Sermon: "Naming Our Demons" June 23, 2019

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus[g] to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
— Luke 8:26-39 (NRSV)

Spirit of God,

may your Word be as rain

falling from heaven, soaking dry soil

until it sprouts and springs forth,

giving seed to the sower

and bread to the eater,

through Christ—

Living Water, Living Word. Amen.


Its not every day that you come across a naked, wild, demon possessed man here at St. George’s, but today is your day.

What a story. 

Jesus and the twelve have been travelling through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the Good News of the kingdom of God (8:1) to anyone with ears to hear.  Along the way, Jesus cast out evil spirits (8:2), taught using parables of seeds and lamps (8:5, 8:16), and commanded the winds and waves to obey him (8:22-25).  So then, Jesus and the twelve land their boat on the far side of the lake from Galilee – they are in Gentile territory now, a few Jews in residence but mostly not. Jesus doesn’t even have both feet on the land yet and he is confronted by this man, chair of the Gerasene welcome committee. 


This is a terribly tortured man – he is the ultimate outcast, scarcely even human: overcome by forces beyond his control he is naked, unpredictable, violent, and alone, living among the dead.  Can you picture him in your minds eye?  Wild, filthy hair, dirt entrenched finger and toe nails, sun weathered skin, eyes darting, not present.


One foot out of the boat and this is who rushes up to Jesus, throws himself Jesus’ feet and screams at the top of his lungs,

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most-High God?” 

Remember, they are just getting off of the boat after Jesus has calmed the storm and the disciples are freaked right out, wondering, who is he?, that “the winds and water should obey him” (8:25) and they are immediately confronted by this demon who knows exactly who Jesus is and the power he holds.


And Jesus asks him, “what is your name?”  “Legion” he replies, “for we are many.”

It is enough to give you chills – this demon has a name.  We don’t know who this guy is but we know his demon.  And we might miss this, as 2019 listeners but legion is a military term, a great number of soldiers, similar to a battalion.  These folks were living under occupation by legions of the Roman army, and his demon occupies him; Legion.





We have seen our share of Gerasene Demoniacs, haven’t we?  If you have spent any time here during the week, if you exist in the neighbourhood, in the world, you have seen, lived, touched: addiction, poverty, violence, rage, unimaginable living situations – our neighbours in the community, our friends, folks who move in this building all the days of the week, folks in the pews beside us, and the one whose pulse we feel beating through our own bodies – we have all, we are all, wrestling with demons.


A favourite preacher of mine, Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed, recovering alcoholic, Lutheran, irreverent Reverend of the House for All Sinners and Saints parish in Colorado, is very open in the way she shares about her mental illness and addiction. 

She wonders about those things that get a hold of us: making us do things we don’t want to do, or love things or substances or people that are really destructive, she wonders if those are, in part, what having a demon is all about.  She refers, in particular, to a point in time in her history when her depression was so significant, it felt like a character in her life, so she decided to give her a name.

“I called her Francis,” she writes, “…I picture my depression Francis…emaciated in her torn vintage nightgown and smeared lipstick.”  She carries on to say, “Francis first stopped by in my teens and early 20s which was easily written off by my family as me being “moody”. But later, when I seemed to increasingly like the same things Francis liked: booze, emotionally unstable boyfriends, and self-destruction, she finally just moved in, turning my studio apartment into a Wilderness.

She was a terrible roommate. She kept the place filthy and always told me really devastating things about myself.  For some reason, when she lived with me, I was no longer able to do simple things like shop for groceries.  I’d stand for far too long looking at the dairy case, unable to make a decision about yogurt.”[1]  


We are all wrestling with demons.  Do you know your demons name?  Are they the occasional visitor or the roommate you can’t seem to evict?  Is this occupying force so directive that you have lost sight of your identity?


Oppressed by too many demons to count, the man occupied by Legion lost himself in the cacophony of their voices and ceased being a self.  He spent his days raving alone in the wilderness, a danger to himself and others, separated from his community and separated even from himself. 

How many of us are similarly overwhelmed by the voices raging at us from inside and out, denigrating our identity and driving us to places of extreme loneliness or despair?


And if this man’s torment, if our torment, was the end of the story, it would be very bad news indeed.  But it is not.  Jesus comes near, and before he is even out the boat, the demon knows exactly who he is and screams out in terror.  Because it knows it ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.  Legion has taken everything from this man but is powerless in the face of Jesus.

