Sermon 10/29/2011

November 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is the manuscript for the sermon I delivered October 29th, 2011, at Emmaus Road Church. It is a continuation of a series I am doing on the Sacraments and sacramental theology.


  1. Introduction
    1. General Recap – Tonight, I’ll be continuing the series on the sacraments. Over the past few times that I’ve been with you, we’ve had the opportunity to think about sacraments and sacramental living. When we consider a “sacrament,” we are looking for a physical, tangible touchpoint that opens the door for us to experience God’s heavenly, powerful grace in our lives. When we speak of “sacramental living,” we are speaking of a life in which our eyes are open and our hearts are looking for God’s grace to be ministered to us in very concrete ways. The church has recognized several different ways in which we experience this, and the purpose of this series is to intentionally engage some of these ways that we may not be familiar with. Even though we may have some differences of belief and opinion with some of our Christian sisters and brothers, it is still to our benefit to look at these means of grace that have proved to be so significant to so many.
    2. Jesus Christ – Of course, we must begin any discussion of the sacraments by pointing to Jesus. When we think of tangible, physical expressions of Heaven’s grace, Jesus stands as the primary example of this. In a way that we are still trying to figure out, God became a person and lived on our planet. He breathed our air, walked on our land. He lived like you and me. Yet, he remained fully God. His ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection, helps form a large part of our understanding of grace: that our sins can be forgiven, the division between Heaven and earth is done away with, that Christ lives to right the wrongs of our existence, and we can play a significant role in that. This is the gospel; this is grace. Christ is the #1 sacrament; all others point us back to him in some way. Our lives, as we live sacramentally do the same; sacramental living draws us closer to Christ and also provides avenues for others to experience grace as well.
    3. Specific Recap – The last time that I was with you, we discussed three sacraments that tradition recognizes: confirmation, anointing of the sick, and reconciliation. In confirmation, we see that just as Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and people, so do we also experience a process of growth in our own lives. We are constantly looking to move forward in our spiritual development and grow more and more into the people the God desires us to be. When we think of the sacrament of anointing the sick, we are reminded of healing as a part of Jesus’ ministry and God’s desire for us to be healthy and whole. And in the sacrament of reconciliation, we remember another aspect of Jesus’ ministry – to set wrongs right. As we emulate him in our lives, we seek to become agents of this grace. After discussing these three sacraments , there are four others that tradition recognizes: marriage, ordination, baptism, and communion.
    4. Disclaimers – As always, I just want to issue a bit of a disclaimer. The Christian family is quite large and has many branches. Part of the reason there are so many branches is because people have, across the centuries, disagreed on some issues. The ideas of sacraments make up some of those issues. Because of our particular “branch” of the family tree (mostly protestant, non-denominational), we’re going to have different ideas and beliefs on some of these things than other denominations. And that’s okay. When I speak about these beliefs, I am pointing out some dominant ideas; not necessarily what we believe here at ERC. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel by bringing these to your attention; rather, my hope is that we become more open to avenues of grace by gaining an understanding of how others in the community of faith perceive God at work in the world. Again, if you have any questions relating to some of the ground that we cover tonight, or in this series at all, please let me know.
  2. Body
    1. Social Sacraments – This week, we’re going to be discussing ordination and marriage. These have been called “social sacraments” by some people. This is because when we think about sacraments, we look for tangible expressions of God’s grace. In the social sacraments, the tangible aspect is other people. For those who are married, this sacrament suggests that we see the marriage relationship and one’s spouse in a special way. Along the same lines, the sacrament of ordination suggests that ministers receive special grace to do God’s work in the world. In both of these, we see that God’s grace is ministered both to and through people. We will look specifically at each, but we will also look into the question of what it means for us to see people as both ministers and recipients of grace.
    2. Ordination 
      1. Tradition – Tradition holds that when one is ordained, a type of change comes over the person being ordained. This is not a foreign idea in sacramental theology; remember, we said something similar in confirmation, in that the one being confirmed receives grace in a new and special way. When we get to baptism, we’ll find something similar said there. Tradition says that when one is ordained, this person receives a special change of character to equip her or him for the task of ministry. In addition to a change of character, this person now receives special grace in order to perform the work of the ministry. It is often said that this change is permanent, and so no one can be ordained more than once.
