Sermon for August 7, 2016  

Preaching text:Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
1The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10Hear the word of the Lord,

you rulers of Sodom!

Listen to the teaching of our God,

you people of Gomorrah!

11What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.
12When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

14Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,

I am weary of bearing them.

15When you stretch out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your doings

from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

17learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.
18Come now, let us argue it out,

says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,

they shall become like wool.

19If you are willing and obedient,

you shall eat the good of the land;

20but if you refuse and rebel,

you shall be devoured by the sword;

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Sermon — this is an oral event, and sometimes what is preached is not exactly what appears on the page.
 

Sermon – Aug 7, 2016“I’ve worked this area for 12 years and didn’t know this was a church.” Said one of the police officers I met one night. I’m pretty sure that we’ve either heard or said about our little building here on the corner of Juneau and Edison that, “it doesn’t look like a church”.


 

Well, isn’t that exactly how we and the folks who came before us planned it? Some of us might be a bit proud that we don’t have the architecture of a traditional building—no stodgy steeple, stained glass or organ. No dusty hard immovable pews. We at Village Church bought an old bar/disco and turned it into this place of worship.

 

We don’t look or sound like a church. We don’t use hymnals; each week our liturgy (the words we say in worship, while following the same basic pattern) each week the words are different, so different that we can’t mindlessly race through the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, (you get the picture).

 

Sure we don’t look like a church, still it’s always good to ask, “why are we here?” and now I’m not asking why you as an individual or as a family, but as a church. Why is the church here?

 

As our society changes, lots of people are asking why we are here?

 

Does God need our praise, our songs? No. The prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus was even born. The prophet, the spokesperson for God declares:

 

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.

 

12When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

 

Our God didn’t and doesn’t need our worship. God doesn’t somehow feed off our prayers and sacrifices. Our God is not like some cosmic person who will starve if not fed, who’s ego needs stroking. In fact, a little past what I just quoted. We hear God saying: 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

 

God’s soul hating are strong words, but the Hebrew can even be a stronger. It can be an idiom for feeling sick, stomach ache, nausea and what follows—for which we have our various words—puke, barf, get sick, vomit.

 

God doesn’t live off our words—nature (sun, moon, seasons, rains) aren’t the result of our sacrifices.

 

In the prophet Isaiah’s day, God is let’s say—less than pleased because the worship of the people of God did not impact the way they lived. Theirs was a land of economic divides of some “have’s” and a lot more “have-nots”. Of course, Isaiah wasn’t directing his words at the church per se that didn’t exist, but there were priests. Isaiah is speaking to them, and to the people, to the people as a whole, a society, a nation. Perhaps that is why we are here.

 

A different officer asked one night, why are we here, with a bar next door, across the street, kitty-corner from us—two doors down from a gentleman’s club. I responded after a few words about inclusivity, that well this is where Jesus would be. The officer liked what I had to say. And, I was pretty pleased with my self, until I got to thinking would Jesus this is just be sitting here on these oh so comfy chairs at 10am on a Sunday morning, when parking is a bit easier?  

 

Pretty sure he’d be here at 10pm or later, sitting at a bar, or outside, eating a piece of pizza, or talking with Superman who just sold him a hotdog.

 

Perhaps that is why we as a church are here.

To learn and to

learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.

 

Not just us, but to remind if our people have forgotten and to tell them if they never new—that that’s what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrha [Gen 13:13; 18:20; 19:13; cf. Ezekiel 16:49]. It was greed; it was violence; it wasn’t homosexuality. To do good, justice, to rescue the oppressed, the orphan, the widow—the take care of the most vulnerable—not just with a bit of charity but with justice that changes the systems that create too many orphans and widows—that is what pleases God.

 

So why are you here as an individual as a family. There sure are plenty of other options and obligations.

 

I was at a bachelorette party yesterday afternoon (did a 5k obstacle course). At the end of our time together, they reminded each other that they had cross fit tomorrow at 10am. Sunday morning at 10am. Crossfit, like some other things creates and builds friendships, support networks; it is community. In other words, you don’t need to come to church to feel that you belong. In fact, I think that with some physical exercise/exertion done together as a group in fact helps build that sense of community, of bonding, and can be spiritually fulfilling.

 

We come to communicate with God. Have you never thought in a time of trouble or distress, I’ll go to church and/so that my prayers will be heard and answered.