Unfazed by all of this, Jesus strikes up a conversation with the demon, removing them from the unnamed man and allowing them to enter the herd of swine nearby, who promptly plunge themselves into the water, to their own destruction, in Jesus’ presence.[2]

And what was true for that man is true also for us today: our demons recognize Jesus right out of the boat, and are afraid of him.  Do you know how I know this?

Because our demons try to keep us away from the people who remind us how loved we are.  How precious we are.  That we are already claimed by God.  Our demons want nothing to do with the love of God in Christ because they know they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.  Our demons are powerless in the face of God, so they lie to us to keep us hiding ourselves away from that love.  They try to isolate us, telling us that we are not worthy, that no one wants us, that we cannot be known and seen as we are or we will be rejected.  But those demons nuh-uh, they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.


It is said that Martin Luther, the great reformer, when feeling oppressed, overwhelmed by his demons, would take courage by shouting, “I am baptized!”.[3]  It was his way of claiming confidence in the power of God over these forces that torment us all.  The voices of this world, the demons we wrestle with, shout but they do not have the last word.  We can declare that God claims us once, again, and always, as Gods own beloved children.


I am not done, but can we get an Amen?


Now, it would be my greatest pleasure to tell you that the farmers, the ones who had spent all this time fretting over our unnamed Legion host, making sure he was out of the community, shackled, retrained, contained, I wish I could tell you that those farmers saw the miracle and lined up to follow Jesus. 

But they didn’t – they took off! 

They ran off to tell everyone about what had happened, and when the crowds came back to see for themselves, they found this once wild, naked, tormented man hanging out, wearing clothes, chatting away with the disciples.  And I wish I could tell you that then the crowds saw for themselves and lined up to follow Jesus! 

But they didn’t – they told Jesus to take off. 

They were afraid, “seized with great fear,” (8:37) and wanted nothing to do with this power in their presence which was greater than the power of evil. 

How can this be?  Why not unanimous joy at the presence of a power greater than evil?


Have you ever seen a family completely break down after an addict gets clean or a person with depression begins to heal?

The world of the folks around the one who was tormented and is now healed gets turned upside down and well-worn systems are thrown into the chaos of the unknown.

There is a certain security when people know the locus of the evil: where it lives, how to fence it in; there is time and expense devoted to guarding and controlling it.  And a community learns, we learn, how to live with the demonic powers, isolating and partially controlling them.

Then power of God shows up and disturbs the way it had been neatly arranged. 


Some days, the unknown grace is scarier than the known, the comfortable, familiar demon. 


Jesus’ healing power has a wide blast radius, reaching far beyond the intended target.  The impact of the restoration of this man [radiated out] with the deafening echo of God’s love for everyone, and God’s power over everything.  And that world shaking message has the power to disrupt and disturb comfortable systems, and it doesn’t always feel like good news for everyone who is invested in the broken system.

Stepping into the unknown power of God can seem almost unbearable.  It is like when the ancients in the Old Testament are unable to look direct at the glory of God – it overwhelms. 

Jesus though, Jesus is the walking, talking glory of God that doesn’t blind us when we look at him, but heals our blindness, our inability to see who we really are. 


It is in Jesus that we come face to face with God who sees us, really sees us: the naked, distorted, isolated, mess we are, and greets us unflinchingly. 

It is Jesus who reaches into the distance we ourselves and our demons have created.  And our demons scream in terror, because they know, they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.


This Jesus who claims us, heals us, restores us to our rightful place as precious, beloved children of God.


Can I get an Amen?


[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Demon Possession and Why I Named My Depression ‘Francis.’” Blog: Sarcastic Lutheran: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, June 25, 2013.

[2] Ancient Middle Eastern demonology understood that demons could not survive in water, as per Elaine A. Heath, Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 168.

[3] Thanks to David J. Lose in Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 171 for this treasure!

Sermon: "Wholly Mystery, Wholly Love, Wholly Relational: The Holy Trinity" June 16, 2019

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
— Romans 5: 1-5 (NRSV)

Sing into our ears, O Spirit, the holy word of life.

Tell us who we are and to whom we belong

so that we may live with gratitude for all that you have done. Amen.

 It is a somewhat strange thing, Trinity Sunday.  God as three-in-one is a doctrine of the church – a way that we, the church through history, have done our best to attempt to express the fullness of God in our limited understanding.   A summary, so to speak, of the witness of Scripture to God’s unfathomable love incarnate in Jesus Christ and experienced and celebrated in the community of faith.[1]  So, do we preach on a doctrine?  Well, no.  But, well, yes.  Because really, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday – we are always reaching to a greater, deeper understanding of the mystery of God, and as we do that, we cannot help but bump into the Holy Spirit, into Jesus, into God: the Mother/Father of us all.


