Sermon from 9/17/2011

September 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Following is a transcript of the sermon I gave at Emmaus Road Church on September 17th, 2011. It is the second in a series I am doing on sacraments.

  1. Introduction
    1. Greeting/Further Announcements
    2. Passing of the Peace
  2. Body
    1. Recap
      1. The Primary Sacrament, Jesus Christ – The last time I was with you, we began a series on sacraments. Together we started to explore some of the thinking and ideas behind sacramental theology. When we think about sacraments, many things may come to mind. Particular things that we do within the church here, such as communion. Maybe some ideas from other Christian traditions that may seem odd and foreign. Some people have attempted to define a “sacrament” as: “An earthly symbol that expresses a heavenly reality.”  That definition is true, as far as it goes. However, when we think about sacraments, we think of Heaven and Earth colliding in a new, special, and profound way. We think of “thin spaces,” where Heaven and Earth communicate in ways that we have not felt before, where we experience the physical and the spiritual with an inexplicable level of intensity. An experience where somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, where, as Frederick Buechner says, “One plus one equals a thousand;” an experience where God meets us as we are. When we think of God meeting us, we think of Jesus Christ; the one who walked on this ground, breathed this air, and lived as a person among us. We think of Jesus Christ, who heals our sicknesses and forgives our sins. We look to Jesus; one plus one equals a thousand. In Jesus, Heaven and Earth met in such a way that all who interacted with Jesus found themselves facing something radically different, something that could not be explained. One plus one equals a thousand. When we think of sacraments, we must think of Jesus Christ first and foremost. He is the one who bridges the gap; he is the one we look to and call upon so that we experience salvation. Any other sacramental experience that we have takes place because of Jesus Christ; he is the primary sacrament.
      2. Defining Terms – When we talk about sacraments, I’d like us to expand our thinking a bit. Seven  sacraments have been accepted by established churches, and we’ll speak a bit more about those in a bit. However, I would like to call us to live sacramental lives. Sue has a blog entitled, “The Sacrament of the Ordinary Life.” I really appreciate this title because it affirms where heaven should meet earth for us; in everyday life. I firmly believe that God desires to share our lives with us, to be present in the ordinary moments of our ordinary days. He’s punching holes in the sky from the top down so that He can be with us, if only we would look up and see Him. That’s what a sacramental life is about: allowing God to be present in every moment of our life, and expecting Him to show up. One of my favorite quotes is from an author who went by the name Novalis: “He who seeks God will find Him everywhere.”
      3. Looking – So part of our challenge becomes our seeking. Seeking more often; seeking in different ways. If we have misplaced something, we often don’t find it until we look in a place where we did not expect it to be. That’s part of what this series is about; to look at some things that may be unfamiliar so that we can take fresh eyes to see God into our ordinary, everyday lives.
      4. Sacraments – Last time that I was with you, we spoke about Jesus as the perfect sacrament, the first sacraments, the sacrament that all others point back to. The Catholic tradition recognizes seven sacraments: Communion, Baptism, Marriage, Ordination, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. Protestants, which is where we fall on the family tree, only recognize two: Communion and Baptism. Over the next few times that I am with you, we’ll be looking at each one of these. I think it’s important to look at all of these, especially in our study, because we are trying to open up and widen our understanding of looking for God at work in the world. In this discussion, we would be remiss not to consider several ways that tradition suggests. Some of these may not be familiar to us, so we’ll be pulling from lots of places in our study: from the Church Fathers, as well as from the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches as well. A couple of disclaimers:
        1. These are deep waters and heavy issues. It is not too much to say that some of the great wars of history have been fought over sacramental theology. There are many differing opinions and ideas about these, and I recognize that. In discussing these things with you, I have barely tried to scratch the surface so that we can get an idea of what practice and tradition have said about these things. If you have disagreement, or wish to study these further, I invite you to do so, by all means.
        2. Secondly, I am not saying that we here at Emmaus Road are going to begin observing all of these. Preston and I are not going to be setting up a confessional booth and waiting for you guys to swing by. We have no interest in that. However, we do want to expand our ways of thinking about God at work in the world and in our lives. And so, I simply want to bring these to your attention. Tradition and theologians have affirmed that grace can be found by participating in these things; by looking at them, we can gain new eyes to see God at work in the world and participate in that, wherever we might be. Some of these ideas may sound odd; some of them may be challenging. The point is for us to gain greater perspective to see how God works. We’ll do this by looking at the sacrament  from the perspective of Scripture. We will look at what the sacrament affirms in the life of the Christian and also talk about what it means for us. This week, we will look at three sacraments: Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Reconciliation.
