Sermon from June 19th: Again

Scripture readings:

New Testament: Luke 8:26-39

Old Testament: Psalm 42 & 43


Again. Again is one of those words where tone matters. For example, “It’s snowing again!” was a more prevalent phrase at the beginning of the winter, while in March, the phrase quickly became ,”it’s snowing…again?!” Then there are those times when you’ve resided to the fact that something happens, and “again” becomes a nonchalant word of the expected and lack of surprise.

I recently had one of these again moments. My brother called. Now, as a disclaimer, most of the time when my brother calls, he has pulled, broken, sprained or knocked a part of his body that leaves him in the Orlando ER. Needless to say, it’s very easy for me to answer the phone, “what have you done this time?” But this time, it was about something else. “Did you hear about the shooting here?” he said bright and early Sunday morning. I quickly replied, “Yes, the one with the singer girl? That’s why you’re calling me so early on a Sunday morning? That was a week ago!”

“No,” he said in his annoyed little brother voice. “The one this morning. There was a mass shooting at the gay club down the street. They are thinking at least 20, but probably more are dead.” But it wasn’t till a pop up of the NY Times made my phone light up during service that it truly hit me. 50 People. Worst Mass Shooting in American History. Again. I was ashamed, because the truth is, I didn’t think much of it till that moment.

There it is. Again. That hot rush of intensity from hope being punctured yet one more time. That anxiety when one more block in the Jenga tower gets tapped out of place. You know what it feels like. It’s been here before, and the visits are never wanted, but, sometimes, idly expected. Again the day is cloudy and bone chilling cold. Again the bill comes and the paycheck is short. Again the night is long and lonely, and the depression tries to be the company you never want to keep. Again the cancer hits, the mind forgets and the last breath is taken. Again our nation mourns the lives lost to gun violence, hatred, fear and a lost sense of humanity.

Again.

This word moves from shock and surprise to anger and outrage to melancholy and depressed. It begins to weigh on our shoulders like a boulder, burdening us to either reside in its wake and eventually fall to our demise, or do something different. It beckons us to stay quiet as it eats away the last crumbs of hope we have. Because what would happen if you raised your voice, released the turmoil and lamented its very presence?

In Psalm 42 verses 4 and 5, David writes,

“But I remember these things as I bare my soul:

how I made my way to the mighty one’s abode,

to God’s own house,

with joyous shouts and thanksgiving songs—

a huge crowd celebrating the festival!

Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?

Why are you so upset inside?

Hope in God!

Because I will again give him thanks,

my saving presence and my God.”

Revelation. The coin is flipped, and the light on the other side is revealed. Again becomes a word of hope in the midst of what can sometimes feel like dark revelation. A revelation that we are stuck in rut that could take away the very breath of life and that crying out is the only way to fill our lungs again.

David isn’t the only one who found the other side of again. In the Luke passage, a man constantly tormented by the demons in his life has cried out…again. The passage that we read leads us to believe that this is the first time the man has sought healing from Jesus. but, a different translation suggests that this may be part of a cycle of agains.

In the CEB translation, Luke says in verses 28-29, “When he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had taken possession of him, so he would be bound with leg irons and chains and placed under guard. But he would break his restraints, and the demon would force him into the wilderness.” Then in verse 31 he says, “They pleaded with him not to order them to go back into the abyss.” Was it the demons wanting to be saved from the abyss, or the man, after realizing that he could not live with this, this time, any longer?

This text suggest that Jesus had healed this man of demons before, but, in a fallen world of unjust realities, he had fallen prey to them, again. But his demons could not stand the likes of Jesus, the true hope and light of God, and cried out at his very presence. In the light of hope, Again laments and transforms into that very hope. A cry to the Lord for the change we know can take place, the healing that can occur, the shift of mind and heart that is necessary to embody the loving God we cry out to. The saving presence.

When I’m not preaching a sermon, which is pretty much most of the time, I work with victims of domestic violence. It is a dark place in the midst of “Will he curse me out again? While he lock me up or follow my every move again? Will he make me feel worthless again? While he hit me again? Will I wake up…Again?” Part of our sessions is the process of moving out of the cycle of again and into a new reality waiting to begin. If the person is truly ready to change, the “agains” become “I want to do those things I did before again. I want to be this person again. I want to discover who I am again.” Hope flips the coin after a time of lament and overwhelming revelation.

It may not be where I am now, but again I will rejoice.

Something will happen; maybe an internal, chemical shift in the brain, or an external event, either of which leaves us feeling hopeless, angry, lonely, a sense of failure, and depression. Waiting to want and expect something else. It’s not that it won’t happen again. David knew this. The possessed man knew this. Even Jesus, both fully human and fully God, knew this. Rather, it’s that we can shift our focus, and remember the “agains” that hope and joy bring. In Psalm 42&43, one verse is found in repetition.

“Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give thanks, my saving presence and my God.”

In this time where the agains seem overwhelming, personally, nationally and worldwide, don’t reside in their cynical side. We have a choice. A decision to make about how we will spend this life, in this abode. In the midst of the dark realities of this world, we can hope. We can remember. It…fill in the blank…will happen again, and again, we have a choice of how we will respond. No response is fallacy. Because the reality is, we are here. We are waking up to the news, rolling over in our beds of depression or hopelessness that we hoped would disappear in our sleep, feeling the same generalized anger toward people we honestly don’t know much about.

We have a choice. Get out of bed. Return the phone call. Investigate what you do not know. Learn rather than assume. Reach out even when it’s terribly uncomfortable. Find a group of people who don’t just have hope, but want to do something about it. Come to worship, again, and find strength in the community holds the Spirit in the center.

Lament, grieve, seek revelation, pray and discern. Embody the Lord’s saving presence. Hope and be hope. Love and be love. Change and be change. Until that day when the Lord comes, again. That day when our world will be one of rejoicing, again and again.

Amen.

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