Sermon on Healing and Mark 1:29-39, February 5, 2012
2012-02-04 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, February 5, 2012,

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 694)

 

Heals

 

            Our cat Panda is sick. We had him at the vet from Monday until Thursday last week, and he still is not well. He is unable to urinate, and it is unclear why. Throughout the week, we prayed for Panda to get better, but he is not. He may have to be euthanized. We’re still praying.

            The Bible teaches that God is a healer. But why does God sometimes heal us and sometimes not? How does healing work? There is much to say on this subject, more than we have time for here. Let’s consider what our gospel, Mark 1:29-39, teaches about healing.

            In Mark, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, she has a fever. The disciples tell Jesus about her. He takes her hand and lifts her up. The fever leaves her. She gets up and serves them.

            One of the first points about this passage is that it does not mention faith. Did you notice that? The passage says nothing about the faith of Peter’s mother-in-law or about the disciples. The disciples’ telling Jesus about Peter’s mother-in-law suggests that they have faith that Jesus can do something for her, but the passage does not focus on their faith. In many other miracle stories, Jesus says something like, “Great is your faith,” or “Your faith has made you well,” but not here. In fact, the word “faith” does not even appear in the story. Her faith, then, does not appear to be important for her healing. What matters is Jesus’ power, not her faith.

            Often, we Christians think healing is about how much faith we have. We think having strong faith is necessary for healing, and, indeed, given other healing stories, it appears that faith is important to healing. However, this passage stresses that what matters in healing is God’s power, not our faith, and healing can happen even if faith is not strong. In fact, given that God has unlimited power, it is safe to say that, to heal us, God does not need us to show faith at all. Faith is important, but not essential, for God to heal us.

            A second important lesson from our gospel about healing is found in verse 34. Verse 34 says, “And he cured many who were sick . . . and cast out many demons.” This statement indicates that Jesus does heal many of us, but he does not heal all. Many, not all. The verse does not say why he does not heal all. It does not say, “Jesus did not heal the people who lacked faith.” No, we just know that not everyone was healed. Sometimes people are healed, sometimes not. Why Jesus does not heal everyone is a mystery, but the absence of healing is not a punishment and is certainly not necessarily indicative of a lack of faith. We do not know why some of us get better and others do not.

            What we do know is that, even when Christ does not heal the body, he frequently heals us in other ways. For example, when my mother collapsed on December 20, 2010, my family and I prayed for her to wake up and recover. That didn’t happen. We don’t know why. We had plenty of faith, but, in response to our prayers for physical healing, God said, “No.” However, God blessed us with other healing moments. Over the next few weeks, many of you gave us cards and expressed sympathy. A couple people sent fruit baskets. At the viewing, people expressed their sympathy. God did not send healing by healing Mom physically, but God did send healing by sending people to care for us as we grieved. God uses us to help heal each other.

            Indeed, in numerous, luminous ways God heals us. God heals us by comforting and guiding us through the Bible. God heals us during worship. God heals us by forgiving us our sins. Most important, God heals us by giving us eternal life through Christ for free.

            In about twenty minutes, God will offer you healing through the body and blood. “The body of Christ, given to heal you. The blood of Christ, shed to heal you.”

 





Homiletical Thoughts for February 5, 2012, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
2012-01-30 by David von Schlichten

Isaiah 40:21-31: This passage proclaims God's greatness. It does a poetic job of reminding us that God is amazing--inexhaustible, supreme, matchless. One could devote a whole sermon to underlining for people how incredible God is.

Just think: the God of the galaxy on the other side of the universe is the same God who cares for your cat.

Psalm 147: God heals, cares for the brokenhearted. How does God help the brokenhearted? For instance, how does God use the Bible, prayer, sermons, holy communion, forgiveness of sins, and the communiuon of saints to heal the brokenhearted?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23: What's the difference between boasting and sharing with others something you do well? Motive seems to be key to answering that question. Our boasting should ultimately glorify God, including by helping others.

The passage also calls for us to be slaves to all, accommodating ourselves to different audiences for the sake of sharing the Gospel. How do we adjust ourselves to our different audiences without selling out? Perhaps the answer lies in fidelity to the Gospel. We can adjust ourselves to others, provided that we remain faithful to the Gospel.

