A Vision of the Church: An Inward Presence Ephesians 3: 14-21

Think-Like-a-FishChad Hall was a pastor in Hickory, North Carolina wrote of quitting the church in a professional journal. He said his immersion in the church caused him to feel no longer connected to the people he was called to serve. He likened himself to Brad Pitt’s character in A River Runs Through It, citing the wilder-spirited son of a Montana minister who was lousy at life, but good at fly-fishing. The son said, “It won’t be long till I’ll think like a fish!Hall said he stepped aside because he came to believe the church forgot how to think like the fish. He felt the church was acting like the captain of a charter boat, preoccupied with keeping up the boat, and who’s in and out, thus losing its fishing instincts and what life is like in the open water. So, he gave up his position to reconnect to the world he felt called to serve.

Paul’s is concerned the church could forget what makes the church the church. He reminds them and us: We are a visible reminder of God’s love in the world. The church that burst forth from under the covers of history through Jesus Christ is to announce the message God desires all to be in union with God and live in peace as sisters and brothers.

Paul pauses and prays. It’s like when we’re in the middle of the email and say, “I’m praying for you.” His language changes from talking about a pot roast with a friend to talking with a lover in a gazebo. The words are poetic and passionate; moving up from the heart rather than down from the head. Praying by heaving his heart toward heaven while on bended knee.rogers_praying-hands-framed

He pleads with the Trinity to strengthen and stretch the inner presence of God in the church and us. Our identity (who we are) and mission (what we do) in life and in the church comes from within. Thus, he prays we may be filled with God’s fullness. The more we’re filled with God within us, the more we’re perfected in God’s love. This happens by faith in Christ who dwells in our hearts, enabling the Spirit to root and ground us in God’s love. The more we’re rooted and grounded in that love, the more our lives reflect the fullness of God. This takes strengthening and stretching so we make room for the inner presence of God within us. The inner presence of God enlivens our soul to be strengthened in knowing who we are and is stretches us to do what we are called to do.

We strengthen God’s inner presence so we know who we are. We must settle who we are in Christ. If not, we will fruitlessly try to make it true who we are not. We will try to find life by having enough money to live in right neighborhoods, send our kids to the right schools, be with only people like us, and engage in the politics of protecting our possessions; a life that leads to insecurity and anxiety, instead of well-being and peace. I am not sure if it leads to heaven, you’ll have to ask the rich young ruler?

Weights

We know we’ve been graced and loved by the God of the universe when our inner presence is strengthened. We take our family name from the Father from whom all families in heaven and on earth take their name. Our heavenly Father who gives us our name refuses to play the shame/honor game that permeates culture. God made us, created in Christ Jesus. God desires to strengthen our inner person so the unrelenting inner presence of God that resides within us can confirm who we are in the eyes of God.

I was playing golf with a older guy who was hitting the ball past me all day. I asked him where he gets his power. He pointed to his left forearm. He said he started working out with some dumbbells and discovered his right arm was much stronger. He concentrated on building up that left forearm. He worked until both arms were equally strong. He now hits the ball past the youngest because he exercised the right part of his body.prayeronmyknees

We strengthen our inner person by exercising the right part of our body, our knees. In the posture or prayer, we enter into intimate union with God’s inner presence, not just to ask what we want. We spend time with God so we may be strengthened by God’s Spirit so we may better we know who we are in Christ. The more we know who we are in Christ, the better we reflect the loving nature of God made possible by faith in Christ, whose Spirit, (the inner presence) is day by day strengthening our inner person.

We stretch God’s inner presence so we might know what God can do through us. We wrongly define ourselves by our knowledge. Play Trivial Pursuit and be reminded of the limits of our knowledge. We think we know something about something then a question comes and we discover we don’t know squat. The spin-off game Bible Trivial Pursuit humbles me. The team that usually secures the pastor feels they had pulled off a sure victory. Every time I play I say, “I will never I play this game again!” The game is like a mirror reflecting back to me what I don’t know.

yoga_stretchWe think we know the answers to life’s questions until we find ourselves in a situation that is off our map. We allow the issues before us to loom large; feeling we don’t have what it takes when we come to the end of what we know. Our usual answers and buzzwords don’t suffice. Thus, we conjure up fear-ridden conclusions, making up it on the fly. We take the low road; pretending we know what we need to know in the midst this crisis.

