St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-04-2018

St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-04-2018

We Sure Could Use Some Good News

Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

There are certainly plenty of things going on in our world. And, in this modern era of instant communication, it’s extremely difficult to keep up with all the news much less decide for ourselves what is important and what is not; what matters to us and what does not; or, what we can do something about and what we cannot.

Let me give you an idea of how this works. I think we all know that the president delivered his State of the Union Address this week, [am I right?]. And how many of you have heard about the release of “the memo”? [Show of hands]. Now, who can tell me how many school shootings have happened in the United States so far this year? [Anyone? take a guess?]. Would you believe… 14[1] as of Feb 1st? OK, of those 14, 6 cases didn’t result in any injuries or fatalities but, to help make my point, I couldn’t find a tally for how many people were injured or killed in the other 8. It seems the news channels were too distracted by other events to provide those statistics.

Our nation is also plagued with a horrible drug abuse problem. This has gotten quite a bit of attention lately with all the deaths caused by cheap opioids available all over the country. But, again, who can tell me how many lives end due to opioid overdoses? [anyone]. In 2016, (2017 figures aren’t out yet but are expected to be higher), in 2016, 42,249[2] Americans died of opioid overdoses. That’s over 115 people per day or one in about every 13 minutes.

And one more of our many problems to be mentioned is suicide. 44, 965[3] people died of their own will in 2016 (again, the latest stat’s I could find), that’s a little over 123 per day or one about every 12 minutes.

The leading causes of death in our younger population are; Number one, Accidents; number 2 Suicides; and number 3 Violence.[4]

Even these figures, however, are a bit murky. The category of “Accidents”, for example, includes drug overdoses; and who knows how many drug overdoses or car crashes are actually suicides. Yet, looking at these three leading causes of death among our young people thoughtfully, we can see a common thread weaving through them all. That common thread is “extreme unhappiness”.

Think about that: People abuse drugs because they make them feel good; or, at least, feel better about themselves, when they are not happy about the life they live in. People take their own lives when their misery in this life becomes unbearable. And even violence is inspired when people try to fight their way out of dreadful life situations they can no longer endure.

So, the real question we need to be asking is not how to control violence and the tools that make violence so lethal; or how to find a drug that will cure depression to lower the suicide rate; or how to get illicit drugs off our streets; the real question is “Why are our young people so unhappy that they turn to drugs, suicide, or violence to escape their misery”?

Now, let’s look at that.

Like language, social identity is learned at a very young age. And, like language, social identity is learned through experience more so than teaching; we learn words by hearing them, we learn the names of objects and people by hearing them, and we learn to string our words together into sentences by hearing them. Likewise we learn about social acceptability and social expectations through experiencing them in the sights and sounds of the world we live in.

We learn things like the meaning of success as defined in our social experiences. Today, in America, success is almost exclusively defined in terms of earning money; good money, more money.

Earning more money, we learn, requires a college education to get a better paying job. But then, once young people have accepted these expectations as requirements, a great number find themselves in a job of drudgery but feel bound to stay in it because they are earning ‘good’ money. Or, for better or for worse, they find themselves up to their necks in debt acquired through school loans that cut deeply into whatever income they do have. Neither of these are conducive to happiness.

Add to this the fact that not everyone is cut-out as college material. With the level of education, in our society, being connected to rate of pay we then, automatically, discriminate against those who cannot reach that higher bar.

And, further still, not all jobs that our society needs to have workers for require a college education; construction workers, machine operators, ditch diggers and truck drivers just to name a few. Yet, again, these are thought of as less deserving of ‘good’ pay than the higher educated.

The problem reaches far beyond economic gain too. Another of the reasons for unhappiness is the lack of a sense of community. More so today than ever before, people divide themselves from other people for senseless reasons. Yes, racial segregation is an age old problem that still exists; but class separation is more prominent now that it had been in the past; as are things like physical appearance, athletic ability, fashion sense, and especially, today, political views.

There are many more facets to the growing problem of dissatisfaction in young people’s lives, but the last one I’ll mention today is the tendency, in America, to distinguish people in terms of winners and losers.

It’s ok to think of sports teams as winners or losers; a poker game, even an election. But it is all too common, and I’ll add absolutely unacceptable, to speak of one person’s life in terms of winner and another’s in terms of loser.

This mentality, so ever present in our society, is perhaps the most destructive of all; in fact, I will declare that it absolutely is the most destructive as it permeates the previously mentioned economic demands and separation of community as well as every other happiness draining scenario I can think of. Not only is it unfair to determine who is a winner and who is a loser based on the predominant social standard, it is those on top of that standard who set the bar higher and higher, leaving an ever increasing majority in the bottom.


Now we’ve addressed the question, albeit briefly, as to why our young people are so unhappy, our next step is to ask, and answer, the question “what can we do about it”.

For starters, as individuals, we can show respect for all people. Whether highly educated or illiterate we can respect them; whether a CEO or a ditch digger, we can respect them. Red, yellow, black, or white; gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we can, and we must respect them “…that [we] might by all means save some”.

 As a Christian community we can be more welcoming to all people. Whether gruff or mild; groomed or raged; fit or weak; talented or lacking talent; we can, and we must welcome them into our community, making it their community where “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”

And, as individuals and as a community, we can resist the mentality that says life is made up of winners and losers. We can do this by refusing to speak in such terms, refusing to listen to such thinking without resistance, and refusing to tolerate such division being placed in our civic laws and social norms.

And, perhaps the most important of all, we can not only allow each individual to seek happiness in their own terms, but also encourage them to do so and support them even when, especially when, their definition of happiness is different than ours. In this way all people, of all abilities, with their own unique desires and goals can find what they’re looking for; the happiness every child of God deserves.

Then, the time [will be] fulfilled, the kingdom of God [will be] near, and all people will believe in [and share in] the Good News! (Mark 1:15 NRSV)



Isaiah 40:21-31
40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.
147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.
147:8 He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.
147:9 He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
147:10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
147:20c Praise the LORD!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
9:16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!
9:17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.
9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
9:19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
9:20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
9:21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
9:22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39
1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
1:34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.
1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”
1:38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.