    2. Confirmation
      1. Tradition – Of the seven sacraments that we will look at, this one has the most ambiguity. Traditionally, the church has affirmed that after one accepts Christ and is baptized, the sacrament of Confirmation opens the door for the person to receive the Holy Spirit in a fuller and greater measure through the laying on of hands. People have differed as to how much and why this takes place; some denominations also incorporate church membership and education into confirmation. However, traditionally, it refers to Christians receiving the Holy Spirit in a greater way than they did at baptism.
      2. Scripture – The Scripture often associated with this sacrament is Acts 8.14-17: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.” So what we see happening here is that people have already been baptized, but had not received the Holy Spirit yet. Then, in a second act of grace, they receive the Holy Spirit. However, this is not a clear-cut case from Scripture. Several others, including St. Paul himself, receive the Holy Spirit before their baptisms. So, when we read the Bible, we see that there is some ambiguity here. However, we would do well to remember tradition and other church thought here as well. Some of us have visited more charismatic/Pentecostal churches. We remember that some of them have an emphasis on being “filled with the Holy Spirit” as some kind of a second act of grace; these traditions would affirm that beyond your initial conversion, there remains an additional aspect of God that remains for the believer to engage. While these groups likely would not refer to this belief as the “Sacrament of Confirmation,” the parallel does exist.
      3. Affirmations – Here, we may want to be careful. If Scripture and tradition affirm anything for us, both say that we should not put God in a box. We believe that when you accept Christ, you are 100% accepted, 100% forgiven, and 100% welcomed into God’s Kingdom. God desires to give you more than you are capable of accepting; he desires to welcome you, heal you, restore you, bring you into his kingdom, and use you for his glory. However, when you first make a decision to follow Christ, you might not be ready for all that. This is what the Sacrament of Confirmation affirms for us: that as we grow and mature as believers, we grow closer to God and God to us and we are able to experience more and more of God in our lives as we progress.
        1. Change of Character – One of the traditional statements about confirmation is that the believer experiences a change of character as a result of having received the sacrament. One of the things that our faith affirms is that Christians grow as they walk in faith. I think it’s interesting that Luke 2.52 tells us that Jesus, as a person, “grew in wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and man.” I think it’s interesting that Jesus grew as a person. He was educated in the ways of his time and culture, and he grew physically and mentally. And God Almighty and the people around Jesus saw this growth and were impressed. If Jesus experienced growth, shouldn’t we expect to experience it as well once we accept him as our Savior? God wants to work in you – to take the tired, hurting, and confused person and make you a strong, vibrant, and healed person. God wants to rework your DNA as a person. We’ve heard the saying, “God loves us just as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay there.” Some people experience a quick change of character, while others experience this change more as a journey. Part of what our study is about is to encourage you to experience God’s acts of grace in your life. God will use a second act of grace. And a third. And a fourth. That is how God deals with us. This sacrament encourages us to receive these acts of grace.
        2. Increase of Grace – Traditionally, this sacrament also opens the door for a marked increase of grace in the life of the believer. Part of the experience of the Christian life is to experience an increase of grace. To help us understand grace, let’s take a look at Titus 2.11-14: “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” We remember Jesus Christ, and we see that he is grace given to us. Grace brings us salvation; we are forgiven of our sins and made God’s people in the world. We can live in our daily lives and expect to have wisdom and righteousness as we remain devoted to God and we look forward to when Jesus returns to set all the wrongs right. He came once to make us clean and holy, to free us from our sins. Because of this, we are his people who do good in the world. This is the gospel; this is grace. God offers us as much as we can receive. But as we move forward and grow in the Christian life, we become able to receive more. As we seek God and his grace to live in righteousness and devotion, we become able to receive more grace for this same purpose. We should also note that if we reject God’s assistance, help, and encouragement in our lives, we limit our ability to receive it. Grace works by multiplication: if we decide against God’s work in our lives, God will not be able to work as much. However, if we accept his grace, more grace becomes available to us. The purpose of this shower of grace is mentioned above as well: “to be totally committed to doing good deeds.” We anticipate Jesus’ return, when God’s Kingdom will be made complete and whole once and for all; but until He does return, bringing about God’s kingdom on earth is our job.
