Living Our Faith: Sacraments

Water surface
Water surface

October 14, 2018

Hebrews 4:12-16

I would like you to stop and think for a minute about the practices in your life that you have held close to your heart. Those things that you have looked forward to on a regular basis. Perhaps they have even shaped who you are today.

One such practice in my life became an annual tradition while I was still living at home with my parents. I was fortunate enough to grow up with an in-ground pool. The pool was a source of fun and laughter throughout the summer. To take a refreshing dip in the pool after mowing the yard was something that I looked forward to. Having friends over and not having to worry about anything on a hot summer day was glorious. For my family, pool season always opened on Memorial Day! Regardless of the weather. Pool season began when I would boldly jump in and break through the surface of the water for the first time. There were Memorial Days where I would enjoy the water and stay in as long as possible because it was eighty degrees out. There were other days that I would jump in and could not get out quick enough because it was barely in the fifties.

This became a spiritual practice for me and the water reinvigorated me after the endless cold of living through another mid-Michigan winter. There is also the obvious connection of the water to our sacramental practice of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we are washed clean and receive the grace of God.

This second week of the Living Our Faith series brings us to the topic of sacraments.

While sacraments are commonly associated with religious ritual, that was not always the case. The word sacrament originally derived from the Latin word, sacramentum, and was used by the Romans when sending soldiers out to war. It was the most serious vow someone could make, to put one’s life up for the empire. There are rituals that happened long before that through the Christian churches own Jewish ancestry. Rituals are important and play an important role in forming community.

It is easy to partake in our modern sacraments. Especially when we don’t always fully understand the promises we are making. We can take them for granted and not fully live into them as God has intended for us. It is through the word of God that the sacraments embody the Holy whenever we baptize or whenever we come to the Lord’s Table to feast. The word of God does not come lightly. In our reading from Hebrews, the author writes, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

When we approach the table every week, we are naked before God.  All our vulnerabilities are laid bare and our actions are not invisible. God knows us and desires for us to be one with the Spirit. God wants us to be vulnerable. Not just with God, but in all our relationships. God wants us to be our true selves and to live into the reign of God.

The sacraments have not always been administered properly in the church and some have chosen to use them to their advantage as leverage or control. However, it is impossible to place limits on God. The moment that we try, God breaks through the fence, knocks down the wall, or clears the way for anything that may lay in God’s path.

God’s call for us this morning is to do the same!

Once again, we hear in the letter to the Hebrews, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” Jesus has led the way for us to approach the sacraments with a boldness that reflects our faith. A faith that lifts Christ up as our companion that can be with us in our weaknesses and cheers us on in our strengths. To be bold and confident as we are reminded of the baptismal waters that washed over us, and to eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ which brings us to full communion with God.

The following clip from the movie, Phenomenon, is an example of how Christ works in us through the power of God’s word in the sacraments.

Like the apple, when we eat of the bread and drink of the wine, Jesus becomes a part of us. Jesus is present with us and restores us. This is the grace of God at work in a world that is often at odds with itself. We are reminded of Christ’s death on the cross and the life that he has given for all of humanity. Through the sacraments, God’s word is active and thriving. God’s word fills our hearts, minds, and souls so that we may fully live into a relationship that is comprised of love and compassion.

The practices that we live in the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of God at work in the world today. All are invited to be a part of that work. To be washed clean in the ever-flowing waters; to feast on the bread of life. In these, we encounter a God that knows no boundaries and has broken down walls so that all may experience the reign of God.

Let us pray. Living and active God, you have initiated the commands for us to be baptized and to share in your body, broken for us. In the waters and at the table, may we be renewed and experience your loving grace in our lives. Amen.


Living our Faith: Prayer

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October 7, 2018

Psalm 8

Does prayer come to you naturally?

Do you find yourself in prayer throughout the day, or are you more intentional in your prayer as you set time aside in the morning or before you go to bed?

There are days when I find it easier to pray and other times where I am so distracted that I find it hard to focus. However, that is probably the time that I need to pray the most. I am sure that some of you can relate to this.

Some of you may have been praying since you could kneel beside the bed and say your nightly prayers. While others struggle with the whole notion of prayer.

