Monday, February 02, 2009

Sunday Sermon- February 1, 2008

“The Devil and Rev. Sanders”
Mark 1:21-28, Dueteronomy 18:15-20
February 1, 2009
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, Minnesota

About a year ago, an interesting indie movie came out called “Lars and the Real Girl.” The story was about a young man named Lars who was a bit of an odd duck. He was incredibly shy, never really connecting with people, especially his brother and sister-in-law. His sister in law tried as hard as she could to bring him out of his shell, but he remained in his little house just off of the larger house where his brother lived.

One day, a UPS truck arrives at Lars’ small house. Shortly thereafter, he goes to his brother’s house to exclaim that he had found a wonderful girl and wanted to introduce her to them. The couple are excited at the news and get to creating a good meal.

The next thing we see if Lars’ girlfriend, Bianca. The thing is Bianca isn’t that animated. She’s kinda plastic. Remember that package that arrived at Lars’ house? Well, the package contained Bianca, a life-sized doll. So, Lars had brought a doll to have dinner with his family. Lars described her as a missionary from Brazil. Of course, his sibiling and his wife were astounded and thought that Lars had gone off the deep end. The brother runs to the town psychologist seeking help. Dr. Dagmar decided that what was best was to play into Lars’ fantasies and treat Bianca as if she was real person.

As what happens in a small town, word got around and the church council got together to decide what to do. After all, what was going to happen with Lars tooling around town with a giant doll? After much debate, the pastor finally asked the question, what would Jesus do?

The response of the town was to treat Bianca just like Lars did- as a real person. So, we have images of Bianca going shopping with the girls and getting her hair done and all the rest. The town learned to accept Bianca as one their own and in the end, they accepted Lars who was coming out of his self-imposed isolation.

As I was preparing for this sermon, a theme that seemed to come out from my studies were the concepts of exclusion and inclusion. I can’t speak for others, but those two topics have always been important to me for several reasons. First of course, is as an African American. It wasn’t that long ago that people who looked like me were excluded from parts of American society including the church. We are progressing as Americans, as African Americans are more and more being included in society, yes even in the White House. But of course the sin of racism is still around and there is still some work to do. The second reason this is important for me is as a gay man. Life can be challenging for gays and lesbians, and sadly, the church has not always done a good job of welcoming us. I am thankful that I have found communities where I am accepted for who I am as a child of God, but there are many who still stay away from churches bearing scars of the past pains of exclusion. The there is the fact that I also have what might be considered a disability. Last year, I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome which is a form of autism. The diagnosis was an answer to years of misunderstanding that affected my calling as a pastor. But it also present me with questions to how I would be accepted in church and made me aware of how those with differing forms of autism are treated in faith communities.

The gospel story today has much to do with how we exclude and welcome those who are different. Jesus is in the synogogue teaching and the faith community is amazed. He isn’t teaching like all the other scribes, who taught based on precedent and tradition, he teaches with an authority that comes from himself. In the midst of this teaching, a man with what the text says is an “unclean spirit” starts to make a commotion. We don’t know what this man had, but we do know that he is ill. But notice they didn’t say that. The writer said he has an unclean spirit. Because of the ritual laws concerning cleanliness, this means this man was separated from the larger faith community. He was not clean, so he was not part of the larger body. In some sense, he wasn’t supposed to be at the synogogue. For whatever reason, he was there and the spirits inside of him could see Jesus and decided to taunt him.

Jesus would have none of this. He orders the spirit to come out of the man and the unclean spirit did. The people were astounded. If someone was unclean, it meant having to do something to make oneself clean. But if you had an illness, like an unclean spirit or leprosy, you were pretty much out of luck. But Jesus took the impossible and made it possible. Jesus was able to make the impossible, possible.

Is this story about demons and evil spirits? In a way, yes. There are spirits out there that feast on fear, making us scared of each other and putting up walls to “protect” us. It happens in the wider society, of course, but it also happens in the church. The church in the United States has a sad history of excluding African Americans from worshipping in the same space with whites. The church has also sadly excluded people who were gay from being in churches. But the fact is, it doesn’t stop there. We are all at times fearful of dealing with someone who different from us. Maybe it is someone who has a mental illness, or a homeless person. Sometimes we just want to ignore these people and hope they go away. I will admit, I’ve felt that way and you probably have too at times as well. The spirits that kept this man from being part of the synogogue still is up to its old tricks, trying to make sure that people are kept out, excluded.

But the good news is that we have a friend in Jesus. It is in Jesus name that the spirits who work on exclusion have already lost. It is by Christ’s death on the cross, that the power of sin has been broken, it just doesn’t know that yet.

This means that in faith we can work toward learning to include everyone- finding ways to let people know that they are loved by the God of all Creation, and by us as well.

My Lutheran friends sometimes comment on having a “Theology of the Cross.” It basically means seeing the life of a Christian though Christ’s death on the cross. There much here that is good, but I think that we Disciples have our own theology. I like to call it the Theology of the Table. One of the founders from our Restoration heritage had this to say about the act of communion:

The Theology of the Table means having a theology that is centered at the communion table where we are all equal. It is the place where we share each others burdens and as Campbell says we are “mutually embraced.”

Trying to be inclusive of others is not easy and I don’t think it is something where we “arrive.” We are constantly working at it and falling back, but knowing that we are forgiven, we strive onward, to day by day become God’s people.

There is a tale told about former Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I have no idea if it is true, but I like it. It took place during the struggle against aparthied in South Africa. He and others were protesting and he sees a group of white South African policemen. He shouts to them that they have already lost, so they should come over to their side and join them.

At the time, Nelson Mandela was still in jail. The aparthied government maintained an iron grip on black South Africans. And yet, Tutu believed that the battle had been won. The spirits of division were in retreat; they just didn’t know it yet.

May we be a community that learns to be hospitable to those of might seem different. May God forgive us when we fall short and give the stregth to carry on. Thanks be to God, Amen.


Pam said...

Great sermon, Dennis! Thanks for posting it. And, it was really nice to see you yesterday. Stay well!

Pam Middleotn

Adam Gonnerman said...

Intriguing use of the text. I also noticed that you wrote out the sermon (obviously). I've always wondered: Is that what they teach in seminary? I only have a Bachelor of Ministry, and in my homiletics classes we worked from outlines. I only preached from a text once, but it didn't go well.