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 SERMON TEXT 
Monday, February 23 2015

Mark 1:9-15

There is a story about a “young seminarian at the Divinity School at Cambridge University in England.  It was the custom there that each theological candidate had to preach a sermon on a Sunday morning before the entire faculty and student body.  The challenge of the assignment came from the fact that the students had no clue ahead of time what the text was that they were to preach on.  There was no time for preparation.

“You see, up on the pulpit was a black box containing pieces of paper.  Each piece of paper had a biblical text or word written on it.  The student preacher for the day had to reach in – draw out a piece of paper – read the text on the piece of paper – and start preaching.”  Folks – remind me never to apply for admission to the Divinity School at Cambridge University.

“One Sunday morning, a student climbed the spiral staircase to the pulpit, and drew a piece of paper out of the box.  On the slip of paper was one word.  The word was ‘Zacchaeus.’”  

“Well, I’m sure this young preacher wannabe knew the story.   But his mind drew a blank.  He remembered what he had been told, though.  ‘Repeat the text, and have three points.’

“Here is exactly what he said that Sunday morning:
“‘Zacchaeus.  First, Zacchaeus was a small man...and so am I.’
“‘Second, Zacchaeus was up a tree...and so am I.’
“‘Third, Zacchaeus came down..and so do I.’”

“And with that, he left the pulpit, gave the benediction, and exited out the side door.  One of the professors later told him that it wasn’t a bad sermon.  After all, it was short, and to the point.”

Folks, today is the first weekend in the season of Lent. And every year, we begin Lent with a reading about the temptation of Jesus.  This year’s reading comes from Mark’s Gospel, and as we have seen, when it comes to telling us the temptation story of Jesus, Mark is short and to the point.  

If we had Mark’s Gospel only, we would never know about Satan tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, or jumping down from the pinnacle of the temple to see if angels would catch him, or tempting Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just bow down and worship Satan.  To learn those details of how Satan tempted Jesus, and how Jesus successfully resisted everything that Satan threw at him, we would have to turn to the longer versions as told by Matthew and Luke.

No, Mark is short and to the point.  And I know most churches would love it if their preachers were short and to the point.  Sometimes I get a little long winded myself, and when I do, the confirmands who take sermon notes remind me of it.  In fact, I usually get at least one remark to that effect from them every week!  

I’m grateful that Matthew and Luke decided to share with us the details.  I am also grateful that Mark’s version is short and to the point.  I am grateful for Mark’s brevity because it gives us a chance to see the temptation of Jesus sandwiched in between two other important events in Jesus’ life – the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

First, Jesus is baptized.  And at his baptism, God the Father speaks from heaven, and lays his stamp of approval on Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Just before he entered the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, I would like to think that those words from the Father were a source of encouragement and strength.  He was pumped!  Because afterwards – after the forty days of temptations were completed – when he’s tired – when he’s exhausted – when he’s famished – Jesus needs to be pumped up again.  And that’s when – the Bible says – that’s when the angels came and ministered to him.  And after he was ministered to be these angels Jesus was indeed pumped – he was ready to begin his earthly ministry even stronger than before.

Now stay with me for a minute, because there’s something of a pattern here – a three-part pattern.  So let me use an analogy from my late father-in-law.  When he ordered coffee at a restaurant, he would always tell the server, “I’ll have coffee, before during, and after.”  

When we go through difficult times – let’s call them wilderness experiences – they’re probably not that much different from what Jesus experienced when you look at them as having a before – a during. – and thank God – an after.

First, there’s the “Before” part – the before part comes at our baptism where we are affirmed as loved children of God.
Then there is the “During” – this is the actual wilderness experience – the difficult time – some grief – some heartache – a financial setback or an illness – yours or someone that you love – some period of testing when life has lost its joy.

But then – then there is the “After” – that moment – that time – of healing – when life gets back on track – when the joy for living comes back.  

But we do begin our walk with Christ at our baptisms.  Most of us don’t have even the vaguest recollection of that moment – though some of us do.  But regardless, we’ve been hearing all along that God loves us.  If you’ve been here for any length of time you know that God loves you – that you are blessed – and that you are affirmed as someone special in God’s eyes.  So that’s the before part.

