Thursday, October 27, 2005

The sermon I actually gave for Luke 8:26-40

Well the good prof liked my actual sermon. So, here it is... albeit the written version is always a little different than my Chrysostom-like oratory:D

Being healed God’s way is always sacrificial. As seminarians we need to internalize this point. Hear it, learn it, inwardly digest it, write it down on the little piece of paper so that we have the same answer about it, and then go into the world and preach it - God’s way is always sacrificial. What’s more, God will sacrifice what is yours for his glory.

You don’t believe that? In today’s story Jesus makes the contrast between earthly and heavenly wholeness stark and obvious - he destroys the economic base of a community to save a single soul without apology. Jesus does not say "I'm sorry" for his ways. There you have it, God will liberate you. He will deliver you from the powers and provinces of the earth whether they be the fallen angels or the Caesar’s with their Legions. But, it’s only salvation if we’re willing to pay the price for each and every soul. If we’re not, we’ll probably kick and scream and wonder how God could do such things to our earthly wealth and security.

As the future pastors and teachers within Christ’s Church, we must ask ourselves - are we willing to pay the cost, sometimes in blood, sweat, and tears, for the salvation of each and every soul who feels the sting of God’s Love working in their life? Do you not think that Jesus will test you as he tested those in the country of the Gadarenes? Some souls out there take a lot of work. They take daily counseling, they take inordinate resources of time and money, they take acts of unreturned kindness and the assumption of an unequal yoke of mercy and forgiveness. Don't expect the person to return the love you gave them before the end. They may even break you before they understand what they are doing. It's like a drowning man who cannot swim and fights the lifeguard trying to rescue him. Nevertheless, the lifeguard is accountable for saving him. It is only with total confidence in the ultimate victory of Jesus that we can truly live our our vocation as pastors.

It is not a popular message. What is popular today is moderation. Everything in moderation. Moderation is always better.

Really? Pick up your cross in moderation? Serve your own demons and Caesar’s and the True God, all in moderation? If the Bible is a collection of books about moderation, then saints preserve us when we encounter God in a zealous mood!

Don’t be fooled, God is unimpressed by lukewarm self-justifying. Of all groups, does Orthodoxy need one more lesson in the problems encountered by trying to serve two masters? Of all people, shouldn’t we be the first to witness to the futility of trying to blend desire for worldly grandiosity and prosperity with the life of sacrifice we are called to by God?

God’s way is the hard and singular way of sacrifice. It always has been. It was sacrifice and hardship for Christ on the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane Christ is faced with the Father’s method and he asks "Is there any other way?" Then the silence.... then the inevitable conclusion: Of course not. There is never another way. There never has been.

It was sacrifice in the desert for the Hebrews. It was sacrifice unto death for Paul, and Peter, and Thomas, and for over half of the names that we Christians now bear. It was sacrifice in Moscow for those who told the Communists that God did not share Marx’s view on class warfare, it was sacrifice of social prestige and wealth for all of those under Islamic Shari’a who would not bow their knee to the Sultan. We only have the two options, put so well, albeit accidentally, by the Punk band Clash - Death and Glory, or just another story. It is precisely that Christ's story is one of Death and Glory and not just another story that keeps his tale ringing in our ears and hearts long after more practical stories have died out.

For those of us in ministry our cross is often small. It’s usually nothing more than the collection of all those small things we’re supposed to do but find so difficult. Can we go before the throne on that day and say that we didn’t have the patience to teach our lay?, that we didn’t have the money to help the poor?, that we didn’t have the desire to support our missionaries or even perhaps the zeal to be missionaries ourselves?, can we let our laity ease by with the excuse that they don’t have time to gather in community once a week?

Count the costs before agreeing with me. There is a price to be paid for doing things God’s way, and God will make that price evident enough when he comes for our demons. When the fire of God’s desire turns to us and it is our Legions that must be cast out, that's when we'll know. When the Lord calls our phone collect we don't have the option to hang up. The wealth we were allowed to Steward was there for a reason, and it is on God's time, and not our that we are called upon to spend it. Are willing to spend all that we have so that our ministry will save one lonely, naked, disgraced soul that is lost in the wilderness? When that time comes the decision will be clear. We can choose the Cross and praise God for the salvation he has wrought in our midst... or else we can whine about our earthly loss and hardships as the Hebrews did in Egypt, or as the swineherders did today, and we can choose Legion.


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