SERMON NOTES — March 3, 2019
Story: Fifteen years ago, as interim pastor at Grace Lutheran in Kenosha, WI, a downtown parish in an impoverished neighborhood. At a Thursday morning Bible Study — mostly homeless people, many of whom struggled with mental illness, we read this Gospel of people hearing voices. The disciples and Jesus hear God’s voice. The next day they are confronted with a man and his boy who is possessed by a spirit. Today we see this as mental illness, for which a main symptom is often ‘hearing voices.’ One of the Bible Study attendees asked me this question: ‘I hear voices all the time. How do I know if it’s God’s voice or an evil spirit’s voice?’ Wow! How would you answer that? I believe it was the Holy Spirit who gave me this answer: ‘If the voice asks you to hurt yourself or another person, then that’s not God’s voice. God’s voice is always a voice of love and compassion, a voice of healing not harming.’
We all hear voices in our heads, don’t we? We don’t have as much trouble as a mentally ill person in sorting out where they come from, but we hear voices. Do you hear voices of encouragement? How about voices of harm? Voices that tell you that you’re ugly, or somehow unlovable? Those are not God’s voice! God’s voice is that of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration: ‘You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son. In you I’m well pleased. I created you as absolutely unique with your very own talents and gifts. Your life can be about the constant unfolding and sharing of those gifts with others. You are lovable.’
There’s other kinds of voices that we hear in our heads, the voices of our culture that tell us right from wrong. These can be very important. But they can also lead us astray, because at the heart of those cultural voices are the ideas of tribalism. These voices are very difficult to unhear! We often hear them as God’s voice, because they are tied to what is right or wrong according to tribalism. But the true voice of God has been revealed to us through Jesus as a voice that never asks us to harm anyone.
Example: our nation is brutally attacked by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001. There are many good voices of tribalism that call us together to help one another. First responders give their lives to save others. Many generous people come to help those who suffer devastating loss. But there are other voices of tribalism that tell us to go to war against terrorism and never rest until we get Osama bin Ladin. We celebrate when he is finally killed, getting our vengeance.
But these voices of striking out to do harm are the cultural voices that keep us trapped in tribalism. That’s not to say that we can still make choices to protect ourselves and seek to end terrorism. But we must understand that this is not God’s voice and that there are other choices we may begin to pursue to get unstuck from tribalism.
Here’s the voice of Jesus that we missed in last week’s Gospel:
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
And today’s Gospel: Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Listening to Jesus is the way of healing tribalism.
Lutheran Church of the Savior