 

But is this how it works? Coming and sitting here, does it amplify our prayers, requests, do we connect to some kind of divine network. Do with think we get better reception, more bars than in the bars all around us? The prophet tells us no, just because we give up our Sunday morning, give some money in the collection doesn’t make God listen to us.

 

Instead when our prayers, when our praise, when the words of the prophet change us show us God’s love for all, especially for those struggling, hurting, vulnerable—that is why we are here. To be cleansed from the lies, to free us from the false narrative of violence as the answer to all our problems, to wipe away the words and actions that make us feel dirty, (our sins, our mistakes, our complicity), to know that we are never forgotten. God isn’t distant, ignorant, and ignoring the pain we feel, the joy we glimpse. We are here to be changed, to be washed not just on the outside with a little water at baptism, but inside and out. God’s Word refreshes and renews so that it doesn’t matter what we look like—we are the church of Jesus, our savior, and the savior of this world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 – 

Micah Brown (age 8) Child’s Sermon

Today we are learning about the Good Samaritan. So Jesus and a lawyer were talking about neighbors. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered with a story about a guy getting robbed. Several religious guys walked right past the guy. But later in the story Jesus tells us a Samaritan rescues the guy. People didn’t like the Samaritans, but the Samaritan is the neighbor and you should love everyone as your neighbor.
Last week my brother Nathan showed me a video of Mr. Roger’s. I heard his song “Won’t you be my neighbor” He reminds me of Jesus. He wants to play with everyone; he wants to care for everyone. He wants to be and he wants us to be a neighbor like the good samaritan. I have an example of being a good neighbor. At my childcare I read a book to two littler kids. Have any of you experienced being a good neighbor? think we should be good neighbors.  Amen.

Good Samaritan Sermon

​this sermon followed the Children’s Sermon presented by my son Micah.

 

It’s just that simple. Thank you Micah. It’s so simple that an eight year old boy gets it. Love God and love your neighbor. That’s what eternal life is all about. Love God and love your neighbor. Do you want to know the meaning of life? Love God and love your neighbor. Do you want to know what the purpose of your life is? Simple. Love God and your neighbor! But somewhere along the way, it (life) becomes complicated. It didn’t begin with the lawyer in our gospel, although some people would like to think so. The lawyer doesn’t create the problem—the complication. He just gives voice to it. And who or but who is my neighbor?

 

You see, life’s a beach, and we people really do like to play in the sand, to draw lines in the sand. On my beach, neighbors are those people on my side of the line. In my life, neighbors are those people close to me. And it’s a lot more complicated than location—the family, the couple, the man or woman who lives in the house, or apartment, or condo next door. There’s all sorts of things like rich or poor, or middle class, education, sophistication, professions, color, religion (or none), proximity of political persuasion. Yes, it can get complicated, but what can Jesus expect. Life’s a beach and if we don’t draw the line somewhere we’ll have as many neighbors as grains of sand. How practical is that if everyone is a neighbor and we love everybody?

 

 

So we ask again and again are black, inner city, young men really my neighbor? Are the police officers who ride on their Harleys and squad cars my neighbor? Is someone like the man and the experience author Rob Schenck describes at the beginning of his article: Should Christians Own Guns?  

 

 

 

 

The simple answer is yes.

 

But how? How do we love? That’s not a rhetorical; that’s not an academic question? This is THE question for us today especially after this past week with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castille and of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens. And the really sad thing, this is just the latest public tragedy.

 

Jesus gave us an example—the good samaritan. A parable that played out

 

The neighbor are the men who stopped at an overturned van outside on a road in the West Bank. The van contained a rabbi and his family who were settling on land once owned by Palestinians. The men who stopped to help, one was a Palestinian who put an injured passenger in his car and then tried to direct traffic around the van. The other was a Palestinian doctor and his brother on his way into Jerusalem to break the Ramadan fast and pray as Al Aqsa mosque. The doctor and his brother helped as best they could. Pulling the seriously injured wife of the rabbi to safety. It did not matter that a Palestinian had shot at the van, killing the rabbi, the husband, and father who was driving. It did not matter that this family of settlers were intentionally taking land away from Palestinians. These Palestinians the doctor, his brother, and another anonymous driver were the neighbors.

