A Face Set Toward Jerusalem

Sermon – Sunday, June 30, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 9:51-62

Distractions. They’re everywhere. It’s easy to get distracted. Have you ever been in the middle of reading or working on something and the phone rings? Or you’re thinking about something and you walk into a room and forget what you went in there for? Or have you gone to the store to get something specific and you got distracted by someone or something and got everything but the one thing you needed? That’s why I bring a list, because it’s happened to me. Lists are important because they keep us focused on our intended outcome.

Jesus, however, didn’t need lists. He wasn’t easily distracted. He always knew who He was and where He was going. “He set His face toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, the place where He would be betrayed, handed over, mocked, tortured, and killed. He set His face toward the cross. He was headed toward death and yet He did not turn back. He kept going, knowing what fate awaited Him. Why? Because that was the reason He was born. The cross was His purpose. All of creation was on an entire collision course to sin and death and Jesus was going to stop that, for us. Nothing was going to distract Him from saving us. Nothing. He was single-minded in His purpose of following God’s will. We were His number one priority, no distractions. He didn’t take the easy road.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case for us. We are all too easily distracted and we want to take the easy road. When Jesus says to follow me, we – like the person in Luke’s gospel – let distractions get in the way of our purpose. The person in today’s story said he would follow Jesus, but “first let me go and bury my father.” And another person said they would follow Jesus, but “first let me say goodbye to those at home.” These were not strange endeavors they wanted to pursue. These individuals simply wanted to take care of normal parts of life. I think what Jesus was speaking to was their distractions. He was asking them to follow Him and set their faces toward Jerusalem too, but these were probably only one of a list of distractions that would keep them from following Jesus. They said we will follow you, but first, I need to take care of one thing. I think Jesus knew that one thing would lead to another thing and another, and another. There would always be one more, “but first.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, we really aren’t any different. We will follow Jesus, but first I have to take care of my family, but first I need to finish work, but first I need to get through all these sporting events, but first I need to get all my affairs in order, but first…..the list is endless. All these gifts that God has given us – our family, our work, and our recreation – are good, but following Jesus must come first. The First Commandment says, “You are to have no other gods.” Luther’s explanation says this means “we are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” God must come first. We must love God more than all the rest; otherwise we make them gods instead of the one true God. We must set our face toward Jerusalem. We must set our face toward the cross.

This begins in our baptism. Like Gabriella, in baptism her face is set toward Jerusalem. My face is set toward Jerusalem and so is yours. Baptism is a daily reminder – imprinted not merely on our foreheads, but in our hearts – that we are to look first and foremost to the cross. This is our identity. Gabriella was given a new identity today. She is a beloved child of God, a member now of the body of Christ, a worker with us in the kingdom of God. This is our number one priority. We are called to follow Jesus despite the many distractions that will pull us away. This is why we are baptized into a community of believers, so we can support one another in this journey of faith. It is not an easy journey. It leads to new life, but first, we must be willing to face death.

Just like Jesus, setting our face toward Jerusalem means setting our face toward death. There will be times we will be ridiculed for following Jesus. There will be times we will have to make tough decisions between following what the world says is good and following Jesus’ commandment of love. There will be times, many times, when Gabriella and all of us will be distracted, but we must listen to the call of the Holy Spirit to lead us back to Christ. We cannot be lured into a false illusion of discipleship. It is not easy. There are many who have set his or her face toward Jerusalem. People like Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years in the fight to stop apartheid in South Africa, people like Rosa Parks, and elderly African American woman, who would not sit in the back of the bus and helped pave the way for freedom and equality, people like Mother Theresa who cared for the despised and outcast in the poverty stricken cities in India. We are not all called to such grand expectations; everyone has his or her own purpose in the kingdom of God.

There are many disciples here in this congregation who set his or her face toward Jerusalem: people who make the choice to teach Sunday School when it would be easier to let someone else do it, people who take the time out of their busy lives to donate and bring food to the Walsh County Food Pantry so people right here in this community will have food to eat, people who take the time to help people in this community who have been suffering from various kinds of flooding even when they have full-time jobs and homes of their own to sustain, young people who stand up to one another when bullying, and prejudice try to take hold, people who make the effort to come to worship and listen to the word of God when it would be easier to be distracted by a variety of other things, people who make the choice not to give up, but persevere despite incredible struggles. Disciples are people who set their faces toward Jerusalem and do not look back. It is not always easy, but the Holy Spirit led us first to Christ through baptism and we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will remain with us always. Like Gabriella, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Why did Jesus keep His face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross? It was not because it was easy. It was not for any reward for Himself. It was for the sake of the world. It was for the sake of you and me. His destiny was the cross. His destiny was love. His destiny was making sure nothing would ever separate us from the love of God. As followers of Jesus, we are commanded to do the same. We are to set our faces toward Jerusalem. We are to set our faces toward the cross, for even though we have been baptized into Jesus’ death, we have also been baptized into His resurrection. Let us hear and act on the words of Jesus, “But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Distractions. They’re everywhere, but so is Jesus. Amen.