      4. Emmaus Road Church – Here at Emmaus Road Church, we affirm that God uses a second act of grace to allow us to experience the Holy Spirit so that our character may be changed, so that we may experience an increase of grace in our lives and use the gifts that he has given us. And God uses a third act of grace. And God uses a fourth act of grace. God offers us as many acts of grace as it takes on this journey to make us into his person who brings about his kingdom in the world.
    3. Anointing of the Sick
      1. Tradition – This refers to a sacrament in which an ill person could call for priests and receive anointing with oil and prayer for healing. This has also been called the sacrament of Extreme Unction. It used to be connected with repentance as well as physical healing, and became for a time associated with Last Rites – in fact, some people would not receive this sacrament until they were on their deathbed because they did not want to sin after they had received it. However, different schools of thought have developed since then. The sacrament does not apply to only to those who are on their deathbed or those who are suffering from terminal illnesses. One may request it if they are suffering from the common cold; children are also able to receive it, as long as they are able to appreciate and understand what is taking place. It does not only apply to physical illnesses, but also to mental difficulties as well. It exemplifies God’s physical redemptive work in his church – the grace that God gives to heal his people. Some people request this sacrament to aid in forgiveness as well, or to receive spiritual strengthening.
      2. Scripture – There are two main scriptures used to affirm this sacrament, and we will look at both of them.
        1. The first is Mark 6.7-13: “And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.” So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil.” So here, we see Jesus giving authority to his disciples to cast evil spirits out of people, so that the afflicted people would experience relief. The apostles did just that, casting spirits out, healing people, and anointing people with oil.
        2. Let’s look at the next scripture, James 5.14-17: “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” In this text, James, the brother of Jesus, is instructing his audience to do these things. If one feels ill, he or she may call for the elders to receive prayer and anointing. We also see James address forgiveness here as well, which is how this particular sacrament became associated with forgiveness of sins as well as physical healing. Of the seven sacraments that we will look at while I am with you, we can find that the early church employed this one. It is interesting to note that physical recovery was expected after a sick person received this sacrament.
        3. Oil – I’d like to take a moment and discuss the significance of oil within this sacrament. When we discuss sacraments, we look for physical things to help us experience heaven: in the sacrament of Confirmation, it is the laying on of hands. In this sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, it is the oil. In Biblical times, oil had a lot of significance for a number of reasons. In the area of physical health and treatment of illness, oil was used in a number of ways. Externally, it was used as part of the dressing and bandaging of wounds. It was also used to treat internal issues, such as ulcers and intestinal problems. Even today, in some Mediterranean areas, one can find mothers still telling their children to take a spoonful of olive oil every day. And so, oil is a symbol that is strongly connected with healing. When we receive this, we are anointed with oil that points us to the healing power of Christ. We are reminded of Christ’s healing ministry and his desire to heal us, and the oil is a physical, tangible thing that helps us experience healing from Christ.
      3. Affirmations – As Christians, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick affirms many things for us.
        1. At a most basic level, it affirms that God is interested in our lives and desires healing for us. Though to some Christians, this may seem like common sense, it can be difficult to remember at times, especially if we are struggling with a chronic illness. This sacrament, if nothing else, serves as a reminder that God does desire our healing and wants us to be whole. The difficulty with this is that often, we do not experience healing in the way that we thought it would happen. We stay sick long after healing has been prayed for. We asked God to remove the pain, take away the burden, and yet it remains. Even if we feel that this is our experience, I want to encourage you to seek God’s grace in the midst of your difficulty. Do not give up on looking for grace! We may find it in places we least expected it.
