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