 

This is an example like the samaritan, but just because we may not have such a dramatic experience does not mean that we are somehow off the hook. We are called to love. The love of which I speak is definitely not “sexy”. Anger has become as American as apple pie. It is acceptable and almost expected that we speak, post, and act with aggression—when “we tell it like it is”. There is nothing so sweet as righteous indignation.

 

But to love, to neighbor is to not fall into that trap. To neighbor is to be able to hear and say “Black Lives Matter” and know that it does not mean only black lives. That Black Lives Matter includes all lives, and at the same time speaks the truth although statistically white people are just as likely to commit a crime, that police are more likely to stop, arrest, and kill people of color. Black Lives Matter admits that racism is behind the impression that black men are more of a threat.  

 

For us right now—to love everyone, to be a neighbor is to post and say Black Lives Matter sign and even to participate in the Coalition for Justice rally tomorrow evening at Red Arrow Park. To love everyone to be the neighbor is to put up a Blue Lives Matter and welcome, feed, support the police. This is simple, and it is complicated. Might we offend someone? Most likely. That is the cross that Jesus calls us to carry today. Because we are witnessing to the call to love God and love our neighbor. This is what we need. This is what our neighbors need. This is what our friends and family need. This is what our country needs. It needs for us to, in our complicated lives, simply love God and love others, show mercy, go and do likewise. Amen.

 

 

 

Movers & Shakers – sermon for July 3

 “It looks like that’s where the water goes. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

 

That’s what Nathan said as we surveyed our campsite near Mammoth Cave campground. We were looking around to find the best place to put up our tent, and Brad liked the looks of this flat area of dirt in a shady spot under some trees, so we staked down the tent, blew up our air mattress, and laid out our sleeping bags, and headed out for a cave tour and dinner. Later that night, exhausted from our day of exploring we crawled in and zipped ourselves into the tent. The wind, lightning, and rains came later that night. Of course, I woke up and discovered that where the kids were sleeping was wet, so they got up onto the air mattress, and slept the rest of the night . We woke with the morning sun, to discover we weren’t just a bit damp. Our tent filled was with water; we were soaked and what was worse was all the mud.

 

This is what Nathan had tried warn us about, the potential for water/mud flooding downhill into our tent. But, he was just a 10 years old kid, so we didn’t hear his words, his warning. We didn’t stop to listen to him. We discounted him.

 

I can’t imagine that we would have ignored him if he were a 40-something park ranger—you know the men and women with the experience and with badges. We tend to pay a lot more attention to those folks—the authority figures, the experts, the bigwigs—the mover’s and shaker’s in the world.

 

Those are people whose names we remember. Names like the prophet Elisha who we read about in our first lesson. Elisha is a prophet in the kingdom of Israel. Now I just have to remind us that prophets in the bible are not fortune tellers or predictors of the future. A biblical prophet is someone who speaks for God. In this story from 2nd Kings, we have the prophet Elisha and his enemy—another man named what?:

 

 

_Naaman__. Naaman is the commander, the general of the armies of Aram—a country we hear a lot about these days—modern day Syria. These lands and these people the Israelites and the Arameans did not live in peace. Even and especially way back then. Naaman is the man who leads who has the power of the armies of the enemy.

 

Of course, just because a person has power over people, does not mean they have power over disease, and Naaman has some skin condition disease which the writers of the Bible all lumped together and label leprosy. It is true that position doesn’t protect us from the human condition. Everybody’s got something. Of course as a man of power and prestige the other thing he’s got is—slaves. The slave of his wife, and what was her name again? doesn’t have one – not told it (of course she has one).

 

Her mother and father the ones from whom she was stolen, who if still alive, missed her and grieved for her, of course they had given her a name—a name that through the millennia has been lost. Her name is lost but not her words. Today we hear her, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

 

Those could be simply dismissed as the words of the young—words of optimistic youth. Or these could be the words of faith, words of confidence and words of hope in the power of her God of our God. Some could say that this is the first miracle, that Naaman’s wife, that Naaman heard her, took her counsel, listened to her.

 

Of course, Naaman with all his power is still subject to the king; he can’t just ride off into enemy territory. With his king’s (superior’s) permission he travels to Samaria the capitol of Israel, with silver, gold, other gifts and a letter requesting that Naaman be healed. Of course, the king of Israel doesn’t like this one bit. What is he to do; he can’t heal Naaman, and if he sends Naaman unhealed he will look weak and offend he king of Aram. Will the enemy king use this as a pretense to war and attack.

