Posts Tagged ‘Marginalization’

Who Am I 12-23-18

In this sermon, I explore Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-55. In this brief passage, we are reminded of the reality of oppression and marginalization and the privilege that lies on the opposite side. And yet, the promise of the gospel is that God’s mercy and love puts us all on equal ground.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-am-i-12-23-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Have you ever heard the expression “everyone is the hero of their own story?” (Pause) I think that’s a pretty accurate statement…and it speaks into how our existence…our life…our day to day is utterly shaped by our own experience…none of us tend to think of ourselves as the bad guy in any situation…but that we are simply doing the best that we can given the circumstances.

But sometimes I wonder if that’s always the case…and I think its safe to say that sometimes we all get caught up in the “poor me” mentality…that idea that things are everyone else’s fault…or that everyone else is being stubborn or narrow-minded.  I wonder, how many of us have ever been in a situation when we are listening to another person share their frustrations…their irritations…and we’ve thought to ourselves…or maybe we’ve just come out and asked the question “What’s your part in this?”  I think this is pretty universal…that we wear blinders to our part of things…to our responses or our statements…and we get caught up in the other persons stuff without considering what we can control…and I can think of no better way of saying this…of conveying this idea other than the phrase “Own your stuff.”  The good and the bad…I think we all fall in the trap of failing to own it don’t we? (pause)

In the interest of full disclosure…I’m gonna own some stuff right now…most of what I’m going to say will not be shocking…but I need to say it anyway.  I’m a guy…I’m nearing 40, and at this stage in my life I’m old enough to be taken seriously by the generations above me…and I’m still young enough to not be utterly blown off and disregarded by the generations coming up below me.

I am, as you may have noticed…white.  I am married with a couple of kids, and while that’s not a dead giveaway in every instance, it does point to the strong possibility that I’m straight…and I am. I hold a Master’s Degree making me pretty highly educated, and along with that I’m gainfully employed with a fair wage and organizationally required health insurance and retirement savings…and finally, the icing on the cake…I live in the US.  All of this adds up to the reality that I will fully own…I AM…one of the single LEAST marginalized people on the planet. (pause)
Now I can only imagine that you are wondering what this has to do with anything today…we find ourselves at the tail end of the season of Advent…the season of anticipation and longing for the coming Savior.  Today is of course December 23rd…Christmas Eve is tomorrow…and tomorrow night we’ll gather to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus…the birth of the savior…and as we know that’s a really big deal.

But before we can get to the birth of the savior…that mind-blowing guy who is somehow both fully God and fully human, we have think about how the human aspect gets into the world…which is the same as any other human…he’s born, but before he can be born, there has to be a pregnancy.

And that’s where we find ourselves today…our story begins “in those days” and in those days, Mary the mother of Jesus has literally JUST been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she’s going to be pregnant through the power of God’s Holy Spirit…and that the child will be the savior of the world…and not only that…but that her older relative Elizabeth, who has been barren her entire life and is well beyond child bearing, is also pregnant.

And so…with haste…Mary takes off and goes on a visit…and this is the focal point of today’s story…the amazing Spirit-filled initial encounter between these two women who are pregnant in what can only be considered miraculous circumstances.

Now Mary and Elizabeth have some things in common but they’ve got some pretty distinct differences as well.  Elizabeth is older, perhaps even considered elderly…Mary is young, probably not even in her teens yet.  Elizabeth is the wife of a priest that is periodically active in the Temple…they’ve got means…enough that they actually owned two different houses…in the fairly well to do region of Jerusalem and Bethany right outside the city.  Mary’s engaged to Joseph, but is not yet married…and she’s from a tiny backwater town where she’s grown up in a tiny mud walled hut built over a naturally occurring limestone cave alongside countless other so-called “houses.”

But the thing that they both have in common is this pregnancy…now culturally speaking, there’s a lot going on here. Scripture tells us that when Elizabeth’s barrenness is broken and she’s miraculously pregnant she goes into seclusion…tradition in Israel says that she was embarrassed to be pregnant around all the city girls so she runs off to the country house…and that’s where Mary comes to see her.

What we don’t know is why…why does Mary come…it could be a lot of reasons. Maybe she wants to connect with a relative in the same sort of boat and have some girl-chat.  Maybe she’s going to serve as a mid-wife to her relative in the later stages of her pregnancy.  Or maybe, since Mary was now pregnant in “questionable circumstances,” and she lives in the epitome of the small town…she’s trying to get away too…after all she would have faced the possibility of scorn and ridicule and even being stoned to death.

