Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Places of the Passion, Week 1 Bethany

 Places of the Passion

Week 1: Bethany

Matthew 26:6-13


We continue our sermon series called Places of the Passion. Today we walk with Jesus to Bethany. In Bethany we meet Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Matthew’s Gospel does not give this woman a name, but John says it was Mary of Bethany.

Bethany is just a mile east of Jerusalem, on the Mt. of Olives. The Jewish Passover is about to begin. It seems Jesus often sees his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus when he is in Bethany.




Simon the Leper (who has been healed by Jesus) also lives in Bethany, and his home is where these events take place. He throws a dinner party and invites Jesus and some of the disciples.

Normally women didn’t join men in public events like this, but Mary is there, too. Mary is there ready to teach us about one of the greatest words in the world. Give!

As everyone in the room watches, Mary does two remarkable things.

·       First, she pours out very expensive perfume with total abandon. It’s the most valuable thing Mary has, but she will not keep it. She opens it and empties it out to the very last drop.

·       Second, Mary pours it on Jesus’ head. The only people in the Old Testament whose heads were regularly anointed were kings!

Do you get the connection? Jesus is a king. Actually, Jesus is the King! That’s the main message of Matthew’s Gospel: that Jesus is the King. Because Jesus is the King, Mary gives this gift to him. 

Remember, this happens in Bethany during Passover Week. Mary is extravagant. Mary is excessive. Mary goes way over the top. The perfume was worth a year’s wages! And the disciples? “When the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’”

Mary is generous. The disciples are greedy. Mary gives with abandon. The disciples are miserly. Mary loves the word give. But all the disciples can do is get. Get more. Get ahead. And get out on top.

Mary gives Jesus everything she has and she prepares Jesus to give everything he has. Mary’s strong perfume lingers with Jesus throughout Holy Week—as he makes his way to the cross, marking him with one word—give.

We remember this woman and her generosity because the kingdom/reign of God isn’t about hoarding and stockpiling. The reign of God isn’t about being chintzy and cheap. The reign of God isn’t about get. Get will kill us. 

Always and forevermore God’s reign is about one word—give. Give!

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, shows us that the reign of God is about giving lavishly, giving generously, giving joyfully and giving completely. “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus never says this about anyone else!

Thanks to Mary, we can boil life down to one simple word; one word with one syllable; one powerful and life-changing word. Try it out. It will change everything. It will create so much joy. The word? You know. It’s the most powerful word on the planet. G-I-V-E. Give. Amen. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Repent and believe in the good news


Mark 1:9-15

We have been reading short pieces of Mark’s Gospel. Do you remember how Mark begins telling the story of Jesus? “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

 Each story since the beginning tells how Jesus will go about bringing to us the good news. Today’s reading is a collection of three very short episodes in Jesus’ life. He is baptized; he is forcibly sent into the wilderness; and he begins to share the good news. What is the good news? The reign of God has come near.


Jesus begins his ministry by being baptized. As Mark tells it, the voice speaks only to Jesus. This voice comes from the heavens, which are torn apart. Not simply parted, as we would open the curtains to let in the daylight. They are violently torn apart so the voice can be heard. “You are my son, the Beloved One. I am pleased with you.”


Next, he is driven into the wilderness. As with the use of the word “torn”, the text is strong word here, too. Jesus did not choose to go into the wilderness, he was forcibly sent. One writer suggested, it is as if Alfred Hitchcock wrote this scene. The Holy Spirit bird drops down and flies at Jesus until he escapes into the desert.  

Mark’s version of this time is simple. Jesus was in the wilderness, he dwelt with angels and demons, and with wild beasts. Mark doesn’t describe the kinds of testing and temptation Jesus faced.

 I have always imagined that Jesus had to come to terms with how his life would go. He had to wrestle with the temptation to take over, assume the authority of being God’s Son. It would be much easier to wave magic wands and heal people. Much easier to pull rank and make people obey him. But that is not God’s way. Jesus had to trust in God to do this part of his time on earth God’s way.

 Throughout the rest of his life, the demons, the evil spirits, would tempt him, tease him, challenge him. It was just a couple weeks ago that I talked about these evil spirits, so let’s talk about something else.


The third episode in today’s Gospel reading is Jesus beginning his ministry. “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” Here the phrase “kingdom of God” has been replaced by “dominion of God.” This word dominion helps us remember that what Jesus brings is not a place but a condition.