So, for this particular Trinity Sunday, the church gives us this reading from Paul to the new church in Rome.  Now, Paul may not have intended to develop a theology of the Trinity, but throughout the book of Romans, he speaks about having peace with God (5:1-11), being united with Christ (6:1-14), and living according to the Spirit (8:1-17).  All of these expressions of God were already moving, and these first Christ-followers were learning how to relate to all three, as one.


And when we look specifically at this passage, it is easy to see why the church selects it for this Sunday – we have peace with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  Kind of sums it up.  Alright, I guess it is a short one then, someone go get the kids from downstairs, Ill meet you outside for lemonade.


Kidding aside, it is quite helpful to talk about the Trinity because we have so much that we can learn from a God that is three-in-one.  One of the most basic, and I think, beautiful things of our understanding of God, is that fundamentally, God is community.  God is not God outside of relationship.  God in God’s very own immanent, eternal being, is an activity of mutual self-giving, a community of sharing, God is a “society of love.” (Augustine) Trinitarian Doctrine describes God as self-sharing, other-regarding, community-forming love.  1 John reminds us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8).  It's not just that God loves, it's that God is inherently love through the loving relationships that God consists of.

And because God gives us an example of mutuality in relationship, it shows us Love that is united but not smothering, that maintains unity and diversity at the same time. God shows us Love that is coequal rather than hierarchical. That allows the other to be fully other.  The Trinity gives us a model for how we are to build our relationships, as those who are made in God's image.


Now, if we are to turn back to our specific passage we learn even more about God and our relationship with God.  It is a short but packed full selection of Scripture, starting with a therefore, which propels us back a little bit before we can move forward. 


Paul has just reminded his listeners that through resurrection, Jesus broke the chain of death that began with Adam, the chain of death which is: separation from God.  He urges that those who have come to know and follow Jesus, are to live according to a new chain of life – not groping for self satisfaction, but assured of God’s presence.[2] 


“Therefore,” the writes, “since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through Jesus” – let’s pause here.  Justification is traditionally a judicial term – it means free from the charge of being guilty.  So, in this case, Paul is saying that we are free by our faith; that is, we are at peace with God through Jesus, and he goes on to say that it is from Jesus that we have access to this “grace in which we stand.” (v. 2)


Now, oftentimes, we read this and think (or have been taught) that it is our faith in Jesus that justifies us, sets us free.  But I want to open something up here.  There is a funny little preposition in Greek that changes this understanding.  Ek.  It means “out of” (dikaiothentes ek pisteos).  This same sneaky preposition pops up in Romans 3:26, which is often translated “God justifies one who has faith in Jesus.”[3]  But, it just isn’t quite right.  Because that little ek implies the causality of the justification.  Let me explain: it shifts where the responsibility lies.  So, instead of “God justifies one who has faith in Jesus,” it reads, “One is justified to God through Jesus’ faith.”  This actually is in keeping with Paul’s understanding, as he later in Romans 5:19 states, “by one man’s obedience all will be made righteous.” 

Ok Ingrid, why does this matter?  Aren’t you talking semantics now?  Or are you just showing off your Greek skills? 

It matters because it speaks to where our reconciliation with God is initiated.  This is not about our salvation by way of us accepting Jesus Christ as our Personal Lord and Saviour –

though we do and he is

– it is that our entering into right relationship with God is the consequence of Jesus’ faithful obedience to God in his life, death, and resurrection. 


So when we hear, “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained access to the grace in which we stand,” (v. 1-2) we can hear, “through Jesus and his faithful obedience we are reconciled to God and have access to God’s free gift of grace.” 

God initiated the action – our justification by faith is not through our acceptance of, or faith in Jesus, but is in our active response to Jesus’ faithfulness in our living in God’s way.


Paul then takes a sharp turn into suffering.  The Scripture reads, “we also boast in our sufferings,” which may sound a bit strange, it means to hold one’s head high in hard times.  Remember, Paul is writing to Romans who are steeped in an honour-shame culture; public shame was to be avoided at all costs.  In that worldview, one would never boast in their sufferings, because it was a sure sign of God’s displeasure.  

And like most things related to the teachings of that Jesus, he takes the cultural norm and flips it on its head.  Rather than being deterred by its oppression, suffering, affliction, the church is to stand up, shoulders back, head high.  For Paul, suffering was an opportunity to double down on the newly understood relationship between God and Humanity; Jesus opened up the flow so that we can have love peace with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  So stand tall, he says to these folks shirking in their shame and fear, stand tall he says to us in our shame and fear – give thanks!  Give thanks, for you are winning where it really matters – you are reconciled to God.