 

Luckily Elisha gets the news and offers to heal Naaman. As Naaman and his entourage approach expecting an audience with this prophet, this man of God. However, Elisha sends out a messenger, probably yet another servant/slave with instructions—go wash not once, not twice, but 7 times in the river Jordan. Elisha doesn’t use any mystical words, gives him no magical potion, no special talismans or herbs. He doesn’t even bother to come out to see or meet Naaman.

 

Take 7 dips in the river Jordan on his way out of the country. Naaman is indignant. I can imagine him sitting high on his horse, “How could he?, doesn’t he know who I am?”. Well, Naaman’s servants certainly know who he is; so they tentatively gingerly approach him, use a familial respectful address, “father”, and convince him to just go ahead and give it a try. And you know what? Naaman takes the advice of his servants/slaves. He listens to them.

 

This could have been a completely different story if it had gone like our family camping trip—if the “little”, the insignificant, the powerless hadn’t spoken up and if they hadn’t been heard and listened to. When we think of movers and shakers we think of people like kings. But in this story, could the kings cure the man Naaman? No. In this story could the general go where he want, see whomever he want, do and order around whomever he wanted? No. Even Elisha the man of God would have had nothing to do if a young slave girl hadn’t mentioned his name. Even the words of the prophet would have fallen flat, emptied of their power, if Naaman’s servants hadn’t spoken up. Perhaps the Spirit isn’t just telling us a story of a man being healed of leprosy, but of people being healed of our prejudices and presumptions of who the movers and shakers really are.

 

And, one of the reasons, I love reading the bible is that is by no means the only story where the tables are turned and the movers and shakers are not the big wigs, the power players. God’s Spirit seems to have a real affinity for the nameless, nominal, normal average Joe’s—people like you and me, people like the guys who sell hot dogs on the corner, the people who come to our food pantry, the young people, children who come to worship. We should never presume that we as a person, or we as a church are too little—that what we do is insignificant.  

 

Just a couple of nights ago, all we did was turn on our lights, open our door, have some pizza (donated by Ian’s down the block) and other snacks, and we touched the lives of about 20 police officers—men and women who can become so pessimistic, so negative and jaded. They felt welcome and appreciated, hopefully they are better able to deal with the crowds, the people who drink too much, and others on our block. It’s not just officers—we don’t turn anyone away. We are present inside and out on the street.  

 

A church like little old Village church. Village church in the heart of a big, big, booming with construction is still a city, a people who are yearning, who need to hear words of healing, words of forgiveness, words of peace and love that can even cross enemy lines. We do not need to wait for big wig permission; we can’t let our size dictate our lives; remember Jesus didn’t send out thousands, but 70, in two’s. When the Spirit of God is in us, following Jesus and proclaiming the presence of God, it’s what we do, because the Spirit of God likes little places, little people like us—so let us listen for and let us speak out the words of God. Amen.

“For freedom Christ has set us free” – sermon for June 26, 2016

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

Paul must be talking about us. About us Americans. We who are privileged enough to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That’s what our history teaches us. Give me liberty or give me death—Patrick Henry declared in 1775. We wanted our freedom—to be free from taxation without representation, free from England, free from tyranny. We believe some things are just self-evident we have the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

In the words of another more contemporary great man.

 

I’m free to do what I want any old time

I’m free to do what I want any old time

So love me, hold me, love me, hold me

I’m free any old time to get what I want

I’m free to sing my song though it gets out of time

I’m free to sing my song though it gets out of time

So love me, hold me, love me, hold me

And I’m free any old time to get what I want

Love me, hold me, love me, hold me

But I’m free any old time to get what I want

I’m free to choose what I please any old time

I’m free to choose what I please any old time

So hold me, love me, love me, hold me

I’m free any old time to get what I want, yes I am

 

Those are words written by Mrs. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones – the British rock band. So, evidently the pursuit of freedom is not peculiar to this continent; it is not just an American dream. It is a universal desire, and as Paul tells us this morning a divine right given to us by God. For freedom Christ has set us free.

 

And, what better place is there to explore and experience what it is to be free than Las Vegas, Nevada. Most of you know that I spent 3 days there past week with my sister. So, you might imagine where as a preacher I could go with Paul’s list vices: fornication, impurity, licentiousness (which if you’re unfamiliar with this word, that has kind of fallen out of style means: lewd, immoral, outside the rule of manners, customs, and law), idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these—so forth and so on. Basically just about everything that built and continues to make money in Sin City.