But then there are those wilderness experiences.  Man!  Let me tell you – some are worse than others.  And some I could do without.  And let’s be honest.  Some of them come about due to some choice we might have made – the result of having made unwise choices – or because we’ve developed unhealthy lifestyles.  

But sometimes – and I think most of the time – we enter a wilderness that is not of our own choosing.  Not of our own making.  By conditions – situations – sometimes even by other people – that are beyond our control.  We all have them.  But let me tell you!  We do not have to go through those wilderness times alone.  

As I listen to the stories that people have shared with me over the years of what it has felt like to go through a personal wilderness at some time in their life – I am encouraged that – even though they sometimes speak through tears – that they found a place of comfort and healing – of getting their joy back again – when it was over.

Many talked about this place – this congregation – the people of this congregation – as a refuge both during and after their time in the wilderness.   This was a place where they found healing.

And let me tell you something else.  You know sometimes how you look at other people – or other families – and everything seems to be hunky dory with them, and you think, “Man, I wish my life were more like theirs.”  I have had people tell me this!  But let me tell you something!  I’ve been around here long enough to know that the folks who look like they’ve got it all together – you know what?  They’re no different than you.  They’re like ducks.  You know, above the water they look placid and calm, but just below the surface, they’re paddling like crazy.  They’ve had or they’re going through their wilderness times just like you and me.  Jesus had them. I’ve had them.  I know many of your stories so I know you’ve had them.  We all have them. And the wonderful thing is that we can learn from these experiences.  Think about it.  Think about those moments when you have grown and matured the most.  It almost always happens after going through some wilderness-like experience.

So when it feels like your life is placing you smack dab in some wilderness – or if you feel that’s where you are right now – let me tell you – you don’t have to go through it alone.  You have friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who may just know what you’re going through.  Come and talk to me.  And if necessary, maybe I can pair you up with someone who’s been where you are at right now.  

I guess what I want to say is that just as Jesus was ministered to by angels.  There just might be an angel here at Zion Lutheran Church who can minister to you as well.  Sometimes it helps just to talk, and to know that you’re NOT on your journey alone.  That we’re all in this together.  

You do not have to go through wilderness experiences alone.  Unless you want to.  You have friends here.  But above all you have a friend in Jesus.  Remember what Jesus says.  He says, “I am with you always.  Always.  I am with you at your baptism – calling you by name – to encourage and to strengthen you for the journey ahead.  I am with you in the wilderness.  I know what you’ve going through ‘cause I’ve been there.  I am with you at the end.  I am – with you before – during – and after.  I am – with you always.”                

Amen

Posted by: AT 10:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 23 2015

Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
    An 80-year-old woman was arrested for shoplifting.
    When she went before the judge he asked her, 'What did you steal?' She replied, “A can of peaches.”
    The judge asked her why she had stolen them. She said that she was hungry.
    The judge then said, “Well, how many peaches were in the can anyway?”
    “Six,” she said.
    The judge said, “Well then, I'm going to give you six days in jail.”
    Before the judge could actually pronounce the punishment, the poor woman's husband spoke up and asked the judge if he could say something.
    The judge said, “What is it?”
    The husband said, “She also stole a can of peas.”
    
    All I can say is that man’s either an awfully honest person, or he’s in a really bad marriage and just wants some time alone.

    Sometimes, I think we look at God as though He were a judge.  An honest judge – a fair judge – but a judge none the less.  And the picture we sometimes have is that he’s waiting – just waiting for us to mess up.  Maybe even waiting for us to mess up big time.  Like the woman who stole the peaches and the peas – breaking the 7th Commandment – the one that says, “You shall not steal.”  You mess up like that, and God’s gonna get ya. That’s what I think we sometimes think.

    That certainly was the understanding among God’s people, the Jews, before Jesus came on the scene.  The reading tonight from the prophet Joel certainly would give us that impression.  Apparently, locusts had invaded and eaten everything.   Food became scarce.  Disaster had struck.  All of this was to suggest that somehow Israel must have sinned for God to have brought this disaster to them.  

    So Joel tells the people that there is a way to escape the Lord’s Day of judgment.  He says, “Blow the trumpet…sound the alarm!”  Joel was sounding a warning.  But there was also good news.  And the good news for the people Joel was speaking to – and the good news for us tonight is this. Listen!

