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ELCA Worship in the Home: https://blogs.elca.org/worship/3290/

 

Prayer of the Day: Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Mark 1: 21-28

The Man with an Unclean Spirit

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried 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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Some thoughts from Pastor Phil:

Have you ever tasted a bowl of delicious stone soup? It sounds incredible, doesn’t it? After all, we all know that you can’t make soup from a stone. Or can you? Well, you can if you believe in miracles.

Our gospel lesson for today is about a miracle. It, too, sounds incredible. Miracles are difficult to believe. Yet the total story of the gospels that are shared in the New Testament are filled with miracle stories.

The gospel story begins with the miracle of the virgin birth and ends with the miracle of the resurrection. And in between our Lord works one miracle after another: The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The sick are cured. The dead are raised, and in the case of our reading for today, an exorcism of sorts is performed where Jesus removes an unclean spirit from a man.

I remember back several years ago. It was the first time I did the children’s sermon for the children during the Sunday morning service at my internship congregation in Indianapolis. It was the story about Samson and the strength he had from his long hair. Not two seconds after I got through reading the story, the first comment out of one of the children’s mouths was, “Did that really happen?” I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. And yet, that is the first and the most natural reaction to the hearing of a miracle story. “Did that really happen?”

Regrettably, however, this is a question that cannot be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. For the truth of that matter is a miracle is impossible to prove or explain. It is part of the very nature of a miracle that it is an unusual event, a unique event that defies proof or explanation. Any attempt to prove a miracle seems to destroy it. Try to explain a miracle, and you explain it away, like the fragile, time-worn paper of an ancient manuscript. Touch it and it crumbles to dust in your hands.

So, what are we going to do with the miracles like the one in our gospel lesson for today? Well, we can ignore them and preach on something else. Or we can take them literally and attempt to change water into wine and heal deafness and all other physical ailments with prayers and special healing services. And that is a legitimate and viable option. We can all cite stories about such miracles, and they are fascinating precisely because they are unusual.

But for most of us it seems that miracles don’t happen, at least not to us. Our most sincere prayers often appear to go unanswered, and why miracles of healing are rare is a mystery locked in the mind of God.

The third way of approaching the miracles is to spiritualize them. We can take the position that Jesus opens the ears of our souls and enables us to hear the true Word of God. This is true, and this miracle can and does happen every time we study God’s Word.

But is that the intent of the gospel writer of Mark as he records our reading for today? When we study carefully our reading in its total context, it is apparent that this is NOT the intent of Mark. For you see, the gospel writer gives us a clear indication of how he wants us to understand the miracle story, and he points out directly what he wants us to learn from his telling of this story. At the end of this reading, Mark writes, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”

This makes it quite clear that Mark wants us to focus our attention, not on the man with the unclean spirit, but on Jesus Christ himself. Mark does not tell miracles stories to test the credibility of our faith. The Bible records miracles, and Mark tells this particular miracle story, not to test our faith, but to testify to the power of God’s presence in Jesus Christ.

What Mark is saying to us is that when God is present in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is present in our lives, unusual things are bound to happen. Things that we never expected. Things that we never dreamed could happen. Things that we cannot prove to others or explain to ourselves do happen.

You see, before God came to earth, people felt separated from God. Their lives were empty, lonely and filled with fears. They were longing for God. They searched the vast expanse of the heavens. They studied the stars. They listened intently to every prophet who came down the road. God seemed hidden. People were lost.

And then, one dark night in Bethlehem, the God they had so long searched for came down to earth searching for them. Through the door of a barn, God entered the world as a baby, and the angels sang “Emanuel,” which means “God is with us.” This baby Jesus grew into adulthood. He walked the dusty roads of Palestine. He talked and taught. He gathered a faithful fellowship about him. And wherever he went, women and men knew that God was present, in a unique way, in this unusual person named Jesus.

This is what Mark is talking about when he tells our story for today. The power of God is present in Jesus Christ. Wherever Jesus is, something happens; new, wonderful, unusual, miraculous things happen. This is the greatest miracle of all, because when God is with us, marvelous and wonderful things do happen. We will even be able to make soup from a stone.

Now this term, “Stone Soup,” comes from and old American folktale. I first heard it from my homiletics professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. Richard Carl Hoefler. Some of you may be familiar with it.

