Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walk Fearlessly: God Gives Us Wisdom

Walk Fearlessly:  God Gives Us Wisdom                          10/13/13
I Kings 2:1-4, I Kings 3:1-28, Mark 5:1-20

I’d like for us to take a moment to prepare for this sermon by publicly acknowledging an important reality:

God will take care of the pigs. 

Most of my theology about animals comes from two main sources:  the Scripture and the Disney movie title:  All Dogs Go to Heaven.  And I would assume that all pigs go to heaven.  Humans, I’m not so sure about.   Though it is our Lord who says, when comparing birds and humans:  How much more valuable are you than they?

God will take care of the pigs.  By all accounts, they seem to get a raw deal in this story.  Yet, if we stumble over the pigs, we become like the people in the story.  And that is a real spiritual problem for us to avoid.  What happened when the townspeople are confronted with the pigs and the healed man?  They plead with Jesus to leave.

And you know what?  Jesus did just that. 

I wonder if in the following days and months and years, if the people understood what they did that day.  In considering the financial loss of the pigs, in the perceived threat that Jesus was to their way of life and their personal comfort, in the audacity that Jesus displayed in healing someone who threatened them, did they remember that they had asked Jesus to leave.  Or was that lost on them?

May we guard ourselves against asking Jesus to leave us.  Please leave our region.  Please leave me alone.  Please leave my family, my business, my school, my town.  Leave us to what we know, to what is before us that we can taste and see and touch and smell.

Today’s theme is to Walk Fearlessly.  How do we do that?  Most of us are so afraid.  I am shocked by how timid I am sometimes.  Where is our spirit of adventure?  Where is our confidence?  Where are our principles that guide us through the storms of life?  Where is our duty to challenge the system when it overreaches?  Where did all of that go?   And maybe, more importantly, how do we get it back? 

It was the angels that always greeted people in the stories of Scripture with the phrase:  Do not be afraid.  Jesus often told his disciples, do not be afraid.  The witness from heaven to earth is to not be afraid.  We are, by all accounts of Scripture, to be fearless.  The only thing that Scripture commands us to fear is God. 
“the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”  But even the fear of God draws you closer to God, not further away.  A fear of God invites you into the majesty of holiness, not a hiding spot in a dark alley.

If we are to be fearless, we must foster fearlessness through God’s wisdom.  Wisdom is the ability and skill to apply knowledge appropriately in the situations we face.  Wisdom is birthed in a knowledge of God, and his ways, and his commands, and his understanding of the world and all that is in it. Wisdom learned and lived, allows a proper fearlessness to life.

As I wrote this last paragraph, the fire siren went off.  A few moments later, the emergency vehicles loudly warned fellow drivers to let them through.  In the moments of danger, it is understandable to have a little fear, though the people of faith often look back and provide testimony that God brought them through their darkest moments.  When we talk about being fearless, we are talking about a way of life, a philosophy, to consider God as bigger and better than anything else in this world.  All power and authority belongs to God, and God alone.  And to give too much power to any other human proves unhealthy.

But before we return to this fascinating story in the gospel, let’s look at the story of Solomon, who is widely referenced as the wisest person that ever lived.

David, for all of his sins and shortcomings, is described in the Bible as someone who loved God with all of his heart.  And as he is dying, one of the final things he does is give a charge to his son Solomon.  The word charge is an interesting word.  In wedding ceremonies, I give a charge to the couple, final words in the ceremony that send them out into the world as newly pronounced husband and wife.  Historically, in church circles, a charge was given by a bishop to one of the ministers under his jurisdiction.  Charges are also given at the time of ordination.  A charge is also, in catholic circles, a parish, that is a local space from which worshippers gather and ministry occurs.  And as David is dying, he gives Solomon a charge.  Solomon is not being ordained, nor is he becoming a pastor, and unfortunately, Solomon will marry too many times.  But this charge from Father to Son is really about remembering what is most important, and helping Solomon understand God’s promise to his Father, and by extension, to him.

David says as much:  “So be strong, show yourself a man and observe what the Lord your God requires.”
“that the LORD may keep his promise to me” David’s family line would continue in rule because of their obedience to God.

After his Father’s death, I’m sure Solomon remembered this moment.  I’m sure it stayed with him over time.

Solomon did not always live in obedience to God.  In our second story, he is using marriage for political purposes, and offering sacrifices at the high places, an idolatrous action.  But early in the midst of this new ruler’s tenure, there comes a dream.

And in this dream, God says to Solomon, ask for whatever you want me to give you.

Ask for whatever you want me to give you.

Don’t worry, God knows the popular answers.
Lord, help me live a long, long time.
Lord, I could really use a lot more money.
I wouldn’t mind if you relocated (fill in blank) to another continent, or at least, out of my path.

God knows the popular answers.  And God seeks the right answer.

Solomon, in this dream, arrives at the right answer.  You have kept your promise to my father, and I am the king.  But there are a few problems:  I am new at this job.  I might be under-qualified.  I’m not quite sure I know what to do.  There is a lot of responsibility on this job description.   So many people:  all around, too many to count.  I think Solomon is at a crossroads…perhaps fear is crouching in the corner of his dream, ready to pounce.

