April 22, 2018 Sermon

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018, Lectionary B


The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                      Scripture: John 10:11-18


“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30


Whose voice?


Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to dwell among us, so that Jesus, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, might reach out to heal and liberated us from sin, sickness, and death.  Amen.


Greg Norman. Fox News: April 16, 2018: “Exorcism, the Catholic-sanctioned ritual to root out demons, doesn’t just exist in movies. In fact, the practice has become so popular that the Vatican’s weeklong workshop on the practice is now gaining attention – and attendance is booming.


About 200 Roman Catholics arrived at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome on Monday for a series of lectures on topics such as spotting differences between demonic possession and mental illness, and witchcraft in Africa, according to Reuters. “They call me and we speak and that’s how I do it,” Cardinal Ernest Simoni of Albania told the news agency after his lecture, adding that he reads prayers in Latin over the phone.


The focus of the course, titled “Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation”, is “to offer a rich reflection and articulation on a topic that is sometimes unspoken and controversial,” Italian priest and exorcist Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio in February. “We touch on the most burning issues: from the sects linked to Satanism (and) to [telling] their story of liberation [from] their possession,” he added.

The course was set up amid the increasing popularity of tarot cards readers and fortune tellers that opened “the door to the devil and to possession,” Palilla said.  Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, an organizer of the event, told Reuters that the “number of exorcisms has definitely increased over the years, as the requests to carry out exorcisms has increased. “This course is useful because it prepares the priests who carry out exorcisms to have a complete vision, a multi-disciplined view of the situation,” he added.


The BBC reported that the course has been offered since 2005 and over the past 13 years, the number of priests attending has more than doubled. “It is Jesus who liberates. It is his power,” Simoni was quoted as saying. “In all the exorcisms I have done, the Lord has helped me. I am not the great one.”


Palilla noted that the demand for exorcism services tripled in the last few years, to 500,000 cases in Italy, although most cases of alleged demonic possession were prompted by psychological and spiritual issues. In 2014, the Vatican officially recognized exorcism as a practice under canon law.”


It is a question most of us have asked. “Whose voice is that?”  Perhaps, we are in a crowded room—a restaurant, maybe, and believe we have just heard the voice of someone we know.  Because of all the other voices, well, we are not sure. It is just too loud and confusing.


Perhaps, we have been watching a movie and we think to ourselves, “That voice sounds familiar.  Whose is it?” That happened to me the other day. I happened to catch a re-run of the Wyatt Earp movie, starring Kurt Russell.  There was a character talking at the gambling table, whose voice sounded familiar. I did not identify him at first, but because I thought I recognized the voice, I looked again.  It was the actor, Billy Bob Thornton, carrying a few more pounds than usual.


Needless to say, there are a multitude of voices jockeying for our attention at any time, whether spoken or written.  There are the voices on television, beckoning us not only to listen, but do something. Buy my product the commercial cajoles.  How many times have we seen or heard that one? If I never hear Flo’s voice again, it will be all too soon. It is time for Flo to go.


Then there are the voices of the news networks, at least that’s what they would have us believe—that they are reporting the news.  We know better, of course. Those voices have an all too apparent agenda. They, too, want us to do something—vote a certain way; send money to a certain advocacy group; get out in the streets and make your voices heard, though it is really their voices.


And, let’s not forget the voices of social media, the #Me voices.  What do they say? Look at what I cooked; let me show you my dog, my cat, my baby, my family, my house, my vacation.  Look. Look at me and mine. What are these voices asking us to do? Click it. You know, click the “Like” button. Maybe, even make a comment, or share with someone else.  There is FB, Snapchat, and Instagram—all voices asking us to listen and to do. Don’t forget Twitter—the voice of short and to the point.


All these voices, swirling around in our atmosphere, cyberspace, the radio, TV, and smart phones—so many voices, but it does not stop there.  There are the voices inside our heads, and that’s a different matter. There is no off/on switch, no mute button, and no channel changing for those voices.  They are there, silently, but no less there. Sometimes those inner voices get loud and sometimes they whisper. They say things to us, even though it us thinking them.   What do they tell us?


There is the trite voice telling us to take out the garbage; make your bed; brush your teeth.  There are the funny voices in our heads that like to make up jokes and cause us to laugh. There are the sad voices, which recall to us a loss, a failure, a missed opportunity.  There are the anxious voices, which wind us. Worry, worry, worry—I’m so nervous. I can’t calm down. The pressure is getting to me—fear, fear, fear. And, there are the angry voices in our heads.  Why is that turkey driving so slowly? Why did he cut me off? You have insulted me—hurt my feelings. Yes, it is a roar of voices—a veritable Babel of confusion, delusion, and miss-information.


Oh, and less I forget there is the voice of temptation, the devil, perhaps—suggesting, appealing, and pitching.  It is the same devil for which the Vatican has seen an increased need for exorcisms. What does the voice of temptation say? Eat more; fudge the truth; slander; gossip; be unfaithful; steal; hurt one’s neighbor.  What voice follows in its wake? It is the voice of guilt, remorse, regret, and shame. There we have it—the two powers that Satan has—the power of persuasion and the power of condemnation, leading to self-condemnation.


