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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.

Formational Prayer and the Father

This Sunday coming up is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity in the church year.  It’s also the day in which a number of folks leave home and family to spend a week at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio for seminars in Formational Prayer.  If you’re one of these folks, this post is for you:

As Christians, we believe, teach and confess our God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Apostles’ Creed says “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”  Martin Luther said that this means that God not only has created everything in the world, but every part of what makes you and me human beings – eyes, ears, and every part of you.  He’s given you everything you need to support your body as well as your life.  And He doesn’t just hand over these things to you, then sit back and watch.  No, He keeps giving you everything you need, “daily and richly,” for no other reason than that He loves you.

As you’re getting ready to head for seminars at Ashland this next week (or, whenever you’re getting ready to go away for a while), it’s easy to get caught up in the worries of what needs to be done before you leave, what will happen while you’re gone, and what you’ll need to do when you get back.  Maybe these exercises will help:

Do a mental survey of your body, as many parts, pieces, senses and functions as you can think of.  Thank God the Father for making these all for you and for preserving them even when you are unaware of Him.

Do a mental survey of all the “stuff” you have (food, clothing, house, home, pets, family, material possessions).  Thank God the Father for His generosity in giving you all these, and for renewing those gifts to you every day, even when you aren’t home to enjoy them.

Why does the Father do this for you, daily and richly and generously?  Because He owes it to you?  Because He feels guilty about Eden?  Because you’re worth it?  or just because He loves you with an incredible love that passes your every imagination and understanding?  Yes, that’s it!  Spend some time praising Him for that love!  And let Him take care of all these things for you while you are in Ashland next week!

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