Lord, give me a discerning hear to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.

God had given the charge.  And Solomon, in deep sleep and meaningful dream, receives it.

We won’t unpack today the famous story that follows, where, under the threat of cutting the child in two, Solomon identifies the real mother.  It is one of those classic stories, so simple and profound.  Discernment had come to Solomon.  In that moment, he stares injustice in the eyes and announces what was wise and good for his people. Fearless. The dream had come true.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have two types of dreams…sweet dreams, and nightmares.  Granted, I’ve learned to keep the late night hoagies to a minimum and avoid possible physiological reasons why nightmares might come.   But once in a while, I will wake up from a nightmare.  What a surreal experience.   The power of sweating because a dream seemed so real!

In the Gospel story, we are brought face to face with a nightmare.   Imagine living in a quiet neighborhood, going to bed each night in relative peace.  Yet as you lie in bed, you hear his voice in the distance.  Howling.  Screeching. A haunted, terrorized voice that cried out loudly as he cut himself with stones.  He was a tortured soul.  In fact, legion lived within him. 

All the neighbors knew him.  They had tried many times, all unsuccessful, to chain him hand and foot.  But this man always broke the chains off.  He was the strongest man around, no one was able to control him.  And so night, after night, as you lied in your bed, you would hear the cries in the distance.  If they could have done something, no doubt they would have.  But there weren’t able to. 

It seems that this man didn’t want to be around the neighbors, staying to himself, living in the graveyard, living among the tombs.  In some allegorical way, he was already dead.
Yet one day, the man saw that Jesus was entering his town, and he went to meet him.

This man was still far off when he saw Jesus.  Upon spotting him, he ran.  He ran and ran and ran until he came to Jesus.  Put yourself in that situation.  Imagine you are the only one on a street and you see someone running from the Stockton Inn in your direction. They are getting closer, and closer.  What is going to happen?—you wonder to yourself as your heart rate increases.  As the man gets close to Jesus, he falls to his knees and shouts at the top of his lungs.
What do you want from me Son of God?  Swear to me that you won’t torture me.

I find the order of the story interesting.  We read that the man shouted these things, because Jesus had ordered the evil spirit to come out of the man.  As the man was running, was Jesus talking to the demons?  Was Jesus looking into this man’s soul and charging the demons to leave this tortured man as the man charged toward him?  For he runs to Jesus, falls down, and screams.  It seems that Jesus had already talked to him.  You and I would run for cover in this crazy scenario, yet Jesus looks deep within a human soul ready to command the demons.  Fearless.  In this spiritual battle, the demons begged Jesus.

What a crazy story.  Who are we most like in this story? 

I don’t think that this man, in his demonic state, kept Jesus up at night.  I think the people who asked him to leave kept Jesus up at night.

So maybe there is more to this man than meets the eye.  Was he not more valuable than the birds and the pigs?  Jesus apparently thinks so.  He heals him.  When the townspeople come to see the aftermath of this encounter, they find the tortured man sane and dressed. 

Upon seeing this man, and seeing what was sacrificed, they ask Jesus to leave.  No, strike that, they beg Jesus to leave.  There are two fear-filled groups in this story:  the legion of demons, and the townspeople. Both groups beg Jesus.  There is one man who ran toward the solution when he saw it:  the crazy guy.  I mean, the fearless guy.

Once again, who are we most like in this story?

You see, before we met Christ, we too had our demons.  We too found ourselves isolated and alone.  We too, engaged in self-destructive habits.  Granted, maybe a surface look yields a less horrifying story than the demon possessed man.  But nonetheless, our story is better because we have Jesus in it.  We have been healed.  We have been made right. 

The healed man went up to Jesus and begged.  He begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus redirected him back to his family.  Jesus gave him a charge.  Jesus gave him a parish, not as a pastor, but a place filled with people who needed to hear the story.  Go home and tell how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.

The man did as Jesus commanded.  Who are we most like in this story?

Generally speaking, we are to go out into our world and speak of the Lord’s healing in our lives.  The places we work, play, eat, relate.  The neighbors we know, enjoy, compete against and are annoyed by.  We are to go to our homes and tell our family about our healing found in Jesus.  Like the demon possessed man, there is a local space in which we can serve.   Let us consider ourselves charged by the Lord.

I would like to close this sermon with the reminder that we will be taking part in a one day activity called “The Church Has Left the Building”.  It is a one time a year event in which we worship God outside this room.  It will therefore serve as a spiritual teaching tool for us, reminding us to worship God in all corners of the parish we have been charged with.   For the remaining weeks in October, I’d like you to sign up for an activity the morning of November 3rd.  There are two activities led by Stockton folk.  I’ve also printed out sign up sheets of projects that are led by other local congregations.  I’d suggest you look at the opportunities and sense which one will help you become more fearless, and grow wisdom within you.  I invite you to participate in that activity on November 3rd with a willing heart, going and live/speak about how the Lord has been kind to you.

When the healed man told his story, “all the people were amazed”.  Hopefully, we will see this happen as well. 
Walk Fearlessly.  God has given us wisdom.

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