When we hear stories about Jesus casting out demons, I’m not sure we know quite what to do with them. Is this possession as illustrated by Hollywood, complete with spinning heads, shaking beds, and evil voices? Or is it just an ancient way of pointing out what they did not understand – mental illness, convulsions or some other such disease? Those kinds of questions obscure two basic truths of these strange stories. First, evil exists and if we are not “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, we are likely to be possessed by something unholy. When I see a world full of violence, abuse, horrific stories of awful deeds done by humans to humans, even children, I find myself asking “What possesses people to do these things?” And there it is – something that drives us to rob life, liberty and peace from others takes our identity as holy people away. Second, fascination with what is unholy in these stories often leads us away from the central truth – God in Christ, revealed in Jesus has power to cast out the unholy and grant peace and life in its place.
The very first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel according to John is a question: “What are you looking for?” Most of us would be able to come up with some kind of spiritual shopping list for Jesus: Prosperity, health, forgiveness, assurance of life after death. The question is, do we really know what we want, what we need? The Jesus presented in John’s gospel knows his followers better than they know themselves. God in Christ, the Word made flesh, invites us to “Come and see.” Maybe what we will see is more than we can imagine. Maybe what we can see is not just God standing before us. Maybe in this Messiah we will see ourselves, our real selves, for the very first time.
Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:4-11)
We all tend to categorize and organize our lives so that they are easier to understand, easier to control. We put our stuff in boxes and totes. We put other people in boxes and categories based on stereotypes and assumptions. We even try to do it with God. We keep God in a box of our own making; we like God in heaven and waiting for us when we die, rather than messing with us in the here and now. At the baptism of Jesus, God is revealed in Christ as one who will not submit to life in a box we have made. Instead, God rends the heavens, breaks down the boxes and destroys the barriers that keep God at bay. Christ invites us to join him in the water that we might be… just be.
A sermon on Christmas Eve
We all spend a lot of time trying to make Christmas, merry and bright. In the midst of life’s struggles, pain, failures and darkness, we hope that having an extraordinary tree, extraordinary gifts, extraordinary decorations will fix what ails us. We’re kind of like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation.” A perfect Christmas will make our ordinary lives extraordinary. Like Clark, however, it never quite works out. Perhaps that’s because God comes in such an ordinary way, on a dark and silent night in an out of the way place far from home. That’s where God chooses to meet us – in ordinary places and ordinary things; like mangers, water, wine and bread. That’s what makes Christmas extraordinary.
A sermon on the First Sunday of Christmas, based on Luke 2:22-40
When the elder Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, saw Joseph and Mary in the Temple, he burst into song. As he looked into the eyes of that baby, just 40 days old, he sang, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” It was the fulfillment of a promise given through the Spirit, that Simeon would not die until he saw the Messiah. Now, looking at Jesus, he sings that he can die in peace, God’s Word has come to pass. Moments later, his song is echoed by the prophet, Anna, who in her old age sees what Simeon sees. What did they see in that baby? More than a warm feeling; more than a sentimental moment. Anna and Simeon saw people set against one another by this child; they saw that this child would meet opposition and pain. What they saw brought hope and peace. I’d sure like some of that…