      2. Scripture There are a couple of main scriptures used to support this idea.
        1. John 20.19-22: “That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!  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.”” So what we see in this passage is a miraculous appearance of Jesus after his resurrection, in which he imparts the Holy Spirit to his disciples and sends them out to minister. Some would say that this is a special impartation of grace only for those who have been called to the vocation of ministry, so we can see there’s a bit of a dispute as to how this passage is to be interpreted. We’ll look at that in a minute, but let’s look at another passage first.
        2.  The second we’ll look at is Matthew 28.18-20: “The Great Commission.” “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here we see Jesus, with all authority, empowering and commanding his disciples to carry on the work of ministry.
        3. Interpretation – Traditionally, these scriptures and others have been interpreted in a way that is conducive to a hierarchical vocational class of ministers. We see this interpretation evident today in some of the structures present in more traditional churches: bishops, priests, elders, deacons, and so on. The implication is that a special kind of grace has been made available for these people. Along with the traditional church’s understanding of the necessity of the priest for one to experience some kinds of grace, we can see that there is a kind of hierarchy forming. Some of you may remember the name Martin Luther from high school world history; he helped counter this understanding by laying the foundation for the idea understood as the “priesthood of all believers.” According to this interpretation, Christ was not speaking to a select few when he commissioned his followers and gave them grace to minister. Rather, he was speaking to all Christians.   This means a few things.
          1. First, it means that the work of the kingdom belongs to every believer. It is the work of each and every believer to be a light in dark places and to share the gospel in appropriate ways at every opportunity. This job is not reserved for a special priestly class of holy people; this is the task of the church as a whole and each and every person who considers himself or herself a part of it.
          2. But it also means that the grace given to do God’s work in the world is also not limited to a select few, either. God has not only called you to be his person in the world, he is also equipping you and giving you grace to be that person. He doesn’t leave you stranded. There are people called to the special vocation of ministry; these we do ordain and give positions of authority within our churches. However, the grace given to them for this task is the same grace given to you to share Christ in your unique situation.
          3. Also, it means that we have access to Christ for grace. Grace does not come through a person in and of himself or herself. When you find grace in relationship, it is because God is using that relationship as a conduit. However, to receive grace from God, we do not need to rely exclusively on people to minister that to us.
      3. Affirmations – So what are some of the affirmations of this sacrament that we can learn from?
        1. Call to Ministry – Have you ever felt that you had a specific call to ministry? Well, guess what… You do. If you are a follower of Christ, you can expect to feel a stirring in your heart  that moves you to participate in what he’s doing in an active way. However, this will look very different for different people. One of the things that struck me about seminary was the number of people who felt a distinct “call” to vocational ministry, and proceeded to drop their careers and come to school, and then wonder what they were doing a year into it. Yes, we are called. But that will look different for different people. We are unique people, and our “callings,” to use such a term, are as unique as we are. One thing that this affirms is that God is putting his desires into our heart and working on our DNA as a person to use us for his kingdom. If you’re feeling these things, then stay tuned – it’s exciting to see how God uses people.
        2. Grace for the Task – Wherever God leads your heart, he is equipping you to respond accordingly. Sometimes people have the experience of being in an uncomfortable situation and find themselves thinking, “God, I’m doing what you told me! What’s going on?” We can rest assured, there is grace for these moments. When we respond to the desires that God has placed within us, he equips us to handle them appropriately. Grace for ministry is not just for the “ministers” – it is for all.
      4. Emmaus Road Church – Here, we recognize the grace that God gives each of us to do his work in their unique situations. Certainly, that’s a big part of what being the church is all about! We want to encourage you to follow up on the desires that God is growing in you, and sharing them with the community. We want to affirm that you are a minister. We desire to journey together in community to do the work of the Kingdom – and we rejoice that God gives grace to us, whoever we are, so that we can do that.
