So, as a progressive christian, how do I think prayer works? – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

AUDIO ONLY VERSION HERE

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” In the morning, while it is still very dark, I can often be found sitting in my home office clutching a warm mug of coffee. Some of my most creative hours occur just before dawn, as do some of me least creative hours. Staring at a blank computer screen, hoping against hope that the Spirit will inspire me with new insights, my vision is often distracted by the rising sun. My computer sits in front of huge bank of windows that face the eastern sky. I have seen some spectacular sunrises beyond my computer’s screen. No matter what task I am feverishly trying to complete, the blinding light of the sun always causes me to stop what I’m doing, reach for my coffee and pray. More often than not, I pray for this congregation. I pray for each and every one of you. I pray for the work we do together. I pray about the challenges we face together. I pray for the concerns you have expressed for the people in your lives. I pray about the various afflictions that trouble you. I often pray for the wisdom to respond to your needs. I also pray for healing and I pray that the demons that haunt us will be driven out. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all sins and grief to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

I know, right, I’m a progressive Christian pastor. I have long since stopped believing in a God who intervenes in our lives like some kind of grand puppeteer in the sky. So, why do I pray? To whom do I pray? And, what do I expect my prayers to accomplish? If there’s no Big Guy upstairs or out there who is waiting to hear and answer my prayers, and if Jesus isn’t some sort of super-human miracle-worker, who intervenes on my behalf, then why bother praying at all?

Let me say this very clearly, because sometimes I think that people get the wrong idea about what it means to be a progressive Christian: just because our ideas about who God is are changing and we no longer see Jesus as some sort of super-human healer, that does not mean that progressive Christians no longer believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer! I believe that prayer has worked and continues to work miracles! I pray fully expecting that prayer can make a difference. My prayers do not address a personified being. My prayers take the form of contemplation of the needs and concerns that rise up in me.

I would be the first person to sympathize with anyone who finds it difficult to understand how prayer fits into the ways in which we are just beginning to speak about who and what God might be. As our notions about God change, so do our notions about Jesus. For generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we looked to God to cure all that ails us. But when we begin to see God as something other than a grand-puppeteer in the sky, who pulls all our strings, the way in which we see Jesus changes as well. This is not an easy transition to live through, because most of us have grown to like having Jesus the miracle-worker available to us for those really tough situations when we need to call out a really big name to help us convince the grand-puppeteer to heal someone, or something in our lives. Sometimes, usually when I’m up against something that frightens me, I really miss that old sky-god, and I long to walk in the garden alone with Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to explain what we are supposed to do once we begin to move beyond personifying the LOVE that we call God, how and why do we pray?

So, as a progressive Christian, how do I think prayer works? The truth is, I simply don’t know how prayer works. Prayer remains a mystery to me. I cannot do anything more than speculate and like all speculation, I am fully aware that I may have it all wrong.

I may not know how prayer works, but I suspect that prayer works because the power to heal one another is ours. I have come to believe that part of being human, is the power to heal one another, to heal the planet, and to heal the world. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth loved so fully that he was able to access the power of his humanity to heal others.

I also know that healing takes many forms. There is a tremendous, largely unheralded power in the bonds between people, in the gentle touch we can offer one another, in the hospitable presence of the LOVE we can extend to both our friends and even to our enemies. I believe that the power that lies in the bonds that exist between us, is the power we access when we pray. I believe that whatever God is, exists in, with, through, and beyond the bonds that connect us to one another.

There’s a story that has always intrigued me that illustrates this reality. You can find the story in a book called “Outliers,” written by Malcolm Gladwell, who also wrote “The Tipping Point.” It’s the story of a modern-day miracle that takes place in a small American town.

Roseto, is a small working-class town in Pennsylvania that was founded back in the late 19th century. From its founding to the late 1950’s it was populated by Italian immigrants from a town also called Roseto in Italy. Roseto would have remained a relatively obscure little town had it not been for the work of a medical school professor called Steward Wolf. While attending a medical conference Professor Wolf met a GP from a town very near Roseto who told him that he’d been practicing medicine for 17 years and in all that time very few patients ever came to see him from Roseto who were under the age of 65 and were suffering from heart disease. Professor Wolf was very surprised by this, because in the 1950’s heart attacks were epidemic in the United States. Heart disease was the leading cause of death in men under 65. So, Professor Wolf decided to investigate. Colleagues and students from his medical school were recruited and they analyzed the medical records of the inhabitants of Roseto.