It tells of a time in the early history of our country when a famine hit the Appalachian region. A traveler came upon a little village in the mountains and he went from house to house begging for food. He was turned away at every door with the same story, “We have nothing at all to eat.”

As he left the village he met another traveler going to the village. He told him the effort was fruitless, for there was no food to be had. The second traveler simply smiled and continued on to the village.

When he arrived he called all the people to the town square. Out of his pocket he took a stone. He held it up for all to see. “This,” he said, “is a miracle stone. From it you can make the most delicious soup you have ever tasted.” The people doubted him, but since he was persistent they challenged him to prove it.

So, they built a fire and placed over it a large iron pot filled with water. With great ceremony the traveler dropped the stone into the pot. Carefully he stirred it with a long stick. After a few minutes he tasted it. “Good,” he said, “but what it needs is a few carrots.” Fascinated by the demonstration one old man said, “I have some carrots!” And he ran home and brought them back and dropped them into the pot.

Again, the visitor tasted the soup. “Very good,” he said, “but what it lacks is a few onions.” Excitement was growing fast in the crowd. “I have some onions!” a little old lady cried out. When the onions were added, the visitor said, “Very, very good. But some potatoes and turnips would certainly enrich the broth.” When they were added, the visitor announced, “nearly perfect, only one thing could improve it; a little meat.” “I have some chickens” shouted an excited farmer. And so the chickens were cleaned and added to the broth, and with that the visitor served the soup to the gathered villagers. And every man, woman and child agreed that “Stone Soup” was the most delicious soup they had ever tasted!

Friends in Christ, this is the meaning of the miracles of Jesus. Our Lord came into our world, a world marked by a famine of fellowship and faith. And he continues to come into our empty world and our lonely lives bringing the living presence of God’s Spirit. And when God is present, marvelous and miraculous things happen. Soup is made from stones, because we share what we have and ourselves with each other. As we are filled by God’s Spirit, we are enabled to share our total self with each other.

All of our needs are met in the marvelous miracle of mutuality. Soup is made from stones, and I guarantee you it is the most delicious and the most nutritious soup you will ever taste. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 
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Prayer of the Day:  Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son.  Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

An additional prayer for our world:  Eternal God, amid all the turmoil and changes of the world, your love is steadfast and your strength never fails.  In this time of danger and trouble, be to us a sure guardian and rock of defense.  Guide the leaders of our nation with your wisdom, comfort those in distress, and grant us courage and hope to face the future, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

 

Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 

Some thoughts from Pastor Phil:

There’s something very soothing and relaxing about living by the water. From small ponds to ocean beachfronts, from little creeks to large rivers, water has a mesmerizing effect on many of us.  It’s easy to “get away from it all” when you are near the water.  Until…storms hit, and the water rises, and the potential for disaster increases.  Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and the tsunami of 2004 are examples of the destructive power of water.

One thing that people who live near the water agree on is that preparation is essential.  Have an escape route planned; know what to do in the house if water starts to come in; be prepared for the worst.

Today we are focusing our thoughts on Jesus’ baptism and our life in Christ.  Many of us know, or were told, of our own baptism and the life-giving imagery of the baptismal ceremony.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Baptism, in a sense, helps prepare us for the worst life will throw at us.  Regardless of the storms that rise around us, we remember that we are in Christ and that we are baptized.

In our gospel lesson for today, Mark tells us that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  People came from all over the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem to hear his message, confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River.  John also proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  When John baptized Jesus, a voice came from heaven: “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Questions have surrounded Jesus’ baptism ever since. Christians agree that Jesus did not come to be baptized for forgiveness of sins.  Jesus alone lived a sinless life and had no need to be forgiven.  Nor do we believe that Jesus was baptized only to initiate the Sacrament of Baptism for the church.  So why was Jesus baptized?  Many answers have been suggested, but let me share three possible reasons for Jesus’s baptism.

First, the pronouncement by the Father was a strong affirmation for John and for all who heard it that life on earth had taken a dramatic turn and the Jesus was not just a Galilean peasant.  “You are my Son,” God said. When God talks, everyone should listen!

