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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.

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!

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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