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A New Name

Sermon – Sunday, June 23, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 8:26-39

Hey you. Yeah, you. What’s your name? Hey, you. That’s not a great way to be addressed is it? Of course, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been called worse! Names are significant. It’s why we spend so much time picking out a name for a child. My dad’s middle name was Edwin, which is where I got my name from. Names mean something. They give us a sense of identity. We know who we are and names are a way for others to know who we are.

Everyone likes to be called by their name. Being called by name creates a bond, a connection between you and the other person. And sometimes the names we are known by indicate the level of that connection. To some we are called by our given name and that is more formal. To our close friends we might even have certain nicknames. For myself, I am called such names as intern, mom, daughter, Edwina, Wina, even…. Eddie. When you are called by name you feel important. You’re no longer a faceless, nameless stranger in the crowd – no longer hey, you – but someone who has worth. That’s what’s so tragic about the man in today’s gospel story. He has no identity. He has no worth.

The man with the demon who meets Jesus has no name. When Jesus asks him, “What is your name?” he says, “Legion” because there were that many demons inside him. He doesn’t even have a name of his own anymore because he is only known by what it is that is possessing him. He has no sense of worth. He lives in the tombs, away from the rest of society, away from any human interactions. He has no friends, no one to talk with, no one to help him. He has been taken over by these demons and that has become his identity. Legion – which in the Roman army analogy would have been between 5000 and 6000.
That’s a lot of demons! When Jesus asks him “What is your name?” Legion is now his identity. That’s a painful reality.

The phrase many of said as children “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” isn’t really accurate. Names can and do hurt. Sometimes other people call us hurtful names and if they say it long enough those names become imbedded in our minds and we start to believe them and say them to ourselves. Names like: loser, failure, stupid, lazy, dumb, idiot, fat, skinny, no good, weirdo….The list is endless and I’m sure you can add to ones that you’ve been called personally. Names can really hurt. And after a while, these names become our identity. They become demons keeping us bound up like the man in Luke’s gospel. They have power.

Until we encounter Jesus. Just the very name of Jesus has power. St. Paul writes, that “God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10) Yes, the very name of Jesus has the power to destroy demons. That is why even the demons were afraid of Jesus. Because Jesus is stronger than any of the names that have power over us and in Jesus we are given a new name and a new identity.

It’s interesting that the demons in this story were sent into the pigs that then drowned in the water. According to ancient Middle Eastern thinking, demons cannot survive in water. Luke 11:24 says that demons inhabit “waterless regions.” Water was believed to kill them and how much more powerful is water when mixed with the word of God!

We are all plagued by demons, some of our own making and some caused by the actions of others. We are all “captive to sin and cannot free ourselves”, but there is One who can. here is One who can rescue us from the bondage of sin and death and that is Jesus, who has already rescued us through the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism we know who we are – children of God. We have worth and value and a purpose in the kingdom of God. We are no longer bound by the false lies that evil tries to persuade us to believe.

Today Samantha and Mackenzie Anderson received the sacrament of baptism. Through the water and the word they have been given a new name. They are called children of God and this name can never be taken away from them. Their white dresses symbolize that they have been clothed in Christ, clothed in the resurrection. They have a new identity. They have indeed been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. The oil they received on their foreheads – symbolizing the Holy Spirit – has been used since the beginnings of Christianity.

Just like the toys from Toy Story 2, mentioned in our children’s sermon today, were marked with Andy’s name on their feet to show who they belonged to, so are we marked with the cross of Christ to show who we belong to. Samantha and Mackenzie have received that promise, that mark of who they belong to and so do all who are baptized in Christ.

In their lives they may be called names that are not true to who they are, but they only have to remember their identity as children of God to know the truth. They will sin just like the rest of us, but they have the promise of Jesus’ forgiveness. Samantha and Mackenzie did not ask to be baptized. They did not have to do anything to earn this baptism. Baptism is a gift from God who reaches into our lives and claims us as God’s own children. We are claimed by the living God and we are sent.

We are sent to proclaim what Jesus has done for us. Just like the man possessed by the legion of demons in today’s gospel was given a new identity and sent to proclaim the glory of God, so too are we claimed and sent to proclaim God’s glory wherever we are. We are not baptized into ourselves; we have been baptized into the entire body of Christ, the church, here on earth. Even the smallest child is a witness to the glory of God. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matt. 19:14

When someone says, “Hey, you. What’s your name?” Remember your baptism. Remember you have been marked by the cross of Christ and proudly say that you are a beloved child of God. You are claimed and sent by the Almighty to be a witness to the glory of God. You belong. You have worth. When the demons of doubt and fear try to call you by any other names, repeat to yourself as often as possible, make the sign of the cross – first inscribed on you at your baptism – and say, “I am baptized.” Praise God for this gift of grace and tell the world. Amen.

