SERMON 01-29-12 Epiphany 4B
Jesus healing, restorative, freeing work is still going on today because the truth is; we all need to have demons in our life exorcised. Terri and I were on our way home from a day of lounging and enjoying what is sometimes for us, an infrequent, but blessed day off together. We decided to stop for a few things at Publix: dinner fixings, sodas, hair products, snacks, our favorite frosty beverage; you know what I mean, the essentials. We pulled our cart into the checkout line, and I noticed a young mother with three kids who seemed to be struggling with paying for her groceries. With limited cash in hand and half her groceries still not yet scanned, she said, “I don’t have enough.” I sensed that there was more going on here than what appeared. She was a well-dressed woman, her kids were well groomed, but I could see in her eyes the despair and obvious burden that was weighing heavily on her. I felt compelled to respond and so, without even thinking I said, “Can we do something nice for you today?” I told the cashier, “We’ll take care of the rest of the groceries for this nice lady and her children.” She smiled and gave us a look of shock and a calming sigh of gratitude. She confessed, “I’m usually on the other end of this kind of situation, but my family is struggling right now.” I said, “Don’t worry, we all need help sometimes.” I gave her my card and said, “If we can do anything to help you all, just call.” Her teenage son shook my hand and said, “Thank you.” In this brief exchange, in this moment of grace, God made it possible for the bonds of shame, despair, and fear to be broken. The demon of despair and unforeseen poverty had for at least this moment, been exorcised and this woman and her three children were set free. Not all demons possess the drama and sensationalism we see on television or in the movies.
Jesus’ exorcism of demons was not merely a contest of opposing spiritual natures, but more likely a declaration of the power of God in Christ to reverse the bonds of human despair, brokenness, and estrangement. God wants to break apart that which binds us and keeps us from being recipients of the gift of Grace. In Jesus’ day, those demons were sometimes disease, blindness, lameness, physical ailments, or mental incapacity. When Jesus called a demon out, he not only restored the person to full health physically, but the spiritual healing was just as efficacious. Do you remember the woman suffering from profuse bleeding? She because of her physical ailment was considered a social outcast, someone unclean and ritually unworthy of human contact. Jesus broke the bonds of her estrangement and restored her to full humanity, and gave her back her place in the community. Jesus breaks the bonds of our estrangement today as well, and calls us into right relationship with God and with each other. This is truly the good news which is “in Christ, we are healed.” In Christ, we are restored. In Christ, we can live in the hope of a full, grace-filled future. I imagine any one of us can look back over our lives, and can name moments of healing that we have experienced. Whether we struggle with addiction, we are estranged in our relationships, we suffer from depression, we wrestle with anger or you name it, we have all at one time or another, been healed by God’s grace. This is good news and it is good news that we should be compelled to share. The writer of today’s Gospel said that because of Jesus’ healings, “his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” The message was so compelling, that the Good News did not sit idly on a shelf, the power of the message could not be contained, and I am convinced that it cannot be contained today.
The message of God’s grace is as relevant and powerful today as it was 2000 years ago, but the church may have to accept that we can no longer do evangelism as we did 20 years ago. We cannot just open the doors, run a few ads in the paper, have some wonderful fellowship events, and expect the people passively to be transformed by Christ. I have been getting my haircut from the same person at the mall for several months now. I have gotten to know my stylist (I will call her “T”) and with every haircut, she has a new set of interesting questions about faith. Last week, as the final touches on my coif were made, she made a very poignant observation about the changes in our culture as it relates to religion. “T” said, “Ya know Eric, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t get that whole religion/denomination thing that you are into.” How do you respond to something like that? For the next few minutes I felt like a car mechanic trying explain to someone who has never driven a car, how to change the oil or fill it up with gas. We had no common place from which to talk about religion, because she had never had the experience of a faith community before, and I have been in a faith community my entire life. Spreading the good news in this culture of ours that has changed so much over the last 20, 30, 40 years, will require us to reconsider how and in what context we continue our ministry of being spreaders of the Good News.
In the online forum “Episcopal Café,” I read recently these comments by a researcher (Daniel Abrams). Abrams wrote, “Being affiliated with a denomination is not the same as believing in God or believing in any aspect of a religious ideology . . . being unaffiliated with a religion doesn’t mean you don’t believe in God, but simply that you don’t want to be a part of a denomination.” Abrams added, “Trends in American religion since the 1960s have actually moved away from denominational modes of self-identification and affiliation and toward a rise in spirituality.” 1 The point of the article is not that we have to live in fear about the future of the Christian faith, we simply need to be aware that maybe our dated modes of passing on the faith to the next generation, needs to change. Does this mean that next month we are should run a full-page ad in the Sun, or setup a community tent revival, or maybe we should pass out gospel tracts out on 776? No. The point is by virtue of our baptism and the vows, which that entails, we ARE commissioned to pass on the faith to the next generation. Here, with a few precious and wonderful active growing folks, that next generation are not flocking to be here among us, and quite honestly, some folks may not understand the reason why the should be a part of a faith community in the first place. How do we speak to a generation who says, “I don’t get it?” I believe the key is authentic Christian love enacted every day.
Folks will get it because they see the healing, restorative, exorcising love and grace of Jesus present in and through his followers. Folks will get it because it is exercised (with an “e”) in our response to the bonds and prisons of despair. The healing restoration of Jesus Christ, who opened the scroll of Isaiah and declared, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It is when this ministry continues in the world, that the faith will spread. When young and old alike are freed from the bonds of the injustices of poverty, racism, classism, and discrimination of all sorts and types, Jesus’ fame will spread throughout the region. When love wins, Jesus’ fame will spread throughout the region. When peace prevails, Jesus’ fame will spread throughout the region. Jesus’ fame will spread because it will be his followers, his disciples, his gathered people that will carry the message not only with words, catchy marketing, or great programs, but it through our very own ministry of exorcising and breaking the afflictions that hold individuals in bondage from the grace of God and the love of each other.