Sermon January 31, 2021
This past week, I attended the clergy retreat for the Diocese of Arizona. As with everything else in the world today, it wasn’t like any normal retreat. It was all done from a distance using Zoom. I found the retreat to be helpful. The group meetings and the prayers brought us together.
On Wednesday, we were encouraged to take the day in some sort of quiet reflection. Some people went for a hike and others did daily prayers intermixed with quiet time. I chose to spend time alone. It didn’t quite work out the way I planned. In the morning, I had some medical issues to take care of. But I was finally able to sit quietly, pray to God and listen. It was wonderful to reflect on the glory of God and the gifts that God has given to me and to many. Later, I was able to reflect on things we might do together in the future and to think about what we will do when we finally come out of the pandemic.
There are some things about today’s lessons that you must wonder about. Why do we read about exorcisms or about eating food that was sacrificed to idols? I think that despite the strange topics, we can learn from these lessons. I felt I was reminded of a series of steps that we might take as we sit and reflect. We begin by being amazed at the marvelous works of God. I certainly experienced that in one way this week as I gazed upon the snow-covered peaks that are just east and north of us. The glorious works of God bring us to a place of thanksgiving. Next, we might wish to call upon God to help us with our troubles and to help us find our way. Finally, we reach a point where we once again commit ourselves to Jesus and promise to follow him in all that we do.
Today, the glory of God is described in the Psalm and we are reminded to be thankful. First, let us hear the words of glory. “God’s work is full of majesty and splendor, and his righteousness endures forever. God makes marvelous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” The psalmist reminds us to be thankful for these mighty works.
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Great are the deeds of the Lord”. As we listen to the words from Deuteronomy, I am thankful that God has sent prophets to help us follow God’s word. As Christians when we hear that God will send us a special prophet, we think of Jesus. For God blessed us by sending Jesus to help us learn and live a spiritual life.
Then in the Gospel, we listen to the marvelous words and works of Jesus. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. We are so blessed to have the words of Jesus. They have been written for us in Scripture and we can always read them and hear them. One of my fellow clergy persons has done a study of all of the words of Jesus. We can find them so easily in a red-letter Bible. The words of Jesus are always there to help us.
And in the gospel, we hear about God’s marvelous deeds. Jesus dealt with the demon in the man’s body. Jesus said, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
I have not seen an exorcism in person or heard about one except in the movies. In the present time, we prefer to think about people having psychological problems rather than imagining that they are possessed of a devil. Yet, all of us have our own demons. We are always challenged by temptation.
We may not need an exorcism but I think we all call upon Jesus to help us avoid the evil spirits that keep us from being close to God. We can call upon Jesus to keep us from temptation. The devil may lurk inside of us. The devil my not be found in the way we speak to Jesus as this demon was, but the devil is always testing us. It might be that the devil is using our sense of pride to lead us from God or it may be that we are envious and the devil will use envy to have us do something wrong. Let us pray that Jesus will take the demon out of us and help us to live the wholesome life that Jesus desires for us. Jesus, help me to always hear your word and to ignore the cries of the evil one.
Paul wrote about temptation in his lesson for today. He wrote that knowledge can lead to pride whereas love leads us to care for a better community. Much of the food in the marketplace came from offerings that were made to idols. Some people believed that eating this food was like worshiping the idol. But some wise Christians said that idols are not gods therefore they cannot be worshipped. But the wise must not be prideful or hold this knowledge over the foolish. Paul wants us to help the weak, care for the suffering and love one another. Let us not lead others into temptation. Let us not think we are smarter or better than someone else. Once again it is about asking Jesus to help us avoid temptation, to avoid the evil inclinations that might easily come to us.
There has always been a separation between the haves and the have nots. But during this time, I think we have become even more a country of the haves and the have nots. Paul said, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. He went beyond the question of what we should do to help another and asked the question what might I be doing to bring others into sin. Can we see that something we are doing causes a problem for another? We must understand our neighbor so well that we can anticipate how what we do or do not do makes it difficult for them to follow Jesus or to be healthy. In a world of haves and have nots, am I doing something or living a certain way or spending money a certain way that causes someone less fortunate to lose their faith? How can we bring those who have lost so much, jobs or houses, back to a place where they were before?
During Epiphany, we speak of Jesus as the light of the world. Jesus has blessed us with words of wisdom and miraculous acts of power and caring. As our light, we wish to follow him and let him care for us as we seek to care for the needs of others.
The hymns for today support and echo this idea of Jesus being our hope in times of trouble, the one who keeps us from trouble. We started by singing that all of our hope is founded on God. God is with us through times of change and chance. We are beset by temptations of mortal pride and a desire for earthly glory. Our earthly towers will fall into dust but God’s wisdom and power will help us build an eternal tower. As we praise God, we remember that Jesus calls all of us to follow him and if we do, we will not fall into a life of sin.
From the glory of God and from our thankfulness and from the saving grace of Jesus, comes our commitment to follow. The gospel hymn says it so profoundly. “O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end”. We pray to Jesus asking him to always be near, to be our Master and our friend. If Jesus is at our side, we will not fear. If Jesus is our guide, we will not stray from the correct path. We ask Jesus to speak and make me listen, to be the guardian of my soul. Lastly, we remember that in following we will receive everlasting glory and we ask Jesus again to help us be his follower and our friend.
The demons may be near, the devil is always lurking, Satan, may always be tempting us. But our faith and trust and hope is in God. It may all start with our opportunity to see the glory of God’s work. And so, we pray that Jesus will be our shield from all troubles, our guide along the way, the one who protects us from all evil. We have so many reasons to follow Jesus. Let us ask for his help always. Amen.
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