Father Mark, Sermons

What Do With Evil

Epiphany 4: Mark 1:21-28

I recall a Wizard of Id Sunday comic strip.  One Sunday morning Rodney, the king’s night servant noticed the king was in a blue mood and suggested, “Sire, perhaps you’d feel better if you went to church.”  So the King and Rodney headed off to the Church.  When they arrived, they noticed the title of the day’s sermon on the church sign which read: “The Evils of Greed.”  The King turned to Rodney and said, “What’s playing at the Presbyterian?”

Isn’t that so human?   We eschew the uncomfortable.

In the same vein, the man with the evil spirit didn’t much like having Jesus around and told him to go away.   Sometimes when our defensiveness or anger escalates there may be something within pushing us that we might benefit from looking at. 

We get information that we don’t like and just like the King, our instinct is to “change that channel.”   And the weakness continues to live within us waiting to arise again another day. 

I recall a couple of summers ago.  Vandals were stealing purses and other items out of people’s vehicles.  The police department advised us to not leave our windows open or our cars unlocked else we be broken into.  

I remember Jesus telling a story about a householder who if he had known when the thief was coming, would have kept watch and not allowed his house to be broken into.   Sometimes we just get careless about our vehicles and homes…and about our souls. 

Such is the subject today:  Is it possible to be possessed by evil?  OK, now it’s time to get that channel changer and change the channel to a little bit happier subject. 

After all, evil is one of those creepy dark sludgy things that we just can’t get our heads around and it’s something that we can rarely if ever control—why? 

Because evil is subject only to divine intervention—to help from above.  Paul in Ephesians 6, through his own experience tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil.  These forces of evil, if we are subjected enough to them can begin to gnaw away at our minds, hearts and begin to split our souls, causing chaos.  Chaos is often a symptom of evil gaining a foothold. 

To minimize evil or Satan as mere delusion or as something less than it is, leaves our car door unlocked and windows open to our inner world to compromise us. 

Check on the chaos in your life—both inner and outer—and pray for the presence of God to come and in the words of Jesus, deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom and the Power….  God’s presence is rooted far deeper in the world than the chaos within or without can bear.  

I remember on a healing retreat years ago I was praying for someone for healing and in the midst of the prayer, the woman began shaking and her personality changed like she was a different person.  I had never experienced anything like this before.  All I knew to do was to say God, take me over and manifest your healing power.  I felt like a presence had filled me that rooted itself in me down to the earth’s core.  And the words, not mine, but God’s, said in the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be healed.   And in a matter of moments, the woman became still. 

We’re all susceptible to absorbing evil, like we are the COVID virus.  If we hang around the evil for too long we can get too much of its contagion within us often without our knowing it.  If we’re steeped enough in the presence of God that can only come through a diet of ongoing prayer, we can sense evil and then distance ourselves from it—praying for the others and ourselves.

C.S. Lewis, who in his book, The Screwtape Letters, reveals how subtle, Satan is, being nicknamed the father of lies.    

There is a lot of beauty in the world.  There are also many lies floating around tempting us in areas of our lives where we are vulnerable and spiritually insecure. 

Realize that Jesus doesn’t pass by the possessed man because he’s a living freak show.   Jesus walks right up to him.  Why?  Because he loves him. 

If Jesus loves the Gerasene Demonic, how much the more will he love us, even with all those inner warts, insecurities and chaotic places where evil has had its way with us?   We too will often react by wanting to escape.  Our initial reaction to “get away from me” due to the demon’s fear and shame which has its hold on us.

All we need to is to simply ask him one more time to come into our minds, hearts, wills and to make his home in our souls.  That’s all we need do.  He will take care of the rest. 

Even though evil is deceptive, evil can never hold a candle to God.  Honest. 

The man healed from the unclean spirits will tell you this.  So would the woman I prayed for in that healing service. 

Father Mark, Sermons

Remembering Our Mission to Our Children

Christmas II:  Luke 2; 1/3021

I wonder if you ever were separated from your parents when you were young, or perhaps lost track of where your young child.   Then it would be easy to identify with the anxiety of Mary and Joseph when they couldn’t find Jesus—especially in the big city of Jerusalem when it was time to leave for home.

How could something like this happen?  Men, women and children all worshipped in separate places in the temple.  After worship, each group gathers together in their own group for a meal.  

There was a separate group for educated teachers to gather and during the meal, discuss and sometimes argue to the point of quarreling, about the Torah and spiritual practices.  

Showing great interest, Jesus was invited at age 12, as a new young adult to join in the meal and to listen to the teaching and discussion.  The story indicates that Jesus also was involved in the discussion and teaching.

Joseph and Mary expected Jesus to be with his peers and when discovering he did not return with the group to the caravan to return home, with great angst returned to Jerusalem, searching all over until they found him at the temple. 

