Archive for June 2016

Homily Luke 8:26-39 6/19/16 Epiphany, Norfolk

Friday I was having a hot dog with Bob Everett at Tony’s diner. I had picked up a lesson sheet and noticed our Gospel Reading. I said to Bob, “Oh no! I’ve got to deal with that herd of pigs, again. I never know what to say about that story.” Bob said, “Just hand out bacon, and everybody will be happy.” I actually checked with a couple of people to see if anyone wanted to cook a bunch of bacon for this morning. When I explained why, folks were ready to send me into a herd of pigs. We have no bacon this morning.
Well, I do remember liking this story in Sunday School. It’s a story that kids usually like – those pigs diving off the cliff, or drowning, depending on the version of the story. It’s always been popular with artists, like the picture on your bulletin cover. It just really pricks the imagination.
It’s the story of an exorcism, the casting out of demons. It has to be taken seriously because it’s in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew has two demoniacs coming out of the tombs. Mark and Luke have just one. And when you find an event mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you can’t just dismiss it. It is somehow related to the interpretation of “the Christ Event”, and our job is to figure out what the writers intended, and what makes it so important.
By the way, “The Book of Occasional Services”, which is a supplement to the Prayer Book, has a provision for Exorcism in our Episcopal Church. But the directions for using it are pretty “cautious.” If someone comes to me and requests an exorcism, I have to notify the bishop, who investigates it himself, or appoints a group to investigate it. If it’s found to be a “sincere situation”, the bishop assigns it to a priest and instructs the priest as to how to proceed. We can’t just run out on our own with bell, book, and candle and perform an exorcism, like they do in the movies. If I did that, I’d be the next exorcism. In all my years, I’ve had one person ask for an exorcism. I passed it on to the bishop, and never heard any more about it.
Well, the fact that the church even provides for exorcism, tells us that some element of the church takes it seriously. I would guess that the majority of the clergy just shake their heads over the whole thing. But in Biblical times, demon possession, and exorcism, and spirits were taken very seriously. But that was another time, and another culture. Today, we understand things from within the framework of psychology, and mental health, and medicine. But another generation may look back at our understandings with the same curiosity that we find today in demons and exorcism.
Actually, I’ve always felt sorry for the pigs, and the swine herders that lost their herd. The demons did not want to go back to “the abyss.” I’ve always wondered what the understanding of “the abyss” was. There was no concept of heaven and hell at this time. That came later. And the demons asked instead to be sent into the pigs. I guess they thought they would be safe in the pigs. And Jesus gave them permission to enter the pigs. Maybe that’s the key here. The writer has Jesus able to give permission to the demons. That makes him powerful over things from “the abyss.” The pigs didn’t do anything wrong, any more than the possessed man did. They were all victims of the demons, which apparently Jesus could not destroy. There’s a whole level of understanding here that we’ve just lost today.
But that’s not to say that we don’t still have a “closet fascination” with the supernatural. As many of you know, the previous owners of my house were murdered in the house, back in 1975. I wish I could count the number of people who have asked me if the house is haunted. In fact, when I or my estate sells the house, those murders have to be disclosed. I was the 11th buyer of that house. All of the others backed out when they learned of the murders. And I’ve had people afraid to come to events at the house, because it might be haunted.
It’s easy to laugh at this, but it shows me that even today, there’s a residual concern over demons, and ghosts, and hauntings, and things that we call “supernatural” today.
I’ve told this story before, but several years ago I was in my driveway with the dogs. The mail man drove up, and I went to his truck to save him a few steps, and save him from dealing with the dogs. He thanked me, and commented that it was “spooky” to go up my driveway to the mail box. I couldn’t resist. I told him it was because of the murders in the house. He looked at me with huge eyes, jumped into his truck, and kicked up gravel getting out of there. I felt like part of the Munster Family.
So, even though we’re very sophisticated these days, we still sometimes experience a primitive concern that just maybe… perhaps… surly not… but just in case…. Well, that’s about the best I can do with exorcism, and all that business.
The thing I find most interesting about this story is at the very end. Jesus has healed the demoniac, and now, the people are afraid of Jesus, and ask him to leave. They were more afraid of Jesus, the healer, than they were of the possessed man. They understood possession. The man had a group of demons in him. They were comfortable with that because it fit their system of thinking. But they did not understand the healing. THAT was more frightening than the demons.
I think that is a human condition. We fear what we don’t understand. But our understandings DO change. Just in recent years, we’ve seen major changes in understandings of sexuality, gender roles, racial identity and inclusiveness, the role and treatment of disabled, and probably a whole bunch of other things. As our fears of the unknown diminish, we’re open to understanding and acceptance where we never thought possible.
I think the lesson here, for us, is that we not close our minds, not blindly react with fear to that which we don’t understand. We’re seeing in current events where horrible things happen when people live out their fears. Fear can become disease and can destroy. It’s something WE ALL need to guard against, all the time.
Amen.