        2. Another thing that this sacrament affirms for us is a connection between our mind, spirit, and body. It is interesting to note that as people have continued to ponder this sacrament, it has come to include mental and emotional distresses as well as physical. Paired with the association on forgiveness, we begin to see a “whole person” scope in this sacrament. How many of us have had distressing experiences that left us physically ill? Or what about an unresolved conflict that we could not forgive or be forgiven that eats at us and causes bodily distress? Sometimes, we do not experience pain simply because of physical causes. Relational issues, matters of lifestyle, emotional states, and other things can cause difficulties in us that lead to physical problems. This sacrament reminds us to seek healing in not just our bodies, but healing in every single way that we can have it – emotional healing, mental healing, spiritual healing, relational healing, as well as physical healing. When we say that God desires us to be whole, we don’t mean just that God wants our bodies to work OK. God desires our relationships to be healthy. He wants our past hurts and wounds to be made well. He desires for our conflicts to be resolved. He wants us to be a person of peace. This sacrament affirms that.
        3. Also, this sacrament tells us that we can look for grace in the midst of our weakness. Let’s stop and ponder that for a second. When we find ourselves battling a particular infirmity or issue, we may feel abandoned in that moment. I’m not feeling well; where is God? This sacrament tells us that God desires to give us grace in our moments of brokenness, just as much as when all is well with the world. This sacrament tells us that God does not turn our back on us when we feel that the world is falling to pieces; rather, in those moments, it is best to look for grace. God desires to help us in those situations.
      4. Emmaus Road Church – Here at Emmaus Road Church, we desire to experience God’s healing and wholeness. There’s a prayer journal where you can request prayer for anything. If you want, you can contact our pastoral team and we will be happy to pray for you. I’d also like to point out that helping our community move toward wholeness is not just a job for the pastors; rather, it is a job for the community as a whole. We’re all in this together; if a member of our community is hurting, then we need to rally around that person as a community and help them. We are all on the path to healing and wholeness together. Traditionally, when someone calls for this sacrament, not just one minister shows up. Usually, it’s several. Healing takes place within community; inside the community of God we find Christ’s healing power for us.
    4. Reconciliation – This has also been known as Confession or Penance.
      1. Tradition – The sacrament of Reconciliation takes place when one, feeling true sorrow for his or her sins, goes to a priest to confess the sins with the intentions of making amends. The priest, through the power of God and the authority of the Church, proclaims forgiveness for the mentioned sins and also gives instructions on how proper amends are to be made. The one confessing experiences forgiveness and removal of guilt, which brings about a true reconciliation of the believer with God and, it is to be hoped, with other people. The tangible, physical aspect of this is the penitent going to the priest and naming the committed sins and the priest ministering forgiveness for those. This sacrament points us back to Jesus in that true restoration of the proper relationship between humankind and God only comes through the work of Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross. It also points us back to the power that Jesus vested in the church to be an active part of this.
        1. Controversy – Some of the hottest debates have come between Catholics and Protestants on this topic. One may ask the question, “Well, does God forgive sins or do people?” Some people will point out the authority given to the Church and say that even though forgiveness comes from God by the work of Jesus Christ, it can only come through the avenue of the Church. Others will say that forgiveness comes from God alone and can be received by his people in a variety of ways. I bring this up because I recognize the controversy. However, if hundreds of years of scholars and theologians spilling much ink over the centuries have not been able to resolve this for us, I do not think I will be able to clear it all up in the next few minutes. However, there are two main points that I wish us to be clear on that both sides agree on: 1) Forgiveness of sins comes from God alone and 2) People have the opportunity to play a significant role  in the process.
      2. Scripture: There are two main scriptures that are used in connection with this sacrament.
        1. The first is John 20.21-23: “Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”” This event takes place when Jesus appears to the Apostles after the Resurrection. They receive the Holy Spirit and then Jesus tells them that they play a role in the forgiveness of sins, the choice of choosing to forgive or not to forgive.
        2. The second is a passage that we have already read this evening: James 5.14-17. We’ll read it again to refresh our memories: “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” As noted earlier, there is a connection in this passage with forgiveness and healing. We also see that James desires his audience to confess their sins to other people so that they may be healed. The confession of sins to other people is emphasized.
        3. Interpretation – It is nearly impossible to interpret these scriptures without stepping on someone’s toes somewhere. As I said earlier, we’re treading in deep waters. A more traditional view would hold that when one desires to confess sin, he or she must go to a priest within the established church who is within the Apostolic Succession, who then bestows forgiveness. Our church falls on the Protestant side of the family tree, and we typically hold that the command to confess our sins to each other allows us to do so not just to our elders, but also to anyone within the body of Christ. We would say that forgiveness comes from God alone, though people may play a significant role in that. Again, these are questions that we can’t resolve tonight. However, it’s important that we are aware.