    “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.  Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

    Fasting, weeping, mourning – and a practice that we don’t encourage – the tearing of one’s clothing – were all things that the people of Joel’s time would do to show their sorrow for their sins.  Putting on sackcloth – what we call burlap – and putting on or sitting in ashes were also ways that the people showed sorrow for sin.  It’s where we get our idea for wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday as a sign of repentance.

    Now I know – these are all outward signs – but outward signs of an inner transformation.  What we might call “a changed heart.”  And I would add that these outward signs mean nothing unless there is real transformation on the inside.  And that’s why Joel says, “Rend your hearts, and not your clothing.”  

    In other words – let your repentance be sincere.  Let it be real.  Let it come from the heart.  AND let it lead to real change.  Real transformation.

    Now – the people of Joel’s day believed in a theology of retribution.  Retribution.  In other words – if you’ve sinned – if you’ve messed up real bad – if you’ve turned away from the Lord your God – God’s gonna stick it to you.  However – if your life is going well – if you are healthy and prospering – it must mean that God is showing favor to you because you’re somehow following the rules.  You’re being good and doing what is right!  

    As Christians – we do not believe in a theology of retribution.  Our understanding is that we are all sinners.  There’s not a one of us who isn’t.  And because we are all sinners, we do NOT believe that when hard times come our way that that is God’s punishment for our sins.  I believe God discipline – and that is something far different from punishment.  SO let’s get this thought right out of our heads.  “I must have done something wrong, so God is punishing me.”  That thought has no room in our understanding of who God is – of God’s grace – and how He deals with us – His people.  

    But when we do sin – when we make mistakes – when we mess up real bad – what do we hear – what does God offer to us?  Well again, listen to what Joel has to say.  “Return to the Lord your God,” in other words repent, “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

    Man, do I like those words!  I love hearing those words.  God is gracious.  God is merciful.  God is slow to anger.  God is abounding in steadfast love.

    In other words – God’s NOT mad at you.  It is God’s nature to forgive.   And when God forgives, God forgets.  It is God’s nature to welcome you back when you’ve gone away.  That’s what God wants to do.  And I want to tell you that one of the reasons we are here tonight – one of the reasons why Ash Wednesday can be so important – is its focus on repentance – and to hear the invitation to return to the Lord your God.  

    So tonight – maybe – just maybe – there is someone here who has wandered away – or who once wandered away – or who is thinking of wandering away from the Lord.  If that’s the case, then I want you to listen to this story.

    Ron Lee Davis in his book Courage to Begin Again tells about a man who needed a new start. His name was Robert Robinson. He notes that it was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London. However, Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny. While others were hurrying off to church, the sound of church bells only reminded Robinson of a time long ago when his faith was vibrant. He had once loved God, but he had wandered far, far away. His heart, which had once burned with so much passion for God and the things of God, now contained only cold embers.

    Lost in his lonely thoughts, Robinson suddenly became aware of a carriage coming up behind him. It was a horse-drawn cab. He started to lift his hand to hail the driver, but he noticed the cab was already occupied by a young woman obviously dressed for church. He waved the driver on, but the young woman ordered the driver to stop. She offered to share the carriage with him.
    “Are you going to church?” she asked.

    After a long pause Robinson said, “Yes.” He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the young woman.

    As the carriage headed toward church, Robert Robinson and the young woman exchanged introductions. When he stated his name, she seemed to recognize it. She withdrew a small book of inspirational verse from her purse. “That’s a coincidence,” she said, “I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson. Could it be . . . ?”      When Robinson saw the poem she was referring to, he admitted he had written it long ago.

    “Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Imagine! I’m sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!” But Robert Robinson barely heard her. He was absorbed in the words of the poem he had once written. Later they would be set to music and become a great hymn of the church. The words of Robert Robinson’s poem go like this:

    “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.  Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love;  Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”

    He could barely read those last few lines through the tears that filled his eyes.  “I wrote these words,” he said, “and I’ve lived these words. ‘Prone to wander . . . prone to leave the God I love.’”

    The young woman suddenly understood. “You also wrote, ‘Here’s my heart, O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.’ You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson,” she said. “It’s not too late.”

    “And it wasn’t too late for Robert Robinson,” reports Ron Lee Davis. “In that moment he turned his heart back to God and walked with Him the rest of his days.”