To give thanks for and not be ashamed of our hard times, our failures, seems like a pretty big stretch – both for the ancient people Paul was writing to, and to us.  We work really hard to make ourselves look just so good on the outside – our Facebook pictures of happy family vacations, our manicured lawns, our put together outfits.  Paul encourages us to be real.  And this isn’t just about getting real with God and ourselves, it has some rather practical consequences.


In practice, getting real and in public deflates our suffering – bad things happen, we live in a broken world, but when we are able to give thanks in the mess, we are able to catch a glimpse of grace, a glimpse of God in the midst of it all.


Now, Paul carries on to say that suffering builds endurance which produces character which leads to hope and hope is of God so suffering brings us to God.   Which I get - for many of us, myself included, pain has been the gateway to faith through which we have walked, and a stairwell to deeper and deeper relationship with God.  .  But let’s be careful and clear here – I do not believe in, and Paul is arguing against, the notion that God is the cause of our suffering.  Remember, that was common in these times, and is a line of thinking still amok around us – if you are suffering, you’ve done something that made God mad (think of Job) but our Scriptural witness – Jesus on the cross -  and our lived experience tells us that God is in the midst of, not the cause of, our suffering.  Paul is pointing to the gifts of God that are present in their suffering to dispel this false notion of God as punitive. 


God as a community of persons - the Trinity - assures us that we can love and be loved under exceptionally challenging circumstances.  And also, ordinary grocery shopping, bill paying, lawn mowing circumstances.  God does not reserve our spiritual transformation to the after world – it is a process that we are in the midst of right now, in the gruelling and in the gorgeous.  Not because of something we have done or not done, but because of something God has done and is still doing.  And because this three-fold one God is at work in us and the world right now, everything, everything is dripping with Holiness – it gets all over us and we track it wherever we go.[4]


The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity has, perhaps, at times been used as a tool of sure-ness, right-ness; after all, we humans love a sure thing, we like to get things right.  But of course, we cannot – we do our best with bananas and hard-boiled eggs, and long argued church documents. It is a statement, a concept that tries to communicate or express the character of God, as love in relational, self-giving action.  This is not end-all theology[5] but rather an invitation for us to recognize that we abide in the Holy at all times, pointing us toward the great mystery that is God.  A God that is as broad and deep as the whole cosmos, as particular as Jesus, and as invested in us as the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] This, along with many other beautiful descriptors of the Holy Trinity are thanks to Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), Ch. 4.

[2] Thoughts sparked by Amy Jill-Levine, Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York, Oxford University Press, 2011), 262-263.

[3] See also 3:22, 3:30.

[4] Dripping and tracking metaphors are courtesy of Michael Jinkins.

[5] Some thoughts here are sparked by Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary.

Sermon: "Surprised by the Holy Spirit", June 9, 2019

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
— Acts 2: 1-21 NRSV

Almighty God,

by the power of your Holy Spirit, speak to us in the language of our hearts, that we may hear your Word with understanding and answer your call with confidence. Amen. 

Before we really get into this, we need a little bit of history – what exactly is Pentecost?  We might think of it as a Christian tradition, but it started out as a Jewish one – it is the celebration 50 days after Passover that marked the giving of the Torah – the law of God revealed to Moses, and specifically the Ten Commandments.  It was also the time the Jewish people gathered and offered their first fruits at the temple.  Today’s reading in the book of Acts tells us that Pentecost had come and so they were all together in one place.  What that means is these Jewish Jesus followers were gathered together for this Jewish festival celebrating God’s gifts to them, and Surprise!  God gave them a new gift!


And like I demonstrated with the children earlier – suddenly, and with great gusto, the Holy Spirit filled that place to the brim!  And while this might seem like a separate celebration, for us it is the continuation of the Easter story – at Pentecost, the power of God – made manifest at the resurrection and ascension of Christ, is bestowed upon the People of God.  Both the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Spirit are a continued witness to the breadth of the wonder of Easter.  And for those of us who have hung out around church for a little while, this wild and wonderful and weird story can get a bit routine – yay, wear red, hang the banners, let the kids run around a tad more than usual, sing those great songs…so maybe we can pause for a moment to recall that we are listening to the account of something strange, beyond the bounds of imagination – miraculous, inscrutable.  Let’s jump into the text.


