c-diff, they could die. It is very common after antibiotic use and among those who have been hospitalized or in a long term care facility. My best guess is that I caught it by doing nursing home and hospital visits. It can live on elevator buttons, bed rails, door knobs, and on and on. And the awesome (sarcastic) news is that plain old hand sanitizer does not kill it. So, I got c-diff not once, not twice, but three times within an 18 month period. And it was awful.

I had an appointment with a specialist in Iowa City (a GI) to see about an operation that could maybe get rid of it. It’s a transplant of sorts. Although again, I will spare you the details. The doctor looked at me, looked at my chart and said “you’re not a good candidate for this.” And I immediately broke down crying. If I wasn’t a good candidate, who was? The other awful thing about c-diff is that immediately I was made to feel like a leper. People coming to visit me had to wear a gown, gloves, and a mask. The nurse had a disposable stethoscope that was kept in my room for only use on me; same with a blood pressure cuff. I was also made to feel incredibly dirty. I got asked multiple times if I washed my hands after using the restroom and on and on. I desperately wanted healing.

When I finally did get better, all I wanted to do was make sure no one else would have to go through what I went through. In many ways, I became a c-diff evangelist. Maybe you can relate to this, but with healing comes power. If you have been healed from anything: the flu, a broken bone, no signs of cancer, and on and on, you know the power that can come from healing. You know the power that can come with feeling like you have your life back. And if you have experienced this kind of healing, you also know that you may see life a little differently.

I think that is what happened with Simon’s mother-in-law. There are so many jokes that a  reader might be tempted to make with this. There are mother-in-law or father-in-law jokes and/or horror stories. On top of that, we are told that upon being healed, Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve Jesus and all of the disciples that were present. Ha-ha. How funny, a woman started serving all the men. Ha-ha. Yeah…nope. Her serving them had nothing to do with her status in life or her gender. Although we are not told so explicitly, it is very likely that Simon’s mother-in-law was widowed. So she is a single woman who, up until now, had been very sick. She had been, according to Jewish law and customs, most likely unclean. Simon’s mother-in-law serving those around her is not the present day equivalent of “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, woman.”  Simon’s mother-in-law does not serve because she has to. She serves because the love of God that she has experienced through her healing is too much to keep to herself. She serves because this is what it looks like to be a disciple. Simon’s mother-in-law is a beautiful example of what it looks like to follow Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t heal people just to heal them. It’s not like he’s a traveling magician going from town to town leaving healed people in his midst with no reaction. No. The Gospel of Mark starts with this phrase “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And it ends with Jesus sending out all of his disciples to share the good news. And the good news is that the Kingdom of God is here. It’s not some far off idea. It’s not some concept that will happen “someday.” The Kingdom of God is in the here and now. And we, my beloved, we all have a roll in the Kingdom of God. Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t get up and serve as a way of thanking Jesus. We know better than that. Jesus heals people that have no way of paying him. Jesus walks with people who will only go so far. Jesus paid the price without any expectation of being paid back. Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law as yet more proof that the Kingdom of God is in the here and now and. And her response looks a lot like what Jesus himself does: she serves just as he did.

When you have been a recipient of God’s healing or God’s grace, it’s hard not to want to serve others, or at least tell others what you have experienced. And before you tell me “oh Pastor, I don’t know. I haven’t had that kind of healing or that kind of grace” I am going to tell you to stop right there. Because you have experienced it. Maybe you didn’t know you experienced it, but you did. You experience it all the time when you come to this table, arms outstretched, hands hungering to be filled. You experience it when you either are baptized or remember your own baptism. We get to see God’s grace in action when water and the Holy Spirit come together. And how can we not leave this place and serve others and tell them the good news.

“Disciple” isn’t just a term for 12 guys who served Jesus. We are all disciples. Part of being part of the body of Christ is being a disciple. Our call is to look for stories of the resurrection in everyday living. I don’t mean actual resurrection from the dead, but stories of people getting another chance at life. And then, THEN, when we do hear those stories or experience those stories, we tell others about it as proof of the continuation of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Is it easy? Not always. We don’t like people’s judgement that comes with proclaiming our discipleship title with pride. We may get nervous we don’t have the right words. We may wonder if what we really saw was a resurrection story or just dumb luck. But none of that mattered to Simon’s mother-in-law and it shouldn’t matter to us. She was healed and she started serving.

We have been healed. And so we start serving. We serve by caring for one another, by caring for the least of these around us, by caring for our world, and what is going on around us. And there are some, I know, who long for healing. Who have been begging God to be healed and nothing comes of it. Christ still heals in death, y’all. And then the promise of the resurrection becomes real for those who have died. In our baptisms and in this meal, we have been healed, if only a little bit. The Kingdom of God is in the here and now and God needs disciples. We have been healed and now it’s our turn to start serving or continue serving. The good news isn’t spread by itself, my beloved. God is calling us and has created us to serve. We live in a hurting and broken world. Now that we have been healed, it is on us to serve as Christ did. It is on us to declare hope for all. It is on us to start serving our neighbor, our friends, and everyone in need. The Kingdom of God is here and now and God’s grace is flowing through us and out of us. We’ve got plenty to share, so let’s get started.

