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A Father’s Love

After Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration,

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”  Mark 9:14-17

I know – the same argument as today, probably.  Did the boy really  have a demon, or did he have epilepsy?  First of all, come on!  Julius Caesar had epilepsy, or something like it, and the Romans all knew it was a disease and not a demon almost a century before this account.  So, let’s take Mark’s word for it that it was a demon (and the Holy Spirit as a corroborating witness, remember).

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s focus on that father.  That poor guy and his son!  Who know how old the son was at this point, but he had had the demon since he was little.  The family had probably gone out of their minds trying to find ways to help him.  If they had lived in our day, they would have gone to one specialist after another, both medical and psychological.  They would have tried a variety of drugs, treatments, and behavioral therapies, all to no avail.  I suspect that this family had been drained of their resources over the years, financially, emotionally, spiritually – and that the boy himself had (as said of another patient of Jesus) “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.”

Now maybe this father comes to Jesus and the disciples in desperation.  This will be their last chance.  He’s run out of options, and has nowhere else to turn.  Trembling with fear and his last ounce of hope, he comes to where he’s heard Jesus is – only to find that He’s out of the office for the day!  He’s up on the mountain with some of the disciples!  The best he can do for his son is hope that the disciples can do something for him – but they can’t.

Can you imagine this father’s heart at the end of that day?  Can you imagine the tears falling from his eyes as he holds his precious son to keep him from being hurt as he falls in another convulsion?  Can you imagine his sorrow and anguish that even this last hope has been empty and futile?  Can you imagine his anger and resentment at the crowd that stands around, impassively and objectively arguing about whether or not the boy has a demon after all, totally ignorant of the toll this has taken on his whole family’s life?

And then, just as he’s about to pick up his son and take him home, along comes Jesus and Peter and James and John, fresh from the top of the mountain.  Jesus asks, What’s going on?  The father tells him.  Jesus sighs, and commands the demon to come out.  The demon thrashes the boy around some, but comes out as commanded.  Everybody can see that the demon has come out and the boy is well.  The father can take him home!

Can you imagine the father’s heart now breaking not for sorrow, but for joy?  Can you imagine the father’s heart not breaking for emptiness, but exploding because it is full of thanksgiving and hope and praise?  Can you imagine the father leaping and skipping and running home, hand in hand with this healthy son, healthy for the first time in years?  Maybe planning to surprise Mother at the door – maybe planning a big party for all the neighbors later – maybe planning already the outings they’ll go on, the sports they’ll play, the adventures they’ll have together, the fun and the love as father and son from now on.

But – what about the “unbelieving generation” comment of Jesus in verse 19?  What’s that all about?  I suppose it could be a sigh of disgust, maybe, that some people take so long to come to Jesus.  Like they see Him like their last resort rather than their first recourse.

Of course, we pastors know what that’s like, don’t we?  People come to us and say things like, “Pastor, the wife and I have decided to get a divorce.  We’ve signed the papers, and we thought you should know.”  We nod, and inwardly groan and wonder why they didn’t come to us earlier in the process?

But truth be told, I do the same thing with Jesus.  He’s often farther down on my “To Call” list than He ought to be, and often when I do reach out to Him it’s only after I’ve reached out to several others.

And yet that’s not where I’m really headed with this post.  Go back for a moment to the paragraph in italics above.  Whether they call us “Father” or not, we pastors often have the kind of relationship with the people Jesus gives to us that causes our hearts to ache for them.  Whether they are our blood children or adopted children or our spiritual children, haven’t there been times when their lives and their situations pierce your own heart like a sword?  Times when you’ve felt like the Prodigal Father trembling with anticipation that today might be the day the lost son is finally found?  Times when perhaps, as someone’s pastor, you’ve thought “if I could be in that hospital bed / Alzheimer’s unit / jail cell instead of you”?

This story touches me at that place in my heart, and I want nothing more than to bring all these children to Jesus for Him to cast out whatever is possessing them so that we can run and play and celebrate His love forever – and Jesus and me with them.

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SermonSeeds: The Father Voice in blessing

A Formational Pastor Post

Ephesians 3:14-21 – RCL New Testament reading for July 29, 2012 (Proper 12 / 9th Sunday after Pentecost

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The people of God over whom we pastor come to us Sunday after Sunday (and sometimes in between) having made it through another week – sometimes just barely.  Some make it by the skin of their teeth.  Some have been beaten up by life, and come licking their wounds.  Some of the wounds are decades old, and they’re still limping from the effects.  We acknowledge their wounds, and sometimes look for the cause so they can be treated appropriately.  But the people of God don’t need us to beat them more with shame or blame or accusations or “shoulda – woulda – couldas” – they’ve already had enough wounding from the rest of the world.  What they need from us is medicine, healing, and caring.  The kind of caring that only Jesus gives.

They come to us again and again not needing to hear our thoughts on the latest movies or TV shows or politics or issues.  They come to us again and again needing to hear words like Saint Paul writes here:  Regardless of what is happening in the rest of the world and the rest of your life, I love you.  I’m praying for you.  I know that God cares for you.  I know that He has riches He is giving you now, that you can’t even see.  If you find it hard to hear the voice of the Father through the noise of the world, listen to it here in these words.  This is the Father’s voice of prodigal love.  Come, soak in it – bask in it – and receive His healing.