Qu’est-ce que c’est d’exister dans un endroit où votre langue première n’est jamais parlée? Quelqu’un a-t-il déjà vécu dans un endroit où sa langue maternelle n’est jamais entendue? Avez-vous déjà visité un endroit où l’anglais n’est jamais utilisé? Ici en Occident, nous sommes tellement habitués d’entendre de l’anglais, même en voyageant à l’international, que la majorité d’entre nous n’a jamais vécu le malaise et l’inconfort d’être isolé auditivement.



For those of you who don’t speak French, what I said was What does it mean to exist in a place where your first language is never spoken?  Has anyone ever lived in a place where their native language is never heard?  Have you visited a place where English isn’t spoken?  We here in the West are so accustomed to hearing English even when we travel internationally, most of us have never experienced the discomfort and disconnect of being aurally isolated.


Now this question isn’t rhetorical, I am actually asking, who has had the experience of being immersed in a language not their own? 

(personal stories, examples from the congregation)


And what about when we hear our first language in that situation?  There we are, standing in a sea of unfamiliarity, that sound becomes like a homing beacon, we find ourselves sharpening our senses to its signal. It is as though every molecule in our body relaxes as we tune-in on that voice and understand the words. Like coming home.

We hear this Pentecost story, and we might not quite grasp the visceral impact of hearing one’s own language, living as a foreigner, an immigrant, a refugee in a strange land. These folks were in Jerusalem but not from Jerusalem. Maybe we haven’t experienced this linguistically, maybe we have never been language isolated but I will warrant a guess that most of us have felt sequestered, alone, remote, even when surrounded by people.  We have felt on the outside.  And then something catches our ear, our eye, our attention.  Something that resonates in deep place and that draws us in, towards.  These outsiders, who maybe hadn’t heard their mother tongue in years, heard the beautiful and life-changing message of Jesus in their own language of comfort and care, not the language of the Empire under which they were living. 

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples in this way not for their own comfort, but for the resonance of the Jesus message for those who were on the margins nearby.  It makes me think of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, where he freely shares of how the Holy Spirit gives him what he needs to connect with those who haven’t received entry into the blessed community (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

This, my friends, is a miracle.  A miracle of welcome, a miracle of hospitality beyond anything we could muster, a miracle to spark belonging.  And I bet it was as surprising for the ones hearing their language as it was for those from whose lips those languages emerged.  God promises over and over in our Scriptural witness to give us words, and the Holy Spirit delivers.  I wonder what the language of comfort is to those on the margins of our neighbourhood?

Now – what happens next?

Everyone immediately drops to their knees in praise and reverence to God!  NO!  Some folks nearby are like WHAT?  And others are like they are DRUNK! Which is basically everyone’s response God’s unexpected revelation – we see a miracle, something incredible, something powerful and we either are ‘amazed and perplexed’ (v.12) or sneering (v. 13) and dismissive.  Happened in year 35, happens in 2019.  And its ok, its ok, because miracles, big or small throw us off – we don’t get them or we get mad at them for some reason.  But the very next thing that happens is key – Peter is there to explain it.  And I will guarantee that every time something happens that is God (which actually, by the way, is all the time if we are ready to notice), every time God happens and we don’t understand, some who gets it is nearby.


Remember, these are Jews from all over living in Jerusalem, having this experience.  Peter, a Jew, jumps up and links the story of Jesus with the Scriptures of the Jewish people.  His listeners would know what the prophet Joel said, which Peter recites here.  He says, hey pay attention – remember Joel?  Remember, he promised that God would pour our God’s Spirit on all people?  That God’s spirit would flow regardless of a person’s gender or social status?  Remember?  Joel told us that we would ALL be filled with God’s Spirit and God would give us good things to do!  Remember?  ITS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!


This Pentecost event doesn’t work without these things all at play:

Rooted in tradition, the new Jesus followers are gathered in one place.  The Holy Spirit floods in to that place in a surprising, astonishing, remarkable, overwhelming way that includes everyone – inside and outside the community.  Nobody knows how to handle it, and Peter jumps up, reminding them of their Scriptural witness, and proclaiming boldly God’s work in that moment and all of their transformation in it.


The day of Pentecost occurred just seven weeks after those who were opposed to Jesus had ended his “nonsense” by crucifying him.  But now, for some, their worst nightmare was coming true.  This broadening understanding of God’s love was no longer contained to one man’s message.  They thought that they had put out the light of the world in Jesus.  Instead, the same Spirit that enlivened Jesus, exploded like fireworks in a hundred different directions.  You see, God didn’t stop showing up in Jesus – God didn’t raise Jesus from the grave, bring him home and stand back to see what would happen.. 