Don’t You Weep

Sermon – Sunday, June 9, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Luke 7:11-17

(Sing) “Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t mourn. Oh, Mary, don’t you weep don’t mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drownded, Oh, Mary, don’t you weep.” A friend posted this old spiritual song on Facebook and I can’t get it out of my head, and I hope it’s now stuck in yours. I can’t get it out of my head because it is exactly what Jesus said to the widow in today’s gospel story. It’s a song about remembering what God has done to deliver us.

Last week we heard about how Jesus healed the centurion solder’s request to heal his servant. Not because the soldier felt worthy, but because he recognized that Jesus had the power to do it. Jesus has that kind of power and in today’s story Jesus’ power is even more evident. But instead of someone recognizing Jesus’ power, Jesus, Himself, is overcome with something powerful. He is overcome with the power of grief. Let’s put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, or sandals, for a minute.

Jesus just healed the centurion soldier’s servant in Capernaum, a fishing village of about 1500 people on the northern shore on the Sea of Galilee. The next stop in His journey is the town of Nain, about 25 miles S.W. of Capernaum. It’s a good day’s journey when traveling by foot and if Jesus and His disciples left in the morning, they would probably have arrived in the evening. As Jesus and His disciples and now a large crowd (most likely from the healing that just occurred in Capernaum) arrives in the small village of Nain, they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a funeral procession. It’s loud. There is crying, sobbing, weeping …..wailing. A young man’s body is wrapped in cloth and he is laid out on a bier (a type of wicker stretcher). He is being carried on this bier and the procession is heading to a cave where he will be buried.

The women are leading this funeral procession while the men are carrying the young boy’s body and what makes this scene even more painful is that this young man was the widow’s only son. Her husband died and now her only son is dead. He was the one who helped her with the farming. Because this is ancient times and not 21st century America, this means that because there are no other children the farm will go to the in-laws. This widow is not allowed to keep any property – women at that time could not own property – and with no property and no way to earn a living, she would be destitute. Her only son was gone and so was her life.

And Jesus is overcome by the grief of this widow. Jesus is overcome with compassion and I imagine there are tears in His eyes. He is caught up in all this grief and He stops the funeral. Yes, Jesus stops the funeral! Jesus says to the widow, “Do not weep” or as we would say today, “Don’t cry.” And then He walks over to the bier that the young man is on and He touches it (which in Jewish custom would have meant Jesus was now “unclean” according to Jewish laws) and speaks to the dead man. Everyone stops. Time stops. And the young man is raised from the dead.

Now the noise is no longer from weeping, but rejoicing. So loud that you probably couldn’t hear yourself speak. They were living out the words of Psalm 30: “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” This is a funeral we’d all like to attend! We all want to hear, “Do not weep” and then see the dead come to life.

But we have! We are Easter people. We are children of the Resurrected Christ. These same words are spoken in Rev. 5:5 – “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able…”Jesus is risen from the dead. He is alive. He has overcome death. Evil will not have the final victory. But there are times it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?

Every single day people are overcome with grief. They are crying and weeping and mourning over situations that seem hopeless just like the widow. They feel like they have no future left at all and their life is about to come to an end. We must hear the words “Do not weep” not as an admonition to not cry, but as a promise. Do not weep; do not mourn as those who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)We must have hope because God does hear our cries. God does see our tears. God does hear our prayers.

And God not only understands that. God is moved with compassion. Our crying and weeping have been heard by God. God knows what it is like to mourn the death of a son just like the widow of Nain. When the Son of God died on that cross – God wept – but not as One who had no hope – for Jesus is the Hope of the world.

God had compassion for all creation and sent Jesus as the answer to our prayers. Jesus had compassion for all people and gave up His life so we would have life. Jesus touched the dirty, and the unclean, and the forsaken in this world and breathed new life into them and is still doing that today. The Holy Spirit breathes new life into us and we are called to have that same compassion for others that God has for us.

When Jesus said to the widow “Do not weep” He said that because He was about to do something. We hear the story of the widow of Nain and tend to think of ourselves as the poor widow without any hope. We look at our situations and we think everything is hopeless, but maybe God wants us to see ourselves as the dead person brought back to life in order to care for others. God has brought us back to life through Jesus in order to care for the widows, the orphans, the poor, the homeless, the mistreated, the neglected, the outcast – those who think they don’t stand a chance. Everyone at some point in their lives has felt that way, yet for some it is a constant way of life.

God has done so much to deliver us. We may be in a situation right now that seems hopeless, but God has reached down into the mess of our lives. God sent Jesus to save us. God raised Him from the dead and will raise us too. God has sent the Holy Spirit to teach us, to guide us, to comfort us and remind us of what God has done for us. And the Holy Spirit empowers us to be Christ to others.

People are crying out to see God in their lives. They need to hear “Do not weep” and witness a miracle. Be that miracle! Amen.