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Careful What You Ask For

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians; Mark 1:21-28.

There are any number of roads we could travel down with this week’s texts. They all have something to offer us. But I’m going to take us down “be careful what you ask for” street.

For those of us in Bible study, today’s text from Deuteronomy should sound familiar. It is one of the texts the authors held up as a Messianic prediction text. A text that foretells of the coming Messiah.


What I learned this week, that I’m not sure was made clear by the authors of our book, is that it was first a “Jewish reinterpretation of this text that understood it as a promise of a single, messianic prophet at the end of time that the Christian church later accepted and not the other way around." Jewish Study Bible


The Israelites trembled in fear before God and they demanded an intermediary. “Ask, and you shall receive.” Moses was appointed God’s spokesperson. The first of the great prophets.

But be careful what you ask for. The Israelites weren’t always all that fond of the words Moses spoke on behalf of their God. And, there was the boring manna, the poisonous snakes, the rules – oy vey, the 613 mitzvot (or laws) – , the wandering (40 years of wandering). All of this when Israel was on God’s good side.


By the time Israel is exiled from the promised land, and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah are on the scene, they are longing for a return to the days when God spoke to them directly. “Ask and you shall receive.”


But be careful what you ask for. Enter Jesus, Son of God. Fully human, yet fully divine. Emmanuel, God with us.


Jesus came to speak for God, to speak as God, and boy, did he have a few things to say. Some things were really cool. “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has made you well, take up your mat and walk home, today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing, take and eat, Lazarus come out.”


But other things – “you fool, you hypocrites, if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor.”


Those are some pretty hard sayings coming from the mouthpiece of God. And, it wasn’t just what the Messiah, for whome they had prayed for, said. It’s also what he did.

In today’s gospel reading we find Jesus doing what all good rabbis do on the sabbath, he goes to his local synagogue. And, there he teaches the gathered congregation. And, they are astounded! Astounded.


I’ve had some good sermons. Maybe even some outstanding sermons, but I’m not sure I’ve ever astounded anyone. They were astounded at his teaching. Astounded, because it was different from the scribes who relied on the teachings of others. Astounded, because it had its own authority. Astounded, but they still unaware of who stood before them.


With the exception of one. One cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”


And, who was this one who cried out? An unclean spirit. It is, also, an unclean spirit who first introduces Jesus to the wider population in the gospel of Mark. “I know who you are Jesus of Nazareth, Holy One of God.”


Jesus doesn’t seem to be too thrilled about this impromptu introduction. He silences the spirit and casts it out. The people are so amazed by the exorcism they don’t seem to have heard the unclean spirit’s words. But, they had seen, and heard, enough from Jesus to spread the word, making him a super star in Galilee.


But their astounding amazement will only last so long. Soon, Jesus will be the one labeled “Beelzebub” and his hometowners will be the ones doing the casting out. The very people, who had been praying and asking to once again hear the voice of God, will begin plotting to silence it because this Messiah is not the one they wanted.


We have a pretty short epiphany season this year, which is sad. I say this because epiphany is the season, in which the texts are set, to reveal or give light to just who this Jesus of Nazareth is. And like today’s gospel congregation, we are meant to be astounded by the things Jesus says and does.


Have we ever seen or heard anyone with such authority? One who can draw others to him with a simple call to, “Follow me!” One who can silence and cast out demons. One who next week will demonstrate the power to heal.


This God of ours is truly beyond anything we have ever seen or known. And, sometimes we forget this. I often think our biggest sin is not that we doubt God exists, but that we make the God, in whom we believe, too small.


If you remember our “breakfast church,” back in November, we were told to pray until something happens. But, that kitten story was also a reminder to be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.


Today, we’re invited to remember, and consider, the astounding things God has done; to dare to ask, and be open to any answer which may come our way. Open ourselves to be astounded.


Now to him, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us, to him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  Amen

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.


Follow Me!

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Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for January 21, 2024

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.


Jesus said, "Follow me!" Immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him.


Jesus said, "Follow me!" James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.