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.

Sermon for 12/24/17 Luke 1:26-38; Advent 4

This is one of my secrets but is also not a secret: I love Broadway showtunes. I can be found often rocking out to Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and most recently: Lin Manuel Miranda. So, there’s a popular little musical on Broadway right now, you may have heard of it. It’s called “Hamilton.” And yes, it’s the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of this country’s founding fathers and the guy on the $10. And of course, as I was listening to the soundtrack this week for the 1000th time, I heard something that made me think of today’s text. So, I want to share this with you. The song is called “History Has Its Eyes on You.” George Washington needs some help, finally after some convincing, he callson Alexander Hamilton. What follows is this song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDeWJ0SiFCA)

I thought about Mary. Did she know? Did she know that history would have its eyes on her? Did she know that we would discuss her for years to come? She had no control, as the song said, of who would tell her story. And so, here we are, telling her story. Thousands of years later, we tell Mary’s story. And history still has its eyes on her. Did she have any idea? From the first time the angel greeted her with “greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” her life changed. Because really, up until then, she probably wasn’t considered a favored one. She was female. She was young. She wasn’t rich. She wasn’t extraordinary. She was ordinary. But in her ordinariness, she was found to be favored. She was like us: sinner and saint at the same time. And yet somehow, she was part of the work of God. And so are we.

While Mary is the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, she was also a nobody. I don’t say that to be disrespectful. But until the angel Gabriel came to her, she was a nobody. And believe it or not, this is good news for us. Because if God can look upon Mary, who society would have looked at as a nobody, then God can look upon us. God chose Mary because she had nothing. God is going to become the incarnate Lord; Jesus will be fully human and fully divine. And out of all the people in the world, God chose Mary. Mary was, in her own words, poor and lowly. God’s coming reign which will consist of justice and mercy is embodied in Mary. The salvation of the whole world will be born by a nobody. And despite her confusion and a little bit of fear, Mary says “here I am….let it be.”

If we think that God is not going to find us, call us, come for us, or have expectations of us just because we try to keep a quiet lifestyle, we live in a quiet place, and try and live boring, unassuming lives, then we are terribly wrong. History has its eyes on us too. It’s exactly in the unexpected that God shows up. God shows up in the unexpected places. God shows up to unexpected people. God shows up at unexpected times. God shows up with unexpected reason. And every time God shows up, it takes us by surprise and we can’t but not respond. We may go through the same emotions as Mary: perplexed, confused, thoughtful, and/or afraid. But how amazing will our lives be after all those feelings, we finally settle into the incarnation promise and respond to God with “here I am….let it be.” We can try and fight God’s call on our lives, but remember, we have no control who tells our story.

We have every right to question God. Mary did. But there’s a difference in questioning God and doubting God. We have all had those but “how can this be” moments. But nothing is impossible with God. And yes, we try to get in God’s way and our own way time after time. We  put up our own blocks. We fight the call on our lives that God has for each and every single one of us. “Not me, God…you must mean someone else.” But no! Greatness lies in you. God is calling on each and every one of us for a purpose, for a time, and for a place. We can either remain scared and afraid, or listen and respond to God. But, what kind of a life do we end up living if we walk through life completely scared and afraid? God’s way is to call on a nobody and make their life a something and make them a somebody. We may have no control over who tells our stories, but God does. God already has our story written. God had Mary’s story written. When Gabriel came calling, Mary’s story took an unexpected turn and she rose to greatness. History still has their eyes on her.

God had a very large job and expectation of Mary. For her, it might have seemed unachievable. But, we’ve all been there. God might have called on us to do something, walk with someone, serve God’s people in some form and we may have said “ain’t no way.” But we are reminded, just as Mary was, that the Holy Spirit, who later is scripture is called “the advocate” is with us. God’s power will overshadow us. This should be a comfort to Mary and to us that when we encounter overwhelming expectations, God is already there to encourage us. And yes, you have no control who lives, who dies, or who tells your story. But, you do have control over you. You have the ability to say yes to God. You have the ability to respond to God’s call that may seem impossible to anyone else, but with God nothing is impossible. You have the power of the Holy Spirit behind you. You have Jesus Christ, God incarnate born into this world and crucified on the cross as proof of God’s love. Maybe the miracle we all need this Christmas, this fourth Sunday of Advent, my beloveds, is to be brave enough, bold enough, and courageous enough to say “here I am … let it be” and watch the Holy Spirit attain miracles through us. History has its eyes on us.