I remember a decade or so ago how during the late news, the announcer would say, “It’s time for the evening news.  Do you know where your children are?”  In this case, Mary and Joseph did not know where Jesus was.  They also were not aware of where his mind, heart and intentions were at the time which led him to leave his peer group and to seek God. 

Jesus’ seeking wasn’t finished after worship.  His seeking continued.  

I think this story has much to teach us as adults:

Christianity is counter-cultural.   Children tend to follow the culture and the culture of the family.   Jesus at age 12, after his bar-mitzvah, continued to seek God in contrast to the majority of the youth and adults in church who after Confirmation, tend to have the mindset that they’ve graduated from church.  Other things in the culture that appear to be more exciting tend to take priority.  

Children and youth are more capable and hungry for God than we are aware of. 

What do we model, not only for our children but for others?   Do we include children and youth and other adults in discussions about our faith at the dinner table?   Children on average watch 4 hours of TV a day often during meal time, not including cell phone internet use. They are waiting for us to lead them.  If we don’t someone else will.  I hesitate to compare how many minutes a week are given to teaching and nurturing in scriptures and tradition.  Without God growing at the core of their being, children and youth are left with the maze of confusing and sometimes dangerous messages that leave them at risk.  Jesus put a child on his lap and told his preoccupied disciples to forbid them not—by forgetting them.  Are we aware of where our children are—not just their location, but what they are carrying in the minds and hearts? 

One of the great realizations as a parent is that I have regular conversations with my two daughters in their late thirties about their spiritual journey, talking about how to negotiate the present world in the context of their faith.   I have learned that parenting never really ends.  It just changes in its process.  As we share the journey our relationship continues to deepen. 

We have the authority given to us by Christ to be his hands and feet to the younger generation.  Sometimes, just spending a few minutes with a young person that we might not even know well will create a blessing.   This was reinforced to be when the old track was open in the mornings and I was able to converse with members of the cross country and track teams.   +Without realizing it, we may just be Christ to a young person without realizing it and influence their lives in a positive way.  Many young people feel isolated and alone even when their persona may cover this. 

Summing up, each of us, no matter our age, have the opportunity to reach out to the young.  Think of the adults in your younger days who gifted your life with blessings.  Now it’s our turn to be that blessing for them.  We can model to others by our own choices that prioritize Christ first over cultural aspirations and values.  

There are many ways we can metaphorically hug a child.  Allow Christ to hug a child through you so that they may experience the Presence of God in the temples of their hearts.

Father Mark, Sermons

Spiritual Recycling

Advent 3:  John 1; 12/13/20

We’ve been into recycling in town the last couple of months and I am wondering how it is going for the town.  I’m wondering what you’ve heard and how it’s going for you? 

We enjoy it because we’re able to recycle more and it saves us a trip to The Green Guy in San Marcos. 

Occasionally we’ve heard of strikes by sanitation workers where trash wasn’t picked up for weeks leaving piles of trash laying all over the roadways.  Imagine if there was a strike for a month and trash began to build up in streets, yards and highways.  Imagine piles of trash strewn along 183.  Back in the time of John the Baptist, before the days of recycling and trash pickup, people didn’t know much of what to do with it all.  Trash was just strewn across country roads.  After a few years the roads in some places were nigh impassible.  So it was customary when a special dignitary was coming to prepare by having a large roadside cleanup. 

John was keen enough to see the metaphor in connecting repentance to clearing out the trash. 

When we get too much trash in an area, it inhibits our ability to live.  We cannot move freely about.  To play with the metaphor some more, aren’t there times when we just feel trashy?  

There’s just stuff in our minds and in our hearts that just give us the blahs and we just don’t fire on all cylinders.  Life throws us too many curves and we find ourselves out of mental and spiritual balance. Sometimes there’s too much fear.  Fatigue.  Anger or resentment takes its toll on our performance.  Self-preoccupation can create a situation I saw on line where someone driving a car was angry with someone on a sidewalk and they ran their car into a light pole, turning his car, the pole and his driving record into trash.

John asks us to do a state inspection—an inspection of the state we’re in.  To find the trash that’s been piled within and to bring it to the Jordan River and give it to God.  After all, someone is coming that we don’t want to miss. A hindered road to meet him whether that road is internal or external need not prevent us from meeting him—receiving him and allowing him to grow in our hearts for another year.

Father Mark, Sermons

The Most Freeing Word in the World

Advent II, Mark 1:1-8; St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, 2020

This may seem like a dumb question, but have you asked yourselves why you are here or watching online this morning?  The obvious response would be: “To hear the Word, pray and receive Holy Communion. 

Let’s explore this question a little more.    What are we seeking?   What are our minds and hearts seeking?  Could it be that we have something in common with those seeking out John the Baptist?  Are they looking for healing for their wounds, for God to fill their emptiness, to commune with the Holy One?  

People seeking John were desperate.  Israel had been without a prophet for 400 years.  What would it be like for a church to be without a priest for 400 years?