Voices, though, are not just meant to be heard.  They instruct us. They tell us what, how, when, where, and if to do.  In that respect voices have power. Think of power as that which can move something.  The voice, then, is the switch which turns on the power. The voice says, “Take out the garbage,” and we dutifully or reluctantly do just that.  The voice is power.


In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, Saints Peter and John, having been imprisoned by the rulers, elders, scribes, and the high-priestly family, are challenged with this question:  “By what power or by what name did you do this?”  Earlier in chapter four Peter and John had been incarcerated by the Sadducees “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v. 2).  The event which led up to this and the gathering of a great crowd was the healing by Peter of a man, lame from birth.      The question to Peter about by what power or name is in reference to this healing.  Peter had said to the lame man, ““I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” [. . .] and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk.”


As the healing of the lame man had provided an opportunity for Peter to evangelize the crowd, so too, does the question asked of Peter by the Jewish leadership.  Listen again to how smartly Peter replied as by what power and name he had healed.


Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”  By the name of Jesus the lame man had been healed.  Even though Jesus no longer walked this earth, the speaking of His name by the voice of Peter had the power to heal.


What did we hear Cardinal Ernest Simoni in the article about exorcism say?  “It is Jesus who liberates. It is his power,” Simoni was quoted as saying. “In all the exorcisms I have done, the Lord has helped me. I am not the great one.”  So, here we are two thousand years later and the name of Jesus continues to heal and liberate.  Sickness and Satan are vanquished by the power of Jesus’ name. How can this be?

In today’s gospel from St. John we begin to answer that question in part. Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd.  He is the good shepherd who has lain down His life for the sheep. Unlike the hired hand, bad shepherd, who does not own the sheep (notice the word, own) Jesus does not run away when He sees the wolf coming. The hired hand does not care for sheep.  Who is the hired hand, the bad shepherd?


The Rev. Chris Keating writes, “For whatever reason — and there are plenty of them — we are enchanted with bad shepherds. We allow them to move into our lives and soon they take over. We elect them to office, worship them as celebrities, and allow them access into the private details of our digitized lives.   Bad shepherds will disappoint us time and again — but still, like a family that repeats cycles of dysfunctional living time and again, we allow them to herd us into pastures which do not save.
Some thought Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook might shepherd us into new and networked pastures. But Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress continued what the New Yorker calls his “apology tour,” and showed that the shepherd of our status updates did not do enough to protect us from foreign interference in elections.

Others hoped Speaker of the House Paul Ryan might fend off the wolves. Yet he’s decided to set aside the speaker’s gavel and will retire from Congress in December. His decision marked an end to his role in shepherding Congress through entitlement reforms.


Meanwhile, Missourians are wondering how they elected a bad shepherd as governor. Former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens won the governor’s seat in November, telegraphing suggestions that this square jawed, gun-firing inspirational speaker would land in the White House. Now, however, Greitens is awaiting trial on felony invasion of privacy charges. Last week he was denounced by his own party following an investigation of a particularly salacious and violent extra marital affair.


And then there’s 80-year old Bill Cosby, once hailed as America’s Dad, now standing trial on assault charges. The aging comic relies on assistance in walking and is no longer considered our de facto shepherd-in-chief.


The problem is that so many shepherds have abused that privilege. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal timeline, for example, is cluttered by more than a decade of saying sorry, not sorry to friends, employees and Facebook users. It reads, suggests the Washington Post, a bit like a record stuck on repeat. “All the while,” the article continues, “Facebook’s access to our personal data increases and little changes about the way Zuckerberg handles it.” Questions of trust loom large following his Capitol Hill apology tour, leading many to wonder, “In Zuckerberg do we trust?”

All of it is a reminder that bad shepherds are ubiquitous.”  It highlights that it really does matter to whose voice we are listening.  Jesus tells us in this morning’s gospel that because we are His sheep, we will listen to His voice.  As He says in John 10:27, 28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  We need to remember that, embrace that, and hear that.  In other words, listen to Jesus’ voice above all others, all others.


What or who is the wolf that frightens off the hired hand?  The wolf is sickness and death. The wolf is Satan. The wolf (aka Satan) is that nasty little voice who beguiles us to sin in all its myriad of forms.  It is that voice, which condemns us, tells us that we are no good and have failed. It is that voice which stokes with anxiety and tries to defeat us with despair.  And, sometimes the wolf appears in sheep’s clothing—the bad shepherd, the hired hand.


The wolf is bad, very bad.  He would have us not listen to the voice of Jesus.  Our culture listens to the voice of the wolf and becomes the wolf, the devil itself.  We are not lost, however. As we heard Peter tells us in the Acts reading, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”  Jesus healed the lame man at the temple gate two thousand years ago and He continues to heal and liberate today.


In a moment you will be given the opportunity to come forward for healing.  It is not necessary for you to come forward because others do, but only because you have need for healing.  I will anoint you with oil, praying either in English or my prayer language. Listen for the voice of Jesus.  It is He with the Holy Spirit who does the healing, and no one else.