The entire population was tested and re-tested. The results were astonishing. No one under 55 had died of a heart attack or showed any signs of heart disease. Indeed, the death rate from all causes in Roseto was 30 to 35% lower than the national average. Wolf’s team broadened their research and brought in sociologists and members of other academic disciplines. They found there were no suicides, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. Continue reading

Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human! – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

Six years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of six years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series: 

Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!  preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39

Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading

The Challenges of Jesus, Confronting Evil – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

This sermon was preached 3 years ago. Alas, while the politicians have declared that ISIS has been defeated, conditions on the ground indicate that ISIS has merely gone into hiding. The Canadian military is in discussions to purchase military drones, while the U.S. use of drones continues to inflict violence upon civilian populations. Jesus’ way of confronting evil continues to elude us. The Readings included Mark 1:29-39: Jesus raises up Peter’s Mother-in-law, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956”

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

listen to the sermon here

https://pastordawn.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/epiphany_5b-feb8-2015.m4a

If there was ever any doubt that they are blood-thirsty monsters who are obsessed with destroying our way of life, this week’s abominable immolation of a Saudi pilot ought to prove to even the most ardent peace-loving activist that ISIS or ISIL represents pure evil. The perpetrators of beheadings and immolations the likes of which even the Western news media is loath to broadcast have demonstrated with their incessant viscous barbarous brutality that they are monsters who are worthy of destruction by whatever means necessary. Such evil needs to be eliminated. However, misguided the members of ISIS are, their brutality cannot and will not be tolerated. We will not even dignify their existence with boots on the ground. This enemy is not worthy. We will not risk our own people in this particular battle. Let the bombs fall where they may. We shall defeat them at arms length; reigning down upon them such devastation that they will become easy pickings for the armies of their own kind. We will not dignify their brutality by being drawn into battle with the likes of them. They are the scum of the earth and deserve every evil we can visit upon them provided we don’t have to get our hands too dirty. These viscous evil monsters have proven over and over again that they are inhuman, and we have every right to wage war upon them. They have crossed the line. They have beheaded, burned to death, and slaughtered their way onto the world stage and it is up to us to wipe them off of it and send them screaming back into whatever dark hole they crawled out of. Besides they have brought their evil madness too near the oil fields, which feed our way of life, they must be stopped before they start costing us real money. So, let all the peacemakers turn the other way while the powers that be take up arms for all our sakes and wipe these terrorists off our news screens. These demons must be destroyed.

We’ve been here so many times before. Face to face with demons. All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good folk like us to do nothing. So, we’d better stop our bellyaching and get into lock-step with the warriors and support our troop’s because there is no other way to deal with these people. So, keep Jesus out of this. Jesus doesn’t belong in this fight. Jesus will only confuse people. Jesus will force us to second-guess ourselves and while we’re arguing about loving our enemies; our enemies will destroy us. So, leave Jesus where he belongs on the pages of a forgotten book, in the sanctuaries of tired old buildings, in the hearts and minds of a dwindling few who are used to being manipulated and wouldn’t dare make waves in the public square lest they be laughed at for the fools they really are. Keep Jesus to yourselves and let the grownups deal with the terrorists unless you want them to march down main street and behead a few of you. Keep Jesus out of this. Fighting demons is for grown-ups who are prepared to live in the real world. Peace, real peace, means getting your hands dirty. Peace, real peace, can only be achieved through violence. The only way to deal with terrorists is to defeat them on the battlefield. Peace through victory.

If you want to do something useful pray for peace. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Over and over again, we follow Jesus into the dark places of our hearts and minds and we pray. This week my prayers have turned to prayers for peace. Holding my newborn granddaughter in my arms, rocking her to sleep in the darkness of her nursery, I have prayed for peace with the kind of urgency that newborns inspire. I want so much for her. I want a world in which she can thrive; a world where she can grow into all the potential that she holds in her tiny precious little body; a world free from monsters and demons. If the pundits are to be believed ISIS threatens everything we hold we hold dear and the good people of the world must band together and annihilate the evil that ISIS is. Listening to the news you’d be hard pressed to see the war in which we are currently engaged as anything other than an epic battle between good and evil. Pray for peace if we must. But support the military solution that is on offer or accept the peril of terrorists moving into our neighbourhoods. Give up your freedoms, your privacy, your idealism, and join the battle; there is no other way to defeat evil. They’ve almost convinced what’s left of Christendom that if Jesus were alive he too would take up arms in this just war. Peace can only be achieved through victory; so, “they” tell us. The trouble is, “they,” the powers that be, have been telling us this forever and yet victory continues to breed more violence. First century Palestine was full of good folk just like you and me who dreamed of a better life for their children; people who were willing to do just about anything to ensure the futures of their beloved children. Roman oppression was every bit as viscous as the wildest imaginations of the members of ISIS. Roman tortures and executions abounded in the tens of thousands in the first century. The anonymous writer of the Gospel according to Mark together with the anonymous writers of the gospels according to Matthew and Luke took the time in the face of such wicked oppression to record stories about Jesus in the hope that they might encourage their communities to adopt a different way of dealing with the violence that threatened their lives. In Jesus of Nazareth they saw a new way of dealing with one’s enemies; a new way of confronting evil in their world. Jesus of Nazareth, a rabbi who taught in the synagogues moving from town to town proclaiming a new way of living in a world infested with violence, in a world where evil was about as real as evil gets this itinerate preacher forged a new way of being; a way that insisted that peace comes not from victory but through justice; a way that began not with destroying one’s enemy but by loving ones’ enemy. Continue reading