People flocked openly to John confessing their sins to John at the Jordan—to a person they didn’t even know.   I wonder: If John came down to the San Marcos River, would people flock to him?  Would John gain traction in the Episcopal Church in our day with the message:  Repent, followed by confessing our sins openly in public? 

What was their motivation? To drop what they were doing: weekend plans, a shopping trip, the football game-to confess their sins in public?  Think of the restlessness and agitation carried by them for 400 years.  There’s a saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Sin has a weight to it—when carried long enough becomes burdensome and becomes heavier over time.  Sin that we do not release carries on through us, affecting others and is passed on from generation to generation.  Perhaps they were sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

John had something they wanted:  relief from their burdens in exchange for God and his gifts of Liberty, peace and joy.  Confessing sins openly released them, opening a place for God within them to dwell. Repentance is the way of release and recovery of our birth right in God.

Does John offer something we want?

What is John asking the people to turn away from?  Sin, anger, judging others, self-condemnation, resentment, false teachings, misplaced priorities, false gods…. Changing one’s heart and mind for the Hebrew is to change one’s action—which requires the conversion that repentance initiates. 

John’s message was revolutionary—in how we seek repentance.   Previous to John, for two thousand years, the only way sins were remitted was through the shedding of blood—from animal sacrifices.   Now, John was baptizing with water, which required an inward repentance to reunion with God.  Baptism was a sign of this reunion with God. 

Forgiveness manifests itself through the Spirit working good works in us.   Repentance empties the heart so God can fill it. John was baptizing with water, which required an inward repentance to reunion with God. 

The animal is no longer a way of accomplishing spiritual reunion.  The human heart is involved.

Those who sought John, were hungry to release the death they carried within themselves.

From what do we want God to deliver us?

What is the suffering that our minds are cluttered with and our hearts are burdened with that we seek to release?

The time is now.

Father Mark, Sermons

It’s Sorting Out Time

Pentecost Last; Mt 25:31 ff; 11/23/20

We all go through times of sorting things out—what do we keep and what do we get rid of?   Jesus’ story is about sorting out—sorting out sheep from the goats.  How can one tell the difference? 

Goats and sheep in Jesus’ time grazed together.  Both are needed for the resources they provide—hair from goats and wool from sheep while both provide milk and cheese. 

When it came time for feeding, the sheep would be separated into a sheep fold while the goats would be sent into a field.   The sheep would be fed fine grass while the goats would continue to graze off the land.  Sheep are the ones that were given real food.

Back in that time, breeding wasn’t a science like it is now and the distinction between sheep and goats weren’t as visibly apparent.  Sorting sheep from goats is discerned by their behavior.   So let’s look at the difference. 

Sorting goats:  I learned what I know about goats from the late John Farqueson from Junction who sorted me out on goats.   As I drove up the dirt road to his ranch I saw a goat standing on top of the cab of his pickup—not good for the paint job, I thought.  John was in the goat pen with several goats around him.  I saw a goat ease up on the side of John.  The goat then stepped out in front of him and a moment later he turned 180 degrees and rammed right into him, almost knocking him over.  Goats are spontaneous, impulsive and unpredictable.

Sorting out sheep—they tend to clump together—but will stray off from the others.   Sheep are nearly blind so they can eat their way apart from the flock becoming lost.  Sheep use the master’s voice as a homing device to find their way to become found again. 

Sorting out sheep from goats can be witnessed in how the shepherd works them. 

Shepherds lead sheep from alongside them.  One usually sees goat herders chasing the impulsive wandering goats.

We all have goat and sheep within us.   How can we sort out the difference? 

The sheep part of us is oriented and balanced coming from our hearing and following the master’s voice.   This is the key difference.  Sheep listen to their master’s voice.  The goat side of us listens to our own voice and thus become more self-referencing, impulsive and reactive.

So our question is, which voice brings harmony and life—the master’s or my own?  Can we sort out which voice we’re hearing?   What voice or voices do I hear me?  Do I experience harmony or discord?   Can we hear the voice of Jesus moving through us? 

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the Christ in others.   Sometimes it’s easy to find the weakness in others rather than the beauty such as in the hungry, sick and the prisoner.  We’re all prisoners of something you know.

One of the greatest challenges for the Church is to know the One Voice who reveals our soul.  Only then can we see the Christ in others instead of focusing on their unpleasantries. 

This large wafer is called the priest’s host.  In a few minutes we’ll prayer for Christ to become present for us in the breaking of the bread.   Christ is our host for himself.  By receiving Christ, the host, we become hosts for the living Christ ourselves.  As living hosts for Christ, Jesus comes through us to touch all that cross our paths during the week.  To become and remain hosts for Christ, we like sheep must receive the Master’s Voice so that it his voice and not ours that comes through us. 

We are living hosts for the living Christ.  By being carried by Christ we carry Christ to others.   Be who you are—the hosts of Christ.

Amen.