      3. Affirmations – This sacrament makes several affirmations that we should be aware of, however we choose to interpret these scriptures.
        1. First, there is forgiveness available. It is the heart of God to be in relationship with people, his creation. He wants to be in relationship with you. One of the difficulties that we have as people is that we struggle to understand that God does love us and desire to have relationship with us. We can see ourselves and the things that we have done, and we do not see a way that God wants to love us. However, this sacrament affirms that God desires to have a relationship with us. He does desire the barriers of sin between us and Him to be broken down. There is forgiveness for you.
        2. This sacrament also tells us that there are concrete repercussions to our actions. After hearing one’s confession, the priest would assign penance – concrete steps to bring about amends and restitution. If these steps were carried out with a truly grieving and penitent heart, they would play a key role in one’s forgiveness and reconciliation. This is a principle that we cannot ignore. For example, if I have an addiction to a harmful substance, I can confess my addiction and the harm that it causes to me and those around me all I want. However, until concrete steps are made to end the addiction, I am preventing myself from receiving the forgiveness that is available. And even then, a certain degree of damage may have been done that may be impossible to undo. My body may never be the same; my relationships may never be the same. Even though God will forgive me for abusing my body, I may have injured myself to the degree that I am not able to live the life that I desire. Even though my friends will forgive me for the wounds that I have caused, we may not be able to enjoy the close relationship that we once did. Preston has been preaching from the lectionary the past couple of weeks on forgiveness, and I think he makes an excellent point: there is complete forgiveness available, but there are repercussions. He brought up the Amish School Shooting in 2006 and the outpouring of forgiveness from the Amish community following that. The wounded community embraced the family of the gunman in an amazing example of what true forgiveness is. However, the wrongs could not be undone; many people died that day; others suffered severe injuries. Families are experiencing the loss of loved ones, and lives were forever changed. Unfortunately, in this world, these events cannot be undone. However, the great Christian hope is that when Jesus returns to fully bring about His kingdom, the wrongs will be made right. Full restoration will take place. The sacrament of reconciliation affirms this: that we, as the people of God with his Holy Spirit living in us, forgive, receive forgiveness, make amends and reconcile as best as we are able. And we look forward to Christ’s glorious return, when he completes the process and picks up the pieces that we are not able to.
        3. This sacrament also affirms the role of people in God’s forgiveness. It is one thing to hold God’s forgiveness as a theological precept, but it can be difficult to accept forgiveness without tangible affirmation of that. By affirming the role of the community of the church in one’s forgiveness, we can receive tangible, concrete assurance that our sins ARE forgiven. Through the community of Christ, we can receive concrete help in not only receiving forgiveness but also forgiving others. Like we said with healing, forgiving is a community thing. We’re all in this together.
      4. Emmaus Road Church – Here at Emmaus Road, we affirm that confession, making restoration, and forgiveness takes place within community. The power of God and the authority of Christ goes hand in hand with the church so that reconciliation can be a full process. We believe that God can forgive your sins even if you never darken the door of a church; but we also believe that this is not God’s complete design, for the church can and should play a valuable role in the forgiveness and healing process. Due to our nature as broken people, sometimes this means that boundaries need to be established; however, together, we share the hope of Christ’s return which will set all wrongs right.
  3. Conclusion – Tonight, we have looked at Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Reconciliation. The next time that I’m with you, we will discuss Marriage and Ordination. However, we must remember that when we think of the sacraments, we think first and foremost of Jesus. In Confirmation, we remember that even Jesus experienced growth as a person, and we look forward to God growing greater in our lives. In the Anointing of the Sick, we remember Jesus’ healing ministry and his desire for us to be made whole. In Reconciliation, we remember Jesus bringing salvation, forgiving our sins, and the key role that we as people are to play in that. We won’t be engaging these quite in the same way that other churches do, but by becoming more aware of them, we become more and more aware to the many ways and places and things that God uses to give us grace. This is what living sacramentally is all about: expectantly seeking for Christ and his power to come into your life, looking for concrete ways in which this happens, and being willing to be used by God in the same way.
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