February 1, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Ezekiel 37: 1 – 14 & Mark 1: 21 – 28
While preparing for a Sunday such as this, I debated what to offer as a message. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the super semi-annual church meeting and mid winter in snowy Maine which often means an epidemic of flu and doldrums.
This was my train of thought…
Do you know that Science has proven that hugs can boost your Immune system? We know that hugs make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. And this feeling, it turns out, could actually ward off stress and protect the immune system, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University.
Hugs also lower blood pressure, alleviate fears around death and dying, improve heart health and decrease feelings of loneliness. The findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.
So hug away….. as long as you are not sick! Hugs could take care of the winter doldrums, lift our spirits and improve our health! This could be an informative sermon about how we are supported and ministered unto…about compassionate care and presence to another. Good theme….and an important theme for a church. We do good compassionate care here at Union Church, I think….. and we are constantly on the look out for ways to do it better….to be more inclusive. Critical to the ministry and growth of any church is the spirit of love and kindness…. “presence to another defines the heart of ministry.” ( Mary Sleevey) An vital message to the church.
Then, when I looked at the wonderful pictures that Heather Cyr posted on Facebook this week of Chase loving the snow, I was reminded of the days that I too loved the snow! Making snow angels, building creative snow sculptures, forts and tunnels, sledding and tubing down snow covered hills….cross country skiing….and enjoying playful snowball fights! Ahh… delightful and I loved it….as did my children and the youth with whom I worked . Now, I love looking at it out the window, watching birds and squirrels at our feeders, laughing at Belle bounding after her ball in 4 foot snow drifts and soaking in the beauty of fluffy white snow clinging to the evergreen hemlocks and pines in our yard. Absolutely beautiful….but challenging underfoot these days of my life! This could make an interesting sermon about changes, passages, aging, savoring each moment, facing and accepting transitions and limitations, finding the beauty in every season of life and of nature…also a good theme. Also an important message to the church….. providing support and inspiration for people going through life altering transitions in their lives…. retirement , illness, loss of loved ones, loss of job, empty nests, marriage, birth of children and the list can go on. How DO we embrace change, move beyond the threshold to walk a new and nurturing path….as individuals and as a church community? Challenging times…. wonderful resources available to help ease the transitions that we all have to make.
Yet, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the Super Bowl mania that has been sweeping across the country, hyped incessantly by the media, fueled by ridiculous deflate-gate rumors that have accelerated the nation’s hatred of the Patriots. This sparked the possibility of a passionate sermon about the power of the media, the dangers of misinformation, gossip and prejudice…. about ethics and fair play….. about the dangers of crowd mentality and the power of the competitive spirit…… about creating team spirit, working together and setting high standards of performance. Powerful, emotional themes. Some really good analogies for the church….about dealing with demons like deflate-gate challenges in our lives or institutions and other such negative energy that invades our minds and spirits and takes up residence in our places of worship or in vulnerable minds.
Let’s explore this theme a bit:
Bob Sherman forwarded an interesting bit to me this week from Mikey’s Funnies. I share a portion of it with you:
“In a never-ending effort to attract the unchurched, some churches have considered translating their unfamiliar terminology into familiar football phrases:
BLITZ: The strategic play that takes place two seconds after every benediction.
BLOCKING: Talking endlessly to the pastor at the church door and keeping everyone else from exiting.
DRAW PLAY: What many children (and some adults) do with their bulletins during the service.
EXTRA POINT: What you receive when you tell the preacher her sermon was too short.
HOLDING: Passing on the offering place without putting in a cent
ILLEGAL MOTION: Leaving before the benediction.
INTERFERENCE: Talking during the gathering music.
- How the pastor gets from the pulpit to the rear door during the Go in Peace song.
Asking that “new couple” to sing in the choir, work at the soup kitchen, serve on a committee, join a Bible study, and be in a skit before they get away.
TIME-OUT: Refreshment time after the worship time.
TWO-MINUTE WARNING: The pastor’s spouse looking at his or her watch in full view of the pastor.
What fun….and some of it not too far removed from the truth!
However, as fine as those 3 theme ideas would have been, given our current sermon emphasis, Journey with the Spirit, I decided to focus on how the energy of the Holy Spirit heals and restores both individuals and institutions. What happens to us when we gather in our beloved little church on Sunday mornings?
Author Rob Bell, in response to a question of whether humanity evolved from a place of violence or a place of love; “ Our creation story says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26) and out of a fully generative love. We are created with a drive to self-transcend, to move beyond oneself for the joy and blessing of others. It is all positive, an original blessing instead of an original sin, sending us toward a cosmic hope. There is something within us, which Christians call the Holy Spirit, which makes us aware that we are here to co-create with God and make something beautiful of the world.”
I loved this insight and have to ask myself: Am I…. are we doing this ……here in this place in this time to the best of our ability?
In the story that Bob read from the Gospel of Mark, the people had all gathered in the synagogue to worship and listen to the teacher. Each one came with his or her expectations of what they would experience ….what they might hear the teacher say. I can’t imagine that anyone expected what happened in the synagogue when Rabbi Jesus stood before them and spoke with a mind-boggling, spine tingling authority that challenged the status quo and rattled their comfortable cages. Scripture said they flocked to hear him.