So I’m thinking about not preaching this text this Sunday.  This text doesn’t call for exegesis.  Instead, it’s calling “use me to bless the people of God!”  I think I will.

SermonSeeds: Belonging

A post from The Formational Pastor

Ephesians 2:11-12 / RCL Proper 11, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22 2012

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men) — 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Let’s talk about the Core Longing of Belonging today, shall we?  Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that there was a time when we did not belong to the people of God – and such “not belonging” meant we were without hope, too.  But in Jesus Christ God has eliminated every barrier to our belonging to Him.  He has totally filled that Core Longing through His Son.

What words do you want to use to describe what God has done to meet that longing?  “No longer two, but one” means that you who belong to God cannot be counted separately anymore.  “One body” means that you are united to all the others who belong to Him, you draw life from each other and give life to each other through mutual encouragement and forgiveness in Jesus’ Name.  “He preached peace” not only means that He announced peace, but since His Word has creative power He also created peace between you and all believers, as He did between you and God.  “You are fellow citizens with God’s people” with all the rights and privileges we accord to citizens – and you know how the political debate rages over immigration these days.  No such debate over your status!  “You are members of God’s household.”  Not just a next-door-neighbor citizen, but a member of God’s family, with a seat at His dinner table and a place always in His house and home.  “Being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit,” so that if those who are not citizens of God’s Kingdom and outside His family, who are still far away from Him and separated from Him should be looking for directions to Him, for guidance to Jerusalem, for the presence of the Temple where God truly dwells among His people, they need look no farther than to you and the believers around you.

All in the presentation?

As a friend and I were chatting over a nice lunch today he reminded me that it’s Friday the Thirteenth.  Not that either of us is superstitious, but I happened to know that Joel Osteen is having an event this evening at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland (where the Cavaliers play basketball).  Neither of us plan to go, but we took this news as an opportunity to reflect on the presentation of the Gospel.

Joel Osteen’s version of the Gospel appears to be “God wants you to have your best life now,” and tonight, for one night only in Cleveland, he’ll tell you how that’s possible.  He’ll be accompanied by his lovely wife, world-class instrumentalists, and up-to-date technology.  All this for the low admission price of $15 per person, plus a $3 facility fee.

My friend and I recalled that the Rev. Billy Graham came to Cleveland in 1994 for a multi-night Crusade at the Cleveland Stadium (where the Browns and Indians used to play).  A number of folks from my friend’s church attended the Crusade every evening and sang in the massed choir (including “Just as I Am, Without One Plea,” of course).  Some of the folks from our church went every evening, also, to serve as counselors with people who came forward onto the field at the invitation of Rev. Graham, to follow up with the Gospel with them and get information that could connect them to a local church.  The Crusade had the massed choir, George Beverly Shea (of course), and all the technology the sound system of the old Cleveland Stadium could muster.  Every evening Rev. Graham told the crowd how Jesus was our hope through the forgiveness of sins, and that His promise to everyone who believes is eternal life in the love of the Father.  Hundreds of people came forward every night to demonstrate the beginnings of their faith or their re-commitment to that same faith.  All this for the low admission price of – oh, wait, the Crusade was free!

Every night – no admission fee charged to anyone.  Members of the choir – no fee to participate.  Counselors on the field – no fee, either.  No fee for attending the training sessions before the Crusade came to town, either.  No fees for local churches for people connected to them, either.  All good – all Gospel – all free.

Upon further reflection, this post makes me wonder who it was that Rev. Billy Graham thought would benefit from his preaching at that Crusade?  It makes me wonder who Joel Osteen thinks will benefit from his preaching tonight?  And I suppose it should also make me wonder who I think will benefit from my preaching this Sunday or ever,

 

 

Core Longings / SermonSeeds for July 15, 2012

A post from The Formational Pastor

Revised Common Lectionary:  Amos 7:7-15, Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

 

Seed A:  Though John’s murder was truly ghastly, this might be an opportunity to spend a little time looking at Herod’s actions not only self-aggrandizing but also self-protective.  It’s easy to see the bravado with which he made the promise to Herodias’ daughter, wanting to impress all his banquet guests with his magnificent generosity.  It’s also possible to see that his follow-through was face-saving – he didn’t want those same guests to think he was a piker, now did he?  So to protect both his reputation and himself he gave the order to have John beheaded.

Perhaps this could be an opportunity to examine our own hearts and lives to see what kinds of self-protective, face-saving actions we’ve taken recently.  No, they don’t have to have the same ghastly consequences as Herod’s, but yes, they have the same root – some deep core longing that remains unsatisfied, that somehow we think we have to take care of ourselves.  What’s the better solution?  See the next paragraph.

Seed B:  Look at Saint Paul’s list in Ephesians of all the things that the Lord has done for His people – make that, for you.  Go ahead, put your name in there wherever he writes “us” – He chose you, He predestined you, He adopted you, and on and on.  Now connect each one of these things with one or more of the Core Longings we’ve learned – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Safety / Security, Significance.  See how each God has richly met your core longings already, filling them to the brim with Himself?  Where else should we go to have them met but in Him?

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