A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Growing Pains Sermon on Ephesians 4: 1-16 August 5, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village,CO on August 5, 2018 and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The text is Ephesians 4: 1-16

We all know about growing pains in one form or another. Growing pains in teenagers as their bones and ligaments stretch, change and move to accommodate the new height and shape of their maturing bodies. My son in particular suffered from these as he grew into his 6 foot frame. And besides physical growth, we experience growing pains as we learn about ourselves, the world and relationships. Such as the growing pains in a family of a new baby or any relationship with a friend, coworker or spouse. We learn to give and take, to stretch ourselves for the sake of the other or to learn how our lives shift and are impacted simply by the presence of this other person whom no matter how much we love them, simply because they aren’t us. And I want to be clear, that I am talking about healthy mutual relationships and in the name of Jesus, hear that abuse of any kind, mind body or spirit is not ok. But most of our relationships are simply uncomfortable as we learn to accommodate each other. If we can be honest about the disappointment and the pain of the realization of imperfection, the relationship can grow deeper and stronger.

Spiritual growing pains are real as we encounter suffering, questioning, doubting.  But these dark nights of the soul also have led me to transformation, growth and new perspective. Growth of any kind always widens our vision from our own narrow view-whether it’s concretely getting taller and acquiring more motor skills-to understanding that growing pains in our spiritual life and relationships can lead to authenticity, connections, joy and a new vision of ourselves and the world.

This growth isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to see the world with new eyes and an open heart.

The writer of Ephesians, maybe Paul, maybe not, is shifting the vision from the first three chapters which laid out the reality of the good news of a new creation, and of community where we are all connected through Jesus Christ. Yay! Seems so simple and now all we have to do is well, do it! Hmmmmm not so fast says the writer…here’s the reality of a new creation which at first blush seems so idyllic and all unicorns and cotton candy for all-is that it involves real people and so it’s going to be hard and possibly painful. Yippee! Oh we love that as human beings!

Chapter four opens with the reminder from the writer of being a prisoner. How does being a part of this new creation sound so far? You might be jailed for it. And for the next 16 verses he lays out that yes, we are united in the oneness of God: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all.

Then we hear of all the different types gifts that this one God gives us and it sounds like a job opening in any local congregation but we need to remember that my job as a paid professional didn’t exist 2000 years ago in the early Christian church-as a matter of fact Paul cautioned against it—as if one’s livelihood is tied to the gospel proclamation, how does that truncate the message? The gospel is good news for the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the disenfranchised. It’s not necessarily good news for those who have something at stake in status quo and are very comfortable and not interested in change.

What we consider today as professional church jobs, were merely gifts that Paul knew that people possessed from God. And that all of those gifts were needed to work in concert for the revealing of God’s kingdom. Notice what those gifts are supposed to be used for: to equip the saints (all the baptized) and for building up the body of Christ. They’re for our neighbor both in and out of the church. Not for personal gain, personal preference, for one’s ego, status quo or security of livelihood or one’s financial future. This will mean some growth and maturity from those in the church.

And so here’s what the writer knows and we know: this kind of growth is hard and painful. As children, we only worry about ourselves, but as mature Christians, we are called grow beyond ourselves, we are called to exude humility, patience and kindness. We are joined and knit together, and it’s not a grandma knitted fuzzy, comfy blanket that gently swaddles us. The word “knit” from the Greek really means, “to set” as in to set a bone. How many of us have broken a bone and/or had to get it set? How did that feel? Like a comfy blanket? NO! It HURT! LIKE HE…Right? We are being “set” together as followers of Christ, we are being forced together in a new way for the health of the body and it will hurt! Because it’s not about only us as an individual anymore. The growth that we must experience will cause us some growing pains.

But this growth, just like when a bone heals, will cause us be stronger, and not stronger for our own sake but for building up the body of Christ in love. Our vision of what the community should look like will be broadened: who is included, who matters, who we should serve, who we should love, will be focused in God’s love. Our vision will begin to align with God’s vision. Unity will come from these growing pains, as we, like a kaleidoscope, will see all of the beautiful and diverse people made in God’s image, click together in a stunning mosaic of one community of love. We will catch a glimpse of what God sees: that all belong together, that all people matter, have worth and dignity. When we build up other people to live their gifts, we set aside our judgments and biases to be in relationship and to ensure that all people are valued and engaged for ministry.

There will still be the growing pains of realizing that human made doctrines, people’s manipulation of the gospel and their scheming of how this message of love can benefit themselves over others, is a reality even in the beloved community that God is renewing, as sin is still a reality in our lives and the world. But this is where we are admonished to speak the truth in love, to put aside our own need to be right in order to be in relationship with one another even if it’s hard. It does NOT mean being a doormat and allowing abuse of ourselves or others but speaking the truth in love, is a posture of confession and forgiveness. It means we continue to reorient ourselves to the grace of God through Jesus and to point to this grace for our neighbor. Speaking the truth in love is getting clear about saying no to those things that are sin in the world, saying no to anyone being harmed through our institutions. Saying no to sin of racism, saying no to violence, saying no to hate. Speaking truth in love is saying yes to inclusion without conditions, saying yes to accountability for our actions, saying yes to suffering for the truth of the gospel, saying yes to caring for our neighbor even if it doesn’t benefit us.

Through Jesus Christ, we are set together in unity, in love and in the “oneness of God”, and when we are together in this “oneness” we navigate the difficulties of life together as diverse and different people, made stronger in Christ’s love-love that transforms our growing pains into God’s vision of how we are to live together. God’s vision of this love for all people and creation is happening right with us, we are growing into it every day. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It might hurt, it might break your heart, but it’s worth it, because our neighbors, community, and  world are crying out for God’s vision of unity and love to be made real. In God’s vision we are growing together in love, we are growing together in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. And all God’s people say: Amen.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.