Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Naming the Dragon

It seems that some of you have noticed that I never posted my sermons from June or July.  Thank you for noticing.  Here they are...

Matthew 10: 24-39
A Sermon for the People of Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Lake Stevens, WA
June 22, 2014

Pray with me as we begin:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.
“Naming the Dragon.”  How many of you are familiar with that phrase?  It means essentially that you name that thing that terrifies you, and that simply by calling it out by name, it loses some of its power over you.  It’s much harder to be afraid of a “Norbert” than a nameless fire-breathing scaly creature determined to char your flesh and incinerate your bones.  Now, of course, outside of a fantasy novel (with no offense to J. K. Rowling, all you Harry Potter fans), dragons simply do not exist.  But we assign their power and might to other things. 

What are you afraid of?  What are your dragons? 

Snakes?  Flying?  Heights?  or more practical matters…Has your son just gotten his driver’s license?  Are you still awaiting the delivery of your end-of-term report card?  Are family members growing up and moving away or just moving on?  Are you wrestling with the kind of care you can give to your aging parents?  Is your workplace “toxic”?  Is your rent past due?  Is your congregation shrinking?

You should each have half an index card and a pen or pencil.  Take a moment and think:  What are you afraid of?  On the lined side of that card, write down two or three fears that you are wrestling with currently.  Go on.  Name your dragons.  Dig deep.  Make it good and honest.  No one will see these unless you show them, okay? Now…hang on to those cards.  Don’t put them away just yet.   

What happened when you named those dragons?  Are they still frightening?  Sure.  But simply by naming them by acknowledging what they are, you strip them of some of their fire power.   

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks to his disciples about fear.  He’s beginning to send them out, actually, and is giving them a “pep-talk”, if you will, about how to go about God’s mission in their world.

The first thing Jesus says is, “a disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.”  Which basically means, “hey, they’re gonna treat you the same way they’re treating me.”  Yikes.  So much for the pep-talk.

Then, Jesus goes on to talk about dragons.  Again, not literal dragons, but those things which frighten or worry us.  And he begins this passage by saying, “have no fear of them.” 

Fear not.  (have you noticed that every time someone says that in the Bible, a really great promise follows?)

At first glance, it might seem like our God is a god of mixed messages.  “They’re gonna treat you terribly, but don’t worry.”  “These are all the things you should be worried about, but don’t be afraid!”

The disciples had the ultimate worry.  At the time of Jesus, remember, to be a disciple meant the constant threat of death.  Jesus and his followers were persecuted.  (I assure you, despite what some Christians would have you believe –particularly around Christmas time when the birth story of Christ is not allowed in public schools and Christmas trees are called “holiday trees,” we Christians in 21st United States are NOT persecuted.) 

But the disciples were!  Just by traveling with Jesus and by doing what he asked of them, they suffered rejection and the very real threat of death…every. single. day.  The threat of death may be the ultimate threat…the ultimate claim and abuse of power.  But Jesus says to the disciples that they shouldn’t be afraid of the person who is trying to kill (what??)…instead, they should be afraid of the one who can kill their bodies and their souls.  In other words, no mortal has more power than God.  No human can claim authority over their souls.  God always has the final word.

And this is true for us, too, though perhaps in a more metaphorical sense:  Those dragons and people and things can cause you great fear and worry, but God has the last word.  Don’t worry about the words and threats and fears and “dragons” of this life.  Worry about God.  God alone is the one we should fear.

But what do we know of God?  Here’s the Good News:  God loves you.  God loves you so intimately that God knows the number of hairs on your head.  God has even paid attention to the ones that fell out in your hair brush this morning.  God knows every detail of your physical and spiritual being, and God claims you, God claims you, and calls you good.

God, who has ultimate power over our lives both in the present and in the life to come, holds that power with love, and mercy, and tenderness, and grace.  God loves you.

So what about those dragons which you have named this morning? 

What if we look at them in a different way?  What if we decide that all of those adversities or “what-ifs” are not things to be frightened of but instead are chances to use our faith?  To use an example from my dear professor David Lose, “Is a brewing conflict with a dysfunctional colleague or difficult friend something to be avoided at all costs or an opportunity for setting boundaries, affirming healthier patterns of behavior, and nurturing growth?”  

I don’t mean to imply that the dragons are sent by God to teach us how to live our lives, I don’t think God is sadistic or cruel.  But I do want to remind you that God uses for good the things that the world intends for evil, and God shows that to us again and again and again.  Not only in the Bible but in your life as it is unfolding today. God can and God will use those hardships, those dragons, to create new life.  There is no bigger dragon than the cross…and if God can use that for the good of all, imagine how God might be using our current sufferings to bring renewal.

Now, pull out those index cards once again.  Look at your dragons.  Think for a moment about how you might be able to see some new life seeping its way through them.  How might God use those challenges for good?

Flip those cards over.  On the blank side, I want you to write, “Do not fear—you are of great value to God.” 

Take a good long look at that promise.  God loves you.  I want you to take those cards with you.  Pull them out during the week and allow them to serve as a reminder that God knows you…every hair…every freckle…every anxiety and fear…and God calls you good.  Even and especially as you fight your dragons.

Jesus says, “what I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the rooftops.” 

And God sends you out into the world to make that Good News known to all people.  Hear the Good News:  “You are claimed.  You are called.  You are forgiven.  You are free.  You are loved.  You are of great value to God.”  Shout it from the rooftops, people!  Once you have named your dragons, those words will be your dragon-slayers. 


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