No!  The message of Pentecost is that God shows up!  God shows up, God meets us where we are and uses tremendous, ridiculous, miraculous means to catch our attention and tell us of love, grace, mercy, freedom, salvation.  And then in our doubts, our dismissals, our explanations and excuses, God sends us prophets, preachers, teachers, dentists, contractors, children, baristas, accountants, neighbours, friends, enemies to help us understand, to spell it out. 

To get it through our sometimes very thick skulls, that God is here.  That God has given each one of us – all genders, all ages, all races, all expressions of humanity, even me, even you, the gift of God’s unending presence.  God is HERE (the world).  God is Here (the church).  God is here (our hearts). 

And you know what the very next thing they asked Peter?  What do we do now? And that is our question too, isn’t it?  What do we do now?  We hear of Gods love, we hear that God is with and for us – maybe we even feel that love, that grace, that hospitality in this place – what do we do now?

Peter says, get baptized!  Let the Holy Spirit all the way in, be encouraged, and then – become an encourager.  One who loves and gives and forgives with the same reckless abandon as our God.  And so they did.  They taught and shared and loved and forgave (and messed up, and got back up, forgiven, to try again).  And miracles happened, and happened, and happened, and this Jesus thing didn’t go away, the Holy Spirit didn’t fade, God went right on creating….and so here we are – what a legacy to inherit.  What do we do now? We throw our lives at God, in God’s service, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is here, here, here.


Who is with me?  Can I get an Amen?

Sermon: "Psalm 46: A Very Present Help," June 2, 2019

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
— Psalm 46

by Keith Kovacs

So are you asking yourself “what’s going on at St. George’s”? The lead minister has left us for three months, the minister that has stepped into his shoes in his absence is no where to be found today and some guy from the property committee is standing in the pulpit on the verge of preaching the sermon.  Well as most of you know our lead minister Rev Ryan Slifka has just begun a three month, well deserved  sabbatical. During this time let us continually pray that Ryan has a time of rest and relaxation. Ministry is not a 9-5 Mon to Fri job. Let us also pray for safe travels as he and his family make their way across Canada visiting with other family and friends along the way. Our minster of Children, Youth and Families and Weird Church Rev Ingrid Brown who has stepped up to be lead minister is in Langley attending the inaugural general meeting of the newly created Pacific Mountain Region formally the BC. Conference of the United Church. So let us pray for Ingrid as well as she takes on new duties over the next three months, on top of everything she already does.  I was asked to attend the meeting in Langley but when I said that I had a previous commitment that prevented me from attending Ingrid asked if I would preach and now that I think about it maybe that was an ultimatum. At any rate, as many of you know, it’s hard to say no to Ingrid so here I am. For those of you that don’t know who I am, my name is Keith Kovacs and my wife Laura and I are fairly new members of St. George’s but in many ways we feel like we have been members of this church family for much longer.


A minister once told me that God will speak through those who are willing. I am willing but before I begin let’s have a word of prayer.


 Gracious God.  As willing as I am may the words on these pages be your words, not mine. May the message I give here today be your message, not mine and let it all be to your glory. Amen.


Today is the seventh and last Sunday of Easter. It is also known as Ascension Sunday following this past Thursday, which some people call Holy Thursday, being the 40th day after Easter. Scripture tells us that 40 days from the day that Christ rose from the grave He ascended into heaven. Perhaps I should have prepared a sermon about Jesus’ ascension into heaven but when I was asked to preach today I was given the freedom to choose something that, as a lay person, I felt comfortable enough to craft into a sermon. So just for this week we’ll leave the book of Acts and the sermon series “Surprise” that Ryan and Ingrid have been doing a wonderful job of presenting to us each week and we’ll spend some time in the Old Testament in the Psalms, Psalm 46 to be exact.


Psalm 46 was the favourite Psalm of Martin Luther, — the psalm that inspired him to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” God is a stronghold and a tower, a bulwark never failing!  It’s a psalm that tells you what to do when trouble comes.  And it's also my favourite Psalm and I'll tell you why. When I was seven years old my Dad died. He was what they called a stationary engineer and he tended the boiler at a pulp and paper mill. For whatever reason, and I'll never know why, one day there was a problem with the boiler and he was badly burned. They called my mother to tell her to be ready to be picked up by the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was home from school that day so there I was when the ambulance came. I saw my Dad briefly and he said 'I'll be all right son' but I never saw him again. He died four days later. I'm not telling you this looking for sympathy and I'm sure many of you have similar stories about sudden and tragic loss in your lives. At seven years old, as much as my world was turned upside down, I had no idea what a profound impact it would have on the rest of my life. A few years later I began attending an evangelical Christian summer camp that was all about Jesus and there's certainly nothing wrong with that, and eventually, as often happens at these camps, I asked Jesus into my heart to be my Lord and Saviour. That was something else that I had no idea of what a profound influence it would have on the rest of my life. At that camp we sang a chorus everyday after breakfast during a time of devotion and the words were 'God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in times of trouble'. The words of that chorus always spoke to me and so Psalm 46 became a cherished and reassuring passage of scripture that has helped me through times of trouble over the years.  I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention something else that happened at that camp that has also had a profound but in a different sort of way influence on my life. That is where I met my dear wife Laura. I’ll save that story for another sermon or perhaps Laura should write that sermon!