Judging circumstances based on limited knowledge makes a preemptive strike against faith. It’s a crisis of faith when we wrongly decide the lost job represents failure; or we assume bad communication ends it all, or haughtily believe a certain choice will lead to disaster. Faith isn’t faith when we have an investment in one particular outcome over another. Certainty about where an experience leads presumes we know more than God.Questions

What we know only tells part of the story. God gave us knowledge and grace to live by faith. God is bigger than our minds. The breadth, length, height, and depth of love is accessible by stretching ourselves to places we have yet to imagine. The inner presence within stretches us, making our world bigger than we can know within the limits of our own being.

St. Aquinas, one of the world’s great minds, produced a compendium of theology, Summa Theologica, which purported to gather all the knowledge of God and the world. He believed by expanding human intellect, we would journey toward union with God. In December 1273, he quit writing. He had a mystical experience while saying mass in Naples. He said: I can do no more. Such things have been revealed that all I have written seems as straw, I await the end of my life. Aquinas put God back in the driver’s seat.

God hasn’t misplaced our file and is still is in the business of creating and redeeming. God’s inner presence is stretching us, taking us to a new place so we might be even more filled with the fullness of God. In this new place, we’ll come to know an endless power, the fullness of God within. The inner presence of God within possesses the power to change what we perceive cant be changed; guiding us from the fearful conclusions we easily form.

stand-firmWhen we stand in faith, light pours forth from us. When we stand in faith, God who makes life-giving events occur. Let us set aside our urge to control outcomes. We don’t know where circumstances might lead. Place our trust in a God who knows the entire movie backwards and forwards.

The premise of the Matrix movies is: we’re caught in a matrix of slavery; ruled by rules, and so assimilated we don’t know the real world from the lie is movies. The film indicates the way to freedom is to progress from knowing the truth to love of others: from comprehending the nature of things to transcending them by a greater force. Knowledge leads us to the door, but only love takes us through it. Love isn’t anti-intellectual; it gathers up the intellect and perfects it. The heart knows things the mind can’t grasp. We don’t have the ability or awareness to understand the outcomes of life. Soon, the pieces will fit together when we trust God’s inner presence within us stretching to places to do things only God could imagine for us. Languageoflove

Stretching exercises deal with skeletal muscular issues. Tightness in the back is dealt with by stretching the hamstrings, relieving the strain because the legs are able to carry more the burden of our frame. When we are rightly stretched it’s like we have been made brand new. When our spiritual lives are rightly stretched we are made new, willing to enlarge our world so we can do what our loving God desires for us to do.

Finally, our inward presence must be strengthened and stretched by the language of love. It takes some pillow talk with God to be led into the fullness of God. Friends, we don’t have to quit the church; we just have to exercise our spiritual lives, strengthening and stretching our inner person so that the fullness of God’ love has room to reside in our hearts.

Bended Knee

The Other Christmas-A Christmas Eve Message

There are two Christmases.  There is the Christmas driven by frantic spending and frenzied days.  This is the part of the season that makes Christmas shopping feel like we have fallen into a pool of piranhas that are picking our pockets.  This is also the time of year that can make preparing for Christmas meals feel like we are readying for military maneuvers.  I have something for those who soul and body is still caught up in the rush because you’re in charge of making everyone happy with their favorite foods and perfect gifts in the right sizes and with batteries.  We have a quiet room with soft lights, music, candles, and a therapist to help with your post-traumatic stress syndrome.  I will meet you there after the service.

Frankly, I have something better to offer.  The first Christmas is over, and it is the time for the other Christmas to begin.  I invite you to take these few holy moments we have together in the beauty of this sanctuary and let go of the other Christmas.  Take a breath; relax your neck and shoulders, everything is O.K.  Let your mind switch gears, or take it out of gear altogether.  These are sacred moments, and the Spirit of Christmas would like to charm the beast of the other Christmas that still lingers within us.  