Second, Mark says the very next thing for Jesus after his baptism was the time spent in the wilderness.  Luke records the temptations in detail while Mark simply says Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.”  Surely, the affirmation by his Father was a source of strength and comfort as Jesus endured the physical, emotional and spiritual trials in the wilderness.

Third, Mark records that upon returning from the wilderness, Jesus began his public ministry.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…”  Throughout the next three years, Jesus lived through incredible joys, but also incredible disappointment, great loneliness and great pain. Through it all, he surely remembered the Father’s words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Certainly, one of the life goals for most, if not all, Christians, is to hear the Father say to us, “You are my son (daughter), the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  While in a real sense, God says this at our baptism; that is just the beginning of life lived in relationship with God.  We also look forward to the day when we see God face to face and hear those words again.  Or, as Jesus said in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; …enter into the joy of your master.”

If we compare this relationship to a marriage, just as saying “I do” is the beginning of a lifelong commitment, so our baptism, as wondrous as it is, or was, represents only the beginning of a relationship with God that will never end.          

In an address to a Lutheran pastors’ conference, Donald Stuppy spoke about how Martin Luther viewed baptism as a daily source of strength and comfort for the Christian.  Stuppy said, “While we may recognize the blessings of baptism, we may not be fully aware of its value for our daily life.  How often do we think about or make mention of our baptism?  Are we making proper use of our baptism in our fight against sin?  Does it bring us comfort in times of trouble?  For Luther, a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.  Therefore, let everybody regard his or her baptism as the daily garment which he or she is to wear all the time.  Luther was not one to say, “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized!”  Our baptism may indeed be an act performed in the past, but its benefits and blessings are not confined to the past or reserved only for the future; they are present here and now.”

As the events of this past Wednesday were unfolding in our nation’s capital, many of us were glued to our televisions and/or computers as we wondered how such a thing could happen in our country.  As I tried to wrap my head around it, I was reminded of the Affirmation of Baptism liturgy in our Lutheran Hymnal.  As part of that service we are asked: “Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism;       

  • to live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”

And our response is, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.”

Friends in Christ, we are joined together in the community of the baptized.  Drawing upon God’s spirit, we can never neglect each other or do each other harm.  We are fellow members of Christ’s body.  We are baptized to serve each other.  More than you and I realize, our baptismal life in Christ has power to offer people new beginnings.

Over the Christmas holiday, I ran into an acquaintance of mine from college.  It has been several years since I had last seen her.  I ran into her at a gas station in Hickory.  It was a cold morning and she shared with me what was going on in her life.  That morning her car would not start.  As a single parent she had to get her two youngsters off to day-care, she had to inform her boss that she would be arriving late for work, she had to call triple A and get someone to come and jumpstart her car.

And underneath all these botherations of that day lies the much deeper issues of a failed marriage, bringing up two small children on her own, and coping with the lonely moments when she wonders what happened to all the dreams and hopes that brightened her horizon just a few years ago.

I shared with her some of what was going on in my life.  I gave her updates on Deb and our three children.  I shared how frustrating it was to not be physically present in a faith community during this global pandemic.  And at that point she told me that she was concerned before the pandemic that she could not find the time or energy to become active in her congregation and to take part in many of the things she remembered her mother doing in the church in which she was raised.

Folks, this is a very common issue.  This is a situation in which the meaning of baptism is direct.  That acquaintance of mine needed to hear that her baptismal calling is not measured by the numbers of church activities she should immediately assume.  Rather, her baptism is her lifeline to make it through a morning like that one was, to hold fast to her dignity and worth as a mother of two children so dependent on her, to know that her work and life have meaning and promise, to find a family of believers.  That acquaintance of mine is not alone in her dilemmas.

So, friends, the question is, what about us?  Some of us may be at a high point in our life where everything is going very well.  Praise God for our blessings!  Remember our baptism and walk with God. Live each day in faithful obedience and grateful praise.

Other of us may be at a low point where one thing after another is not going as we would like it to go.  Praise God for your blessings and for God’s strength and help as we go through this rough time.  Remember our baptism.  We are loved by God.  Live each day in faithful obedience, trusting in God who is our help.

The point is simply this:  In good times and hard times, in good health or poor health, we walk with God as God’s beloved children.  Seek to please God, walk in faith, be prepared for anything.  Remember your baptism!  Amen.

 

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