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.

Thoughts on the Lessons for January 22, 2012, Third Sunday after Epiphany
2012-01-15 by David von Schlichten

Jonah: Who are our Ninevites? The Taliban? Terrorists? Al-Qaeda? A family member from whom we are estranged? How do we preach to such people without allowing ourselves to be harmed by them? How do we show mercy to people who want to blow us up?

Psalm 62: "God has spoken once; twice I have heard it." What does it mean to hear God twice? Is this line just a poetic way of emphasizing receptivity to God, or can one truly hear twice?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31: If you are married, act as if you are not, and so on. This passage is calling for urgency because "the present form of this world is passing away." But is it? We have been saying forever that the world is ending, but we are still here.

Or does "passing away" mean something different? In what ways does the present form of this world pass away, if not eschatologically? Or is the world passing away eschatologically? Are we always in the last days?

Mark 1: Drop your nets; follow Christ. What nets are we holding, and how do we drop them? How do we drop everything while still honoring our responsibilities to family, career, and so forth? When do we have to leave family, career, and so forth?

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

Remembering Pastor King's dream, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, January 15, 2012
2012-01-14 by David von Schlichten


Sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday January 15, 2012,

Second Sunday after the Epiphany,

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 683)


Glorify God in Your Body


            How do you feel about your body? Do you like it? Most of us are pretty critical of our body. I wish I were more handsome and a little thinner. On TV, magazine covers, and in movies we forever see images of good-looking people and are told that we should look like them. Women, especially, are assaulted with images of slender, young, buxom women and are told that every woman is supposed to look like those images. That’s ridiculous and satanic.

            In our second reading, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul says, “. . . [D]o your not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you . . . .” Paul says that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do you think of your body as a temple? The Holy Spirit is God, so God dwells within you. You receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and, for the rest of your life, your body is a sacred building.

The next time you’re naked, such as when you are getting a shower, pause to give thanks for your body. God has made you, and the Holy Spirit lives within you. In God’s eyes, your body is sparkling, bejeweled, worth more than all of Warren Buffet’s wealth. Your body is something to give thanks for. It is God’s house. Don’t let the media tell you otherwise. Media shmedia.

            In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul also says, “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” The price is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, glorify God in your body. What does it mean for us to glorify God in our body?

Part of glorifying God in our body is eating right. If you are eating too much or not enough, you are not glorifying God in your body. Love your body; it is sacred.

Part of glorifying God in our body is watching how much alcohol we drink. If you are drinking too much, you are not glorifying God. Get help. Your body is sacred, a temple.

Smoking and doing drugs definitely do not glorify God in your body. Having irresponsible sex does not glorify God, either.

Exercise! Generally, exercise is good for our bodies, honors our bodies. Exercise honors God. Some of us have health problems that make it hard to exercise, but most of us can do some form of exercise. Even walking around more in your house or apartment is better than nothing.

Now, of course, none of us is perfect when it comes to taking care of our bodies. I eat too much and not exercise enough. When we fall short, we pray, “God, forgive me, and be patient with me.” God is not out to get you, not out to zap you, not out to shake a paternal finger at you or send you to your room without supper. God loves you. God has made your body sacred. Celebrate and honor that good news. Embrace better living, not as a chore, but as a way of rejoicing, worshipping, and glorifying God.

Moreover, let us respect, not just our own bodies, but the bodies of other people as part of rejoicing, worshipping, and glorifying God. Remember, just as your body is sacred, so are other people’s bodies. Therefore, think about how you respond to other people’s bodies. Do you discriminate against people because they are less attractive? When we are demeaning toward other people’s bodies, we are demeaning toward the temple of God that God constructed.

Think about how we react to black people. The people of St. James are loving, good-hearted people, but, over my years here, I have heard numerous prejudiced comments. When we discriminate against others because of their skin-color, we are insulting the temple of God, and, of course, we are failing to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

The body as the temple. What a responsibility, but what a joy. Thanks be to God that, even when we think we’re too fat or too thin or too ugly or too old, God still lives within us.

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