Mark 1:29-39: How does Jesus use us to lift people up and heal people of the fever? How do we comfort people who pray for healing but do not receive it?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me at drdlphn@yahoo.com or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Thinking of groundhogs and of the Steelers being in next year's Superbowl, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Sermon on Mark 1:21-28, January 29, 2012; Exorcisms Today
2012-01-28 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Mark 1:21-28

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 29, 2012,

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 858)

 

Exorcisms in Church—and Out

 

            Have you ever witnessed an exorcism, someone driving a demon out of a person or place? Imagine being in the presence of a demon-possessed person, a demoniac. Imagine someone commanding the demon, “Be silent, and come out of that person!” and the demon obeying. Now imagine that happening right here, during church.     

That’s what happens in our gospel, Mark 1:21-28. Jesus is in worship. He’s preaching, and in walks a man. He walks up the center aisle toward Jesus and says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” People’s eyes are wide. Parents pick up their small children. As the demoniac walks up the aisle, people move away from him. He’s sweating and twitching as he walks, his face beading with fury, his eyes filled with pleading and terror. The veins stand out on his neck. His face is red. Up front, Jesus crosses his arms in front of his chest, watches the demoniac. The demoniac is now just a couple feet in front of him. Jesus says, “Be silent, and come out of him!” The man falls to the floor. People gasp. Someone says, “Call 9-1-1!” The man has a brief seizure and screams. Then he lies still. Is he dead? No, his eyes are open. The redness leaves his face. Jesus kneels next to him and helps him to sit upright, and you and I don’t know whom to fear more, the demon or this Jesus, who has authority over demons. Who is this guy?

            When we hear a story like this one, it is easy for us to think that such miracles only happened in Bible times and that, these days, you just are not likely to see an exorcism. Further, it is tempting for us in the twenty-first century to think that evil is stronger than Jesus. Sure, Jesus drove out demons long ago. Today, however, evil possesses the world, and it often seems either that there is nothing Christ can do about or that he chooses not to. So much evil. So many demons, and what is Christ doing today to stop all that? We pray, “Deliver us from evil,” but how does Christ do that? Is God listening to our prayers? Does Christ stop evil?

            Actually, Christ is doing a lot to stop evil today. Casting out demons is not something that Christ did only in Bible times. Christ drives out demons today, too. Let’s consider how.

            One way Christ drives out demons today is through actual exorcisms. Exorcisms do occur in our own time, although they are not common. Whether the allegedly possessed person is truly possessed or is struggling with some sort of illness is up for debate, but exorcisms do occur.

            How else does Christ drive out demons? He drives out the demons of alcohol or drug addiction through counseling, twelve-step programs, and rehabilitation. Christ might even use you to help drive the demon of addiction out of a person. Remember, though, that you are not helping to drive out a demon if you are enabling a person. You are just enabling the demon.

            Christ also drives out the demons of sadness, anxiety, and bitterness in various ways, especially here during worship. Yes, each Sunday Christ is present and commanding the demons to be silent and come out of us.

            Think about it. When we have a baptism, God adopts a person into God’s special family and gives that person eternal life. God rescues that person from death and the Devil, as Luther says in the Book of Concord. Moreover, as part of the baptismal service, I ask the parents and sponsors if they renounce the forces of evil. I ask them three times, and each time they reply, “I renounce them.” We renounce evil, the Devil. Exorcism.

            At the beginning of our service, when we confess our sins and I declare, by the power of the keys, that our sins are forgiven, evil flees the room shrieking. Forgiveness of sins punches the Devil in the gut. Exorcism.

            When we read the lessons and preach the sermon together—and make no mistake: you do help me preach the sermon—when we hear and speak scripture and sermon, the Devil stomps out of the building, because he knows that he cannot stand up against the Word of God.

            When we walk forward, hold out our hands, and receive the body of Christ, the blood of Christ, the Devil goes mad with fear. The Devil is scrawny compared to the healing power of the body and blood. Take and eat, take and drink. Let Christ enter you and push out evil. Exorcism.

            During worship and beyond, Christ drives out evil through each other. Granted, sometimes we humans bring evil to one another, but we also drive out evil from each other, thanks be to the Spirit’s blowing, burning power.

            Evil swirls and howls all around us every day, but you, thanks be to Christ, have power against evil. Go, and drive out the Devil. Christ makes us muscular with love against evil.  






Sermon Thoughts for January 29, 2012, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
2012-01-23 by David von Schlichten

Deuteronomy 18: God promises that there will be a successor to Moses who will be a true prophet. That person ends up being Joshua, but in what ways are we Moses' successors? How are we prophetic? What is a prophet? 

Psalm 111: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." This recurring line in Scripture is problematic for many contemporary hearers because we find distasteful the idea of fearing God. Preachers tend to resolve this dilemma by saying that "fear" really means "be in awe of." Does it really, or is that just wishful thinking on the part of us preachers?