    3. Marriage  
      1. Tradition holds marriage in a high place, to be sure. Marriage has long been seen as something holy and sacred, under God’s divine order and protection. Some scholars have even stated that marriage produces grace within the marriage relationship. Much significance is to be found in the idea of “consent;” that is, that two people give themselves, selflessly, to their spouse. Within that relationship, grace is to be found. This relationship creates the context for grace-experiences that can be found nowhere else: in close, loving  relationship with one’s spouse.
      2. Scripture – The Scripture most commonly used in reference to the sacrament of marriage is Ephesians 5.21-32. This is a rather polarizing scripture that has often been misunderstood, so I’d like to frame it a bit before we read it. Rather than thinking of husbands and wives and who should submit to who and exactly how that looks, I’d like for us to think about how this passage draws parallels between the relationship of marriage and the relationship of Christ and the church. Then I’ll ask for some feedback. “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body. As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” What kind of parallels are drawn in this passage between marriage and Christ’s relationship to the church? …We can learn a lot both about marriage and Christ and the church by looking at this passage. A few things that stuck out to me:
        1. Submit. There’s a lot of controversy around the word “submit” used here. I want to defuse this passage a bit by providing some cultural context. In the days of the early church, women enjoyed a level of social freedom that culture did not give them. If you read Luke’s Gospel, you can see that women are elevated in a lot of ways; and in Paul’s letters, he even references women as valuable ministry partners. However, some of the freedoms that the church provided to women were taken advantage of in such a way that caused the surrounding society to look negatively upon Christianity as a whole. So when Paul is writing this, he is demonstrating how Christian faith can (and should) play within marriage by pointing to how Christ relates to his church. Because the culture at that time was male-dominated, it makes sense that if wives were challenging husbands, it would cause the church to be seen poorly. So Paul is not saying, “Wives, get in line.” Rather, he’s saying: “Let me show you a better way: Both of you, submit to one another in love, just as the Church places the pursuit of Christ and the will of God above their own desires.” This is not a trump card. Rather, it is an equal call for selflessness to the married couple. We see this in another affirmation.
        2. Love. What kind of love did Christ demonstrate for the church? Sacrificial love; love that holds nothing back. Love that places others before oneself. We see this evidenced in Christ sacrificing himself for the church, and this kind of love is God’s desire for marriage as well. It’s interesting that this passage states that loving one’s spouse is also a form of loving oneself. But this may make a bit more sense when we think of the marriage relationship making two into one. In the relationship, love circles around; when one pours love into the relationship, it is for the benefit of both, for their lives are one.
        3. Care. We also see that Christ cares for the church. He meets our needs. He forgives our sin, and brings us into new life. He also promises to meet our physical needs as well. Again, within the context of this selfless love, spouses work to meet each other’s needs.
      3. Affirmations – So what does this sacrament affirm for us?
        1. Marriage is a big deal. Marriage is holy; marriage is sacred. Marriage is not a fly-by-night kind of thing. It is a deep and profound commitment one to another. It is a relationship that God delights in and smiles upon, for it provides a tangible parallel to the greater relationship that we dwell in as the church of Christ.
        2. One’s spouse can become an avenue of grace. When this kind of love is present within the marriage relationship, there is a flow of God’s grace and heaven-meets-earth moments. For those who are married, you can expect God to use your spouse to bring you along in grace and use your marriage to make you more like Christ. (Some of you are thinking I’m painting a pretty idyllic picture of marriage; we’ll get to that in a minute.)
        3. Singles – Don’t chase counterfeits. Speaking from my own perspective as one who is not married yet, I desire this kind of selfless love and long to be in that kind of relationship. It makes sense – God has created us with a deep yearning for this kind of relationship. However, we are surrounded by so many messages giving us shortcuts and quick fixes to meet this yearning. An improper understanding of love will cause us to look for it incorrectly. So, my encouragement to the singles out there: (and though I have a most lovely girlfriend, I still count myself in the “not married yet” category, so I’m counting myself here too) Don’t sell yourself short. The culture in which we live has its own ideas about how to fill the yearning for love that we have. However, these ideas are far more short-sighted and self-serving than the kind of relationship that Christ desires to have with his church.