 You may remember that I usually substitute the word reign (R-E-I-G-N) because for me, the kingdom or dominion of God is more like a verb. (Technically, reign is also a noun, but it implies action.) When God is allowed to reign, all sorts of good things are possible. The words kingdom and dominion imply a location where the reign of God takes place.

 But God’s reign is not limited to a particular place or a particular group of people. God’s reign is limitless, beyond any human boundaries on land, beyond any human rules of acceptable people. The reign of God provides enough for all of everything we need. When God reigns, there is justice for all. When God reigns there is abundant mercy and forgiveness.

The message of the gospels is that the reign of God has come near. Repent of your old ways of believing and behaving, and believe in the good news of God’s reign. Every year in Lent, we get this reminder that we have old ways of believing and behaving. Every year we are reminded that we are mortal, dusty beings. Every year, we are reminded that we need to repent, to change our ways.

 We examine ourselves to discover ways in which we are not living like God’s reign matters to us. We all have some habits and thought patterns we want to change. Lent gives us an opportunity to recognize them so we repent and change our ways.

 We may find we don’t put God first very often. We may discern we don’t love our neighbors – all our neighbors – as ourselves. Lent is a time to consider how to repent, how to make changes in our lives.

 These discoveries may lead us to think poorly of ourselves. We remember that we are sinful and maybe God doesn’t love us as much. Maybe we will never be able to change and we wonder what that does to our relationship with God.


But, here is where we need to hear the good news. Here is where we need to hear that our behavior is not a problem for God. Here is where we need to remember that we are baptized and beloved children of God. Here is where we need to remember the good news is that God gives us grace.

 Grace doesn’t stop our call to self-examination and repentance. Grace is the reminder that God loves us anyway. Grace is the promise that our relationship with God is more important than our specific behaviors. Grace is the invitation to work on ourselves to become more like Jesus, more grace-ful. Amen

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Good News worth sharing


Mark 1:29-39

 Last week, we read a story from Mark’s Gospel about Jesus healing a man tormented by an evil spirit. That occurred at the synagogue, on the sabbath, when Jesus was teaching.

In this week’s reading, Jesus and the first four disciples have gone to Simon Peter and Andrew’s home. When they arrive, they discover that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. Simon Peter tells Jesus, who lifts the woman up from her sick bed, and she is healed by the time she is standing up. And the woman serves the men.

Do you notice this? Simon Peter has a mother-in-law! That means he has a wife! In 1 Corinthians, we read that his wife sometimes accompanies him on missionary journeys. There is no record of them having children, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have any. Peter is like us, a real person with a family.  

Unfortunately, there is no record of the names of either woman. I like it when people have names, so let’s give a name to the mother-in-law so we can talk more easily about her. Let’s call her Susanna.

The story says that after Susanna is healed, she begins to serve them. The Greek word used is diakoneo, and its meaning connects what she was doing to our word deacon. Mark’s use of the word diakoneo tells us that she was not “just” cooking and cleaning for them as any woman of the time would.

 We get the sense that she does this as a form of loving service; that it is her calling to cook and clean for her family. Susanna’s healing means she can get back to doing what she loves, taking care of her family. Her healing is good news for her and for her family.

When the Sabbath has ended, friends and neighbors in Capernaum bring many people to Jesus and he heals them and tells them about the good news of God’s reign coming near to them.

The morning next morning, Jesus goes to a private place to pray. He needs to have his soul restored. He needs some time alone with God. I suspect he gets a few minutes, maybe an hour before the disciples find him. They, of course, plan for him to spend the day healing more of the folks in Capernaum, but Jesus has other plans.


Jesus knows they can’t stay in this one town; they have to travel to other places to tell more people the good news of God’s reign. The disciples are only focused at this moment on the healing and casting out of evil spirits. Jesus gets their attention by healing people, but he has a greater purpose. Jesus is focused on sharing the good news.

… Some Christians believe that God is a punishing God, and we have to do lots of good things to earn God’s favor in order to make it to heaven. Some people believe that God doesn’t love everybody – that people who are different, in skin color or homeland or sexual preference, are sinful and God can’t possibly love them.  

