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Are You Possessed?? Last Sunday's Sermon

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Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The Sermon

Are you possessed?

In the gospel reading today a man comes up to Jesus and asks what it will take for him to gain eternal life. Jesus asks him the usual questions about his behavior but when he asks him about his possessions the man falters. He owns a lot of stuff. Jesus tells him to give it all up and the man walks away because he simply is too attached to it.

So, is Jesus telling us the same thing. Should we clean out our bank accounts and sell all of our stuff and give it to the poor. We would then in effect become the poor wouldn't we. I really believe that Jesus is addressing the idea of attachment. The man in this story was very attached to things. He couldn't give them up.

When someone is said to be 'possessed' the first thing that comes to my mind is that some evil spirit has taken control of him or her. I see images of a head spinning around like in some horror movie. Something really scary.

There is another kind of possession that is scary as well. It is when the things we own start to own us. I can imagine that gospel reading to change from, “for he had many possessions” to read, “for he was possessed by many things.”

It would not hurt for us to look at our own lives and do an inventory of the things we possess and reflect on whether they are starting to own us. I remember seeing a television story about a town that had been hit by a tornado. The reporter was interviewing a pastor. They were standing in front of the shattered remains of what had been their church building. She said to the pastor, you must be just devastated that your church has been destroyed. The pastor replied, “the church is as solid as ever. It is just the building that is gone.” This pastor and the people in his church new that it was not about things but it was about people, their lives, and their relationships with each other.

I enjoy many things in my life and it were all gone tomorrow I would probably grieve its passing as did our friend Job. But, I would move on with the knowledge that everything is temporary anyway. Everything will pass including our mortal bodies. What stays with us, what sustains us is our immortal souls. It is our souls we must cherish and nurture. That is our true self.

I read something the other day that I would like to share with you.

'knowing others is intelligence
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength.
Mastering yourself is true power.

I would add 'never let your possessions possess you.

Job: Last Sunday's Sermon

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Old Testament

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

The Gospel
Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

The Sermon

The patience of Job. When I was a kid I thought this had something to do with having a job. I wasn't especially well versed in scripture when I was a child. I believe a lot of us probably have a variety of understandings about the Book of Job as well. All most of us know about Job is that he was 'patient'.

First of all we have to understand why this story is in the bible. Did all of this really and truly happen. It is unlikely. It is hard for me to imagine a discourse between God and Satan, much less a wager with a human as the object of the wager.

Having said that this story has a very important purpose and message. It poses a question that all of us ponder at some time during our lives. Why do people sometimes get away with doing bad things and good people appear to be punished for doing what is right. Life is not fair!

In our story, Job loses everything. His family and servants are killed. His livestock is taken away and his house crashes in. He loses his health and finds himself covered with boils. To top it all off, he has bad breath. It could not possibly get any worse.

Does Job complain? Yes! He does not understand why these bad things have happened to him. He is and has always been a righteous man. Job lists all of the things that he has done right and he is confounded by all of the hardships he is facing.

The message Job finally receives is that yes bad things do happen to good people but the hand of God is also at work in the world in ways that are often overlooked. God reminds him of the morning dawn, the starry night, the wondrous animals of the earth.

Job responds, Lord I know that you do all these things. I uttered what I did not understand. He repents.

In the end all that Job had lost was returned to him and then some.

Is there an answer here for us. I honestly do not know. I do not know or understand the ways of God. I think I never will.

The Gospel reading gives us another difficult problem, divorce, and Jesus' response to the question of how it is viewed in the eyes of God. All of us at some level have been affected by divorce. We know someone, are related to someone, or we have experienced divorce first hand. It is an awful thing, to see or experience a marriage that has died. It is like a death.

In the first century, in Jesus' time the rules of divorce were different. Only men could divorce and it was a fairly simple procedure for them to do so. All that was required was that they sign a slip of paper giving their intent to divorce. Women were not permitted to file for divorce. Men were allowed to marry again without much of any consequences. However, if the woman wanted to marry again it was considered adultery on her part. Women were considered property and a woman who was divorced would likely be thrown into poverty and spurned by society.

Jesus is making the point that marriage is a sacred bond that should not be taken lightly. He says in Matthew that divorce should only be allowed with few exceptions. Jesus was speaking for his time and the injustices that were attached to divorce.

Divorce happens and will continue to happen. We also know that those of us who are married must do what we can to strengthen those marriage bonds with the love that Jesus has encouraged us to commit ourselves to.

So, how do we strengthen those marriage bonds. Do things together. Not be afraid to say I am sorry. Tell each other 'I love you'. Communicate! Relationships grow stronger when people talk to each other and truly share their lives.

Loyalty and Faith: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Readings

The First Reading
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman's house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

The Gospel
Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The Sermon

Lets look first at the Book of Esther. It is a story of a woman who hid her Jewish identity and became queen and by doing so saved her people from extinction. That is the short version. The story itself is full of palace intrigue and barbarism and all of the stuff of stories you might expect of people living twenty five hundred years ago. The underlying message is that Esther bravely stayed true to her people. She was loyal to her heritage, her Jewishness.

In the reading from Mark we hear of loyalty as well. The apostles are upset that there is an interloper. Someone is casting out demons in Jesus name. The problem for them is that this man in not a part of the inner circle. He is not one of them.

Jesus quickly let them know that they had missed the point. Jesus was looking at the bigger picture. At this time in his ministry he saw his message growing beyond the inner circle. Jesus was painting with a wide brush. He told them, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Jesus was not excluding people, he wanted to reach everyone. His message of inclusiveness from two thousand years ago is just as important for us today.

As I move about in the community I frequently meet people who ask me what religion I am. I know what they really want to know is what denomination I am a part of but I answer their question by saying that I am Christian. I usually follow my response up with the question, “ Do you mean what denomination?” They always say yes and then I tell them I am an Episcopalian.

Christians are followers of Jesus and his message. They could be Lutherans, Roman Catholic, Baptists, Methodists or non-denominational. You and I are one of them. We may have different ways of expressing our faith and that is OK. Jesus gave his disciples an important lesson that those who follow him and his message of love are a part of him and he is a part of them. Jesus was casting a very wide net and I am happy to be caught in that net.


Fr. Fred