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The Smart Demon

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 28 January 2018 15:41.

Epiphany 4 B        Mark 1:21-28

Last Sunday, I told you that Mark was a gospel writer in a hurry. The story he most wants to share, and wants us to slow down and pay careful attention to, is the story of Holy Week – the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, …and we will certainly do that in just a couple of weeks when the season of Lent begins.

But for now, this is still Epiphany and so we’re still in that early part of Mark’s book that’s moving very fast. We’re still in his first chapter, just twenty verses in, and already Jesus has (1) been baptized, (2) tempted for forty days in the wilderness, (3) began his public ministry with a call to repentance and an announcement of the nearness of God and God’s reign, and (4) called his first four disciples to follow him.

By contrast, in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels, we would be near the end of the fourth chapter before we get to this point in the story. But in Mark, as I said, things are happening fast, and the author isn’t going into much detail at all, which doesn’t mean these aren’t important events worthy of our attention. It just means that we need to pay more careful attention to the few precious nuggets of information that Mark gives us.
And one of those nuggets of important truth about Jesus actually comes to us today from the mouth of a demon, in the form of a couple of very direct and pointed questions.

Mark would have us know right from the start of Jesus ministry that his coming into the world triggered a cosmic spiritual showdown, and was nothing less than a decisive encounter between the living God and the powers that have made a mess of God’s good creation and the people God made and loves.

In other words, the drama of Holy Week that Mark is pushing us towards may look like a human drama driven by chief priests and Roman officials and denials and betrayals and arrests and trials, but what’s really happening in the midst of all that is what’s happening right here in this brief little story today: the powers of evil, the spiritual forces that have made a mess of God’s good creation and the people God made and loves are being defeated, routed, done in and driven out.

When Jesus’ very first act is to drive out a demon, Mark is using his first century understanding and language to describe Jesus’ purpose and mission to be driving out and defeating all of the dirty, noisy, chaotic, disruptive, unhelpful thoughts, feelings or impulses that so captivate our lives and world, including the addictions, compulsions and dependencies, physical, chemical, emotional and spiritual that we and our world so suffer from  these days, and find we simply cannot control – struggles not always of our own making much less deserving that come from outside and beyond us, and are beyond our best efforts to manage or change.

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Immediately!

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 21 January 2018 12:30.

 Epiphany 3B      Mark 1: 14-20

A common complaint about life these days is that it simply too busy and moves too fast. People no longer seem to have the time to just sit and just be, to reflect and ponder, or to plan and prioritize, even it seems to worship and pray. With texting and twitter and jammed email inboxes, most conversations seem to happen in short bursts, if you can call them conversations at all. Schedules and obligations pile up at breakneck speed. Crises small and large seem to always disrupt plans and change prior arrangements.

I certainly see in church life. Scheduling visits with people, even about important things, seems so much harder to do. Gathering groups for church meetings and events has become a daily juggle. It seems every time we’ve settled on a day and time for a meeting or event that works for the most people, the emails start coming: “Something’s come up. I have to miss. Sorry, I can’t be there."

Once, not too long ago, I inadvertently got added to a soccer Mom’s text group and was amazed at the messages that flew back and forth in one afternoon, just to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs for a practice only moments before those rides had to happen. From 24 hour news channels to emergency alerts on cell phones, life seems to just keep moving faster, and not leave us even a moment to consider things like making choices, assessing priorities, much less bigger questions like where we’re headed, and “what’s the point?,” or “what is it all about or for?” Even retired people tell me “I’m so busy these days, I don’t know how I ever found the time to go to work.” Indeed, life moves very fast, and the pace only seems to accelerate.

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Good From Nazareth

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 14 January 2018 21:33.

 Epiphany 2B    John 1:43-51

Whose is this Nathanael, anyway?
Who is this guy who responds to his friend’s invitation to meet Jesus with such sarcastic skepticism?

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” His friend Philip had just told him that Jesus did, and that Philip and others had found him to be the fulfillment of their people’s long-held hopes and dreams.

“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote! Jesus…from Nazareth." And Nathanael said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

So I’ll ask again: Whose is this Nathanael, anyway? And how did he get dropped from our 21st century world with all of its sarcasm and skepticism and bigotry, right into the New Testament? Where does Nathanael come from, if not our day and our own unapologetically crass cultural climate?

John says that Philip was from Bethsaida, a city at the top of the Sea of Galilee, where the Jordan River enters from the north.  Since they’re friends, most people assume that Nathanael is also from there, but John doesn’t say so directly. So let’s, just for today, pretend that he was somehow time-transported from our day and world, complete with all of its crass bigotry, skepticism and sarcasm.

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Tohu Va Vohu

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 07 January 2018 20:34.

Epiphany 1B    Genesis 1:1-5

On this very first Sunday of twenty-eighteen,
as bitter and cold as any we’ve seen;
I offer the warmth of some light, simple rhyming,
to my sermonic duties, and I hope it’s good timing,

for you deeply chilled Lutherans, so cold & quite frozen;
who this venture to church have so faithfully chosen.
You could have stayed home, snug and warm by the fire,
but you’re here in the pews and up there in the choir.
 
I knew that you’d come. Not once did I doubt you.
I don’t take it for granted. I can’t do it without you.
So let us begin, in this whimsical way,
to ponder what God might be up to today;

to look for some hints in our biblical readings,
a word for today, and a call to be heeding.
Lets start back in Genesis, and even in Hebrew,
where before God began, things were “Tohu va vohu!”

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Lifting Up the Lowly

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid on Sunday, 24 December 2017 12:51.

Christmas Eve  12/24/17       Luke 2: 1-20
 
I’m going to start tonight’s sermon with an apology, a warning and a promise. The apology is to those who have come mostly for the carols and the candles and a simple story of peace and joy. The apology is for asking you to listen more carefully to a story you may think you already know, and to consider that it is perhaps not as simple as it first appears.

The warning then, is to everyone, and it’s a reminder that familiar and sweet as this Christmas story might be, it is still a Bible story, which makes it not JUST a story, but God’s living word for us, capable not only of revealing deep truth to us, but also of changing us and our world. Be warned that this story that we so easily assume is about a tiny, harmless, cuddly baby, is really about the power of the living God and how it works and gets revealed and is even today set loose in the world.

And the promise is to also be brief, to get to the point, and to end with an invitation to not only hear about this strange power of God, but to taste it, to receive it into your own person and life, and take it with you out into this holy night.