In contrast, Lutherans believe that we are all sinful and at the same time we are all forgiven through Jesus’ extreme love for us. Because we already have a place in heaven, we are free to not worry about earning it. We can love and care for those in need because we want to be like Jesus, not because we want to earn brownie points from God.


Our message that Jesus loves us is, in a way, radical. The question becomes, since we don’t have Jesus’ power to reach out and heal people with just a word or a touch, how do we get their attention?


We get their attention by noticing those around us and speaking with them. Are they heart-sore? Have they been hurt by church people? Have they never even been to church? Have they ever heard that Jesus loves and forgives them, no matter what? It’s up to us to hear them, and share the good news of Jesus with them.

Now, I know that this is the place where the demon of self-doubt enters in. “I can’t do that.” “I’ll say the wrong thing.” “I don’t know enough Bible.” And so forth. So, remember how many times Simon Peter messes up. Jesus still loves him and includes him and depends on him.  

It doesn’t matter if you mess up trying to share the good news. All it takes is your belief in Jesus, and your trust that Spirit will put the words in your mouth when you need them. All you have to do is open your mouth and Jesus will cast away the demon of doubt. You will speak words, and the person you are speaking with will hear what they need to hear – because Spirit is working in them at the same time.

Remember how I spoke about Simon Peter’s wife and his mother-in-law Susanna? They learned about the coming reign of God from Jesus, and they went on to teach others about it. It helped, I am sure, that Susanna had some direct experience of her healing. She and her daughter became the support team for Simon and Andrew as they went out and told others their stories. They knew they were called and sent to share the good news of Jesus with others.

When you were baptized and confirmed, you were called to love Jesus by serving his people. You were called and sent out to share the good news. If you think about it, you will find lots of stories in your past and present about how Jesus has been good news for you. Your stories will help you connect with those who don’t know the Jesus you know. Your stories will help you share Jesus with those who need to know him better.

I hope you will take some time this week to look back and find some places in your life where Jesus’ presence was good news for you. Celebrate those moments and share one or two of them with someone you know.



Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Evening Prayer / Vespers for February 3, 2021


February 3, 2021

Evening Prayer (Vespers)

You may wish to light a candle and place it before you as you begin.



Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.

The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have beheld Christ’s glory.

To us a child is born, to us a Son is given. In the Word was life and the life was the light of all people.

HYMN: Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil

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FIRST READING: Jeremiah 29:1-14

A reading from: Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter from Jerusalem to the few surviving elders among the exiles, to the priests and the prophets, and to all the people Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon from Jerusalem. The letter was sent after King Jeconiah, the queen mother, the court officials, the government leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, and the craftsmen and smiths had left Jerusalem. It was delivered to Babylon by Elasah, Shaphan’s son, and Gemariah, Hilkiah’s son—two men dispatched to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar by King Zedekiah.

The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.

The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Don’t let the prophets and diviners in your midst mislead you. Don’t pay attention to your dreams. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I didn’t send them, declares the Lord.

10 The Lord proclaims: When Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will come and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. 14 I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.

Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.

PSALM:  Psalm 35

Lord, argue with those who argue with me;
fight with those who fight against me!
Grab a shield and armor;
stand up and help me!
Use your spear and ax
against those who are out to get me!
Say to me: “I’m your salvation!”
Let those who want me dead
be humiliated and put to shame.
Let those who intend to hurt me
be thoroughly frustrated and disgraced.
Let them be like dust on the wind—
and let the Lord’s messenger be the one who does the blowing!
Let their path be dark and slippery—
and let the Lord’s messenger be the one who does the chasing!
Because they hid their net for me for no reason,
they dug a pit for me for no reason.
Let disaster come to them when they don’t suspect it.
Let the net they hid catch them instead!
Let them fall into it—to their disaster!

But I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will celebrate his salvation.
10 All my bones will say, “Lord, who could compare to you?
You rescue the weak from those who overpower them;
you rescue the weak and the needy from those who plunder them.”



Gospel:  Mark 5:1-20

A reading from: Mark

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs. This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from far away, he ran and knelt before him, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”

He said this because Jesus had already commanded him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

He responded, “Legion is my name, because we are many.” 10 They pleaded with Jesus not to send them out of that region.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. 12 “Send us into the pigs!” they begged. “Let us go into the pigs!” 13 Jesus gave them permission, so the unclean spirits left the man and went into the pigs. Then the herd of about two thousand pigs rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned.