    Now I don’t know everyone’s reason for being here tonight.  Maybe you’ve been walking with the Lord all along.  Maybe you’re here because you’ve lived the words, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.”  And now you are ready – ready to return to the Lord your God.  Maybe you’re looking for a brand new start.  As someone has said, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, we can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  Maybe what you’re looking for – maybe what you want and you need is a brand new ending.  

    And maybe you’re here to receive ashes – or maybe not.  Either way is okay.  Ashes – no ashes.  What is really important – the thing that really matters – is your heart right with God?  Will the ashes be simply something that you do – or will it be an outer sign of the true repentance and change of heart that’s going on on the inside?  

    One of the wonderful passages from the book of Jeremiah – and one of my favorite Old Testament passages – says this:  “I will forgive their sin, and remember their sin no more.”  So remember this tonight.  No matter what’s going on in your life right now – no matter what you’ve done – no matter where you’ve been – no matter how long you’ve been away – you can return to the Lord your God.  Because He is gracious and merciful – slow to anger – and abounding in steadfast love.  Amen

Posted by: AT 09:07 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, February 09 2015

Mark 1:29-39; I Corinthians 9:16-23

          Two weeks ago in the Gospel reading we heard Jesus invite four men to come and follow him.  These four men, Peter, Andrew, James and John, were fishermen.  Jesus comes to them where they are, and finds them at their work on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and calls to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  You remember that, right?

          And furthermore, what we talked about two weeks ago was this.  If you want to catch fish, you need to go to where the fish are.  You don’t wait for the fish to come to you.  You’ve got to go to where the fish are.  And what we learn from that is this.  We modern day disciples – followers of Jesus Christ – we too are fishers of people.  In other words – if you want to tell someone about Jesus Christ – if you want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – or if you simply want to invite them to come to church with you – you can’t wait for people to come to you.  Now, granted, sometimes you’re going to find that that is going to happen.  Sometimes people are going to come to you.  But for the most part – if you want to fish for people – you’ve got to go to where the people are.

          Today, I want to add a little twist to what it means to go fishing for people.  You’re going to find this added twist in our second reading today from I Corinthians.  The writer of this letter is a man by the name of Paul – quite possibly the most influential Christian who ever lived.  Many of the letters he wrote in the early years of the church have been saved.  And these letters were regarded to be important enough to have made their way into our Bible in what we call the New Testament.  So listen to this twist that Paul adds.

          “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel! (in other words the Good News.  That’s what the word Gospel means) …I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

          I have become all things to all people.  So Paul lets us know that not only does he go fishing where the fish are – but when he is among them he does everything he can – whatever it takes – to relate to people in a language – in a way – in a style of communicating that they will understand.  He becomes all things to all people.  He does whatever it takes.

          Now I’ll say more about that might mean for us in a few minutes.  But first let’s tie our reading from Mark’s Gospel into this.  Jesus has had a busy day healing lots and lots of people, starting with Peter’s mother-in-law who had been sick with a fever. 

          If you remember from last week, Jesus had healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit.  As a result, word of what he did spread like wild fire, so that by the time evening rolled around there were people – the reading says, “the whole city was gathered around the door.”  So, quite a crowd.  Lots of people. 

          The following morning he gets up early to get away by himself to pray.  And when the disciples go looking for him, and they find him alone at prayer, they say, “Hey, there you are.  Everyone’s looking for you!”

          And Jesus says, “Yeah, I know.  I just needed a little time first to be alone in prayer with the Father.  So let’s get going.  We’ve got other towns and other villages to get to so that I can tell them the Good News message of the Father’s love for them too.  After all, that’s what I came to do.”

          I think that is so neat, that Peter and the others go looking for Jesus in order to tell him, “Hey man!  Everyone’s looking for you.”

          I would like to suggest that everyone is looking for something.  Everyone is looking for something – something to satisfy their life.  They’re looking for meaning and purpose.  What I would tell anybody in this room today who is  search for that thing that brings you meaning and purpose – that thing that is missing that brings you satisfaction – I want to suggest today that perhaps what you are looking for – whether you know it or not – what you are looking for can be found in Jesus Christ. 

          And that’s what we’re all about here at Zion Lutheran Church.  We’re here to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – to make disciples of Jesus Christ – and to teach people how to fish –the way Jesus talks about fishing.

