Last Monday morning, as I pulled into the parking lot, one of the roofers was cleaning up some debris near the front door of the church. As I got out of the car and started walking toward the building, I didn’t realize that he had seen me coming. And so, when I got closer to the front door, he suddenly stood up and turned to me and said, “You know what this world needs? More preachers!”
“Ok,” I said, not exactly sure where the conversation was headed.
“There is too much hate and violence in our world.” When he said that, I knew that the shooting in Orlando was weighing heavily on his mind. And so, we talked about that for a few minutes. When I got downstairs to the office, I thought about what this young man said to me and while I was moved by his enthusiastic desire to see this world filled with more preachers, I realized that more preachers really wasn’t what he meant. What he really meant to say was that this world needs to be filled with more of the healing power of God’s presence. Yet, the question remains is this, “Is the world ready for more of the healing power of God’s presence?” For that matter, we could ask, “Is the church ready for more of the healing power of God’s presence?” When Jesus arrived in the land of the Gerasenes, his presence, his powerful healing presence, was immediately met with confrontation. Jesus was confronted by the man of the tombs, who was battered and bruised, his life beaten down by his demons, to the point that he was completely helpless. This man of the tombs lived his life completely exiled from his community, naked and homeless, except for a cave, his only protection from the elements. Like Marley’s ghost, this man walked around dragging his broken chains which dangled from his broken body and his broken soul. He was cursed to live out his existence in this way. Of course, this man of the tombs was not the only one who was broken. The community from which he came was broken as well, though their demons and chains were harder to see. The community kept their demons and chains hidden behind a façade of false smiles and an exhaustive outpouring of energy trying to maintain the status quo. They were bound by their attempts to make life easy and undemanding. But, all of that was stripped away from them when they were confronted by the healing power of God’s presence in Jesus Christ. When they discovered that the man of the tombs had been healed, they didn’t cheer and rejoice. Instead, they were afraid. They were afraid because they discovered that in the presence of Jesus, in his powerful healing presence, life could no longer remain the same. It would have to change. For, that is how it always is. The powerful healing presence of Jesus always brings about change, causing death to the old life and birth to the new life. Not everyone in that community was ready or even wanted such a transformation. Even today, there are many in our community who are not ready or even want such a transformation. Like the young man who talked with me last Monday, we all say that want more of God in our community. That is why we get upset when we find out that one more courthouse has been forced to take down the Ten Commandments. What is interesting is that we get upset despite the fact that when pressed many of us would have a difficult time naming all Ten Commandments. We get angry when we read about one more school that has been forced to either cancel or rewrite its Christmas concert in order to take out all references to Jesus. In our conversations with each other, we start longing for those days when prayer in school was a daily occurrence. Yet, at the same time we have to admit, that prayer in our own lives, is not always a daily occurrence. Don’t we wish that we could return to that time when stores weren’t open on Sundays, and when all sports were played on Saturdays? Perhaps, but, I don’t think that I need to point out that most of us like to shop on Sunday and very few, if any of us, would say no when the coach calls and says, “I need your kid to play.” Yes, we want more of the powerful, healing presence of God in our community, but we don’t really want the transformation that comes from the presence of God, the transformation that must occur when God draws near. When God draws near our demons have to go, even the ones we like. Anything and everything that stands between God and ourselves has to leave, or at the very least, has to be put in its proper place. In the presence of God, those chains that we are holding onto, those chains of false security, false comfort, and false control must simply fall away. In the presence of God, such ideas, like holding onto the status quo, living a Christian life that demands nothing from us, or the idea that life is only about us, these have to be stripped away. But, let’s face it, we don’t want all those things taken away, because after all, what will we have left. The answer is God. When Jesus drew near to the man of the tombs, all the demons had to flee. There was no other choice. Yet, what was left was Jesus. So that, in the presence of Jesus, the man of the tombs discovers new life. In the presence of Jesus, the man of the tombs discovers healing. In the presence of Jesus, the man of the tombs discovers that he no longer has to live in fear, no longer has to live apart from the community, no longer has to carry around the chains that bound his life and his soul because when everything was swept away, what was left was Jesus. Recently, I read a book called, The Mystic Way of Evangelism by Elaine Heath. She is the new Dean of Students at Duke Divinity School, and she also happens to be a graduate of Duquesne University. In her book, she makes an interesting observation about the church. She says that the church, in our day, has entered into a Dark Night of the Soul. The dark night of the soul, coined by St. John of the Cross back in the 16th century, is a mystical term that describes a difficult and challenging time in the Christian life. It is an experience where everything that a Christian counts on to bolster her relationship with God is simply taken away, by God. Why? Because, sometimes we grow more attached to the gifts that God gives us rather than to God. So, when one enters the dark night of the soul, one discovers that God takes those gifts away one by one until all that is left is God and the Christian. The idea comes from God’s words spoken through the prophet Hosea, where God talks about wanting to bring his bride, Israel, back out into the desert. God wants to bring her to that place where Israel can once again learn that God alone is her provider. God alone is her source of strength and comfort. God alone is the one who loves her above all else. In this dark night of the soul, or desert experience, there is often an experience of being abandoned by God, when in fact, God is actually drawing nearer. The powerful, healing presence of God actually draws nearer to us and we discover, like the man of the tombs, like the community out of which he came, that in the powerful, healing presence of God, like cannot remain the same. In the presence of God our lives have to change. They have to be transformed. Yet, the transformation that we experience is one of healing. It is a transformation where new life is taking the place of the old life that is passing away. The powerful healing presence of God brings transformation, at the end of which, is a peace that surpasses all understanding. The young man, last Monday, said that we need more preachers. But, what he meant to say was that we need more of the powerful, healing presence of God in our community. If Elaine Heath is right, then God is drawing nearer to his people. Yet, in the presence of God, life must be transformed. The old demons must flee. They may do so, kicking and screaming, but they must flee nonetheless. But, on the other side of that transformation is peace, and joy, and love, and life, and hope, and above all else, there is God. Thanks be to God for his powerful, healing presence.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
The Presence of God
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
A Pattern of Prayer
June 5, 2016
Put Away Your Excuses
May 29, 2016