      4. Emmaus Road Church – We do believe that something special, profound, holy and sacred takes place when a couple gets married. We believe that God works in and through marriages to make his people more like him and to further bring them along in grace and righteousness. We want to be a community of faith that celebrates this unique relationship and that provides support for couples.
    4. Implications – This idea of sacraments that directly involve other people has some pretty hefty implications. Let’s look at a couple of these.
      1. People Are Broken – One implication that probably already occurred to you is that people are broken. We don’t have to look far for evidence of this. Marriages are just as common as divorces these days. I read just last week of a minister who was arrested and charged with sexually abusing minors in his congregation. Sadly, such things are not isolated incidents. These people that we desire to see as avenues of grace in our lives – spouses and ministers – often also become the source of some of our greatest wounds and hurts. What gives?
        1. One response to this is that people are not supposed to take the place of Christ in your life for this very reason. People will always let you down. The natural human response to being put on a pedestal is to fall off of it. Sooner or later, this will happen. If you find yourself in that place, it may be well to ask yourself, “Was I elevating this person above Christ in my life and seeking answers and relationship and strength and sustenance that can only be found in God?”
        2. Another thought that comes to mind is that each and every one of us is growing and developing. Which is a nice way of saying, none of us have arrived; none of us have “made it.” We all fall short of God’s glory, even though we are growing. You are a work in progress. Well, so is everyone else. Sometimes we need to remember that and be willing to cut people some slack accordingly, and forgive as we have opportunity.
        3. We’ll look at Romans 12 completely in a bit, but verse 18 in that chapter speaks to this: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (This is NRSV; I normally go for the New Living, but I like the way NRSV says it here.) In this verse, Paul puts the responsibility for living at peace squarely on our shoulders. “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me!” Doesn’t matter. It is YOUR responsibility to live at peace with them. Sometimes, it will not be possible to live in complete peace with people, but it is our responsibility to seek out peace, to chase it down, and grow it wherever and whenever we can. Going back to Paul’s analogy of the church as a body, let’s say that I break my leg. Now, it is in my best interest to get the bone set and to begin the recovery process as soon as possible. There is no way that it is a good idea for me to not foster an atmosphere of healing, because this injury affects my whole life, not just my leg. So it is with the body of Christ: it is not right for people to hold on to grievances, because when a few people in the church are at odds, there is a ripple effect that hurts the entire community of faith. This is why all of us, all the time, need to be proactively seeking peace with one another. Don’t give other people reasons to not seek peace with you. Personal agendas have no place in the church.
          1. A word about peace: sometimes, it doesn’t have a happy ending. If a marriage becomes abusive, something has to change. If a minister uses the church for personal gain, something has to change. We are people of love, but we are also people of justice. I’m not calling us to live in a land of warm fuzzies. Sometimes changes will have to be made. In our personal relationships, having tried what we can and not seeing results, sometimes the best we can do is to step back, forgive as we are able, and place it in God’s hands. I’ve had some situations in my life that ended in the best way to keep peace with these people is for us not to speak to one another. Sometimes the best way to live in peace is to set boundaries and walk away, to forgive and trust that God does have the situation in hand; be open to pursue peace again when the opportunity presents. People, forgive.
      2. People Are Avenues
        1. People as avenues – On the flip side, I want to ask some questions. How would we treat people if we saw them as avenues of grace, instruments that God used to put grace in our lives? Would we treat them differently? Would we treat them better? How so? (Discussion) (Neo; matrix-agent analogy).
        2. Us as avenues – Another logical outcome of this way of thinking is that we ourselves can be avenues of grace for others. Recognizing that fact, how do we think about ourselves? How do we think about others? How do we approach situations in life? (It’s not your responsibility to be grace for everyone that you meet. It will bubble out of you, not a burden)
  3. Conclusion – In closing, I want to read Romans 12. This presents a picture of the community of faith that I think demonstrates a lot of what we’ve talked about tonight. It’s not going to be up on the overhead; rather, I’ll read it aloud and I’d like for us to listen. You can close your eyes if that’s helpful. As we read this passage, I want to encourage us to open our hearts and let the Scripture go to work on us and speak to us. After the reading, there will be a time of silence for prayer and contemplation; then we’ll go into communion together. “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

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