          There is a whole world of people in our own neighborhoods who would fit into a category that we in the church call the unchurched.  These are folks who perhaps have never been to church – or have been to church for weddings and funerals only – or who were once part of a church and want nothing more to do with church.  These are those that I told you a few weeks ago who can be called the “Nones” – those who put down “none” when asked their church affiliation – or the “Dones” – those who have tried church but are now done with church. 

          Well, there is in my collection of books this book written by a man named George Hunter.  The name of the book is Church for the Unchurched.  It’s kind of old already; written in 1996.  But in it he tells about a young man in his late twenties named Bill who experienced a deeper gift of faith and began serving as a counselor in the youth ministry of his church.  He also launched efforts to revitalize the Men’s Fellowship of the church by reaching out to young men in the community.  But listen to what he ran into.

          Bill discovered that a lot of young men in his community like to gather in the fall to watch Monday Night Football on television, but the only places providing that setting were bars.  Bill wondered if the Men’s Group could bring a large screen television into the church’s fellowship hall on Monday nights and host unchurched men. He asked an acquaintance with long hair, a left earring, and a motorcycle if guys would be interested in watching Monday night football at their church.  The fellow replied, “I would like to, and I could bring other guys.”  When Bill proposed this Monday night agenda to the Men’s Group president, he heard the reply: “Sure, we could meet on Monday nights, but we like dominos more than football; invite them to come and play our game.”

          Can you imagine?  Well, even with that, Bill’s friend with the long hair and the earring in his ear – visited the Men’s Fellowship.  He liked the men – most of whom were older – and was attracted by what he understood of Christianity’s message.  But he felt uncomfortable, and said to Bill, “Look, with my long hair and earring, I’m out of place here.  Christianity is not for people like me.  After tonight, I’m out of here.”

          Bill found himself saying, “If I get my ear pierced, will you come back?”  His friend was moved, and said, “If you care enough about me to do that, sure, I will come back, and I will bring my friends.”

          When I read that the first time, I couldn’t help thinking, how much like Paul Bill was to his friend.  “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”  As I say, the book is 19 years old, and who knows how old that story is.  Today we probably wouldn’t look twice at a man with long hair or an earring.  But I remember 18, 19 years ago when I first read the book I was so impressed by that story, I remember saying to my beloved wife Nancy, “Hey Nance!  What would you think if I got my ear pierced?”  And I got one of those looks.  You know what kind I mean?  And she asked, “Are you serious?”  And I said, “Well, yeah.  I think so.  Sort of.”  And she said, “You’re weird.”

          Today I see a lot of young folks – and okay – some of you not so young folks wearing tats.  By the way just so ALL of you know what I’m talking about, tat is short for tattoo.  Body art.  SO recalling my conversation with my beloved wife Nancy of nearly 20 years ago, I asked her this week, “Hey Nance.  What would you think if I got a tat?”  And she said, “Why?  Are you serious?  Are you going through a mid-life crisis?  A late mid-life crisis?”

          Okay, so maybe I’m not so serious about a tat – at least not yet anyway.  And I am not going through a mid-life crisis.   But if piercing my ear or getting a tat would make somebody else feel welcome here – you know – why not?

          Listen!  A motivational speaker once said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say “whatever” and those who say, “whatever it takes.” “Whatever” has a kind of a “who cares?” attitude about it.  Really kind of a lousy attitude if you ask me. 

          “Whatever it takes” on the other hand, is the response of those who are committed to something.  Whatever it takes says, “Let’s get this done.” 

          So think about those two responses when it comes to the Church’s mission.  And I would like to go on record to say that we, as the church have a job to do, and that that job can be boiled down to doing two things.  Number one – evangelism; in other words fishing for people.  And number two, making disciples.  That’s why everything that we do here at Zion has – or at least it ought to have – one or both of those two guiding principles behind it.  

          So when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.”  Whatever!  Or whatever it takes?

          When Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all people.”   Whatever! Or whatever it takes?  

          When Jesus says, “There is more rejoicing over one sinner who is found than 99 who need no repentance.”  Whatever! Or whatever it takes? 

          Now, let me be clear, when I was talking about earrings, long hair, and tattoos, I wasn’t suggesting that I or any of you men or any of you women start getting tats.   Well, unless you want to.  And although Nancy has other thoughts about it for me, I want you to know men – if you want to get a tat or wear an earring – ladies if you want to get a tat – AND men or women you’re over 18 – don’t want to get into trouble with any of you parents here – but if that’s what you want to do – I’m way cool with that.  And who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll surprise Nancy.  I’ll surprise you!  I’d surprise me!  You never know.

