Today was our church’s annual meeting. I decided, pun–pun, to speak on decisions. The scriptures used were: Mark 1:21-28, I Corinthians 8:1-13 and Deuteronomy 8:15-20. The title was, “Decisions.” At the end of the message, I have posted a picture of the apple pie bars after they were baked. We also brought some deer sausage and pickled beets and pickled beans. The beans were eaten, and I gave the remainder of the beets to one of the deacons. The meeting went very well by the way.
Today I want us to focus on decisions as we will have a few to make before we leave the building. Some of those decisions will be in terms of various items involved with the annual meeting. Those are business type decisions that we as members make each year as part of the church. Some are easier and more cut and dried than others, and mostly none are too controversial. Afterwards we will have the more difficult decisions to make in terms of which main dish we will eat or which salads we will sample and mostly which dessert we will save room for. And then before we leave it will be which task we will choose to do before to help in the clean up. Will we be in the kitchen washing dishes, or will we be the ones clearing the table, or will we linger over coffee until the rest have finished the clean up. OK, so not many really try to pull that last one around here. It is something that I admit to doing at family gatherings lately. At any rate, I expect we will have plenty of enjoyment and fellowship as we go about making our decisions later today.
I have always felt that decisions are much easier when life is reduced to the survival mode, or the “you have to do it” mode. When an individual or a family is in middle of a crisis: be it the death of loved one, a health crisis or an accident or weather related crisis, decisions are easier, well perhaps not easier, but at the least more clear-cut. I don’t mean to down play the importance of those times; I just mean that what we are deciding is clear. In those time we are faced with the reality of life and death and we don’t have to make the petty little decisions of day-to-day life that get people and I am including mostly me and maybe a good many of us in that nit-picky who does what sort of decisions that can at times cause really unnecessary “drama.”
James and I discussed a family that we know of whose child is facing an infection and in some ways for her it is life threatening, and we agreed, that is something to be concerned about. When we are faced with a life threatening illness, our decisions center around the health of the individual involved be it ourselves, our parents or our children or another relative. We do what we have to do to get through the time as best we can with our priority being the best results for the one who needs the care. And when the time comes to plan a funeral, we do what we have to do, and all other decisions seem petty for that period of time.
It is the same way if there is an accident or catastrophe; I think of when tornadoes or even blizzards hit this area or the state and there is the mess and loss of property or animals. Those involved begin with the clean-up of the major debris, and move to the sorting of what can be salvaged and then the replacement of the necessary items. It is a long task, and when you are in middle of that other decisions don’t really matter that much.
For most of us today I am guessing the biggest decision was what to bring to the pot luck, which probably was figured out sometime earlier last week or at the latest, yesterday, as was the case in our house. Then it might be what to wear, which shoes match, or which coat is necessary or even which vehicle might we take today.
We are fortunate that our decisions are not always so great. For some of us what to have for supper or which day to cook at home and which day to eat out, tops the list. Boy I must have been hungry when I wrote this as food keeps coming up as the topic examples.
I will be honest and say the decisions that are hard for me are things that should be fun decisions. Things like should we re-paint a few rooms in the house this spring? Do we finish off the basement? How should we try to improve the yard? And I thank goodness that the whole business about what to do with the pasture and cultivated land has been settled for another year. I am guessing that the farmers in the pews have taken care of the decisions on which crops to put into which fields next year, or at least you are close to finalizing that. And if it isn’t done already, I would bet some of the cattle decisions are soon to follow. Decisions are all around us even in the church and so it was in the times of the early church as Paul writes to the Corinthians.
I am hoping today that as we make decisions, it is with ease and respect for differing opinions and in a sense of Christian fellowship, but I really don’t anticipate anything different from us. I have not seen that here. Hopefully it is because it doesn’t exist and not because I am blind.
Dissentions in decisions were apparently part of what was happening in the church in Corinth. If you heard what was read earlier, Paul is writing to them to get them not to be quite so wrapped up in whether it is sinful to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols of the Greek Gods. Temples in Corinth normally had slaughter houses beside them, this was so that it was easier for the person to have the animals killed for the sacrifice. A couple of things happened, including that not all sacrifices needed a whole animal and so sometimes the other parts would be sold to anyone who wanted it, or sometimes feasts would be held with the sacrificed meat. Many early Christians were concerned about how eating this meat would contaminate them, others understood that those sacrifices were not real as these idols were not the one true God, and on and on, and finally Paul said if it becomes too much of a problem, just refrain from eating any of it.
Now idol worship and what to eat and what not to eat might not be the decision or the problem that we have today in terms of staying on track in our faith, yet what I see for us is Paul’s main words in this passage that if what we do causes someone else to lose their faith then we need to re-consider and make a different decision.
The gospel passage we read for today centers around a decision that Jesus made. As Mark wrote, it is early in the ministry of Jesus. For the last weeks we talked about how he called some of the disciples, and today we see him in the synagogue in Capernaum teaching on the Sabbath. And it says that he was teaching with authority, and not like the scribes. Now the irony of that statement only hits when you look up what a scribe is. Scribes were the students, so to speak, of the Jewish law. They spent all of their time studying and learning about the laws that were handed down from the times of Moses. They were the experts. Think about that a bit. Here is this young man, sort of an upstart at that, and he comes into the temple and begins to teach the people about the meaning of the scriptures, and they realize he is speaking with more authority than the very learned, scholars of the law.
And then before any of the leaders can comment about his teachings, an unclean spirit, a devil inside a man in the synagogue speaks up. The demon recognizes Jesus and begins calling out to Jesus trying to defend himself and asking what will happen to him–them/them meaning all demons.
At this point, I really couldn’t help but think of the comedian Flip Wilson, who was popular some years back. He always had a skit in his TV Show where he would say, “The devil made me do it.” It was usually in answer to some question about why he had done some bad action or another. And it seems that in our culture, the only time we think of devils or demons, it is with a cartoon type of attitude.
We, in our day and time, are not so inclined to think of people as demon possessed. From what we read in scripture, it was a fairly common thing in the days of Jesus. I am not sure what has changed. It could be that we don’t recognize it anymore, or it maybe it just doesn’t happen, or it could be that after Jesus died and rose again the powers of evil have become more subtle, I don’t know. There is an interesting book by C. S. Lewis, he is the theologian who wrote the Narnia series. He wrote a book titled, The Screwtape Letters. The letters are from an uncle devil to a nephew devil, and are advice about how to capture the soul of the man assigned to him. The main point of the advice is for the devils to be very subtle and never let the human ever begin to believe in the powers of evil in order to win the soul. Perhaps there is our answer for why we no longer believe in demon possession.
What I do know is that when the demon heard Jesus, it recognized who Jesus was and became confrontational. And at that point Jesus didn’t have to think about what to do. It wasn’t a dilemma to ponder and consider from all sides. Jesus was sure and decisive and told the demon to be silent and to leave the man it was possessing. Jesus showed his authority without a second thought. He didn’t wonder what would happen if he did this on the Sabbath, he didn’t think about what the people would think, he knew what needed to be done and he did it.
In the very beginning of his time of teaching on earth, Jesus showed his power over the forces of evil. Jesus showed his authority as the Son of God. Jesus knew his mission at the beginning of his ministry and he accepted it and did it. Jesus was a doer and that is why he calls us to be doers too. Today we have decisions to make and positions to accept. May we do all of it for the good of the church both this one and the wider one outside of our doors. May we do it all in the name of Christ. Amen!