The Challenges of Jesus, Confronting Evil, and ISIS – a sermon for Epiphany 5B – Mark 1:29-39

Canada ISISReadings included Mark 1:29-39: Jesus raises up Peter’s Mother-in-law, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956”

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

listen to the sermon here

https://pastordawn.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/epiphany_5b-feb8-2015.m4a

Maranatha: Padraig O Tuama – a timely lesson for those preparing to preach on this coming Sunday’s Gospel text!

This is for my colleagues who are preparing to tackle this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading in which of Jesus heals Peter’s Mother-in-law. I suspect, that as Padraig O Tuama might put it, we will in all likelihood fuck it up. To those of you who will listen to our efforts, remember you’ve fucked it up as well! Alleluia! Alleluia let humility be our healing balm here in Babylon. 

Prayer – Epiphany Sermon Series – #5: Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!

PrayerSermon series pastorDawnThree years ago, I reluctantly gave in to requests to preach on the subject of prayer and I devoted my sermons during the season of Epiphany to the subject of prayer. I have been asked to re-post those sermons. In the course of three years, my theology has continued to evolve. However, I have resisted the temptation to edit the sermons and so the manuscripts are what they are, an exploration of sorts. Here’s the Fifth sermon in the series. I shall repost the seven sermons in the series over the course of the Season of Epiphany.

Prayer #5 – Jesus Is Not a Super-Human Miracle Worker! Jesus Is Human!  preached on Epiphany 5B, 2012 – listen to the sermon here

Readings: Isaiah 40:21-31; Colossians 3:14-15; Mark 1:29-39

Usually, the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing the sick leave me wanting more. They usually seem so incomplete. I have always wanted more details about how exactly Jesus was able to heal those who were sick. Usually, the stories about Jesus healing are read or referenced by the notion that Jesus was some sort of miracle-worker and we are predisposed to believe that Jesus had miraculous powers; that he was somehow able to harness the healing power of God and dispense it at will. We are encouraged to believe that that very same power is available to us if only we figure out exactly how to cozy up to Jesus and ask him in just the right way to heal us or heal those we love. But these stories found in the earliest of the Gospels and attributed to an early follower of the Way known as Mark, don’t portray Jesus as a miracle-worker at all.

I love the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, because I can easily relate to it. I remember back when I was about 17 and I was suffering from a terrible cold. I had a raging fever and I was as sick as a dog. I also had tickets to an Elton John concert. Even though I could barely breath, when the time came, I got myself up out of bead, and whoa-presto, it was as if the power of Elton John’s name had cured me and I was able to follow the Yellow Brick road all the way to the Coliseum where, together with my friends I was hopping and bopping to the Crocodile Rock . So, I have no difficulty believing that when Simon Peter finally brought Jesus around to visit his mother, the sheer power of all the rumors she’d been hearing about this man Jesus, would have been enough motivation for this Jewish mother to rise up out of her sickbed to see who this fellow was who had enticed her son away from his nets. That Jesus could have harnessed the healing power that lies within our grasp as he traveled from town to town and cured the sick and drove out daemons isn’t difficult to believe. Lets face it, first century daemons sound a lot like mental or emotional illnesses, so Jesus ability to cure people who are disturbed by daemons really isn’t much of a stretch. But after centuries of interpretation and proclamation, we tend to hear these stories in ways that portray Jesus as some sort of super-human, miracle-worker, or dare I say it as some sort of God. Because after all, our image of God is that God is some sort of super-human miracle-worker. So for generations we’ve been looking to Jesus in the same way as we look to God to cure all that ails us. And so we are just as likely to appeal to Jesus in prayer, as we are to appeal to God to heal us. So, as our notions about God change, our notions about Jesus change also. Continue reading