          But you do know by now what I’m really saying.   I am asking whether you and I are willing to do whatever it takes – whatever it takes to win people to Jesus Christ and his Church.   People are looking for purpose and meaning in their lives.  We have the Good News of Jesus Christ to give them.  Therefore, whether they know it or not – I think what people are looking for can be found in Jesus Christ. 

          So – will people see Jesus in you?  In me?  Paul says, “I became all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  Paul understood that in order to minister to people in Christ’s name, we must meet them where they are, not where we are.

          So let me ask you one more time.  Whatever?  Or whatever it takes?        Amen

Posted by: AT 12:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, February 04 2015

Mark 1:21-28
    Well folks, [tomorrow] [today] is the day all good football junkies have been waiting for for a whole year.  Super Bowl Sunday.  It has become a national holiday –  the high holy day for all armchair quarterbacks.  And if your favorite team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl – again – well, just remember that saying that’s so popular here in Western New York, “There’s always next year.”  Or, maybe the year after that, or maybe the year after that. 

     But around here, here in this place that we call church – we don’t have to wait another whole year for Super Sunday to roll around, because every Sunday is Super Sunday.  And every Saturday is Super Saturday.  And the wonderful thing is is that we already know the outcome.  Every Saturday – and Every Sunday we celebrate a victory – Jesus’ victory over the powers of sin, death and the devil.  Can I get a woo-hoo on that? 

     Now our Gospel lesson today from the book of Mark, is just one example of what that battle looks like.   Of course, this one does not take place in a crowded football stadium. No, it take place in a synagogue.  Jesus and his disciples are in a place called Capernaum.  It’s the Sabbath day, and Jesus has entered the synagogue in order to teach.  The people of course, are amazed at his teaching.  He teaches like one who has authority.      
 
     And right then and there, his teaching is interrupted.  A man enters the synagogue – a man who the Bible says has an unclean spirit.  And he suddenly cries out:      
     “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”      

     Folks, I want to tell you, I have seen some strange things happen in church, but never anything like this.  And immediately Jesus takes control of the situation – in other words, he’s in the middle of the huddle – and he calls the play.  And this is the play that Jesus calls:  he goes for the two point conversion.  Are you ready?  Point one:  “Be silent!”  Point two:  “Come out of him!”      
     And that unclean spirit begins to convulse the man –it cries out with a loud voice – and comes popping out like a football that has been fumbled.        

     Jesus shows up in Capernaum that day as a teacher who not only amazes everybody with the authority of his teaching, but with his authority over unclean spirits as well.  Jesus shows up in Capernaum that day, and the forces of evil know that their Super Bowl days are over.  In Jesus Christ, evil has met its match. 

     You see, folks, when it comes to Jesus –
         – when it comes to having faith in Jesus Christ
         – when it comes to having a relationship with Jesus Christ
         – when it comes to letting Jesus help you deal with your personal demons
        – let me suggest that we would do well to pay attention to Jesus and his two-point conversion.      

     Because it is not a bad strategy.  For any one of us.  Regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord.  Regardless of whether we are on the Lord’s team – or we are considering what it means to be a member of the Lord’s team – let me tell you – the two-point conversion is a great strategy – to help you deal with whatever burden you might be dealing with right now.

     Here’s the thing.  In football – a two-point conversion can be a game winning event.  And it occurs after a touchdown has been made.  The team on offence – in other words the team with the ball – has a choice.  Do they go for the one extra point – or two extra points?  The safe route – the usually safe route – is to go for the one extra point – by kicking the ball through the uprights of the goal post.  Or, they can go for the more difficult two-point conversion, which involves running another play from the two yard line and attempting to run or pass the ball into the end zone for another 2 points.  That’s the two-point conversion in football, and it can often be a game winning event.

    For the Christian – the two-point conversion is a life-changing event.  So we can talk about conversion – we can talk about an “aha” moment – as a time when you realize that Jesus is who he says he is – in other words – that Jesus truly is the Son of God – the Savior of the world –and you become one of his disciples.  That’s conversion – and it’s a conversion from an old way of life to a new way of life.       Conversion can happen dramatically – all at once – or it can happen little by little, bit by bit.  Over time.  Either way.  Doesn’t matter.  Conversion can lead to a change in lifestyle.  Or a reordering of priorities.  But it always involves a transformation – simply because you – the believer – have had an encounter with Jesus Christ.

