Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Confronted by Holiness

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
August 26, 2012
© 2012

I.                I think most of you know that Candy and I are staying in Geraldine Morgan’s house during our interim with you. Her son John has been too gracious to really be called a landlord. Many of you have generously provided just about everything we need to equip the house. Thank you! All of you! This week we have gotten pretty well organized and are feeling comfortable and at home. We returned from running some errands and Candy commented how quiet it was without our son’s dogs to greet us when we came in. Yes, they can be messy when they track in mud. They can be annoying when they insist on getting attention when we’re focusing on a task. We’ve been known to complain mildly when most of the work of their care falls on us. But now that we’re here and they are in Dallas, we miss them.

A.           I don’t know that we can offer ourselves as experienced experts for empty nest parents. With only sporadic breaks the last several years, we’ve had children in the house for over 40 years. Though Erik is increasingly independent, by still living in the house, we’re very aware not only of his dogs but also his hours, his mail, his laundry, and perhaps most of all his seemingly ubiquitous stuff. Having said that, we do enjoy being just ourselves evenings and weekends when Erik is working or with his friends. From washing dishes to folding laundry, chores done together seem like fun again reminding me of our newlywed days before children. But I also know that the different rhythms we have developed over the years don’t always mesh. I tend to be up with the dawn, and Candy is more of a night owl, and we do sometimes irritate each other. Empty nest can be the opportunity for a second honeymoon or an invitation to the boxing ring.

B.            Pastoral transitions can also lead in two directions. Familiar routines are broken, and future direction is uncertain. Sometimes disrupting familiar patterns and traditions brings anxiety. Sometimes the discarding of worn-out routines is welcomed. One person’s discard may be another person’s cherished treasure. These anxieties can be particularly acute after a long tenure by a well-loved pastor. An important part of an interim pastor’s role is to help a congregation travel harmoniously to a new adventure and avoid heading to a battlefield.

C.            In our personal lives, in our marriages and families, and in the church, when transitions blow away our comfortable shelters, we can either run away to avoid what God is sending, or we can approach God’s new adventure with joyful anticipation.

II.            Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life in John 6 is a theological tornado blowing away deeply engrained understandings of Israel’s history and religion. As this wraps up in verses 56-69, many of Jesus’ “disciples” avoid the profound encounter Jesus offers. But for those who embrace the encounter, they are drawn into a deeper if wilder adventure with him.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

A.           Jesus’ disciples who said this teaching was difficult did not mean difficult to understand but difficult to accept. The image of abiding in Jesus by eating him as the way to live forever blew away the highly external, ritualized way they had been approaching God. It was not just the shocking imagery, but it meant that everything in life would change for someone who was abiding in Jesus. That was just too threatening.

B.            Exactly because they understood how totally Jesus would remake them, they avoided the offered adventure. When Jesus’ teaching went way beyond religious inspiration, they turned back. They ran for shelter.

C.             But Simon Peter spoke for the twelve and others in the core of Jesus’ disciples. Having tasted eternal life, they had nowhere else to go. Only Jesus had the words of eternal life. Only Jesus was the Holy One of God. Only Jesus could evoke the intensity of worship Solomon brought to his prayer at the dedication of the Temple.

D.           When transitions blow away our comfortable shelters, we can either run away to avoid what God is sending, or we can approach God’s adventure with joyful anticipation.

III.       From the time King David proposed building a Temple for God in 2 Samuel 7, Solomon’s rise has been pointing to the completion and dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings 8. Though without today’s TV and technology, the extravagant pageantry would have rivaled Olympic opening ceremonies. Israel and Solomon were at their pinnacle, taking their places as the leading nation and ruler of that time. They were celebrating what they expected to be the beginning of Israel’s golden age. But 1 Kings 8:10-12 and 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 report that God showed up and dwarfed the planned show. The Temple filled with the smoke of God’s presence so that the priests could not perform as planned.

A.           While Solomon’s prayer may have been too eloquent to have been spontaneous, after the smoke cleared it took on new meaning. The God who could not be contained by the Temple or even the heavens showed up and took over. I have a bit of an exercise for your conversations the rest of today. Throughout Scripture fire and smoke are frequent signs of God’s personal presence. See how many you can think of and ways the Church uses flame in worship. How does this shape your response to God?