14 Those who tended the pigs ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the man who used to be demon-possessed. They saw the very man who had been filled with many demons sitting there fully dressed and completely sane, and they were filled with awe. 16 Those who had actually seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man told the others about the pigs. 17 Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.

18 While he was climbing into the boat, the one who had been demon-possessed pleaded with Jesus to let him come along as one of his disciples. 19 But Jesus wouldn’t allow it. “Go home to your own people,” Jesus said, “and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy.” 20 The man went away and began to proclaim in the Ten Cities all that Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.

Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.


In one way, these texts are about answering prayers. For decades the Israelites have been living in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah writes from Jerusalem, a desolated city after it was conquered in 487 BCE. He writes to reassure the people that God has not forgotten them. They are to remain strong, and together as a people. They should marry and have children. When the time comes – Jeremiah suggests 70 years, though it is actually about 40 – God will bring them back home to Jerusalem.

We often see this quote, “For I know the plans I have to prosper you.” It shows up as posters and wall hangings in many homes. We take it as a personal promise that God cares for each of us as individuals. But in context, it is a promise to the whole people of Israel that God has not abandoned them, that God has plans to help them.  In that way, this is a promise to everyone, to you and me and to them – whoever “them” is.


Several hundred years later, Jesus has arrived and physically demonstrates God’s desire to offer hope and healing to all people.


We have already read in Mark how Jesus heals people and casts out demons. In this story, Jesus is in foreign territory, among non-Jewish people. It’s probably in modern day Jordan. Here a man who has been plagued by demons has been living in terrible conditions, because he is not able to live safely in town.

Jesus and the man and the demons have a conversation. Once again, the demons recognize Jesus for who he is. “What is your name?” “Legion, because so many demons live in me.” “Get out, demons!” “Please don’t send us away from this area. Please, send us into the pigs instead.” “OK. Done.” And the demons went into the pigs and the pigs were so upset, they ran into the river and drowned. I do wonder what the men would do for a living after they lost all their pigs. Since they were not kosher animals, I’m sure it wasn’t a prime concern for the Jewish storyteller.


I imagine this man and his family had been praying for years for healing. Maybe they were holding to promises like the one in Jeremiah – for I know the plans I have to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.


The story goes on. Not only does the man get healed, he now wants to join Jesus and the disciples. What does Jesus say? “No, I need you to stay here and tell your story. Tell as many as you can about the coming reign of God. Tell everyone about God’s mercy!” And the man did just that.


This is how God’s promise was shared with the Gerasenes, the people living on the other side of the sea. This is one more example of God’s care for all people.


We can think about today and how we see the promise in action. “I know the plans I have for you.” For example, in the way scientists were able to use previous studies to develop a vaccine in record time. For example, the number of towels and soap bars that were collected so homeless people could get a shower. For example, in the way the congregation seems willing to use reserve funds to call a full-time pastor.


But it will take more than a commitment to spend money. God’s plan is for us to be involved in sharing the good news of God’s mercy with those who need to hear it, just as the healed man ran to tell his story.

Let’s listen to God as we move forward in the Call Process. Let’s listen to God as we pay attention to our needy neighbors. And let’s listen to God as we notice people who need to know God’s mercy is for them, too. Amen




Jesus said, I am the Light of the world,

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.



In peace let us pray to the Lord, saying, “We pray to you, Lord.”

That this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful, We pray to you, Lord.

That the work we have done this day and the people we have met may bring us closer to you, We pray to you, Lord.

That we may be forgiven our sins and offences, We pray to you, Lord.

That we may hear and respond to your call to peace and justice, We pray to you, Lord.

That you will sustain the faith and hope of the weary, the lonely, and the oppressed, We pray to you, Lord.

That you will strengthen us in your service, and fill our hearts with longing for your kingdom, We pray to you, Lord.

Other prayer petitions may be offered here.

For all this and more, We pray to you, Lord. Amen.


Let us pray as Jesus taught us. Please mute yourself and pray the version you prefer.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory, are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN:  All Creatures Worship God Most High

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May the Lord of peace give us peace in all ways and at all times. Amen



Scripture from Common English Bible © 2012

Liturgy from ELW Annual Liturgy License 26504

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Healing Evil Spirits


Mark 1:21-28

Mike and I had a couple discussions this past week about demons and evil spirits, and where they come from. In essence, the question is, “did God create evil?”


