Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Missing the Movie (Luke 11:29-36)

"When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, 'This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!  The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.  Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.'"- Luke 11:29-36

Among my friends, I'm notorious for falling asleep in movies. I wasn't always this way, but in college I began to develop this bad habit. As with most college students, movie watching was a good way, late at night, to procrastinate in the name of fellowship. Most of our movie nights didn't start until God-awful hours, those times when your eyelids start to get heavy and it's easier to slip into sleep than it is to stay awake, no matter how much you want to keep watching. The darkness takes over, cool, calm, relaxing, as your eyelids rest. Most of us have been to this place where it's easier to shut out what's going on around us and give in to sleep, give in to darkness, no matter how much we want to be a part of the excitement and energy around us. Closing our eyes is our bodies' habitual, natural move when we're tired; the darkness is our resting place.

In this scripture I find myself fascinated with the connection between seeing, having your eyes open, and the light. And in other scriptures, too, we see connections between sleep and light --
"...but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 'Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'"(Ephesians 4:13-14). I get the obvious points that these scriptures make -- remain alert, open your eyes to what Christ is doing, stay on guard, what is easy to see is also easy to ignore. In other words, don't allow yourself to miss what's right in front of you -- Christ; don't allow yourself to close your eyes and drift into darkness, into sleep. You might miss the movie!

I get all of these points, and they're all good ones. Wholeheartedly, I believe this is the point Christ (and Paul) is trying to make -- it's easier to close your eyes, to live in darkness, to fall asleep than it is to open your eyes and see, to be a beacon of light (lampstand) for others, to wake up. Jesus' way is the way of faith, of light, of trust -- it's more difficult than giving in to darkness and sleep, especially when we're tired already, when our lives are heavy and we're ready to shut out everything. THIS, I believe is what Christ is calling us to do.

And yet, I'm not fully satisfied with that. I have to believe there is a time for rest. There is a time for sleep. There is a time for darkness. After all, God made day and night. Is it even possibly to be able to recognize light without darkness? Is there a time for darkness -- "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"(Ecclesiastes 1:1)? It is abundantly clear in scripture that God is in the light, that we open our eyes to see God, but is God not in the darkness too? Is God not there when we close our eyes, when we just can't seem to keep our heavy eyelids open? Does Christ not move in the cool, calm of the night as in the warm, excitement of the day? 

Clearly, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, probably not even Watson. Yet another mystery unsolved by yours truly. I'm still struggling. I hope you will join me, maybe even enlighten me. Until then, peaceful rest and joyful waking!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Ministry of Stopping: Luke 8:40-56

"When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they had been waiting for him. A man named Jairus, who was a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus' feet. He pleaded with Jesus to come to his house because his only daughter, a twelve-year-old, was dying. As Jesus moved forward, he faced smothering crowds. A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent her entire livelihood on doctors, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the hem of his clothes, and at once her bleeding stopped. "Who touched me?" Jesus asked. When everyone denied it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing in on you!" But Jesus said, "Someone touched me. I know that power has gone out from me.When the woman saw that she couldn't escape notice, she came trembling and fell before Jesus. In front of everyone, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. "Daughter, your faith has healed you," Jesus said. "Go in peace.While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the synagogue leader's house, saying to Jairus, "Your daughter has died. Don't bother the teacher any longer." When Jesus heard this, he responded, "Don't be afraid; just keep trusting, and she will be healed.When he came to the house, he didn't allow anyone to enter with him except Peter, John, and James, and the child's father and mother. They were all crying and mourning for her, but Jesus said, "Don't cry. She isn't dead. She's only sleeping.They laughed at him because they knew she was dead. Taking her hand, Jesus called out, "Child, get up.Her life returned and she got up at once. He directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were beside themselves with joy, but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. " Luke 8:40-56

I've just sat down to start working on my sermon. I know where I'm going with it and I'm ready to knock this thing out! Then the inevitable happens -- someone calls. Sometimes it's an easy task that's asked of me. Sometimes someone has gone to the hospital and I need to visit them. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death. 

I have a tendency to think of these moments as interruptions, annoyances, aggravations. Sometimes I stop what I'm doing; sometimes I don't. Many of us have moments in our days and weeks when something unexpected comes up in the midst of doing whatever it is that we are supposed to be doing, the activities we already have planned.

This is where Jesus is, I think. He's on his way to heal a young girl, but on his way he is stopped. What does he do? He uses that moment. He stops. He takes advantage of the opportunity that is in front of him. He heals. And he goes back to what he was doing in the first place. 

What he doesn't do is equally important. He doesn't keep going. He doesn't say, "hold on, I've got other business, but I'll be back." He doesn't ignore the woman.  He doesn't take care of his more important business first. Jesus uses the moment he's been given. Instead of thinking about this woman as an interruption he thinks about her as an opportunity to serve. She is important to him. 

  What if we treated all of our interruptions like opportunities for service? Would that change our outlook? Would it create more space for us to serve and for God to work through us? More than likely, I believe the answer is a resounding, YES!

It's not always easy or convenient to stop when we're asked. Perhaps there are even times when it's not possible (though, I would think these are few and far between -- If you're like me, you tend to equate impossible with inconvenient). I wonder if being inconvenienced is a part of what we sacrifice in participating with God in ministry. What I do know is God's grace was evident in Jesus' stopping. God's grace was evident in the woman being healed. God's grace was evident in the woman's faith. 

