Sunday, January 29, 2012

4 Epiphany

January 29, 2012

Psalm 111; Mark 1.21-28

+ Well, you know I had to do it. You know that on this Sunday—this Sunday on which we have our Annual Meeting—I had to do a bit of what I do well. I am a good cheerleading. There’s just no getting around it. There are just so many great things going on around us here. And we should be thankful. There is much to be thankful for on our Annual Meeting Sunday.

It is one of those glorious moments for us here at St. Stephen’s when we realize that following Jesus means following him to a moment in which it all just sort of comes together. When being a follower of Jesus is like being part of a well-oiled machine.

Any of us who have been in the Church for any period of time knows that these are rare moments. The Church very rarely feels like a well-oiled machine. But when it does—let me tell you, it’s pretty sweet.

Most of us who here this morning have come from other congregations or denominations that, for whatever reasons, have not been functioning well. There is a reason why we have found St. Stephen’s and like it. We have seen dysfunction in our past. We have seen what it’s like to not be following Jesus as we should. We have felt frustration and disappointment.

But…I think we need to clear. Those moments of frustration and disappointment and, yes, even dysfunction—they too are important to growth. Those moments too are important as we follow Jesus wherever he might lead us. To be a follower of Jesus means we follow him wherever he goes. And sometimes the places he leads us are not always pleasant places to be.

In the beginning of our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus in a place, at first, in which he is being marveled at. People are amazed by his teaching. It is, certainly a high point for those followers of Jesus. It is a moment in which the decision they made to follow him has been, in some very real way, validated.

And then, in the midst of that adulation, those followers find themselves confronting evil. There, in the middle of all that praise, comes a person possessed by an evil spirit. It was, no doubt, an unpleasant moment. Can you just imagine? Just when things seem to be going well, there’s a crazy, possessed person in their midst.

For us we have been confronted with things like this as well. Well, maybe not crazy, possessed people. Dear God! But we do know a few things about evil. For all the grand and glorious things we see on occasion as followers of Jesus, we are also reminded that there is still injustice and oppression and sexism and homophobia and a multitude of other really horrible things going around us in the world and in our society.

We see evil. We know evil. We are confronted with evil on a regular basis, and especially in those moments in which we really don’t want to confront evil. But, what Jesus’ encounter with the evil spirit shows, however—and, again, as we all know here—is that evil is not quite what we thought it was.

Yes, evil has much power in this world. But it does not have ultimate power. Evil does not—nor does it ever—win in the end. History has shown this again and again. And, in following Jesus, when we confront evil and injustice and oppression and discrimination, we know full well that these things will all one day be cast out. They all will be quieted. And goodness will triumph ultimately in the end. We know this as followers of Jesus. We know this because we know that’s what it means to follow Jesus.

Here at St. Stephen’s there have been ebbs and flows. There have been good times, and there have been bad times in our history. And there will continue to be ebbs and flows, and good times and bad times. It’s just the way life is.

But what we realize now, in this wonderful moment, is that when God’s blessings flow and we can feel that Presence of ultimate goodness at work in our lives, we like those people who witnesses Jesus casting out the evil spirit, are amazed. We wonder and we marvel at what is happening. And hopefully, like those first followers, we are motivated. We are motivated to continue following Jesus, as parishioners of St. Stephen’s, wherever he leads us. We are motivated to continue to stand up and speak out against evil when we are confronted with it.

That is what we have always done here at St. Stephen’s and that is what we will continue to do. We do this, because that is what followers of Jesus do. As we look back over the fifty-plus years of ministry at St. Stephen’s, we see that many wonderful things have been brought to fruition here.

A few weeks, we had a visitor who shared with me how amazed she was that this seemingly small congregation in north Fargo has produced some major ministries that are still felt in our wider community. Stepping up to the plate and doing important things as followers of Jesus is what we have always done here and continue to do. And as we all know, in both good and evil, there are consequences to all of our actions. When we do something, whether it be good or wrong, there will be a consequence. When we do good and step up the plate and defend people, the good consequences of those good actions have far-ranging effects, so far ranging in fact that we might never even fully realize what they do. And in those moments, we are often amazed.

Yesterday, on Facebook, I saw a wonderful cartoon. It shows a person, kneeling, with his hands folded in prayer, before Jesus. But Jesus is surrounded by people. One is in a wheelchair. One is bandaged. One is on crutches. Some have soiled clothing it looks like. The caption of the cartoon is a quote from the person praying: “Why is it that whenever I ask Jesus into my life, he always brings his friends?”

Well, we know full well here at St. Stephen’s that’s exactly what it means to ask Jesus into our lives. We know that when we decide to follow, he going to bring his friends with him. His friends who are naked and oppressed and marginalized. And when we follow Jesus, he isn’t always going to lead us through sun-lit fields full of easy pathways.

When we follow Jesus, he leads us, again and again, to his friends. He leads us again and again down paths in which we told to help people who we might not normally notice or deal with and make their lives better. We are called again and again to feed the hungry and heal the sick and to try, in whatever we can, to make other’s lives in some way better. And, as we journey through our Church year toward Lent, we know that following Jesus means following him on the Way of the Cross, a path that goes through a place of darkness and violence and through a moment in which is seems that evil triumphs and goodness loses.

Of course, we know better. We know good always wins. That is what we are celebrating this morning. The fact that, yes, we have been through those dark moments. We have been through those lean years. We have been through moments when it seems as though Jesus was leading us through desert wastes and arid lands.

But this morning, in this moment, he is leading through a verdant land. And as we follow, we are seeing amazing things. And it is good.

So, let us rejoice and be thankful on this Sunday of our Annual Meeting. Let us be thankful for all that we have been given in this past year. And let us look with joy into a future of unlimited possibilities.

“You have shown your people the power of your works,” we prayed in our psalm for today.

We have seen the power of God’s work in our midst. And on this morning we can truly say that is wonderful and glorious. What more can we do on this beautiful Sunday, but rejoice?

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