A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

Luke 8 Jesus heals the Gerasene Demoniac June 26, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 3:24 am
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I must admit to you that I was a bit overwhelmed by this passage out of Luke for this morning. There is a lot going on and I debated which of the many directions I should go in my sermon. There is the direction about how we all have our demons to lay at Jesus feet, about how it’s not fair that the pigs died and the pig herders were now out of job; about how Jesus calls our demons by name; how our primary identity is that of child of God; we are more than what society tells us we are or what demons may possess us; how we can relate to the man’s demons as anything in our lives that separates us from God such as addictions, disease, consumerism, materialism, shame; how we can reconstruct this text through our 21st century scientific knowledge to recognize that this possessed man probably suffered from mental illness. We could talk about how people suffering from mental illness are treated poorly by our society and Jesus would certainly have something to say about our healthcare system and our criminal justice systems.
You see any of the above themes or ideas are fine and good and very important conversations and probably are the way I should have gone today but to me they smack of triteness and of looking for and giving pat answers. So in this is what has been bugging me all week and I am not sure what to do with, is verse 35: “They found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Why does this bother me? Of course this is a great thing for this man. After who knows how many years of chains, shackles, torment, ridicule and pain he is utterly, completely and wholly healed by Jesus word. Hallelujah. It’s a great story. Well, I am not sure I can tell you all of the reasons why this bothers me but here are a few of them that I can clearly or at least semi-clearly, articulate. He is completely healed. Its a miracle, no more demons. Really? All I have to do is go to Jesus with my demons and Jesus will send them to the abyss forever and I will be completely healed? Huh.
What’s not sitting well with me in this story is the implication that if we are truly healed by Jesus, it’s a once and forever sort of thing. But what if the demons come back? Or a different demon shows up? Or what if it turns out not all the demons were exorcised? What then? What does that mean for the power of Jesus in my life and how much I really believed Jesus could heal me? Honestly, I struggle with this in every healing story in the Bible. Maybe you do to or it could be just me. Why were this man’s demons completely cast out and why was he completely healed with just a word and why am I not, or a why is a friend or family member not healed even when we pray and ask Jesus to heal? Or what bothers me even more is why do these demons of disease, mental illness and addiction keep attacking some of the most faithful, faith-filled people I know? People who not only talk the talk of loving Jesus but walk the walk? Why aren’t they completely healed? I struggle with this.
This story in Luke kinda has the feel of those tv evangelists we have all watched (admit it!) that claim to be able to heal people and seem to do so with just a touch and the words “be healed in Jesus’ name!” Those REALLY bother me. Often times people have forgone conventional medical treatment on the word of this person who claims that if you believe in Jesus enough then you will be healed without any earthly intervention. But then what starts to bother me, as I think about all of this, is that maybe I don’t believe enough. Maybe I don’t trust God enough. Maybe I am too cynical and snarky and too co-opted into the Western, scientific world view. Well, I know that I am all of those things but I have also seen some things I can’t explain and have met people who have shared their story with me like the Gerasene man’s and I have marveled at the miracle of it. So what do we do with all of this? How do we live in the tension of the reality of demons that may or may not be cast out of our lives and of what we know to be true of God?
This newly healed man was obviously caught in that tension as well. Maybe he even wondered himself why he was healed and not someone else perhaps more deserving? While it never says that he believed in Jesus, we know that he begged Jesus to let him follow and so maybe the man thought that the answer was that he had better get out of Dodge. Or maybe he thought that he owed Jesus something or that the only guarantee to remain demon free was to stick close to Jesus. And just as we too, think that is a genius plan, Jesus says this to the man: “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”
I think the reality is that the healed man knew that now the hard work was about to begin. You see, this man’s battles weren’t over. The towns people were afraid, not just of Jesus but of him, as well. His re-entry into the town would not be easy and perhaps even impossible on some level. After all, he would always be known in the town as that crazy demon possessed man. Luke never even bothers to give him a proper name. So the easy way out would have been for him to escape all of that and be with Jesus. Just him and his Jesus is all that he needs. If he cocoons himself with Jesus then everything will be alright forever and for always.
But Jesus knows that the man’s healing was about more than just him. If the man just disappeared with Jesus the people wouldn’t have a daily reminder of the promises of God. The world that Jesus came to redeem was and is still broken and so many people, like the town people in our story, are simply afraid of the reality of letting Jesus heal them and change their life, and need someone to walk beside them who has been there and done that and who can tell them that it is hard, that it is a journey, and that this healing from God is not the way of the world but that it is true.
Jesus knew that this man had to live his new life in a broken world, where the risk was high for demon re-possession, where the risk was high of rejection and alienation because his healing wasn’t just about him. This man had to live his new life without having all the answers from Jesus or the benefit of any further contact with him, just his story to share of God intersecting his life, changing him forever and making him new. You see, Jesus knows that a healing is more about our physical or mental well being of an individual but about how we live with one another, sharing our stories, pointing one another to Christ in hard times, and doing so in community. It’s in sharing our own healing in Christ that perhaps someone else will hear the promises of God for their lives.
This is why we read the Bible as a community-to hear of Jesus showing up in all sorts of unlikely places, with all sorts of unlikely people healing and restoring wholeness and to know that Jesus promises to show up in our lives every single day, not just for our own sake but for healing of all people. It’s mind boggling and in some ways not a very satisfactory answer but it is the truth. Jesus promises to show up again and again and we have been given these tangible elements of this promise in the bread and in the wine and in the water and in the word that tell the story of Gods promises of healing our mind, body and spirit.
We don’t know the rest of the healed man’s story, perhaps he dealt with more demons in his life, but we do know the story of Jesus. We know that Jesus was tormented, suffered and was hung on a cross and experienced real death. We know that in the act of raising Jesus from the grave, God declared that not death, nor demons, nor mental illness, nor disease, nor anxiety, or doubt, nor anything will ever separate us from God or the community of God’s people. This is the promise of God in the midst of our uncertainty and wondering. It is part of our story with God. So while we, or at least I, wrestle with the reality of the world we live in—where things do not work out always the way we think they should-my hope, and I pray your hope, is in this promise of God to show up over and over, to be with us always as we live the new life we have been given in a broken world, sending us to return each and every day to the people of the town who need us to walk beside them, whom we need to walk beside us and tell each other our stories of how much God has done for us all. Amen.