Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bring Your Demon To Church Sunday

This week's scriptures are Mark 1:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.

Some of us were having a conversation about the Markan passage for this week when Jeremy asked, "What is a demon doing in church?" Immediately my weird little mind started turning and you got the title for this week's blog.

Many of us remember the first "Take Your Daughter To Work Day." It's a wonderful idea in which our daughters were reminded though being with us at work that they could do and be anything they wanted to (not a bad idea for boys either). And over the years, it's borne fruit. You can see by the rise in the number of women in various professions that 50 years ago would have been almost unheard of.

"So what's this got to do with the passage from Mark?" you ask.

In Jesus' day a person with a demon was unclean. He or she had no business being in the synagogue. How did this one get in then? Maybe it was a quiet demon...one that spoke only to its victim: telling him what a rotten human being he was; how if anyone knew what he was really like, they'd hate and despise him; how God found him vile and would eventually destroy him.

Week after week this man went to the synagogue...desperate for a way to worship; yet secretly sure that he was damned; his demon whispering constantly in his ear. Imagine the emotional pain, the anguish of feeling this way.

Is it much different though than how many of us feel? We've become convinced somehow that some trauma in our lives, some behavior with which we struggle, some secret from our past as put us beyond God's redeeming love. We look at our friends and think, "if they only knew...." We try to pray, but the words catch in our throat. Whether you believe in demons as an entity or not; few of us would doubt that this kind of view of ourselves is 'demonic'.....evil, seperating us from the good that God desires for us.

It's no wonder that when Jesus showed up at the synagogue the demon broke its silence and screamed out in fear. And Jesus screamed back; telling the demon to go away and leave this child of God alone.

The Power of God is loose in the world. In Jesus that power took on the demon that seperated this man from God's love (whatever kind of demon it was) and restored him to both God and community.

The lie that our 'demons' tell us is that we don't belong in the community of faith, that God's love and forgiveness and redemption don't include us. They tell us that the community of faith is no place for us to be. They tell us that if we show up, we'd better hide who we really are and use the time to wallow in our shame and beat up on ourselves-rather than worship and praise the God who frees us and brings us home.

When our demons come into the presence of the One who is the Truth, then the gig is up. The lies they tell won't work any more. Oh, it doesn't always happen instantly, some things take time. But once we've met Truth and Love, and know that "nothing can seperate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" then our struggles and our labor take on a different meaning for us. They're not the agony of torture-unending and unrelenting, but the labor of a journey toward the wholeness that God intends for us all.

With this in mind, I declare this Sunday to be "Bring Your Demon To Church Sunday"....I've got Someone I'd like them to meet.

See you then.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This week's scriptures are Jonah 3:1-5, 3:10-4:11 and Mark 1:14-20.

This week's passages offer a lot of places to jump off and think about our relationship to God and to the gospel and its calls to us. Enough that it would probably take months to unwrap them all and examine them. (This, by the way, is one of the things that draws me to scripture: it is not a simple, straight line, but a deep and complex, multi-layered thing. Much like our lives in God.)

Having said that, let me touch on some of the places that I can see these passages possibly taking us this week. Obviously I will wind up at one of them for Sunday's sermon (not sure which one yet), but I'd also like to invite you-as fellow Christians involved in the 'priesthood of all believers'-to follow some of them out yourself in your own prayer and study.

One of the first thinks that we notice in the Markan passage is that Jesus calls the disciples-and us-in the middle of our normal, daily activity. If we're waiting for Jesus to speak to us; if we're praying and listening; we are most likely to hear His voice in the middle of the ordinary.

Second, I'd like to say something about the part of the Jonah story that isn't in the passages for Sunday (but which will, undoubtedly be mentioned); Jonah's being swallowed by the whale.

This Hebrew parable (which is what I think the story of Jonah is) is, at least partially, about how we respond to God's call to us. That call includes an embracing of the fact that God's love is inclusive of all humankind. This is what Jonah was running from when he headed off in the opposite direction from Nineveh where he had been called to speak a prophetic word. Jonah's rejection of that inclusiveness and his pouting in Jonah 4 at God's grace, reflect the attitude which landed him in the belly of the fish. God's will is going to be done. We (and Jonah) can be part of that completion or we can stay in the belly of the fish until we decide to get on board.

And finally, we might want to look at the comparison between the responses of the disciples in Mark and that of Jonah. Jonah hears the call and runs. He wants no part of an inclusive God-doesn't even want to warn them-and throws a pout when God spares Nineveh. The disciples, we are told by Mark, immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. They didn't know where the road would lead, they only knew that they had been called; and they followed.

So what about us? What is our response to God's inclusive love; a love that includes our enemies as well as our friends? What about our response to God's love for us-warts and all? We do not know where that love and that call will take us, and it's a scary moment when we look into the depths of that great love. Will we run...and land in the 'belly of the fish'; or will we drop everything and follow Jesus?