1 Corinthians 8: Paul warns against engaging in behavior that might confuse or lead astray other Christians. The passage speaks of eating food offered to idols, but many of us today are probably not doing that. What are some contemporary analogs to this practice, and how can we modify our behavior to help the weak? 

Central to the passage is the idea that life is not all about me but that I am obligated to care for others. At the same time, caring for others does not mean codependency or enabling, for such behavior is ultimately not really helpful to others. It would be useful to preach about our obligations to others and how to fulfill those obligations in a way that builds up the body of Christ.

Mark 1: Christ performs an exorcism during a worship service. How does Christ exorcise demons each week during worship? For instance, how do sermons, prayers, hymns, baptism, holy communion, and fellowship drive out demons?

How does Christ use us to be exorcists in the world?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Looking forward to a groundhog but not a newt, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

 





Sermon for January 22, 2012, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 3 Epiphany B
2012-01-20 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 22, 2012,

Third Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 892)

The Present Form of this World

            1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is a weird passage. It says that, if you have a wife, you should be as if you do not have one; if you are grieving, be as if you are not grieving; if you are rejoicing, then be as if you are not rejoicing; if you buy possessions, be as if you do not have possessions; and if you deal with the world, be as if you have no dealings with it. Why should we be this way? Because the present form of this world is passing away.

            What does all that mean? For instance, I have a wife. What does it mean to be as if I do not have one? I’m not going to ignore my wife, pretend I’m not married. That cannot be the right thing to do, especially considering that, elsewhere in the Bible, including in 1 Corinthians 7, we learn that a husband and wife are to honor and care for each other.

            What does the rest mean? What does it mean to live as if you are not grieving when, really, you are? That doesn’t sound healthy psychologically. If you feel grief, you should not bury that or deny that but express it somehow. Likewise, it does not sound healthy to deny your rejoicing. The whole passage seems to advocate denial, and generally denial is unhealthy. As Dr. Phil says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.” Denial is usually unwise, so why is this passage from 1 Corinthians 7 telling us Christians to be in denial? Or is it?

            Actually, the passage is not really saying that we should live in denial. It would not make sense for us to ignore or deny our spouse, grief, joy, possessions, and the world. We Christians are not to hide from the world. Jesus certainly did  not. He did not cocoon himself from the world. No, he walked around, taught people, healed people. He was not in denial or hiding from the world’s joy, grief, possessions, and ways of the world, and neither should we. He was not in denial when he endured the cross so that we could live forever for free. We the baptized are not to be of the world, but we are still to be in the world.

            So if we are not to be in denial, if we are not to hide from the realities of the world, then what is this passage telling us to do? Eugene Peterson suggests that the passage is teaching us to live simply. When the passage says be as if you don’t have a wife, or be as if you are not grieving or don’t have possessions, the passage is not saying live in denial. It is saying live simply. Do not let anything or anyone get in the way of your devotion to God. Not your spouse, not your grief or joy, not your possessions, nothing. Devotion to God is to come first.

            For example, we all like to buy nice things for ourselves, and doing so is not necessarily bad. But let’s keep in mind that God is to come first, and part of putting God first is helping people in need. So when we buy some nice possession, we are to ask ourselves, “Am I putting stuff before God? Could I put my money to better use? Are there people in need whom I could help instead of spending money on something that I don’t need?” We are to put God first. Simplify our lives, focus on God.

            Simplifying our lives is easier said than done, isn’t it? How can we simplify our lives so we can be more God-focused? I confess, I have a difficult time simplifying my life. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

            According to 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, why are we to simplify our lives? Because the present form of this world is passing away, that’s why. What does that mean, the present form of this world is passing away? It originally meant that Christ was coming back any minute. They believed that back then, that Christ was returning at any second. Many people today believe that Christ is about to return, and he may be. The present form of this world is passing away.

            The present form of this world will pass away ultimately at the end, when Christ returns, but the present form of this world passes away in other ways, too. For instance, when we read the Bible, we encounter the wisdom of God that pushes aside the world’s shallow, clanging foolishness. When we gather for worship, we do not ignore the world, but the violence and heartbreak of the world move to the back seat as we receive strength and assurance from God. When we remember our baptism and receive the body and blood, the rest of the world shrinks away. When we send each other cards, bake for each other, volunteer to help each other, listen to each other, the present form of this world loosens its grip, loses some of its power, passes away, even if just for a whisker of a second.

            We simplify life. We put God first, and watch the present form of this world retreat before God’s light. And then we go into the world to help those who are stuck in the darkness.






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