Let me tell the story again.  “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken; that everyone should register in his hometown.”  A political agenda is afoot, for when an emperor orders a census, taxes are going up.  Caesar could not have known he was setting the course for something cosmic when his order dispatched a peasant couple to Bethlehem.  There they would give birth to their first-born son, wrap him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a feedbox.  We know the story and it appears nothing is afoot at all in this event.  Some mysterious princely Persian astrologers adorned with frankincense along with ragtag goat herders from the hills who had a certain air about their togas would kneel at this manger.  There is no hint God was up to something that would reverberate for the next two thousand years.

This child would continue to draw together every kind of person from every stage and station of life.  Look at us tonight.  Some of us drove here in luxury cars while others of us simply hope our “hoopdie” would make it home.  Some of us are decked out in designer wear bought off the rack, while others of us are wearing worn out ensembles from the back of the closet.  Some of us left homes brightly decorated and others came from modest homes decorated only with a small tree.  Some have a small child in the nursery; others have grandchildren older than parents who have children in the nursery.  Some will return home to a large family gathering, while others will return home to people trying to figure out how to be family.

We are all drawn here tonight for different reasons.  Some came to extend homage, others offer gifts, and some of us just felt we ought to at least pay attention to this newborn king.  We, hyperactive consumers who seek our security by insulating our lives with constant noise and floating bank accounts are no different than those who first gathered in Bethlehem.  We are all drawn to this manger for the same reason-We want to be loved.  We have heard this child offers us a real and lasting love that comes from the God who creates, redeems and sustains us in all our life.

The need to be loved is the most basic human need, which many are starved.  Even on this sacred occasion, every person present is aware of places in their lives where they feel unloved and are unable to offer love.  We want to be loved and learn to love again.  Thus, we are attracted to one who is billed to love without condition.  We are drawn to this child who offers himself so God’s love may be born in us.  We want to go beyond visiting the manger, to experiencing Christmas by allowing this this child to be born in that part of our life that needs loved.   

Perhaps you’re a parent or a child who can’t stand to be in the same room.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re a spouse whose marriage is hanging by a thread.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re carrying prejudice that isolates you in a self-made prison.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re unable to forgive a hurt so deep you’re not sure you can trust again.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps your need to control prevents you from appreciating those who love you.  You’re starving for love.  Perhaps you’re a pastor who you became obsessed over being ready this weekend you ignored family and friend.  We are all starving for love.

This year I want to go beyond a nice visit to the manger.  It is right to enjoy the beauty and sentiment of the service, sing carols, say a prayer, and think nice thoughts as you receive communion and light a candle.  It is a good to give generous gifts to those we love and exert effort to lighten the load of the underserved.  The truth is, that will never be enough if the next day is business as usual.  Christmas is more than a nostalgic visit to a manger, where Joseph and Mary once laid their newborn.

Christmas is God entering human flesh to accomplish a divine objective of conveying the love of God to you and me.  The story has always been a bit messy and dangerous.  We should expect nothing less if this child to be born in us.  Imagine Christ born in you anew and you’re the parent of the newborn child of God. We are going to have to make some adjustments in our lives to make room for this new born to live among us in new ways.

We do so, by taking a leap of faith to hear this child speak words of love, so we leave here more forgiving, loving, understanding, and protective of the fragile gift of life, that is ours and for those with whom we share it.  We do so, by opening our eyes of faith and let this child shine the light of God’s love on our path, so we might have clearer vision about the struggles of the poor and the suffering of the innocent; committed to do what we can to make this place better fit for God’s presence.  The god news of Christmas isn’t God came to earth, but God is here; ready to be born in us so we might know real love for real people in real ways.

This babe of Bethlehem says I love you?  God leaned over the messed up playpen of our world to speak to us through an infant child in the simplest terms.  It is a message of God’s infinite and unconditional love spoken in baby talk.  “Cootchie, cootchie, coo” can’t be ignored or misunderstood.

Embrace the child, feel the love the child has for you.  Let your defenses fall and those barriers come down as you hold in your arms the love God has for you.  Thank God for the “other” of should I say THE CHRISTMAS.

Merry Christmas!