Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL A – “Held Captive”

Some of you had the opportunity to meet Dumb Dumb. He was my big white standard poodle. I call him Dumb Dumb, be he showed moments genius, like the time I had him up at the church I served in Billings. It was midnight Christmas Eve mass. I’m reading the Gospel of shepherds, when I hear the very distinctive tinkling of his tags. It’s then that he trots into the sanctuary, sits down directly in front me (while I’m reading), and says, “Hey. What’s up?” However, some of his other achievements suggest that there wasn’t a lot going on upstairs. For example, it took a hot cup of coffee to free him from a fence post after he decided to lick it when it was minus 16 degrees. And then there was the time I was doing some home improvements. For six weeks I had the kitchen blocked off with a piece of plywood to keep the dust down and for six weeks, more than once a day, in fact, many times a day, every day, the daffy dog would charge around the corner and crash into that piece of plywood. He just could not remember that it was there.

Trying to walk him on a leash was miserable. Scream “Heel!” all you like, but he was constantly pulling ahead. I had this six foot leash that never worked, so I thought it might go better if he had one of the 20 foot retractable types. He could get to where he wanted to go without pulling. What did he do? Pulled out all 20 feet and kept me in tow.

A fella tells of his experience with these retractable leashes. He says he had a golden retriever. Like Zeke, the Golden would caper about, chasing leaves, tossing pebbles, investigating noises. But no matter how interesting the things she could reach were, what she really desired was to inspect those things that were JUST beyond the confines of that 20 foot leash! So, like Zeke, it was a constant tug-o-war.

While out on a run one day, he got a bit fed up with the pulling, and since no one else was around, decided to grant his pup her heart’s desire: he let her off the leash; however, instead of chasing the squirrels and digging in the field as he had thought she would do, she cowered under his feet! She was afraid of her newfound freedom!

This went on for several minutes, and nothing he could do would make her budge, until she saw the end of her leash dangling from his hand. She grabbed it and hung on. Tight! The retracting lock was released, so she proceeded to pull the leash to its maximum length of 20 feet. Then, instead of letting go, she continued to push beyond her now self- imposed leash limit! She wanted freedom, but she was imprisoning herself.

There is much talk of freedom in both the Old and New Testaments. In the old, it primarily deals with freedom from oppression, exile, and so on. But as we move into the New Testament this idea of freedom begins to change, for it is not freedom from captors that we are most in need of, but freedom from sin.

In the Song of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel – also in Morning Prayer – Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, declares, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior to set us free from the hands of our enemies. To give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to set us free.” Free from our sins.

We need freedom from our sins and it is through Christ that we receive this freedom. As Jesus declared of himself when he read from the Book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives  and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

This freedom allows us to come into the very presence of God as his children, but so often we are very much like that golden retriever pup when she was set free. Instead of going out and enjoying all that God has blessed us with, we choose to remain attached to that which we have been freed from. Just like that puppy that grabbed her leash, we grab hold of our old life, and fall back into old habits, which lead us to sin. If we are not vigilant we will find ourselves in the same or even worse condition than we were before.

Consider this teaching of Jesus: “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

In our Gospel reading today, we see Jesus beginning to call his disciples. Some of these disciples, one we know was Andrew and the other was probably John, began as disciples of John the Baptist, but when John points out Jesus, Andrew and the other follow him. Jesus must have heard them coming up from behind, turned and asked them a simple, but remarkable question: “What are you looking for?” The disciples answer with a question of their own, but in that question they state their purpose, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” In calling Him Rabbi, they are calling him teacher; in asking where he is staying, they are asking if they can be with Him. Jesus’ response to the question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” — “Come and see.”

Jesus’ question – “What are you looking for?” – passes through the centuries and now comes to us. We, like the disciples, say to him, “You. I am looking for you and want to know where you are staying, so that we can be with you.” And we follow him, but there are times when we look back over our shoulders. And like an old friend, there is our old life. It seemed easier than following Jesus. We can convince ourselves that it

was more fun. And like any kind of addict, what started off as a glance back – an idea – rapidly turns into an obsession and in very short order we find ourselves once again held captive by our sins.

Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, describes the life of Raynald III, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium.

As the result of a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward successfully revolted against him. When Edward captured Raynald he built a room around him featuring windows and a door and promised him that the day he left the room his title and property would be returned to him.

The problem with this arrangement was that Raynald was grossly overweight and could not fit through the openings in the room. Raynald needed to lose weight before he could leave the room. Edward knew that his older brother could not control his appetite and sent him delicious food every day. As you may imagine, Raynald grew fatter during this time.

Anytime someone accused Duke Edward of treating Raynald cruelly he said: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year. He was a prisoner of his own appetite.

Jesus gives us freedom from our captivity. When we are vigilant in following him, we will have freedom; however, when we return to a sinful life, we are held captive by our old appetites.

I still laugh at my silly dog’s antics, but he was actually a lot smarter than I gave him credit. When people came up on him he would enter into full on bark-mode, but that was mostly because he was a rescue dog. He spent most of the first six months of his life in a crate that was barely large enough to hold him. When I first got him though, I thought it would be a good idea to crate train him, so that I would be able to control his activity when I was away. There was a lesson to Rev. Dr. Rocket Scientist: Don’t try and put a dog that was abused by the use of a crate back into that crate once he’s found his freedom, it’s a good way to lose a hand. No, he wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the drawer, but he taught me a thing or two. When Jesus asks you, “What are you looking for?” Say to Him, “I’m looking for a Savior. One that will set me free from my enemies. What am I looking for? You. I’m looking for you. Where are you staying?” When he responds – which he will! – “Come and see.” Go. Follow Him and don’t look back to the places of sin and captivity.

Let us pray: Gracious Father, You gift us with all the good gifts that make us the people you created us to be. Help us to know and find your will and to trust that you will help us to understand the path you call us to journey in life. Where there is doubt give us courage. Give us hearts open to your quiet voice so we can hear your call. Help us to know your faithfulness and to be faithful to that which you call us. Amen.

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