The text is the shocking one of Legion and the Gadarene Swine. As with all such exorcisms, it represents the power of Jesus. He’s one. Satan’s power is over. Even when Legion doesn’t want to go to the Abyss, He goes to the Abyss. But in this message, part of what I want to look at is the reality of evil and Satan himself. We get a little kickstart from an interview Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a little before his death where he shocks what passes for the American intelligencia by confessing to belief is Satan. And we follow in the jurists tracks a bit. But the man who was possessed by Legion gives us the clearest message. He starts off naked and among the tombs. We look at what that means, because we find Satan in the same situations today. And then we look at where he ends: at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. How can we be made so right?
The creeds are the definition of the faith. They are the Faith which is believed. The Athanasian Creed, of the three great ones of the Western Church, is a masterful presentation of what we know. All of it can be tied to revelation, but the creeds presentation moves from those things which might be available to gently assisted reason to the more concrete revealed reality. The creed uses the names Father, Son and Spirit, but it starts out more philosophical with what might be call the attributes of God, shared by the Godhead in unity. The Christian Faith attributes these to the God of the Bible, but honestly many of these things are the god of classical theism. The second part of the creed moves into deeper revelation. It confesses and instructs how that God has revealed himself in three persons and how those persons are unique. The uniqueness that it wishes to establish is not hierarchy, but an order: Father Is, Son begotten, Spirit proceeding. The last part of this creed confesses the most concrete, but also the most controversial part of Christianity – the incarnation. In 40 verses it is an inexhaustible source of contemplation.
This sermon merely scratches the surface. It is more a Trinity Sunday encouragement to turn away from the confusion of our age and once again take up the solid definitions which are the gifts of ages of the church past.
The church calendar day is Pentecost. In our congregation that is also the day we do confirmation. I think this sermon explains the deep connection these things should have rather well. It also serves as my poor gift for those that have suffered under my tutelage in the faith the last couple of years.
A long time ago Israel received the Law on this day. Still a long time ago the Spirit was poured out on this day. And Pentecost stands on the calendar as exactly what those confirmands stood for today – a chance to renew the covenant of law and spirit that has been given to us.
There are times I walk a Pentecostal line, or I might say more mystical. I’m not talking about tongues here – although I’ve seen that before. I’m too intellectual personally for that. What I am talking about is the election and will of God. What God wants to have happen will happen. That includes unity with his disciples. The tough thing for us humans and collectively the church to get over is that union is rarely with the power and the glory. That’s what we really want. And we will go to great extremes to “help” God in this. But in this world God’s power is most often seen in weakness. We are most at unity with God when we recognize our weakness, when we embrace the foolish things. And the biggest foolish thing is simply his Word. We baptized a baby this morning. That stood a bit as the example. We are told to bring the little children. And that doesn’t make rational sense. But that is the Word. We find our unity with God in the weak things like water, and Word, and babies.
The New Testament is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus as Paul would be the first to say is the only important thing. But Jesus is perfect. Jesus is a plumb line, a measuring rod. When you look at Jesus he is true man. The struggle around Jesus is all about how people react to this truth. Paul though is a character all about struggle. Because he is THE Apostle I think we miss just how great were Paul’s struggles. Not only against those opposed to the gospel, but also against himself. It pulses in his writings. And if we read carefully, Luke shows us as well. Paul is The Apostle because he shows us the living faith which includes a need for the gospel and a growth in Christ.
This sermon examines Paul’s struggles around the start of the 2nd missionary journey. Struggles with individuals, struggles with the Spirit, and struggles with self. Paul finds his way to faithfulness in his response to the vision to come and his actions. And he hears the invitation, “come and stay”. The sermon invites us to ponder for ourselves, what are our invitations to faithfulness.
Technically next Sunday is Rogate (if you listen to the sermon you’ll find out), but the calendar got a little scrambled and the texts this week fit the old liturgical practice better. The selected text is sometimes called Gentile Pentecost, but what I’ve portrayed it as here is how the living and active Word – Jesus Christ – precedes us and calls us to be an active part of the Kingdom.
Occasionally you give a sermon that you know is going to be challenging, or is just not going to connect with some. That is the fact of being an every Sunday preacher. If you don’t that means you are never stretching any of your listeners. And worse you might not be stretching yourself. This is one of those sermons. I like this one. I also know this is one of the types that many preachers would stay away from. The only thing I would add is that we live in a technological society, and locally we have a national-class STEM school. That should be engaged.
Honestly what I wish I had was another 5 – 10 minutes. The set up, which is overly long as it stands, tees up two things that are both present in the text and are important for our Christian lives. A modern reality around AI asks questions both on our divisions and how they are created and about personhood. As I was writing I intended to bring both of those. But the personhood argument is left as something of a stub. It is there. Hopefully it will give you something to ponder.
The text is the conversion of Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road. I took the first text because of something that happened with the confirmands. When I mentioned “The Damascus Road” they had no idea what I meant. I also took it because we most often concentrate on what I think is one part of the Damascus Road experience, and that the lesser part. We focus on the dramatic turn, Saul going from “threats and murder” to preaching the gospel. And that change of action is important. The gospel does lead to good works. But there is a second part which should be the first. And it is the second part that puts all of us on the Damascus Road. We all were agents of the powers that be. Whether we met Jesus on the Road quite a ways down it before he turned us around, or if we met Jesus as an infant in a baptismal font, we all have changed Lords. This sermon ponder what I see as our cultural denial of the ability to change, how that hardens, and how the gospel gives us the contrary hope.
Thomas and his doubt usually get pride of place today, but in the text Jesus repeats on phrase three times. And when Jesus repeats something it is usually worth paying attention to what that is. In this case it is peace, or more specifically “Peace be with You”. The Lord desires that his disciples have peace. The question is what does he mean by peace.
This sermon ponders on what type of peace the Lord brings. How that peace differs from what the world calls peace. And how that peace comes to reside in us and the life that it gives us. The resurrection peace of Christ be with you.
If you haven’t watched The Magicians, you should. It is one of of the best shows on TV. It works on a very simplistic level (I mean c’mon, just look at that cast), but while having the facade of every really bad show kept alive by tweens and their mothers, it has an almost fathomless depth. This article gets as some of that. But one part of this past season was very likely the theological problem of our age.
The character who was probably the main character (which is actually a question in the series), has a monologue that stands at the climax of the season in which he asks, “Shouldn’t loving the idea of Fillory be enough?”
The simple answer is no. But I think that article, and most of the comments I’ve seen, get it slightly wrong. They want to talk about love. But that is not the searing heat of that question. For all of our faults, we know love when it is given. We may hate it, but we know it. The cross of that question is “the idea”.
We all carry around with us the idea of perfection, or the idea of escape (Fillory in that series), or simply “THE IDEA”. That idea could even be our idea of the church or our idea of God or Jesus. And we want credit for loving our idea. Shouldn’t that be enough?
And the answer is no. Because that idea is just ourselves, and not even ourselves, but some picture perfect presentation of ourselves.
Jesus loved sinners.
If you are loving the idea, kill the idea. The only thing that is enough is loving the reality.