Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 4th Epiphany

Abundant Life for All
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

My first call was to be pastor of Holy Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, a small community just north of Allentown. I expected to be serving a community of the so-called Pennsylvania “Dutch” people, Pennsylvanians of German background, but when Kris and I arrived in Catasauqua we found it to be an old iron and silk mill town, with many people of eastern European background.

 

And they were mostly wonderful people. I served there for more than seven years and, especially in the last few years, they were very good years.

 

Today’s Gospel lesson, St. Mark’s report of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and Jesus’ first miracle, the healing of a man with what Mark calls an “unclean spirit,” this Gospel lesson reminded me of a family in that Catasauqua congregation, well, actually, of two families.

 

I liked the people of Holy Trinity, Catasauqua. Today’s text reminded me of two families, three generations each, not every Sunday folks but still regular worshippers. These families were related.

 

And, they were not speaking with each other. Actually, they had not spoken to each other in years, even generations.

 

I liked them both. They were working class folks, with clean modest homes. They gathered regularly with their branch of the family. They were hunters during hunting season. They went camping on vacations. A big vacation was a trip to Disney World. Honest, hard-working – you probably know good folks like them.
And they were not speaking to each other.

 

quote godOpposesThe reason I thought of these families this week is that I believe today’s text is not about “unclean spirits,” a term I believe has been misused in interpretations of this text over the years. It is also not just a miraculous healing by Jesus, as wonderful as it was. It is, I believe, at heart, a text that tells us something about God and the nature of God’s love for everyone.



God is opposed to anything and everything that prevents us from having an abundant life. God stands against all the forces that are keeping us down. God is even prepared to go to battle, to fight for us, to oppose all those who want to rob us, and everyone, of lives of joy, meaning and purpose.

 

The first thing Jesus does in Mark’s Gospel is cast out an unclean spirit. We do not know what “unclean spirit” means in this text and there is little to suggest the man is mentally ill or what society calls “crazy.” In Jesus’ day, unclean spirit was a catch-all term that could include most any kind of disease, affliction or other physical or mental illness.

 

What we do know is that Jesus healed this man. Without this healing, this man would have been an outcast from his community. With this healing, this man can take his proper role in society and his community. He is not robbed by the prejudices and other social norms of his time which would have placed him on the outside. God in Jesus brings this man the possibility of abundant life.

 

And through Jesus, God promises this same sort of “healing” for us all. And not just us, for everyone. This text tells us that God stands steadfastly against all the forces that keep us down, that God is opposed to anything and everything that robs us of abundant life, and even that God is prepared to fight for us, to oppose anything and anyone who wants to rob us of lives of joy, meaning and purpose.

 

And, lest we think that this is just “you and me Jesus” talk, this text reminds us, using the example of Jesus’ care for someone considered by society as “unclean,” someone on the fringes of the community, this text reminds us that God is willing and eager to do this for everyone, for all of God’s children.

 

Mark is also telling us that God is a God of the broken and that the church is to be a fellowship of the needy. And, for Mark, that is all that is needed to be a disciple of Jesus – recognizing our own deep needs and trusting that Jesus has come to meet these needs. And responding with love to and for others.

 

All of us have places of brokenness and disappointment and even fear in our lives. And it is in these moments that God draws us closest. And then God asks us to “pay it forward,” so to speak, to act towards others who appear broken with love and kindness. Even if they have anything society brands as an “unclean spirit.” God is still casting out the unclean spirits of this world and God wants to use us to continue this work.

 

So, the next time you are in your own time of brokenness and disappointment and fear please remember that we have a God who can draw us closest in these times, a God who even has the power to call out “unclean spirits” in our lives and the lives of others. God is closest to all people in their most vulnerable times and calls us to be God’s representative to others, even those society terms as “unclean.”

 

Jesus came to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God, you and me and everyone, all the children of God, Jesus came to oppose anything that keeps us all from the abundant life that God desires for all of us. God wants the most for us from this life and God stands in opposition to anything that robs us of the joy and community and purpose for which we were created.

 

The church is to be a fellowship of the needy. Our call is to recognize our own deep needs and trust that Jesus has come to meet these needs. And, with that recognition and trust we are freed to be Jesus to others, those closest to us and those we do not even know, even those who society thinks have “unclean spirits.” Because, in a very real way, those with the greatest needs can be Jesus for us.

 

Oh, and what happened with those two extended families back in Catasauqua, the ones not speaking to each other for generations? Well, I stayed around long enough and got to know them well enough that I finally got up the nerve to ask each family what it was keeping them apart. Do you know what they said, each of them? They said that they did not, they could not remember the issue or issues that was keeping them apart! It was just that no one had bothered to ask this question for years!

 

I wish I could tell you that they then lived happily-ever-after as an extended family together, but we all know it is not that simple. However, they were smart enough, kind enough, to realize the silliness of their unknown “feud” and began to talk with each other. It was a very good start.

 

Today’s text tells us that we all have a God who loves and cares for us so much that God is prepared to fight for us and to oppose anything that robs us, and all people, of lives of joy, meaning and purpose. All God asks is that we try to do the same, share the same love and care, with and for others.

Amen.

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Jan. 27-28, 2018


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