Every time I hear this story I’m amazed at Simon, Andrew, James and John's willingness to leave what was and, without question, walk obediently, and blindly, into the unknown.

Fishing was their vocation. Fisherman was their identity and, it was probably the identity of their family members for generations. As fishermen, they knew who they were and what was expected from them. They cast their nets by night and mended them by day. Their labors provided food for their families, as well as, for others in the community. Fishermen described these four men and they, in turn, helped define what it meant to be fishermen.

Then, on some unimportant, otherwise unidentified day, they heard a man's voice saying, "Follow me!" and they left it all behind. And, it appears they did so without weighing the pros and cons, without second guessing, and without looking back.


When is the last time you heard anything so compelling you were willing, with or without weighing pros and cons, to give up the very things that define who and what you are? When was the last time something happened, or someone came along and convinced you that your identity needed redefining?


Before we pursue these questions, let me clarify a widely prevalent misconception. While Peter, Andrew, James and John left their nets, their vocation, and all those things they had and identified who they were, they did not jump ship, abandoning everything, and everyone, they knew.


All four fisherman were from Capernaum, a town in the Galilee region. This town became a home base for Jesus' ministry in Galilee. The town will come up several times in the remaining weeks of Epiphany, including a story about Peter's mother-in-law. There are also later texts, in which we find the disciples back in a fishing boat, meaning that while they were no longer fishermen, they were still men who fished.


This clarifies Jesus' call, "Follow me!" His words are best understood as an invitation to change identity and purpose, rather than a call for reckless abandonment to start over. I must admit, for me personally, starting over, even when not done recklessly, has the bigger appeal. I’m one of those people who likes the idea of a clean slate, redefining my destiny. I was in college when I realized "starting over" isn't really possible. It was a sociology professor who put it into words, saying, "No matter where you go, there you are."


No matter where you go, there you are. You can pick up and go anywhere you want, any time you want, but when you get to where you’re going, the same you will be there. The only thing that will have changed are the surroundings. It’s one of the easy, more obvious lessons in life, but its truth can be frustrating when you really do want things to change.

Enter Jesus and his call, “Follow me!”


We readily hear this text as a call to be a disciple. We accept, with our mind, at least, that Jesus calls us to follow and be a disciple, just as he called Simon, Andrew, James and John. But, then we move on, as if that’s all there is to it. In reality, however, the call to follow, when heeded, is an extraordinary disruption in a person's life.


Jesus' call, “Follow me!” is a call to change, not the place of action, but the person and the action itself. Being a disciple isn't about the travel and physical following of Jesus. Being a disciple is about what you do and why you do it.


Note that Jesus doesn't politely ask the men, “Will you please consider leaving what you think you know about who you are, and follow me, so I can show you the real you?”


No, he imperatively says, “FOLLOW ME!” Jesus' call to discipleship is an imperative to be something other than we are.


Over the next couple of weeks, the two sets of brothers will learn about what they’re being called to by observing Jesus. Those same observations speak to us. They are not just nice narratives recorded to be bedtime stories. They’re examples of what lies ahead, for these one-time fishermen, and for us.


The call is to gather, teach, cast out demons, heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. But, the call starts here, not out there.


“Follow me!” Jesus says, and be changed from the inside out. But, the change won't happen overnight. The gospels include stories of the disciples’ fights, denials, betrayals, lack of faith, misinterpretations and total cluelessness. Sometimes you wonder if they are ever going to get it right. But, by the last chapter, through the gracious mercy of God, they are transformed from fishermen into apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ.


This same gracious mercy which transformed Simon, Andrew, James and John, is the gift of light God offers us today.


“If you wish to be my disciple you must change who and what you are. If you wish to change who and what you are, you must be my disciple and follow me. The journey will require you to experience betrayal, denial, and death on the cross. But, it’s the only way to change who you are, wherever you go.”


Jesus said, "Follow me!" Immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him.


Jesus said, "Follow me!" James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.


Jesus says, "Follow me!" And you…. Well, you fill in the blank. Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.


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