Both of these women are facing tough circumstances…and the culture of the day certainly didn’t help any. It may seem utterly foreign to us now…but in that time, women were property…marriages were arranged for financial reasons…and other than caring for the house…pretty much the sole reason for women to exist was to provide babies for her husband…and preferably boys because the guy needed an heir.  They couldn’t own property…they couldn’t embark on business transactions…they couldn’t do much.  In short…they were marginalized to start with…and now you put these odd ball circumstances into their lives…and I think its safe to say that Mary and Elizabeth fall under the category of the lowly…the downtrodden…the very people that Mary starts singing about in the Magnificat.

I think its safe to say that their experience is the polar opposite of my existence…and in the interest of full disclosure…I feel very very uneasy in trying to tell you how you should think or feel about this divinely inspired exchange between the two women…because this situation is so utterly out of my wheelhouse.

As I’ve considered it…I think about those of you who have struggled with fertility…because that’s a reality…and I wonder how you hear this story of God’s divine intervention in not just one but two pregnancies…two pregnancies that build off of a history of other Old Testament pregnancies of divine nature.  I wonder if this strikes you as painful to hear as you wait and hope and hope that one day it will be your turn.

On the flip side…we’re in a day and age where a women’s worth is not…or in the very should not be dictated by having children…and I know many women who live a fulfilled life with no desire for kids…and I wonder how this speak in their situation to hear scripture saying that they are blessed through having children.

We can go deeper than that and think about those who are marginalized for all kinds of different reasons…because if there’s one thing we’re good at its pushing people to the margins over really pointless stuff…race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, age, just to name a few…and it happens, sometimes intentionally…and sometimes its happening despite our ignorance of it…and we are blissfully unaware. (pause)

Now what I cannot tell you…is where you fall on all this.  Some of you may be sitting out there today and this hits close to home…because of something beyond your control that pushes you aside…that says you are somehow less. (pause) But on the flip side some of you might be uncomfortable because this brings up the sense of how you’ve benefited from it.

And that’s where I find myself today…and as I consider my own privilege that honestly is no more than dumb luck to be born this way…I can’t help but hear a rebuke in Mary’s words…God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…he has brought the powerful down from their thrones…he has sent the rich away empty. (pause)

The crazy thing about scripture…about the gospel…is that in its very nature it brings comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable…and we see that on full display today…because God has looked with favor on the lowly…God has filled the hungry with good things.

Maybe just maybe what God is up to is evening the playing field…something we might call equality or justice…and in the midst of that…giving a reminder that when it comes to God’s mercy…when it comes to God’s favor…when it comes to God’s love for each of us…there is not a scarcity…but there is an abundance…that God offers it to each us in the same amount…and that the promises are that God will be found with those who are lowly…something evidenced in that God chose the lowest of the low…a young unwed mother in first century Palestine…a girl from a poor backwater town in the midst of controlled territory…she is the one who is chosen to bear the literal embodiment of the divine into this broken reality.

That through her…all life, broken as it is…is somehow glorified because that which is divine dares to be found in the midst of it…and in the middle of all this God has made promises to each of us…that no matter what our circumstances…that divine love and acceptance…that divine favor is shown to us…that’s the promise of the gospel.

Elizabeth poses a question that seems quite fitting…at one point she says “why has this happened to me?”  Might as well be asking “why me” or “who am I?”  I can only imagine that Mary asked herself that same question…and its one that we probably ask as well… “Who am I that God would see me…that God would consider me…that God would look at me?”

Know this today…the promise which God has made through the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ…is that you are claimed and you are loved…and that God will be found with the least of us in order to show us how universal his love is for all the world…that’s the promise…whether we feel encouraged by it given our circumstances…or if we feel the need to repent of something based on our circumstances…the promise is the same…we need only believe it…and blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.  Blessed is the one who believes…and may we all find the hope present in this blessing as we anticipate the change which our Lord is bringing into the world. Amen.

A Random Road Trip 6-19-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39, I explore Jesus’ venture into Gentile territory in order to free one man possessed by demons. The fear that erupts around this event reminds us of how scary change can be, and yet we see how far God will go for those who are isolated. In light of Orlando, this is an important reminder.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-random-road-trip-6-19-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Over the course of the past 3 years of living in the area, I’ve noticed several different landmarks. One of them has caught my eye on numerous occasions. It lies just off of 680, about a mile east of the intersection with I-29…a large lookout tower.