 

Oh the temptation, what makes it so difficult is choosing, how can to pick one or even just a few from this Sin City menu. I’m talking of course about preaching, not indulging. I imagine innumerable preachers down through the ages pounding the pulpit or pavement about any or all. The thing is, Paul isn’t as focused on this list of vices as our lectionary or the pericope makes it seem. You may have noticed that someone has stripped quite a few verses from the section— 2-12. And, in those 10 verses, you will see when you go home and open your bible and read them, Paul’s subject is circumcision not sin. Paul is reminding the early Christians that Christ has set us free from circumcision, from the Torah law and commandment that circumcision was required to be one of God’s people. So, if Paul spends ten verses on freedom from this law and one verse listing obvious vices like fornication, sorcery, drunkenness, carousing are on the same list as jealousy, anger, envy, and quarrels, then perhaps there’s more to following Jesus than don’t do this, that, or the other thing.

 

For freedom Christ has set us free. The freedom of a Christian is not to be free to do whatever we, I want. You don’t have to fly to Vegas to see how our pursuit of happiness, how appeasing our attitudes, appetites and addictions enslaves us and others. It is not a stretch either to say that our country has become captive to one interpretation of the 2nd amendment—free to bear arms. Again these are merely the symptoms of a greater and “gravier” slavery.

 

Paul calls it flesh, but perhaps a better word would be self. For Jesus frees us from trying to save ourselves (through following the law of circumcision or any law for that matter). And Jesus frees us from ourselves, from focusing on our selves. As followers of Jesus we are not free to do whatever we want, we are not free from others, instead we are free for others.  

 

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to buy a semi-automatic. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to be able to say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for you to beat anybody up, including yourself. From what I hear Paul saying in these words, is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me. Christ hasn’t set me free. For freedom Christ has set us free. Freedom means that we do not enslave others or ourselves for power, pleasure, or profit.

 

Freedom isn’t words on a paper, it isn’t everybody standing while somebody sings a national anthem, it isn’t God, guns, and glory—flag waving and fireworks.

 

Freedom looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Of course, these traits, these practices have fallen out of fashion. We don’t use these words to describe America do we?

 

Of course, can we honestly use those words to describe us Christians, as followers/disciples of Jesus? Each of us may know someone who displays, who lives these gifts of the Spirit. Now it would be totally awesome if you or I could have, could be each and every one of those. But aren’t we then setting ourselves up for failure and not freedom. How about we pick one, perhaps pick one for a week or a month and follow Jesus by focusing on one of those gifts of the spirit, hold onto it in your prayer and in practice of discipleship every day. Hold onto it till it has a hold in you so that together we can experience, share the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Amen.

