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The mythology of the demonic in individuals, institutions, and societies (Key text: Mark 1:12-15, 21-28)

  This is the first of several instances in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus confronts and expels an unclean spirit or spirits, also called demons. In the world of Jesus and other cultures, both then and even today, it was and is assumed that spirits, both good and bad, share this world with humans, and these spirits can take possession of human beings. I’m not sure how a modern day psychiatrists might describe or diagnose such a condition today. I suppose that in light of their training they would describe it in psychopathological terms. If you ask me what I believe about the existence of spirits in our world separate from humans I would say, “I am skeptical, but open to the possibility. Just because I have never encountered the phenomena does not mean they don’t exist.” But let me stress that a passage like this should not be read literally, but spiritually, that is metaphorically and symbolically. This is a religious text, and therefore should be read spiritually, not literally or historic

Is it possible to have compassion for President Trump?

Jesus said, according to Luke, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, . . . Do to others as you would have them do to you . . . Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate" (Luke 6:27-28, 31, 36). I have been praying that I might feel some compassion, rather than anger and hate toward President Trump and his deluded followers. Yes, he is an evil person who has done much evil.  The description that Paul (or someone writing in the name and tradition of Paul) employs in a rather strange apocalyptic passage in 2 Thessalonians fits the President and his followers quite well: "He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship . . . declaring himself to be God" (2:4). The writer calls this person "the lawless one" (2:3). Those who follow this "lawless one" are imagined as having been deceived by "a powerful delusion," which leads them &qu

How Long, Lord? (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 18:1-8)

How long, Lord? I suspect we have all asked that question haven’t we? We may have asked that question after weeks or perhaps months or maybe even years of our own struggle or a loved one’s struggle with a serious illness or debilitating pain. We may have asked out of the despair of a deep betrayal by a spouse or a friend. Or it may have been after months of trying to find work related to our skills and training. How long, Lord? The widow in our story who was a victim of injustice must have felt that way? She keeps crying out to the unjust judge, “Grant me justice!” It’s interesting that Luke introduces this parable as a call to pray always and not lose heart. I very much doubt that in its original setting Jesus intended this story to be about prayer. Luke’s application of the parable as a call to persistent prayer is an example of how these stories can connect with us and impact us on different levels. How we understand and apply these stories depends a lot on our own context and

Singing a Capella (A sermon from Hab. 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

This was a big event in the life of the small denomination that hosted the annual conference. It was a two day event, and worship on the final night was always the most attended. It was their custom to have an interesting and challenging keynote speaker and music of the highest quality. The program bulletin that named the vocalist said that she would sing accompanied by sound track. She had rehearsed this song numerous times in preparation for this event and the time had now come. She walked confidently to the stage and nodded for the gentleman in the sound booth to start the music. She waited and waited and waited. The sound operator finally looked up and made some motions. The unthinkable had happened. The player had malfunctioned. She knew there was a decision to make. Either leave the stage rather awkwardly calling attention to the problem, or sing the song unaccompanied by the sound track. Out of the silence, strong and sure, the vocalist’s voice rang true and powerful.    

One Hell of a Story (A sermon from Luke 16:19-31)

The late Ken Chafin, who was a Baptist minister and professor and something of a statesman, tells about a friend in college who use to preach a lot in some of the small country churches not far from campus. Chafin would get a card from his friend saying something like: 35 saved in rival at the Mossy Bottom Baptist Church. Chafin thought that was pretty good since they only had about 25 members. This pricked his curiosity a little bit, so one evening he drove out to hear him preach. It was a Friday night and his friend’s sermon that evening was on the Great White Throne Judgment. His text came out of the book of Revelation. The preacher was in a white suit, white tie, white shirt, white belt, and even white shoes. He thundered from the pulpit that if you didn’t become white as snow through the blood of the lamb you would find yourself literally in one hell of a predicament, a hell of fire and brimstone. Chafin said that he didn’t think he was going to get home that night until the pre

Lost and Found (A sermon from Luke 15:1-10)

  The fifteenth chapter of Luke has been called “the gospel within the gospel.” With the exception of the elder son, that which is lost is found. The lost sheep is returned to the flock, the lost coin is recovered by its owner, the lost son is restored to the father, and so there is good news all way around. We could say that God is better at finding than we are at getting lost and that is very good news, because we are pretty good at getting lost. Robert Fulghum in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten tells about playing hide and seek in his neighborhood growing up. He says there was one kid who always hid too good. After a while they would give up trying to find him. Later, after they had quit the game he would show up and he would be upset. Fulghum writes, “There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide and seek not hide and give up, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’