I’ve driven past that tower, looking at it from down on the interstate, over and over again…most recently about a month back as we headed that general direction for a baseball game…and my wife and I agreed that sometime, we should drive up and check it out.

Well about two weeks ago, we did just that. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we were all a little stir-crazy…so we jumped in the car and drove on up there…we pulled off at the exit and parked the car at the base of the tower. We walked up the roughly 75 steps to the top, and spent a couple minutes looking out over the Missouri river valley, as well as back to the east over the rolling hillsides of Iowa. (pause)

And then we left. (pause) Now while we did end up doing some other random things while we were out and about that day…the whole point of the excursion…the only reason for leaving the house and driving clear up there, was to walk up those steps…and that…is…it. It was a random road trip with a singular purpose.

Today’s story…it features the exact same thing. A random trip…with a singular purpose…though of course it sits nicely within a larger portion of narrative about Jesus ministry…especially considering the relative regularity that he feels the need to cross the sea. Over and over again we hear of Jesus getting in a boat and traveling to the far side of the sea of Galilee…doing some sort of ministry in Jewish territory, and then crossing over into Gentile territory…back and forth.

And today’s story, is just one example…for just prior to the opening verse for today, Jesus says to the disciples “Let’s go to the other side of the sea.” And they get into the boat to do just that…interestingly enough…as they’re crossing, Jesus konks out and a great big storm comes up…freaking out the disciples, so they wake Jesus up…and he gives them a look before telling Mother Nature…HEY…KNOCK IT OFF…and amazingly enough…it does.

Following that little adventure, this random road trip…or perhaps boat trip would be a better name…brings them to the far side of the sea, in the area known as Gerasenes…and immediately Jesus encounters the demoniac.

Now just what he’s up to, we don’t really know…but it seems safe to say that he’s got a pretty lousy life going on…possessed of countless demons…driven out of town…driven out of his right mind…living day by day in the tombs…sometimes chained up, but most off trailing the broken chains along behind him…this man is the epitome of isolation…shunted to the side by the people of the city…out of sight and out of mind…and why? Well, because these demons, whatever they are, cause him to behave like a raving lunatic…the last person that civilized people want to have in their neighborhood. (pause)

Now you all know the story…you know what happens…Jesus recognizes the presence of evil spirits and commands them out…they talk back…seemingly in fear of Jesus, because they recognize that this man is God….that this man has power and authority over all kinds of stuff…diseases…death…nature…and yes, even demons…and so they beg him “DON’T CAST US INTO THE ABYSS!!!” There’s pigs over there? Can we go into them instead?

I can almost see Jesus get a little grin on his face…You don’t want to be cast into the bottomless void…but pigs are okay? Well sure Legion, head on over to those pigs…which they do…and the pigs FREAK out…and run into the sea where they drown…and whatever the heck demons are…if they require a living host, well then I guess they end up right where they don’t go in the first place don’t they?

That’s the story…Jesus sees the man…sees the presence of evil…and takes care of it, leaving this poor soul…this wild man who has been shoved to the margins…whole again.

But what’s the response of those who witness it? Well, they freak out too…they run off to the city and bring everyone out…and they all see this man who they only know as a dangerous lunatic…as one to be feared and therefore controlled or cast out…they see him sane…and whole, just sitting there listening to Jesus…so changed that he desires to give up his life as he knows it…and his community even though it has cast him out…and follow after Jesus…but Jesus has other plans for this man…turning him into an Evangelist who returns to his home to tell everyone what God has done.

And once again, the response of the people who witness the results of God’s work through Christ…they’re afraid…and they ask him to leave…beg him even…and Jesus gets back in the boat…and together with the disciples, he sets sail back for Jewish territory…His whole purpose in coming all the way across the sea…braving the dangers of a storm…the whole point was to heal this man pushed beyond the margins…who lives among the dead…to free him of what oppresses him…and then he left. (pause)
Now all of that is amazing enough on its own…to consider that Jesus would go CLEAR out of his way for this one miracle…for this one act of mercy…but its even more amazing than that. Jesus broke just about every single cultural rule and boundary to do this. He’s a Jew and he enters into Gentile territory…the man himself, a Gentile…He’s naked, so for Jesus to engage with him breaks another cultural taboo…the fact that he lives in the tombs means that he literally lives in the midst of death…and guess what, dead bodies make you ritually unclean…there’s another rule that Jesus bypasses…heck even the presence of pigs which are an unclean animal creates another boundary.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t hesitate…in fact…despite all of these forces that stand in the way…his very purpose for going in the first place was to free this man from oppression…from isolation…to restore him to life in community.