Jesus had barely begun his teaching this particular day, however, when a man in the synagogue began to cry out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” “I know who you are the Holy One of God!”
Mark explains to us that this man who was crying out was possessed by an impure spirit. We don’t know if this means that the man was mentally deranged, but we might guess that he probably was. Sadly, such people do exist, of course. Maybe if this sad man were in today’s world, he wouldn’t just cause a disturbance in church. He might pull out an automatic weapon and begin mowing down worshippers. Whatever the nature of this man’s affliction, however, Jesus was very much in control of the situation.
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Mark tells us the impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people are all so amazed that they ask each other, “What is this? A new teaching . . . He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” People began grabbing their smart phones and texting to their friends all over the whole region of Galilee, “You won’t believe what happened at church this morning!”
There may be times here in our little church when visitors might think there are deranged folks acting out in worship….. ie, some of our skits…or our musicians in baseball caps last Sunday!
Jesus’ authority is in question here…. and most certainly, his authority came from his relationship with God…. his receptivity to the Holy Spirit, giving him the power to heal people of their crippling demons and leading them to a place of wholeness and peace. Surely, that is one of the objectives of Christian community and worship today….. to be a healing place for wounded souls and spirits……
”to co-create with God to make a beautiful world.”
Many of us have a demon of some kind that we struggle with occasionally….or on a daily basis….and we often need help casting it out of our mind and spirit.
A British publisher once asked several laymen to write some sermons to be published under the title, “If I Could Preach Only Once.” Among those invited to contribute was the late Gilbert Chesterton, an English journalist and author. “If I had only one sermon to preach,” wrote Chesterton, “it would be a sermon against fear.” Too often we are like the man, who, though strong and healthy in appearance, felt very ill. The new nurse asked the doctor, “Is that man really sick?” ”He surely is,” answered the doctor gravely. “I don’t know of a more serious set of complications. For forty years he has suffered agonies from imaginitis, scarecoma, apprehendicitis, and general fearosis of living!”
King Duncan, www.Sermons.com
Some of our demons may be debilitating….others just annoying and sadly others, may be destructive to the lives of those we love, and devastating to the peace of mind we all desire.
Leslie Weatherhead once told a parable of a little boy who fled from a witch who had turned herself into a cat. As the boy ran, he kept glancing fearfully over his shoulder. The first time he looked back, the cat was the size of a calf. The next time he looked, it had grown to the dimensions of an elephant. Then the boy fell, and was unable to go farther. Resolutely he got up and faced the pursuing horror. It stopped. So he took a step toward it. It backed away. As he continued to advance toward it, it began to shrink in size as it retreated from him. Finally it changed into a mouse and ran under the door of the witch’s cottage to be seen no more.
The moral is clear: it pays to face up to our fears…. to confront our demons. Easier said then done, right?
The author of the gospel of Mark is making this point: that the divine spirit of God, present in Jesus, is engaging and fighting against the negative energy of evil that exists among humanity. This battle is not fought just at the highest levels of government or industry, but right in the midst of common folk like us who are gathered for worship. According to Mark, Jesus has come to shatter the domineering designs that shackle people to ways of being and thinking that limit our potential for relationship and growth. The teachings and spirit of Jesus can free us from demons like prejudice and pride, greed and fear and self destructive behavior of any kind.
This is one of the most blessed gifts of the Holy Spirit that is available to you and to me…. that Jesus revealed and demonstrated that day in the synagogue.
We know that from time to time there are demons that threaten our health and well being of us as individuals and as a global community, a nation, a community or a church. We have to be alert to the danger signs of prejudices, fear, greed, power struggles, gossip and misinformation that can wound a family, break a heart, destroy an organization and bring nations to the brink of war. The energy of the Holy Spirit which Jesus preached and lived…. of love and justice and peace….of compassionate understanding has the power to heal and restore even the most dangerous demon.
I close today with one of my favorite stories in all of the Hebrew scriptures….. a vision that the prophet Ezekiel tells to a broken, severely wounded, war weary world. He has a dream that God places him in a valley of dry bones, bodies of soldiers lying dead…. a devastating result of a nation destroyed by its enemies….and by itself. Ezekiel said: O Lord God, can these bones live again?
And God told Ezekiel:
I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
This was a message of hope for a broken nation…. a promise of the power of the Holy Spirit…..to heal, to restore and renew…. even when things seem hopeless and totally lost.
My good friends, this is the incredible power of the Holy Spirit, which must be evident in churches and synagogues and temples and mosques today….. so that when we gather together to worship….as God’s people, and God’s co-creators….we will feel this power, believe that it is real, know that we are not alone… believe that we can confront our demons because the Holy Spirit dwells within us and supports us always.
We are blessed as Christians to gather around the Lord’s Table to remember our teacher, Jesus who spoke then and speaks now with the authority of the Holy Spirit, who loved us then and always with an unconditional healing love that will restore any wound, that will cast our any demon. Come to the table and be love and healed. Amen.