In the ancient world, in cultures where there were lots of Gods, it was easy to identify the source of demons and bad things – they came from the evil, bad gods.


But in a culture where there is one God – and emphatically one God – where evil comes from is not so easy to identify. Does God – the Most High, the Creator of all that is – does that God also create evil, and so demons?

The answer is no. Simply put, our Creator God allows bad things to happen as a result of our ability to make choices. For example, the evil that results in racism and climate change is a result of collective decisions. Many people made the choice to identify their group of people as more important than another group of people. Many people made the choice to use nature to the point of exhaustion. So, in this sense, evil is the result of human choices to believe that their needs are more important than the needs of other people – or of “Mother Nature”.

In the case of the man in the story infested with an evil spirit, there is no way to know the exact source. It may be some sort of mental illness. It might be epilepsy. We know a whole lot more about the human mind and body now than they did 2,000 years ago. The specific cause of the man’s affliction with an evil spirit doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Jesus has the power and authority to get rid of it.


And, what does matter is that Jesus has the power and authority to get rid of the evil spirits that lurk in our own hearts and minds today. They may manifest as depression, as braggadocio, as obsessive behaviors, as extreme fear or extreme boldness, and so forth.


The evil spirits lurking in our own hearts may seem simpler, or we may not be aware of them at all. We all know moments of self-doubt, times when we know we have said or done hurtful things, times when we know our habits are out of control – we eat too much, we drink too much, we shop too much, we can’t put down the phone or stop playing video games. We can’t forgive, or we can’t accept that we are forgiven.


How do we get rid of these evil spirits? With prayer, intentional prayer. We ask Jesus to heal us, to remove the evil spirits from within us. Prayer works because we trust that Jesus has the power and authority to heal us of evil spirits. However, healing may not be instantaneous, as it was for the man in the Gospel story. It may take a long time, longer than we hoped, but eventually, we will notice that the pain, the desire, the self-doubt are gone, replaced with peace.


Do you notice that the evil spirit in this Gospel story recognizes Jesus for who he is? The spirit knows that Jesus is more powerful. The evil spirits that reside within each of us know that Jesus is more powerful than they are, but we have to trust in God’s power more than we trust in the power of the evil spirit.


… So a story, from one of my favorite movies: It’s a Wonderful Life.


George Bailey grew up always wanting more. He didn’t want to stay in town and manage his father’s Building and Loan Company. He wanted to travel the world, but circumstances kept intervening. And by the time he was 45, he was married with children and struggling to make ends meet. While his life was full, he was also filled with resentment that it hadn’t turned out the way he wanted.


The movie’s crisis arose when a cash shortage was discovered just as the bank investigator showed up. Unable to resolve the problem, George panicked. All his previous resentments and fears compiled to send him into a suicidal depression. Even as he climbed over the rail along the bridge over the freezing river, he was crying out to God for help in banishing these evil spirits.


George’s prayer was answered, but George didn’t understand how Clarence could help him. While Clarence worked with George to help him see his life through different eyes, the people in the town gathered funds to make up for the bank shortfall.


At the end of the movie, George had a very different view of his life and his personal value. The resentment at being stuck in town became a recognition of the importance of his determination to offer respect and good housing for all people. The evil spirits that had plagued George for most of his life had been banished.  


… We may not know or realize that we are plagued with evil spirits. We may not know when a Clarence is prodding us, helping us to banish evil spirits. But God knows, and God wants us to know that divine power is stronger than any evil spirit.


Or, we know that we are plagued with evil spirits, and have trouble letting God heal us. It is hard to trust God, when we are so accustomed to trusting ourselves. This is another evil spirit, don’t you see? We are so accustomed to not praying for help for ourselves, it seems unfair, selfish. But it is just what God wants us to do – ask for help!

Let’s do that now. Please pray with me. Jesus, you know our hearts, how we are filled with fear, anger, resentment, pride, and more. These feelings keep us from trusting you completely. They are evil spirits residing in us. We ask that you would remove them from us. Where they seem to be familiar friends, help us understand how they are hurtful to us and help us to let them go. Remind us that you are more powerful than any evil spirit, and help us to fully trust you with our lives, with our hearts, with all that we are. Amen