Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Gospel I Need to Hear (Sermon for 1/8/12)


Sermon for Epiphany 1, Text: Mark 2:1-22

          Sometimes I need a sermon myself. I don’t mean that I need one written for me because I’m tired or uninspired. I mean that I need to hear one.  Usually, I have four or five of you in mind and I hope that the Spirit speaks to all of you through the written and spoken words on Sunday. Yet, sometimes I ended up preaching the Word that I needed to hear and I hope something came to you as well.

            Today, as we look at the stories of people who meet Jesus, I felt like I should be honest about what I want to hear. Perhaps you have the same plea as you listen to these stories. We have a story of friends interceding, a paralyzed man walking, doubtful scribes, uncertain disciples, and adoring crowds. These are the people Jesus meets and it's hard to decide which thread to follow. Healing, forgiveness, welcome, celebration, correction, renewal, restoration, resurrection- any and all of these are messages I want to receive. How about you?

            Pastor, speak to me of healing. I need to hear that miracles can still happen, that they do still happen, that they will still happen. I want to hear, again, that God heals through medicine  and through miracles and, sometimes through death, through death. Assure me, with sincerity, of the double significance of this gospel story. First, Jesus releases the man from the sins that plague and disturb him- a powerful symbol of the power and grace of God. 

          In order to prove that his power was of God, Jesus then healed his physical ailment, cured whatever bound him to his pallet. In the face of cancer and all manner of other illnesses, Preacher, tell me with confidence that the healing power of God in Jesus is not limited to a house in Capernaum, but that it transcends space and time and the bounds of our understanding. This is the gospel I need today.

            Pastor, speak to me of Epiphany- of a dawning light and a great understanding. In my daily life, I hear a lot of people talking and it all begins to sound the same. I remain hopeful, but cynicism and frustration curls the edges of my hope. I feel kind of like a Pharisee, because I just want something to make sense and to fulfill my expectations. Structure, continuity and tradition provide reliability and stability in chaotic times. A season of new understanding, of A-ha! moments, of bright inspirations is exactly what I need, but not necessarily what I want. 

          Preach to me about the meaning of Emmanuel- God with us. Remind me that there is nowhere I can go that God has not preceded me, nowhere that Jesus does not accompany me, nowhere that the Spirit does not receive me. This is the gospel I need today.

            Pastor, speak to me of sin and of release. Speak the hard truth about sin- about its power to separate us from our neighbors and to make us feel separated from God. Look me in the eye and tell me that sin is action and intention, both concrete and nebulous. Use words that are familiar, but help me understand in a new way that sin is the things I have done and left undone, said and remained quiet about, things I have given too freely and things I have withheld. 

            Now preach to me about release. I don’t want to hear about forgiveness only, about a formula or words that make things right. I want a powerful, truthful, toe-curling honesty about release- release from the fear of death, release from the captivity of sin, release from the mistakes of the past, release into the freedom of a new future in God. Speak to me of the release that is offered through Jesus, every day, every minute. Pastor, speak to me of amazing grace and do not stop. This is the gospel I need today.

            Pastor, speak to me of resurrection. I know that is the wrong season, that we have not yet trudged through Lent to the gleaming white of Easter morning. Nevertheless, I look at today’s gospel and its words of feasting and celebration. I read of new wineskins to receive new wine. This kind of new life makes me think of renewal. Remind me again that God has promised not to make all new things, but to make all things new. Could it be, Pastor, that resurrection happens within us before it happens to us? 

             Is it possible that God-with-us in the person of Jesus was bringing new life to Levi, to John’s disciples, to the outcasts, and even to the Pharisees before the tomb was thrown open? Help me to chew over the idea that spiritual resurrection comes before the resurrection of the body, but is just as important. Tell me in no uncertain terms that God was resurrecting through Jesus Christ long before Easter Sunday. Resurrecting faith, resurrecting community, resurrecting hope, resurrecting relationship. Tell me this is not a metaphor. This is the gospel I need today.

            Pastor, I like it when Jesus says, “I have come not to call the righteous, but the sinners.” I like that a lot, except that I would like to be a little bit righteous. Isn’t Lutheran theology that we are all righteous and sinners at the same time? So aren’t I a little bit righteous? Break it to me gently, one more time, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Ugh. Again. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

            Okay, I’m ready to hear that my perceptions of myself (and of others) fill up my wineskin and get in the way of the fresh wine that Jesus would put in there. Bring it on home, Pastor, and tie together the truths that I have to release what I think of myself and others, so that I can be open to the healing, the epiphanies, and the resurrection that God has in front of me. Not only that God has in front of me, Preacher, but that God is doing in me and around me. Not only in me and around me, but perhaps, Pastor, with God’s grace and gifts, through me and with me. Today, I am one of the people whom Jesus meets. This is the gospel I need today.

Amen. 

1 comment:

Tamara said...

Julia - I really appreciated one little phrase in your sermon, in particular. I love how you talk about sin that 'makes us feel separated from God' - a very helpful nuance that I had not thought about before. For if truly nothing can separate us from the love of God....then sin's separation must be felt in our experience and not the truth of God's nearness in our lives....