Sermon, June 19, 2016 –Possession

This is an oral event–not an essay

“Possession is 9/10ths of the law”. That is one of those idioms, those sayings many of us learned when we were younger—along with “finder’s keepers, losers _______”. We used those phrases to defend our playing with a sibling’s baseball cards, legos, doll or when we “found” an action figure that strangely resembled the one the kid down the street was playing with the other day.
This reminds me of a story from my own childhood. As I share this story with you, I ask that you put yourself in the story, not as one of the characters, but like in many cartoons—as the model antique. It’ll start to make sense as I tell my story.
When I was a little girl in third grade at King’s Highway School in Zionsville, PA, our teacher must have told us to bring in something that we had made. Kind of like a group show-n-tell. Well, I had no interest in bringing in one of the several latch-hooks that my mom had bought for me to craft. Instead I wanted to bring in a model car. However, in the Winzer household girls hooked yarn and boys built models. Even at my tender age of 8 or 9, I didn’t like that one bit; I knew it was unjust and unfair. So the morning we were to bring our item, I snuck into my older brother’s room grabbed one of his model antique cars, put it in a shoebox, and off to school I went. It’s almost as if I can still picture this prized possession perched right on the edge of my desk, that is until another kid walked by and accidentally knocked it to the floor.
In tears, I gathered up the shattered plastic pieces, put them in the shoebox. And, when I got home from school that day I determined I needed to hide everything—the stolen and wrecked car, the lie). So I stuck the shoebox in the back of my closet. A closet, that I also happened to share with my younger sister Jane, who a few days later went rummaging in, opened the shoebox, and quickly alerted “the authorities” (our parents) to the whereabouts of the missing model car and the most likely culprit—me.
The story could end right there, but one of the few things we people don’t want to own is our faults, our mistakes, weaknesses and complicity. We do not want to own our own sin. So in tears I declared something like the teacher specifically requested us to bring in model cars. I am not sure if my parents actually believed me, but for some reason my father decided to go to school and have a talk with that teacher while I sat and waited in the car. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw my father walk down the school steps, open the car door, and I thought—oh no. Here it comes.
But instead of yelling and screaming, instead of the usual swearing—there was just silence. Silence so thick and heavy it weighed on me. It turned out that the innocent and sweet daughter my father thought he had, was gone. Instead he sat next to a girl who stole and lied. The silence was full of disappointment, betrayal, and loss.
This sermon could so easily have been about how we are possessed by our possessions—in good churchy language how greed or coveting that car consumed me and led me down the path of degradation. Or, how the oppression of sexism invaded my family system causing all sorts of evil. And, in our gospel the man has been occupied by a legion of demons. Of course, a legion is also the name of between 3000 – 6000 Roman soldiers. Imagine the message that sends to the people of Jesus day, of Luke’s day, of any day when we feel possessed, especially in these days when our country feels like it’s been taken over by violence and vitriol. When schools, congregations, and clubs—places that should be safe are targets. We yearn for that Jesus who with his mere words can send the occupiers fleeing and flailing into the abyss of the sea. As scholar Jeffrey Johns notes: “The miracle story is not just about a personal exorcism. It is about the promise of God’s ability to defeat and re-order the disordered powers that afflict individuals and communities”.
Whether this story touches you as a personal healing or as a vision of God’s world order—at the heart of it is a car, a man, a you—a some body so valuable, claimed, owned, a precious possession—that is you.
The thing is, it’s not whether or not we are possessed. It’s who possesses us. In our household, that antique car model was going to be owned by my brother or by me the one who stole it. It’s the same in our world, in the household of God or the household of the world. Each day, each moment we are in a very real struggle to see who’s going to own us—or the economy of this world of hate and violence, apathy, and fear. The systems that seek to run us, use us up like cogs in some machine, producing and consuming—a mere number or label—of our disease or our deficit.
Like the man from Garasene. Perhaps we can make just one symbolic step to acknowledge that even when possessed by demons he was still claimed as one of God’s own. 
In so many translations he is labeled a demoniac—as if he was born that way. We don’t say “a cancer person”. We say a person with cancer. We have enough forces, enough corporations, political organizations, ideologies, trying to own us, that at the very least in our language we don’t have be possessed, owned, defined by our condition. In the very least, from this moment let the man Jesus frees from demon possession, be freed of that label—the demoniac—as well. And while we’re at it, how about we remove poverty’s power to take over and possess. In our own words we can declare that there aren’t poor people, but there still are people who are poor, or who live in or struggle with poverty. We can say that there are no longer “the mentally ill”, instead there are people who have depression, or have mental illness. You can be, as Lady Gaga sings, “Born this way” as in gay, straight, black, white, Latino. That is how you are created as a child of God.
And that is what is at the heart center of this story, that the man from Garasene, a man discarded by his own people, a man with lots and lots of demons is even with all that still a child of God. Too many in our world today seem to have forgotten this. That we, each one of us, no matter our diagnosis, no matter our identity. We are God’s precious possession. Claimed by God’s will, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Possession may be 90% of the law, but we are 100% in the heart of God.
Amen.

Sermon for May 29, 2016

Scripture. : Luke 7:1-10
1After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Remember:this is an oral event, not an essay.

It hardly seems like it, but this week marked the 10th anniversary of “An Inconvenient Truth”—the Al Gore documentary about global warming climate change. In those years, the urgency to act has become more evident and also more generally accepted that we are changing and damaging our planet, this is our global inconvenient truth.

That however is not the only inconvenient truth. Another more local, and extremely personal, is that I used to think there was something really wrong with me. Ok—there’s quite a few things wrong, but this one is (was) a biggie for a pastor. My inconvenient truth is that I can not just simply read this story of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I can read the words—that there is a centurion who has a slave, a slave who is valued highly, and who is dying. I read that, and I wonder is this slave a man or a woman, is this slave truly cared for or is he or she simply valued for their output, how hard he or she works—his or her skill.  