Let's talk about it more on Sunday. I hope to see you there.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speak....I'm Listening

This week's scriptures are 1 Samuel 3 and John 1:43-51.

Many of us grew up on the Bible story of Samuel being called by God in the middle of the night. As a kid, I could picture him getting up from his bed and running in to Eli saying, "you called me...here I am" and Eli sending him back to bed those two times before he caught on the third time that God was calling Samuel.

After that, Eli told Samuel that if he heard the voice again he was to respond, "speak Lord, for your servant heareth" (I memorized it in King James English in Sunday School...can't help it).

There are a couple of reasons why Eli and Samuel might not have caught on to who was doing the talking. The first is found in verse 1 where we're told that "in those days the word of the Lord was rarely heard, and there was n outpouring of vision." The second is that "Samuel had not yet come to know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not been disclosed to him" (verse 7).

Neither Eli or Samuel (for different reasons) was tuned in to the idea that God might be saying something here; that the 'disturbance' might be God created.

Nathanael, on the other hand, rejects the idea of Jesus being the Messiah when his brother Philip comes to tell him about it based on where Jesus came from. Nathanael's first comment is, "what good can come out of Nazareth?" Now this may have been a reflection on the lack of scriptural connection to Nazareth; or it may have been a slur on that little podunk place that was nowhere near as good as Cana in Nathanael's mind.

In any event, all three of these folks could well have missed what God was doing based on their biases and presuppositions. These had to be overcome before any of them could say, out loud or internally, "Speak.....I'm listening."

I wonder about us. What biases and presuppositions about how God is going to do things have blocked us from hearing something that God was trying to say to us?

In my own life, I try to pay attention to my dreams as one of the ways that God talks to me. Part of the reason for this is that when I'm awake I often have so much stuff buzzing around in my head, so much that has to be done, so much that I'm busy being anxious about....that I can't be still enough to listen. It's often only when sleep makes me be still that I can be open to hear what God may have been trying to tell me all day long. Sometimes I've missed the (in this case) warning during the day, and then ignored it when it came in my dreams, only to find on down the line that I'd been given plenty of opportunity to avoid the emotional 'pothole' that I stepped in.

Being open, listening, expecting that God will be speaking to us causes us to approach our day and our world in a radically different way. What would happen if we went to sleep saying, "speak to me tonight God, I'm listening" and if we woke up and began the day asking, "Lord, let me be open to what You're trying to tell me today."

I wish I could tell you that this particular spiritual discipline is an ongoing part of my life every day. But it's not. I'm growing into it. What I can tell you is taht the times that I do make myself this vulnerable, this open to what God is trying to say and do in my life the results have been immeasurably important in my growth as a Christian and in my attempt to live out my faith day to day. I can also tell you that it's often very, very scary; because God is frequently leading me places that I've been avoiding (which is probably one of the reasons I'm not as disciplined at it as I would like to be).

A final question: what would happen if a whole faith community attempted that spiritual discipline for even a week? It's an interesting thought isn't it?

See you Sunday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This week's scriptures are Psalm 29 and Mark 1:4-11.

Do you remember the old question that became repeatedly famous in both the Nixon and the last Bush administration: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

The story of the baptism of Jesus raises a similar question for us. "What did Jesus know about His call to present the Kingdom of God, and when did He know it?" Did He grow into His understanding? Did it come in a flash? Or was it something that was there all along?

In Jesus' milieu it was not unusual for persons to hear voices. Nor was it unusual that those voices would quote scripture. What was critical was the passage that Jesus heard. That Jesus would hear the words of Isaiah might well have helped to focus His understanding of His call. The picture that Isaiah paints of what the messiah would do and be was one of inclusivity and compassion...themes that pervade Jesus' teachings and ministry.

There are a number of reasons why these questions might be important to us. One of them has to do with the idea that Jesus experienced life like we do. Very few of us come into the world with a clear sense of who we are and what we're called to be. Some of us spend the greatest part of our lives trying to find our place. For many it takes almost a lifetime. Winston Churchill was in his 60s before he came to the task that his whole life seemed to be moving him toward...prior to that time, to call him 'unsuccessful' would be a kindness. That Jesus would come into the world with an immediate, clear understanding of who He was and what He was to do-all from the very beginning-leaves Him outside the human experience of growth and struggle.

A second reason is the fact that once He got a vision of what He was called to, Jesus followed it clearly....even when it alienated Him from the religious structures he had grown up with. Such an understanding of call, and our responsibility to it once heard, offers us a powerful example. Jesus listened; and when He heard, He obeyed.

We'll spend some time Sunday exploring this further. We'll also be celebrating the inclusiveness of Jesus' ministry as we gather for Communion.

I hope to see you then.