And there is one other event that really cemented my love for Jesus and that was attending a Billy Graham crusade in my early teens. I sang in the mass choir lead by Cliff Barrows and the words of Blessed Assurance, and watching all those people come forward as we sang 'Just As I Am' are as fresh in my mind today as it was those many years ago.

Some people seem to lead charmed lives … trouble rarely comes their way. When it does come, they’re the kind of people who can pass it off quite easily. But for most of us trouble does come from time to time and it’s important that we be prepared when it does and like me, may the words of Psalm 46 be a blessing to you and offer some guidance in dealing with times of trouble.


In poetic language, the psalmist describes the way trouble can come. He talks about the earth being changed, and the mountains shaking in the heart of the sea. That is a picture of an earthquake. Sometimes trouble comes just like that with the sheer finality of an earthquake. All of a sudden it’s there, and there’s nothing you can do. I think that was what happened the day my Dad died but I didn't even realize it. People who have gone through earthquakes say they don’t know of anything else that makes a human being feel quite so helpless. Have any of you experienced an earthquake and that sort of helplessness? The only time I know of that I felt the tremor of an earthquake was sitting in a truck stopped at a traffic light in Richmond. The truck began to rocking back and forth but I had no idea what was happening. It was only later on the news that I heard that a small earthquake had been felt in the lower mainland. Sometimes trouble comes to people without any warning, with no way of resisting it, with total finality, and suddenly they find that every thing has dropped right out of the bottom of their life.

The psalmist uses a second poetic expression after he talked about the earthquake. In the first part of verse 3, he says, “though it’s waters roar and foam.” Here he’s talking about the trouble which comes with the sheer fury of a storm. We've all been caught in storms whether it be wind and rain, snow or even dust storms. Have you seen on the news coverage the devastation caused by a record number of tornados and twisters in parts of the United States? For some people that’s how trouble comes with a shrill, shrieking violence and the irresistible force and fury of a storm.


I like this story of a fellow in the Old Testament called Benaiah. He was one of David’s mighty men. He got up one morning, and was going out to battle. Unfortunately, they had a snow storm. ( 2nd Samuel 23:20)  We all know what happens when we have a snow storm. If we want an excuse, we have a perfect excuse when the snow storm comes — we cancel everything! But Benaiah didn’t cancel anything, he kept going. As he was going along in his snow storm suddenly he fell into a pit. Imagine him lying in the bottom of this pit, having struggled through the snow storm, wondering how he would ever get out. Then he heard a noise behind him, and looked and there was a lion. Some translations say he chased the lion into the pit but either way he probably said to himself, “This just isn’t my day!” I start off with a snow storm, I fall into a pit that I can’t get out of, and down in the bottom of this pit, there’s a lion. I quit! I give up!
What do you do when trouble comes with the fury of a storm from every angle?  The beautiful thing about this mighty man of David is that he slew the lion, in the pit, on a stormy day, and lived to tell the tale. And that’s what we need to do when trouble comes! Face it head on knowing that God is on our side.

And then sometimes trouble comes with the force of a flood. If we read all of verse 3 it says this: “Though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with it’s tumult.” Here you have the picture of everything shaking, with the swelling of the flood and everything being absolutely overwhelmed. When I was thinking of this, I thought of Job. Have you read Job recently? I know those that are in Ryan's small group study are up to date on the adventures of Job.  It’s a fascinating story. Job was a remarkable man! He was a success. He had a large family and large everything. You name it, he had it! He was the greatest! Satan was a bit worried about him, and he wondered if he could knock him on his nose! So he had a word with God about Job. God gave him permission to do certain things. The philosophy of Job is vital to the understanding of trouble. There is a Satan. There is a power of evil in the world. Things do happen, but they always happen under the jurisdiction of God. In other words, God never allows anything to happen to His children outside of what He believes they can cope with — remember that! Satan was given permission by God to do certain things in order that Satan might be an instrument of blessing under God’s overwhelming grace in Job’s life. He took everything — all his sons, all his daughters, all his lands, all his buildings, all his camels, all his donkeys, all his oxen. Then in the end he even took his health. We now see Job sitting on the trash heap outside the city scratching himself with a shard because he had developed a chronic disease and was about driven out of his mind.
Trouble does come — sometimes with the force of a flood like it did to Job. But again remember: “God Is Our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help In Trouble.”