Every Sunday we enter in to prayer several times during worship. From the Prayer of the Day at the beginning of the service to our prayers following communion, we lift our prayers to God. During our lessons, we have the opportunity as a community to raise our voices in unison as we chant the Psalm. The Psalms were meant to be sung and are prayers to an ever-present God. Those prayers come in many forms: lament, thanksgiving, praise, adoration, and asking.

This morning, Psalm 8 reminds us that through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are guided in prayer. We praise God, “whose glory is chanted above the heavens out of the mouths of infants and children.” This praise bubbles up through our beings as we enter into worship.

In the depths of prayer, we encounter the holy and grow in relationship with God.

While prayer comes easy for some, others would rather have root canal surgery.

Part of this could be shaped by our interactions in the church as we were growing up. Or, for some of us, lack of interaction.

It can also be easy to get discouraged when we pray. Depending upon who you listen to, you may think that you will get everything you ask for in prayer. Unfortunately, that is not the way that prayer works. If it were, life would be pretty boring. God is not a genie in a lamp granting our every wish.

Struggles and challenges come to all of us. It may be in the form of losing a job, a serious diagnosis from our doctor, or a death of a loved one. We are not immune to the happenings of life. When our prayers in these times do not get answered the way we want them to, we get angry at God. Some of us have probably even turned away from God at these times. While our prayers at times may not be answered the way we want them to be answered, it does not mean that God is not present with us. In prayer we are encouraged to turn to God even in times of lament. It is okay to express our frustration and anger with God. This opens us up to a new and right relationship with a loving God.

The power of prayer connects us to our own spirituality and the Triune God that is present with us in all eternity.

Brian McLaren presents four movements of prayer as an example for us to follow, using The Lord’s Prayer in his illustration.

  • Wake-Up: To the loving and mysterious works of God. We do this when we pray, “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
  • Tune-Up: We know that we all have our own personal desires. The thing is, God also has desires for us. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” we begin to tune God’s desires to ours.
  • Ask: Do not be afraid to ask for what you need. Ask for where the burdens on your heart may be lessened and what it is you need right at this moment. We do this when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” and, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
  • Re-Enter: The truth is, we cannot stay in church forever. We are called to go out into the world to love and serve as Jesus did. We pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” so that we are prepared to enter the frantic chaos that can surround us in the world and our daily actions.[i]

While the Lord’s prayer is used as the framework for this model of praying, these movements can be used in any prayer. Our practice of prayer draws us closer to the loving God that desires to be in relationship with creation. In our prayer, we begin to wake up to the mystery of God and are able to tune ourselves in to the will of God and the calling that has been placed in our lives. As we ask for what it is we need, we begin to prepare ourselves to re-enter the world where we will encounter evil.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are not alone in prayer as he writes to the Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Sprit, because the Spirit interceded for the saints according to the will of God. (8:26-27)

The Spirit is present to support us in our prayers. As we live our faith, we are shaped by the practices that guide our daily life. Jesus teaches us how to pray in the words of the Lord’s prayer. It is before his death on the cross that the disciples are prepared to carry his message forward and this prepares us for our life as we walk in the way of Jesus Christ. May you be freed to enter into the depths of prayer to encounter the holy and grow in your relationship with God.

Let us pray. God, wake us up to the wonders and mysteries of your creation. May we be open to your desires as we ask for those things that we need. In this relationship, you prepare us to enter into a world that is in need of your love and compassion. Amen.





[i] Brian McLaren, Prayer, Animate: Practices Video Series, Augsburg Fortress

Be Full of Flavor

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September 30, 2018

Mark 9:38-50

Jesus visits Peter at the Pearly Gates and asks how things are going.  “Well,” says St. Peter, “I have a complaint. You know, Lord, I’m scrupulous about my job here.  I interview each soul arriving at the Gate of Heaven, and I check to see if his or her name is written in the Book of Life.  I turn away the people not worthy to enter heaven, but a little while later I turn around and I see those very people wandering around on the inside!  I don’t get it! What’s going on?”

“Oh.  That’s my mother for you,” replied Jesus.  “Those people you turn away – she keeps letting them in through the back door.”