1.              Standing with hands uplifted was the typical posture for prayer in ancient Israel and in the early church, especially when leading public prayer. According to 1 Kings 8:54 and 2 Chronicles 6:13, Solomon was kneeling with hands uplifted by the end of his prayer.

2.              Because of what Solomon said about not even the heavens containing God, we know that by lifting his hands Solomon was not indicating where God was spatially but was expressing his own worship.

3.              I’ll take just a moment to mention my own worship practices. I hope I don’t freak any of you out with my physical gestures in worship. I’m not suggesting what anyone else should do. You need to express your worship to God in your own way. Just as our physical eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper expresses a spiritual reality, physical gestures can express spiritual worship. I do hope my gestures fulfill a liturgical function of drawing our attention to God, and certainly not to me.

B.            Smoke and fire describe the glory of God’s presence that is beyond human perception and yet real. Scripture also uses the image of light to express how God’s glory prompts either an avoidance or approach response from people. Psalm 36:9 says that in God’s light we see light. 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God dwells in unapproachable light. You might add “light” to your brainstorming.

C.            You may remember from Isaiah 6 how the prophet Isaiah responded to his vision of God in the Temple a couple of centuries later. “Woe is me! I am undone!” Involuntary avoidance. Of course, God invites Isaiah to approach which is what Solomon did.

1.              Solomon appealed to God the hear those who pray toward the Temple. Clearly Solomon did not believe the Temple itself had any magical or spiritual powers. But it was a physical expression of the name of God, so to face toward the Temple, was to call on God. When exiled in Babylon, Daniel prayed toward Jerusalem, and in Daniel 6:10 when prayer is forbidden he makes a point of praying toward the Temple in Jerusalem.

2.              Like Isaiah, Solomon appealed to God for forgiveness. He did not presume anyone deserved to have their prayers heard. The appeal is based on God’s grace.

3.              For Solomon, the building of the Temple was a missionary endeavor. He hoped foreigners would hear about it, want to see it and most of all be prompted to pray to God in whose name the Temple was built. This Temple and the God it honored were not intended to be exclusively for Israelites. This was to be a proclamation of God’s invitation to all people.

D.           When transitions blow away our comfortable shelters, we can either run away to avoid what God is sending, or we can approach God’s adventure with joyful anticipation.

IV.      Ephesians has puzzled scholars from the earliest centuries of the Church. It presents as being written by Paul from prison, which may explain why it is so different than his other letters. It almost certainly was not written specifically to the church in Ephesus where Paul served quite a long while and knew many people. But the letter is general and makes no personal references. It quite likely was circulated among a number of churches in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) at a time of great turmoil and threat. Perhaps the people in Ephesus who knew Paul so well preserved and duplicated their copy so it could come to us. I’m not intending to unravel these scholarly puzzles, but I do think what we read today about the armor of God clearly indicates they felt they were under spiritual attack.

A.           The future was uncertain, and the conclusion in verses 18-20 match Solomon’s prayer exactly.

1.              Pray in the Spirit. Get past routine, ritualized prayers and embrace God’s encounter.

2.              Pray for those who are facing the greatest distress. Call on the name and power of God in Jesus Christ for strength and direction in the present distress.

3.              Pray for Paul to boldly proclaim the Gospel. He was continuing the mission to the “foreigners” for whom Solomon prayed a millennium earlier.

B.            When transitions blow away our comfortable shelters, we can either run away to avoid what God is sending, or we can approach God’s adventure with joyful anticipation.

C.            On Thursday, I read The First Fifty Years, the history written by Bill Tharp for the church’s Fiftieth Anniversary in 1993. Some themes run through these years. One is that this congregation has been through many times of transition. While these pages give some hint of the anxieties that came with these transitions, they also spoke of embracing God’s new adventures.

1.              You’ve had quite a variety of pastors. Some long-term and some with brief tenures. Each seemed to make an important contribution at the time.

2.              From the founding of the church and additions to the original building right up to moving out here, there has been a sense of mission, not stagnation. I’d like to read the options considered in 1959 and suggest that while the specifics will be different the prayerful deliberation in 2012 will be much the same.

3.              I chuckled a bit at Pastor Arthur Detamore’s observation that many new members came to the church from friendships in a square dance club. I believe strongly that this congregation has a great opportunity to grow in the decade ahead. It may not be by square dancing, but it will come through friendships with people beyond the church and inviting them to join the adventure.

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