I can plainly see the words that say the Jewish elders intercede to Jesus on behalf of the centurion, but it also stands out very clearly that the centurion sends these leaders, and I wonder just what kind of power does this centurion really have over these other leaders. Sure they say he loves them, the leaders admit he paid for their synagogue. That’s how the patronage system works. Gifts do not come without strings attached, and it doesn’t say, the Jewish leaders offered to go—no they were sent.  
I can read the words of the centurion, words that I heard every Sunday as a kid as I sang in the choir at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word.” Only say the word, and let my servant be healed. “Only say the word, and I shall be healed.” I have read and re-read how by the time the messengers returned to the house the slave was in good health. And I say to myself, and I say to you now— but he is still bound, still a slave.
Oh yes, dear writers of commentaries, I understand that the point of this passage as you have written is that an outsider (the centurion) the representative of Rome’s occupying oppressive operations in Palestine gets it that Jesus has authority to heal, authority over illness, demons, aging, accidents whatever had happened—Jesus has authority over that. That even outsiders or especially outsiders can be models of faithfulness.
But my inconvenient truth is that I see, I question, I mention all the other stuff going on in the text. And, I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one. One of the good things about being the church is that I can be comforted in knowing that I am not the only one with this condition. You may have had the same questions, the same observations about this story from our gospel. Or you may have others—like what about all the other sick and dying people in that time and in that place? Or even, it sure would be nice if Jesus miraculously cured or fixed us, all the other people we intercede/pray for, the planet.
Now, some may call our questions, some may diagnose us as doubters or cynics. But that doesn’t need to be the case. It is not necessary for me, for us to try to keep these thoughts to ourselves. Instead, I have come to believe that perhaps it is God’s Spirit continuing to move in me, in us— God’s Spirit inspiring us, working through us to begin the work of healing. For just as power people can recognize other power people, as leaders can see leadership in others. The centurion saw power and authority in Jesus. It is true that it is those who are sick and struggling are the ones who see the pain and suffering in others—the wounded can be sensitive to the ills and wounds of our world. And generally speaking, it isn’t until we can admit, we can acknowledge the hurt, the pain, the illness can healing begin. I have learned that if my foot hurts and I just keep running according to schedule, the same distance and speed, if I just keep going as if nothing is wrong—it will not heal.   So through our questions, our doubts and wonderings, through our wounds we become the ones that get the healing going. 

Now another inconvenient truth that I must share is that I want to see results and outcomes. I don’t even care if it comes from the power of suggestion—the placebo effect. I want to see some difference, some change, some growth, some healing. I want to be able to only say the word, name an illness (cancer, depression & anxiety) name a problem—a societal ill (racism, isolationism, environmental destruction), I want to name a name, speak the word and see a cure. But cure and healing are not the same thing. Remember in our gospel story. Luke tells us that Jesus is amazed. He isn’t amazed that the slave is physically cured that day. But that slave is still a slave, and he or she did not live forever. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s perhaps not the or the only point of this story. let’s stop and dwell on these words that Jesus (we believe God incarnate, in the flesh) is amazed. There’s an inconvenient truth for some, that Jesus doesn’t have complete foreknowledge, that he doesn’t walk around just knowing everything, in complete control of what’s going on or even his life. Somehow I can find that actually comforting, to know that even Jesus was surprised—if this time by faith, also by the chaotic, unpredictable nature of humanity, and this thing we are going through called life. And that Jesus himself didn’t even get to see the outcome of his work. Evidently, he never even made it to the house to touch or even see the slave sick or well. Church, People of God, we may not see the results of our prayers—not everyone will be cured, but we pray that there will be healing as acceptance, there will be peace, that there will be growth. Like Jesus, we may not get there to see the outcomes.  

What we do today, however, we can lay aside the way of thinking that says that doubts, that questions, that those things make us unworthy—this no longer needs to be an inconvenient truth. God is healing us this very morning, so that we can begin to see and feel like we are doing Spirit work—as we name the inconvenient truths in this gospel story we can name the inconvenient truths of in our lives and in this world. We do this in our prayers, we do this through our work with Common Ground, we do this as we go about our days in what we write, in our interactions with others. Because we do this we begin God’s work of healing—healing that brings a deeper peace than a particular cure, healing that makes the spirit whole, healing that makes peace in our relationships, in our world, Lord, we may feel that we are unworthy, but only say the word (whether it is forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, patience, or peace) and will be healed. Amen.