    Now, I’m going to take a risk here, and ask all of you a question.  I’m not going to ask for a show of hands – but I just want you to think for a moment if you feel that you have grown in your faith over the last few years.  You see, whenever we grow in faith –whether it’s a stronger devotion to God – a deeper love and respect for others – or when we have gone deeper into God’s Word – when we notice a change – or other people notice a change – in us – well then, that is what we call transformation.  That’s what the 2-point conversion will lead to – transformation.  

    So – the two point conversion that Jesus used.  What does it look like again?
     First – be quiet.  Learn to be silent and to listen.  Listen to the voice of God.  Listen to the words of Jesus.  Get away from distractions.  Spend time alone in prayer, in Bible reading, in devotion with God, in worship.  Just soak up and experience the love, forgiveness and peace of God.        Second – listen as Jesus says, “Come out of him.”  In other words, break free, let go, get rid of something.  Whatever it is that’s slowing you down – whatever it is that is keeping you from being all that God wants you to be.

   We might even call these things we need to get rid of – demons.  And just as the man Jesus encountered may have been possessed by a number of demons – so too, we might have more than one that we need to deal with.  The demon of desire for worldly success at any cost.  Or fame.  Or fortune.  The demon of pride.  Of destructive habits or lousy attitudes.  The demons of hate – jealousy – guilt – revenge.  You name it.  We all – including myself – we all deal with these demons from time to time.  We all – regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord – we are all still in need of the two-point conversion that leads to transformation.  

    Two-point conversions can make a difference in a football game.  Now wouldn’t that be something if that happens [tomorrow night] [tonight]?  Two point conversions make a difference in the life of Christians too.  Wouldn’t that be something if something like that happens here this [evening] [morning]?

    Let me share with you a story.  “A woman once came to [her pastor] to talk about her son in college.  He had been getting involved with a rather conservative Christian campus group, and she was worried, fearing the kind of Christianity they were teaching.  [The pastor] advised patience, believing more good than harm would result.      

    “Sometime later [they] talked again.  An unbelievable change had come over her son. Whereas once he had been, in her words, a little spoiled rich kid obsessed with his own selfish concerns – (know anybody like that?) –  he now was generous, thoughtful, outgoing, and determined to help others – (know anybody like that?).    

    “What had happened?  He had fallen under the spell of a new kind of teaching – the teaching of Jesus Christ.  The demons of selfishness, contempt, and greed had been cast out by the authority of Christ.  He was a new man, and now he is helping make a new world as a missionary.” Conversion.    

    Let me share with you another story.  This one is from Chuck Swindoll from his book Growing Deeper in the Christian Life.  He “tells about a commercial venture of one of the largest department stores in our nation.  It proved to be disastrously unsuccessful.  It was a doll in the form of the baby Jesus.  It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable, and cuddly.  It was packaged in straw with a satin ribbon and plastic surroundings, and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete.    
 
    “It did not sell.  The manager of one of the stores in the department chain panicked.  He carried out a last-ditch promotion to get rid of those dolls.  He brandished a huge sign outside his store that read:  ‘JESUS CHRIST – MARKED DOWN 50% – GET HIM WHILE YOU CAN.’”

      I guess you could say that that department store manager didn’t know what to do with Jesus.      I trust that it is not the same with us.  We can know what to do with Jesus – and his teachings.  Jesus is – well, I guess on a [weekend] [day] like [this weekend] [today] – I guess we can call him our coach.  And when he speaks, we can choose either to listen – or to ignore.  He offers us the option of a two-point conversion.        

     And if I were a gambling man – and I’m not – but if I were, I’d bet that most of us are here today because we already know – or WANT to know – what to do with Jesus.  Regardless – all of us need to hear what Jesus has to offer.        

     And what Jesus offers is life.  A new way of life and a new way of living.  A new way of relating to God and to each other.  A new person in place of the old.  A two-point conversion that will lead us to love God, and love our neighbor.          
    And when you think about it, does anything else really matter?      Amen

Posted by: AT 12:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
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