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The Formational Pastor

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.

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?

Episodic Encounters / SermonSeeds for July 8, 2012

A post from The Formational Pastor

Revised Common Lectionary:  Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Mark 6:1-13

How would Ezekiel have the courage to carry on his ministry knowing that the Israelites would probably not listen to him?  Or even knowing that they had been habitually rebellious against the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt into the Promised Land?

How could Paul have the courage to carry on his ministry knowing that the same Lord who had called him into that ministry now refused to remove his painful “thorn in the flesh”?  Instead, after praying earnestly three times, the Lord spoke to him and said “My grace is sufficient for you.”

How could the disciples have the courage to go out and preach that people should repent, cast out many demons and anoint many sick people and heal them after the reception they saw Jesus receive in Nazareth?

In each of these readings, it was not because somebody else came to them with a word of encouragement.  Not because somebody read to them a relevant Scripture (e.g., “Be strong and courageous”).  Not because somebody scolded them out of their fear into action with a “suck it up, guys.”

Look at each of these incidents as Episodic Encounters with the Lord.  See how these encounters encouraged Ezekiel, Paul, and the disciples, knowing that they had heard and met the Lord Himself.  Consider their ministries after these Encounters – Ezekiel’s, to the rebellious Israelites with awesome visions and prophecies; Paul’s, to many other churches and believers in his missionary travels; the disciples, as they entered a powerful season of healing and demon-casting.

Encouragement, Scripture readings, kicks into action may have their places – but if we can be with the Holy Spirit as He guides people into Episodic Encounters with Him or the Father or Jesus, we’ll really see together how His Kingdom is coming!

Celebrating the Unborn

From The Formational Pastor

 

One of the things that the church can do to provide a healing, formational atmosphere for the people it serves is to model healthy relationships and behaviors.  We know that the ways in which we celebrate and welcome newcomers into the family of God in our particular place can create positive memories for them.  If we make habits out of these celebrations they may become a part of the culture of the congregation, and people will assume “this is a church that celebrates people.”

Many churches celebrate the addition of infant members into their midst through a rite like a Dedication, or the Sacrament of Baptism.  The words and form of these rites not only welcome these children into the local congregation, but since the rites also have some root in history we are saying that the children are being welcomed into the church through the ages as well.  But there is more that we might do, I think.

At our congregation, when it comes to distributing the Lord’s Supper we have a few people come up to the front of the church at a time, where they kneel at a rail.  One of the elders goes along the rail and gives out the bread, and I follow to give out the wine.  We encourage children to come along with their parents.  Although we don’t give communion to small children, I do pause at each one, place my hand on their head, and bless them because of their Baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus, praying that “He will fill them with all joy and hope in believing in Him” or something similar.  Most of the children seem genuinely happy to receive this blessing – even the infants are enthralled.

But there is one more step I use to celebrate the presence of these children of God in our midst.  If one of the persons at the communion rail is a pregnant woman, after I give her the Blood of Jesus I pause, place my hand gently on her head, and pray a prayer of blessing for the child that she is carrying.  These unborn ones are part of God’s family in our place, too, and deserve the prayers and anticipation of the entire body just as they do from their immediate family.  And when we begin to celebrate them before they are born, we know that they are already a beloved part of our family when we finally do see them.

Mark 3:20-30 – The sin against the Holy Spirit?

A post from The Formational Pastor

For June 10, 2012 (Proper 5 / Second Sunday after Pentecost)

The against the Holy Spirit is said by Jesus to be the one sin that is unforgivable.  But why?

The classic answer is that it involves stubborn and persistent resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit, resulting in terminal unbelief for the individual.  But that’s only one aspect of this sin.  There are at least two more, which we might infer from the rest of the story.

Aspect #2:  Imagine you are one of the crowd sitting around Jesus, hearing this exchange.  Imagine you are someone from whom He has cast out demons – maybe Mary Magdalene, from whom He cast out seven demons.  Your life has been turned upside down – you’ve been totally transformed – and now all you want to do is to follow this Jesus and devote everything you are and have to Him in love.  Now there come some people from Jerusalem and say to you, in effect, “The demons you had were like some gang of local punks, but this Jesus is the head of a ruthless cartel.”  Would that shake your faith foundation?  Would that cause you to doubt or wonder?  Whether it would or not, that kind of tactic from those men has no other purpose than to undermine your faith in Jesus, and that is part two of the sin against the Holy Spirit who has been working hard to strengthen that faith day by day.  Empowered living, lies and distortions, re-wounding

Aspect #3:  The fact that Jesus begins His response to these men by saying “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” means that He views this not simply as an issue of personal faith, but ultimately as an issue involving the clash of the Kingdom of Heaven with the kingdom of Satan.

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