So what can we do when trouble comes?

Three things are outlined for us in Psalm 46.

First, realize when trouble comes that God is a Refuge for His people. Secondly, realize, according to verse five, that God is Resident among His people. Thirdly, realize that, according to verse four, God sends a River of blessing to His people. It is the understanding of these three things that equip people to cope with the trouble that either will come, or has come, or is still here.

We must never forget that God is continually available. This Psalm is an Old Testament passage, but the New Testament amplifies it even further. In Matthew Chapter 11 verse 28 the Lord Jesus Himself said that we must come unto Him, all of us who are weary, and heavy laden, and He will give us rest. So the simple message as to what to do in time of trouble is this: admit that God is your Refuge, and you need His help. Christ is the One who opens His arms to you and says, “Come to Me with all your burdens, roll them upon Me, give Me the problem, and I promise to be what you need.”

And we must also remember that God our Refuge is not only continually available, but He is thoroughly adequate. Not only is God our refuge and our strength, He is “a very present help” in trouble. This is the message of what to do in trouble. Recognize that God is your Refuge, and turn to Him.

And then verse 4 tells us God is resident among His people: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God”. God is very much alive in the fellowship of His people. In the fellowship of His people there is support; in the fellowship of His people there is concern and compassion; not because they are special people — they’re not, they’re just like everybody else except God is resident in those people. He's resident here at St. George's. God is alive through the Holy Spirit. It is so evident in this congregation. We had friends visiting last Sunday and they attended worship here. They are both retired Presbyterian church ministers although still very active in both the Presbyterian and the United Church. The one thing that really stood out to them, beyond Ryan and Ingrid’s awesome leadership, was the number of people in this congregation willing to step forward and participate in worship. I think that is very evident here this morning. We told them that was only the tip of the iceberg. Every day of the week you will find members of this congregation engaged in, as it says in the bulletin, being ministers of the gospel.

What do I do in time of trouble? I turn to God as my Refuge and I come to Christ, who opens His arms, and who says, “Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden” and at the same time relate to Christ who by His Holy Spirit is in all of us. God is resident within me and He is resident in each one of you!

 What an exciting thing it is to be a Christian today. It doesn’t mean that we are immune from trouble. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have problems but the exciting thing about it is in the midst of trouble we know what it is to have a God alive and alert within us, who is seated on the Throne of the Most High. He is a God of overflowing grace and overruling serenity, and He is therefore a God of power and purpose alive within us. If you really believe that, when trouble comes your attitude toward trouble is going to be different. You realize that the God who is resident in your life is the God of power and purpose. He is the Most High! Reading again the words of  verse 4:“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” There’s no question about it, the picture of the river, according to the interpretation of the New Testament, is a picture of the activity of the Spirit of God. If you’re in trouble today, there is a glorious river that is nothing less than the flow of the Holy Spirit straight from the Throne of God. The lovely thing about this river is that it brings refreshment wherever it flows because it is a river that makes glad the people of God. It is a vast river with many tributaries. If you want to explore those tributaries as the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, you’ll discover that wherever the river flows it has a reviving effect.

And finally there’s one more thing we should do in time of trouble? Relax! Psalm 46:10, which surely is a great favourite with a lot of people says: “Be still, and know that I am God!” The words, “Be still” mean literally “relax.” To relax in the Lord, first of all, means that you are going to have to resist the natural impulses. Be Still! Easier said then done...right? In this spinning world of ours today, in its rapid pace, it’s difficult to “Be Still! But it’s not talking about physical stillness. It’s talking about stillness of the heart, simply relaxing in the Lord Jesus. That means there has to be a resisting of every natural impulse that you have, to hit that trouble as hard as you can. It doesn’t mean ignore trouble and hope it just goes away but resist that impulse to fight it on your own. Trust in the Lord and relax in Him.

Restore the spiritual relationship which comes through Knowing who He really is. What do you do when trouble comes? You realize certain things, you respond to certain things, and then you relax in your relationship with Him, and you will begin to discover the God of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament and the Spirit of God, who has offered it all combined on your behalf. And you will begin to discover “Victory” in times of trouble.