Jesus shows us in this story that he willingly, and perhaps even intentionally crosses any and all barriers to bring ONE individual back from that which isolates him…to bring him back from life quite literally as a dead man….foreshadowing perhaps? A little glimpse into just how far Jesus is willing to go to reestablish life in relationship for any one person? Yah, I’d say so. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…honestly that’s the gospel in a nutshell right there…but I’m drawn back to the response of the people who were there…fear. (pause) Now just what it is that they are afraid of is hard to tell…Perhaps they’re afraid to witness a supernatural power that is so much greater than they are…I’d say that’s fair…perhaps on the other hand they’re afraid that Jesus will continue to cost them their livelihood…after all, his actions cost them a great herd of pigs worth a great deal.

Or maybe, on the flip side…maybe they’re afraid of what it means that now this man is coming back into the community. For a long time, they’ve known this guy as the demoniac…a lunatic, dangerous…unacceptable and unpredictable…a danger to himself and to others…and so they cast him…tie him up and leave him chained in the tombs among the dead…but now…this guy…known only by his history, is going to be back in the neighborhood…living among them as one of them…and maybe, just maybe, they can’t get past that…maybe they can’t see him for what he is, a fellow human being…and they can only see the history that surrounds him…and the fact that the measures they have taken to contain him are no longer applicable…for his presence, clothed and in his right mind represents a total change from how they’ve dealt with the situation up to this point. (pause) And yah…that can be scary.

Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles…maybe they’ve heard of God, but it stands to reason that they’ve got their own gods…their own way of thinking about things…but despite their views or their theology, God acts in their midst anyway…and this really shouldn’t surprise us, because it seems like throughout scripture God…and especially God the Son…pretty much always ends up standing with the marginalized….whether everyone else approves of it or not. (pause)

Now what’s that mean for us today? Well, that’s the million dollar question. Usually at this point I’ll throw out something generic about recognizing the presence of the marginalized within our lives…how sometimes we are the ones pushed to the side…and that is true, I don’t dispute that…and yes the good news of the gospel IS for us.

But recent events have brought things to the point where I can’t just be generic anymore. Last Sunday, I had no more than wrapped up worship including a sermon about recognizing one another as people…as human…as individuals of worth…and I stepped into my office to do a little of the follow up work I do every Sunday…and that’s when I saw the news about Orlando…and the mass shooting…49 people dead at a nightclub.

And all I could think was “AGAIN?” And I shook my head in disbelief…because these events are happening SO often that there’s nothing else I feel like I can do or so…and so I went on about my day…but I kept hearing the news…and more and more details emerged…and in the end, it has come light…that the nightclub was a gay bar…and the perpetrator used his beliefs to justify killing almost 50 people simply because of their orientation. (pause)

Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what you should think or feel…or tell you what’s the right theological understanding on what we always seem to label as the “Gay Issue.” That’s another conversation for another day…but what I am going to say is that NOTHING…NOT ONE THING…can possibly justify the senseless slaughter.

These were human lives…fellow human beings…and whether society wants to approve and condone their lifestyle or not…it doesn’t change the fact that they are human just like the rest of us…and as fellow members of the human race…they are made in the divine image of God…just like everyone else…we hear way back in Genesis 1…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…

I’m pretty sure that male and female covers the gambit of humanity…we are all made in the image of God and God has called this Very Good. And yet we see fit to destroy one another simply because we are different…

Now I’m not going to try and change your mind…I know that many of you sitting out there disagree and I respect that…but what I am saying is that we MUST find a way to co-exist with one another…and to treat one another as equals. (pause)

I do not fool myself into thinking that this is easy, but I do believe that God is calling us to mutual respect for one another…for Christ himself commanded us to first love God, and then to love our neighbor…even going so far as to tell us that the world will know that we are His followers if we have love for another. (pause)

Life is messy…and life is complicated…and its hard…and we all fall along different points in terms of our views on this topic…I get that…but praise be to God that nothing in all creation, not our shortcomings nor our sin, nor our mistakes will separate us from His love…Jesus made the ultimate road trip for that purpose…to free us all from that which isolates us….and there was nothing random about that. (pause)

I know that this conversation…this topic…is emotionally charged…I know that its scary…maybe even dangerous to tread into these waters…But God entered our reality in order to bring about unity…and remember that unity does not equal conformity…but rather a mutual love and respect for those we encounter. It is my prayer that we can start there…and trust that God will ultimately lead us where He wants us to go….whatever that might ultimately look like. Amen