Posted June 21, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Luke 7:11-17   Homily, June 5th

Message

                                                                                                           Norfolk

Our Gospel reading this morning is the story of Jesus’ visit to Nain, and his bringing the dead man back to life. It’s not a very well known story, even though it appears in our lectionary every 3 years. And it causes all kinds of problems for Biblical scholars. The problem is that it is written by Luke, and Luke was trying to write history. Jesus had been dead for about 55 years by the time Luke wrote this, and Luke’s concern was that the history of “The Christ Event” would become distorted, or lost with time. He wanted to record it as accurately as he could.

Now, Luke would have had no sense that he was writing a chapter of the Bible to be read and studied 2,000 years later. He was apparently just trying to record what he thought was an important event in history, so that it wouldn’t get lost to history. That means that when we want history, we usually turn to Luke.

But something went wrong with this story. It is obviously a retelling of our 1st Reading from 1st Kings, where Elijah brings back to life the son of a widow. Luke’s version is almost identical, except that he has Jesus bringing the son of a widow back to life instead of Elijah. Another problem is that this story doesn’t appear in the other Gospels, or any of the other known writing outside of the Bible.

So, we have Luke the historian, compromising his history. Why would he do this? If historical accuracy was so important to Luke, why would he “fudge history” here? Every good Jew would have known the Elijah story. They would have recognized Luke’s story as a “parallel.” The early church had the earlier Gospels, and they would have known that this story didn’t appear in those earlier Gospels. Why would Luke do this?

Well, there are a lot of theories out there, and several of them make sense. Most Biblical commentators note that after Elijah performs his “bringing back to life”, the widow’s response was: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

THAT was what Luke wanted for Jesus. Elijah was seen as one of the great Patriarchs of the Jewish people, who was chosen by God, who spoke for God, acted for God, interceded for God. And THIS is how Luke wanted his readers to understand Jesus.

Also, there was already a link established between Jesus and Elijah. Remember in the story of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor? Moses and Elijah, who had both been dead a long time, were seen conversing with Jesus. THAT story makes no sense at all, but it links Jesus to the two great Patriarchs, Moses and Elijah.

Another point we need to remember is that under Jewish Law of the day, a woman held no property, and she could not work to support herself. When she became a widow, she had nothing. If she was lucky enough to have a son, it would be his responsibility to take care of his mother. If she didn’t have a son, she was in real trouble. And in Luke’s story, it is the son of a widow who died. This would have meant that the widow would have become a beggar on the streets. So, there are several possible reasons why Luke added this story to his history.

I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s my “bringing back to life story.” Many years ago, when I was a new priest, serving in another congregation, a member of the parish died, and I buried him. About two weeks later, I paid a visit to his widow, just to check in and see how she was doing. After a few minutes of niceties, she really lit into me. “If I was really a ‘Man of God’, I would not have let her husband die. She assured me that my predecessor, whom she loved dearly, would have brought her husband back. If I was the type of clergy the Church was turning out, she would not be back to church.

Now, I was a very young priest when this happened, but I can remember getting into my car, lighting up a cigarette, and sitting there, sort of stunned. I don’t know how to bring someone back from the dead, or keep him from dying. Doctors can sometimes bring someone back, or keep someone from dying, but I’m a priest. I don’t do that. Well, I haven’t had any more of that, so I guess I’m doing o.k., but it was a challenging event.

I think we have a different understanding of life and death today, than in Biblical times. If you read our Psalm for today, and as you read Scripture, it’s pretty clear that in Biblical times, a death was almost always seen as “God’s taking a person away” – a pro-active action by God. I guess there’s still some of that today, but I think that we more often see death as part of “the natural order.” There is birth, and there is life, and there is death. That’s just the way it’s meant to be. Some of us go to some pretty extreme efforts to prolong life, and youth, and beauty, and all of that stuff, but I don’t think many of us kid ourselves into thinking that we can achieve eternity, or even want to. Our concerns today seem to be almost the opposite, with our Living Wills, and Advance Directives, and Medical Powers of Attorney. Most of us don’t want extraordinary efforts made to keep us alive. We’ve seen what can be done, and know that it’s not part of “the natural order.” We seem to understand that today.

Well, this isn’t a very happy topic for an early summer homily. It’s summer time, with warm weather, and beautiful flowers, and vacations, and all sorts of nice things. Right now, our job is to live good and full lives. That’s no small task, and I think that’s where we need to put our efforts. Let’s focus on the living, and doing good, and having wonderful experiences, and learning new things, and enjoying each other. Let’s focus on enjoying the life that God has given us, and leave all that other stuff for another time.

Amen.

Posted June 7, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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