I think an often unnamed grace in this scripture is that Jesus, though he stops, is able to go back to the task he began initially, against all odds and expectations. And because he stops, the healing he does for the girl is even greater than it would have been if he had made it to her earlier.

I think there's a lesson here for us. Today I will start again, and I will try to stop when I am interrupted. I will see that moment as an opportunity. And I will trust that whatever it is that I am doing at the time will be there when I return, by the grace of God.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's With Demons? A Struggle to Understand Luke 8:26-39

WARNING: Highly subjective and potentially offensive content. If you can deal with that, read on.

"Jesus and his disciples sailed to the Gerasenes' land, which is across the lake from Galilee. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a certain man met him. The man was from the city and was possessed by demons. For a long time, he had lived among the tombs, naked and homeless. When he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had taken possession of him, so he would be bound with leg irons and chains and placed under guard. But he would break his restraints, and the demon would force him into the wildernessJesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had entered him. They pleaded with him not to order them to go back into the abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the demons left the man and entered the pigs. The herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. When those who tended the pigs saw what happened, they ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone. He was sitting at Jesus' feet, fully dressed and completely sane. They were filled with awe. Those people who had actually seen what had happened told them how the demon-possessed man had been delivered. Then everyone gathered from the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave their area because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and returned across the lake. The man from whom the demons had gone begged to come along with Jesus as one of his disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell the story of what God has done for you." So he went throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:26-39 (CEB)

Give me sin. Give me darkness. Give me weakness. Give me hatred. Give me evil. I can handle these topics. But DON'T give me demons. Few things give me more uneasiness than demons. I just don't know what to think about them. Perhaps the problem is, unlike this passage in scripture, I've never witnessed a demon fleeing from a human body into the bodies of swine. Perhaps the problem is I'm not really sure about things I can't see. Perhaps the problem is I just don't like the idea that something could have so much control over a human without their consent. Perhaps it's a little of all that.

To say the least, this passage gives me pause. I'm not 100% sure of what to make of it, but I'm gonna try. Lets start with things this scripture tells us about the nature of demons:

  • they are embodied (take possession of bodies)
  • they are embodied multiple times (many times it took possession of him)
  • they are strong forces to be dealt with (person with demons has to be restrained)
  • they cause people to do things to harm others (why else would a person with demons be chained and guarded?)
  • they cause people to be alone, separated from other people (they forced him into the wilderness)
  • they can work together (many demons in one body)
  • their preferred residence is in a body rather than in "the abyss"
Again, I'm not sure I've ever seen a demon, at least not a little horned devil, or a spirit that inhabits a body, as many horror movies would have us believe are the manifestation of demons. But I can think of some actions that fit this description. It seems that these demons:
  • are systemic and repeating -- they can be passed from one body to another and they happen over and over again
  • are difficult to overcome and may even have to be overcome multiple times
  • separate a person from loved ones, making them alone
  • come in groups
  • do harm to a person and others who come in contact with that person
Two things in particular come to mind -- addiction and abuse. For now, lets stick with addiction.

Those who experience addiction experience the desire to participate in whatever activity compulsively, repeatedly. Addictions are extremely difficult to overcome and they continue to be a struggle throughout a person's life -- it's not like once it goes away it's gone for good. Addiction returns. Addiction can create a sense of loneliness, misunderstanding, and separation from loved ones and it is also strongly tied to other issues like depression. Addiction causes hurt to those who come in contact with it.

Now, this definition is not actually as nice and tidy as I make it appear. In fact, there are reasons NOT to think of addiction as a demon. My main problem with thinking about addiction as a demon is that it seems to make things black and white in terms of what people can do about it. In this scripture, it seems clear to me that the person inhabited by a demon has very little, if any, control over his own body, which leads to the conclusion that either the demon can be completely in control or God can be completely in control, but the human has very little control. This argument seems like there's no space for me to interact in my own story, and that makes me a little uncertain because I truly believe that God doesn't do all the legwork -- I have to be involved too. But if I really do have zero control that leaves me with two options: If I'm an addict and it's because a demon has inhabited me, then I have no responsibility for my actions because it's the demon, not me. On the flip-side, if I'm an addict and God can take control, then why hasn't God taken control? 

Do you see yet, why this topic gives me such a pain in the brain?!

So, I'm just going to have to deal with the fact that I don't have all the answers. Maybe demons are something that plague us all. Maybe they are things like addiction (even "small" addictions like food addiction, shopping addiction, sleeping addiction -- I don't know, I just made that last one up). Maybe they're not. You'll have to come to your own conclusions about that one.

But here's what I do see happening in the passage. Through Christ, God helps a man break a pattern, a system that has become a much a part of his life as breathing. Through Christ, God relieves a man's pain, if only for a while. Through Christ, God puts right relationship between this man and his community. Through Christ, God is present to this man and changes his life. 

That's some really good stuff. And yet, I still find myself in the position of the community onlookers, seeing the God's power and love, and being afraid of what I don't understand. I find myself full of questions instead of answers, because, you see, I can live with life as I know it, but I'm scared of what life might look like if God healed my demons. Would I be healed forever? Would they come back? Would life be better? What would I have to do differently? These are the questions that plague me. These are manifestation of fear inside me. Maybe, just maybe, these are my demons. What are yours?