Sermon Reflections and More!
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The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost                                        June 19, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Isaiah 65:1-9Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-21; Luke 8:26-39

Pr. Steve's Sermon: The Cost of Jesus
Pr. Steve's Sermon: The Cost of Jesus

Children's Sermon: What Does Money Look Like?
Children's Sermon: What Does Money Look Like?

Youth Handbell Choir - June 12 Anthems
Youth Handbell Choir - June 12 Anthems

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...
There's an old saying, "time is money."  But in Jesus' day, at least outside Israel, pigs were money.  And pigs were big money.  Most people didn't measure their wealth by the coins in their pockets, but by the size of their flocks and herds. 
But because pigs were the foremost non-kosher animal, most places in the Bible talk about people having herds and flocks of sheep, or goats or cattle.  No Jew would keep a pig, let alone a herd of pigs.
So if you were a Jew hearing this story, it's doubly good!  First, Jesus heals a guy possessed by demons.  And then, like a cherry on top, Jesus allows the demons to enter the pigs, who then rush like a herd of lemmings into the lake where they all drown!
But Luke wrote his Gospel for Gentiles, who had no problem with pigs, just like the Gerasenes, who were Gentiles as well.  For them, when the pigs all drowned, it was like Jesus giving the demons permission to enter your 401-K, which then promptly tanked.
And so unlike other folks who experienced Jesus' healing power, the folks in Gerasene promptly ask Jesus to please LEAVE! Like others who saw Jesus heal people, Luke says they were "seized with great fear."  But while sometimes that fear was just the kind of awe you might have when you experience a great force close up, this fear that the Gerasenes experienced was the fear of what having Jesus in their life might cost them.
And perhaps because they weren't Jews, and felt no obligation to show any kind of pious respect for the power of the God of Israel, they correctly realized that when Jesus showed up in their lives and began to change things, it wasn't just a cool event.  It was going to cost them.
Perhaps moreso than anybody else up to this point in the Gospel, the Gerasenes realized that what Jesus was doing in their lives was going to cost them:
  • Financially - experiencing God in their lives had literally hit them in their wallets...!
  • Their Routine - Jesus upset the established order of how things were supposed to work (you know, you kept the demoniac under guard, and you just dealt with it.  But now, everybody had to stop what they were doing and rush around figuring out what the new routine was going to be like...)
  • A reassessment of their relationship with this guy who used to be demon possessed, but was now in his right might and ready to be restored to society.  He was no long the "other" - a person they could ignore and put "over there"...
And so even though the Gerasenes aren't considered to be great examples of thankful recipients of Jesus' gifts and presence, at least they were honest!  They recognized that having Jesus in their lives wasn't simply an entertaining show.  It wasn't just a nice, feel good experience.  Instead, it was a complete upending and transformation of the world they lived in.  But it wouldn't come without a cost to each of them personally.

And that stands in contrast to the ways in which Jesus is "marketed" in our world today.  Most of us like to be told that when Jesus does a great and wonderful thing for some unfortunate "other," people simply watch it and feel great!  Then they go on about their lives with a warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts.  And it never cost them anything.
But that's never actually what happened.  Whenever Jesus entered peoples' lives, he was always about transforming them and the world around them.  And if people wanted to live in that transformed world that God was making new, it was going to cost them.  And that's why when Jesus said, "great!  I'm glad you feel all warm and fuzzy.  Now come and follow me," lots of folks said, "well, I really can't do THAT."
And so today, even when we recognize intellectually that this isn't how it works, we usually get pretty squeamish when we talk about their being any "cost" to following Jesus or having Jesus in our lives.  After all, grace is free, so it shouldn't have to "cost" me:
  • My pigs - that is, my money!  Well, maybe I'll give a pig or two if I have something left over, but following Jesus shouldn't cause any big financial changes in my life...
  • The way I live my life - oh sure, I know I should help others when I get a chance, and try to be nicer.  But really, changing my routine and my priorities?  I'll follow Jesus when I have time...
  • A re-evaluation of my relationship with those "other" people - yes, I know Jesus loves them, too, and that's great!  But, they're just as well "over there" where I don't have to deal with "them" on a regular basis...
But that's never how it worked with Jesus and his first followers.  And it can't work that way for us either.  Yet we love to believe that somehow having Jesus in our lives won't really cost us.  It'll just be a warm, fuzzy, spiritual experience.
But that's a lie.  It's a lie we often tell ourselves. And it's a lie we'd love to believe.
But it's a lie that we need to be particularly aware of, especially when we face big upheavals in the world around us.  Last weekend, in Orlando, a deranged gunman walked into a gay nightclub with an AR-15, killing 49 people, wounding 54 more and pledging allegiance to ISIS before being killed by police.
It was horrible and tragic, unlike the curing of the demoniac.  But like that day, everybody was afraid.  Everything seemed to stop.  And everybody wondered what to do next.
In this past week, there's been a swirl of opinions about controversies that are now all too familiar:  what should we do, if anything, about guns?  How can we protect and support vulnerable communities like the LGBTQ community, or racial minorities or the majority of the Muslim community which is as outraged by this as anybody else?  And what do we do about terrorism, especially the "homegrown" kind?
I don't have all the answers to any of these questions. But I do know this. The lie that always gets told - and that we always want to believe - is that these and related problems can be solved without it costing us anything.  Or at least, it won't cost you and it won't cost me.
But it's a lie.  And following Jesus means being people who engage these questions and seek solutions to the problems in ways that we expect will cost us.   Because any real solution is ultimately going to cost us:
  • Money - there really has never been a solution to any problem I can think of which hasn't involved everybody putting their money where their mouth is...
  • Re-assessing how we live our lives - after 9-11, we just accepted that we were going to have to live differently, even if it was uncomfortable and even if we didn't like it...
  • Re-examining our relationship with people we consider the "other".  As long as we decide that this is a problem for somebody "over there" that we don't need to really deal with, we perpetuate the problem by dividing ourselves and allowing ourselves to be divided ...(whether that person is a gay person in a nightclub, a Muslim person who's having their religion defiled, an African American who's being targeted for their race, or anybody else...) 
Martin Niemoeller quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.
In spite of what we often would like to think, there's always a cost to following Jesus and having Jesus actively involved in our lives.  It's always been that way.
But when we're willing to accept that cost, we experience more fully the power and presence of God in our lives.  When we're willing to accept that cost, Jesus transforms us into instruments of change in the world around us.  And when we're willing to accept that cost, others in our world can also come to experience the power and presence of Jesus because of how Jesus can work through us.