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Laughing At the Devil

  • April 28, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 28 April 2019 (Pascha 2 Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Revelation 1:4-8; Psalm 150; John 20:19-31

Title:               Laughing at the Devil

Alleluia! Christ is risen.                 The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Throughout the centuries, a number of the saints have invited us to laugh at the devil. After all, the victory belongs to Christ. The game is over. We know who is going to win. Now we are just playing out the end until the final whistle, but the devil has already lost. Evil will never win.

However, that doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t get tired of waiting.

A CNN journalist once heard of a very old Israeli man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, faithfully for a very long time.

So she went to check it out for herself. She asked around and finally saw him, walking up to that giant ancient stone wall.

She watched him pray and after about 30 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving slowly, she approached him and asked for an interview.

“Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. What is your name?

“Morris Feinberg,” he replied.

“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall like this to pray?”

“For about 60 years.”

“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”

“I pray for peace in the Holy Land, peace among the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians. I pray for all the wars and the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and to become responsible citizens who care for one another. I pray for politicians to tell the truth and to put the interests of the people ahead of their own.”

Ms. Smith, asked him, “And, sir, how do you feel after praying like this so faithfully for 60 years?”

The old man replied, “To be honest, I feel like I’m talking to a damn wall.”

Three years the Lord spent with these disciples who were now hiding in that upper room. Three long years and they didn’t get it. I’ll bet he felt like he was talking to a wall.

Sometimes we just have a problem in communication.

Once a fiery revival preacher came to a Midwestern town and he promised to heal everyone who came to the stage that night.

One man came and explained that he would like prayer for his hearing. So this gifted preacher laid his hands on the man’s head and prayed. Then he put his hands over the man’s ears and he prayed with even more force and energy. And then, in front of the entire gathered congregation, the preacher asked the man: “Now, tell me, brother, how is your hearing?”

The man shook his head and said, “I have no idea. It’s not until Tuesday morning!”

Another time there was a family blessed with two boys, ages eight and ten, who were excessively mischievous. They loved playing practical jokes and messing around. Whenever something went wrong or was out of place, it was pretty clear that their boys were involved somehow.

Finally at their wit’s end as to what to do, the parents heard about a stern clergyman in the next town over who was known for helping parents to turn their kids around and get them on the right track. So they called him, and he agreed to give it his best shot.

The stern old priest came to their house one Sunday evening and asked to see the boys individually. The younger one was sent in first to meet with him. The priest sat across from the boy on the living room couch and asked him sternly, “Son, where is God?”

The boy was a bit nervous. He made no response, so the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “I said, where is God?”

Again the boy made no answer, so the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face, “Answer the question: WHERE IS GOD?”

At that, the boy bolted and ran into the bedroom which he shared with his brother, and slammed himself in his closet. His older brother slid over to the door and whispered through it, “Hey! What happened?”

The younger brother whispered back, “We’re in BIG trouble this time. GOD is missing and they think we did it!”

Good, clear communication is one of the secrets to success in life, and this is especially true when it comes to preaching.

By the way, what is the definition of a good sermon? It should have a good beginning. It should have a good ending. And those two should be as close together as possible.

After one exceptionally long and boring sermon in a small country town, the congregation filed out of the doors without saying a word to the pastor. Finally one woman stopped to shake the pastor’s hand and said, “Pastor, that sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!”

The pastor was ecstatic. “Wow! No one has ever before said something so kind about my sermons! Tell me, please, how did this remind you of the peace and love of God?”

“Well”, she said, “it reminded me of the peace of God because it surpassed all human understanding, and it reminded me of the love of God because it endured forever!”

One time, a person was heard boasting to her friend about the skill of her pastor. She said, “Our pastor can stand up and preach for 30 minutes on any subject at all!”

But her friend replied, “That’s nothing. Our pastor stands up and preaches for 30 minutes without a subject!”

In just a few weeks, we will begin to see American flags posted all throughout the cemetery back here. It’s a great sight to see. It means that summer is actually coming!

But once, at a Memorial Day parade, a young girl noticed all of the flags in the cemetery and asked her mother what they were for. Her mother explained, “Those are the people who died in the service.”

The girl got a sudden look of fear on her face and asked, “Which one? Was it the 8 o’clock or the 10 o’clock service?”

No, there is no need to fear. Instead, let us simply trust in the Lord Jesus and follow his example as best as we can.

One old priest had spent 40 years as rector in the same parish and he was highly respected in the community. Now he end of his life was drawing near and as he lay on his death bed, he asked for two members of the Vestry to come and sit with him before he died. One was a banker and the other was a lawyer. They were both a bit surprised by this request and wondered what great pearl of wisdom the old priest wanted to impart to them before he died.

As they entered the room, he weakly motioned for them to come and sit in chairs on each side of the bed. Now it quickly became clear that this man of God was very much at peace. And he didn’t say anything at all. 30 minutes passed and not a word was spoken.

Finally, the banker leaned forward and asked, “Father, is there anything you want to say to us?” And the lawyer chimed in, “Yes, Father. And if there is anything we can do for you, please tell us.”

The old priest looked at them both and said, “This is perfect. Jesus has been my example all my life. Since he died between two thieves, that’s exactly how I want to go.”

Since the church is in the business of faith, hope and love, how do we know when we are having success? One way to think of this is that we will know that we have achieved our goal when we hear the following things said by our parishioners.

  1. “Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front row!”
  2. “I was so enthralled! I didn’t even notice that your sermon was 20 minutes longer than usual.”
  3. “You know, all I want to do is to teach Sunday School in Guiding RAY.”
  4. “I LOVE it when we sing brand new hymns that we’ve never heard before!”
  5. “Since we’re all here, let’s go ahead and start the service early.”
  6. “Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual Stewardship campaign.”
  7. “Father, we would like to pay for you and Erin to attend this year’s clergy conference down in Jamaica.”
  8. “I’ve decided NOT to buy a new car and to give that $500 a month to the church instead!”
  9. “Personally, I find evangelism much more enjoyable than golf.”

Speaking of evangelism, there was a single mother living in one of the rowhomes down in Baltimore who maybe was a little obnoxious in her efforts to evangelize her neighbors.

Sister Alice is what they called her, and Sister Alice would pray out loud on her front porch every morning and every night. “Praise the Lord!” she would say in a loud voice.

She said it loud because her neighbor claimed to be an atheist. And whenever she heard Sister Alice pray like this, the neighbor would yell back, “There is no god, you fool!” And so it went on like this, back and forth all the time.

But there was one time when Sister Alice was laid off from work and things were really tight. So she prayed out on her front porch and said, “Praise the Lord! God, please help us to put some food on the table.”

And that afternoon, when she came back from the unemployment office, there was a bag of groceries sitting right there by her front door. “Praise the Lord!” she said, “God heard my prayer!”

But the neighbor was ready and yelled out the window, “God didn’t give you those groceries. I did.”

So Sister Alice prayed even louder, “Praise the Lord! God gave us some food, and made the devil pay for it!”

So, my friends, go ahead and laugh at the devil! Evil may rear its ugly head from time to time, but we know the victory belongs to Christ. Alleluia! Amen.

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