I will admit that when I was in high school I had the tendency to be quite competitive. Now, don’t get me wrong. Competition is not a bad thing. In fact, competition can help you up your own game. I was on the tennis team in high school, however, the competition that drove me was in the classroom. When I witnessed friends and classmates getting better grades than me, it made me furious. I was upset when I just fell out of my classes Top 10, because I thought the person in front of me took easy classes and did not challenge themselves nearly as much as I did. Where I sinned was in my wishes that people would fail so that I could be better. I was jealous. I was upset by those people that I thought had got in through the backdoor. While I was hoping to erect stumbling blocks for people, Jesus was there to ensure that I did not.

We have a couple of texts this morning where the characters are incited with jealousy!

First, in our reading from Numbers, the people are complaining. What else is new? However, this time, God tells Moses to invite the seventy elders to come to the Tent of Meeting.  It is here that God bestows upon them the same Spirit that Moses had received. That is all except two of them, Eldad and Medad, that remained in the camp. The jealousy is stoked up in those that were present when they hear Eldad and Medad also received the same spirit, even though they were not in the Tent of Meeting with Moses and the rest of the elders.

In the gospel lesson from Mark, we witness the jealousy of Jesus’ disciples. How dare someone else be healing in Jesus’ name. Someone that is not part of their group. Jesus has been teaching the disciples to move more to the thoughts of God, and yet they still slip back into human thoughts. The thoughts of the worldly and worrying about their own egos and how they may look in the eyes of Jesus compared to this other person that is healing in the name of Jesus.

Jesus, in return, begins to rebuke their human thoughts. His words seem to be harsh and very much in your face. He is attempting to wake them from their stupor. To make them realize that they are not the only ones that can proclaim him as the Messiah, and in turn bringing healing to the sick and broken in his name. He reminds them of who they are in a brash way, that I am sure garnered their attention.

You would think that overtime we would finally catch on to what Jesus was teaching. Our egos do not seem to let us do so. Our egos pull us into the depth of ourselves and we are encouraged to worry about our own personal wellbeing at the expense of others. When we do decide to join with others, we tend to come together in common interest and then find those of differing opinion and looked negatively upon them. Our society is so split among lines today that we fail to find the humanity in the other person that has differing opinions.

We let our ego get in the way of reaching out in love and compassion. We erect stumbling blocks for others, hoping that they may fail and therefore move us ahead in whatever it may be that we are striving to reach.

If you recall the gospel lesson from last week, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them. They wanted to make sure that they were sitting next to Jesus when it really counted. The person that is healing in Jesus’ name has thrown a wrench into their plan.

That is the problem. It is their plan, not Jesus’ plan. Jesus reminds them in his tough teaching that everyone will be salted with fire! Everyone will have that peace of God within them. It is in the salt that they bring flavor and preservation to a world that needs love and compassion. It is in the salt that life abounds  joyfully. The salt brings out the true flavor of what it means to follow Jesus. Sharing in others joys as well as in their sorrows.

I will admit that being salted sounds funny. However, when something is not salted it is bland. Jesus does not want us to be bland. We are called to share in the good news of Jesus Christ and this requires us to be bold and flavorful.

Jesus is always lifting the children up as an example for all to follow. While young, children have not fully lived into their ego yet. They have yet to be fully pulled into the me-society, where they think everything needs to revolve around them. They are happy for one another and cheer each other on. When my son was younger, he competed in sport stacking. Which if you do not know what it is, you have 12 cups and you must see how fast you can stack them in various patterns. The joy on their faces and the joy they had for one another when setting personal bests or even rising to the top of the competition was incredible. They cheered each other on, even if it meant that they were now placed lower in the standings.

This is what Jesus wishes for us. It is an incredible example of exactly what Jesus is doing! He is standing in our corner and cheering us on. Each and everyone of us! It does not matter if we are part of the in group or following him. He is cheering us on, knocking down those stumbling blocks that others may place in front of us, and welcoming us into his loving embrace to experience life and to live it abundantly and full of flavor.

Let us pray. God of peace, you call us to be at peace with one another. May we continue to be guided by Jesus and be open to his teaching as we are pulled towards the reign of God. May your salt enhance and preserve us in our daily life. Amen.