Sunday, July 8, 2018

Amazement and enthusiasm

July 8, 2018
Mark 6: 1-13; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10; Ezekiel 2: 1-5

In these texts today, I see a connection with the presence of God’s Spirit. And where Spirit is, amazement and enthusiasm follow.

Ezekiel hears the voice of God telling him he will be a prophet to the people. He is to preach to them even if they don’t hear and respond. He will go about his ministry in strange ways, using a variety of multi-media type demonstrations to make his point that God will some day send the people home from exile in Babylon. For example, he packs a bag and digs a tunnel through a mud wall. Another time, he lies naked on his left side in the town plaza for days. Then he lies naked on his right side for days. He is trying to get their attention.

Paul has an interesting encounter with God. I think it might be an out-of-body experience, or a vision of some sort of the next world. Whatever he saw, however he saw it, he was amazed and enthusiastic about sharing it. He can’t give any specifics, but he can tell us it was exceptional. To remind him not to tell anyone what he experienced, he is given a thorn in his side. No one knows what this is, but it doesn’t stop him from excitedly telling anyone he encounters about Jesus’ message of grace.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus faces rejection from the people who have come to know him in Capernaum. Even his family doesn’t like what he is doing and saying. They say, “Just who do you think you are? God?!” “Stop this nonsense and come home to Nazareth right now, before you get yourself killed!”

Despite this rejection, Jesus tells the disciples that it is time for them to go and do what he has taught them. They are to go out and teach and heal just like Jesus did. I think they said, “Really, Jesus? We can’t do that!”  But he responded, “Oh, yes you can. Go now and try it. I have given you the power of the Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, and to speak about the kingdom of God. You will discover you will say just the right words. That is the Spirit working through you.”

Once the disciples went out, they discovered it was true. They could really cast out demons and heal sick people and they learned they could speak about God’s love to anyone! With each success, they became more enthusiastic and more convinced they could do what Jesus sent them out to do.

… So, what do you think? Has Jesus given you the same power, the same Spirit? I know you want to say “no, you can’t do any of those things. You don’t ever feel God’s Spirit.”

That’s why I encouraged you to look for faith stories in your lives. As I have visited people in their homes, they have told me stories. Peggy told me a story of an encounter with her father after he died. As Peggy talked about her life, it was clear that God guides her every day and gives her the strength to do as much as her disease will allow her to do. She is determined to live as full a life as possible. That strength, that drawing and reliance on Jesus’ power is her faith story.

Robin lives in a facility with developmentally challenged adults. He said he has a real ministry there and is always aware of God’s presence. He helps others know God, too. He was excited as he talked about what he does there.

… When has God amazed you? When are you aware of God’s presence? Are you aware of God’s presence when you come to worship? How do you respond to God’s presence?

A comment I have heard about Ascension is that there is not much spirit evident here during worship. I have observed this: While a few of you at least nod during the sermon, most of you sit politely and don’t respond, until you shake my hand at the door.

Many of you sing as if you are afraid someone else will hear you. Last week, I suggested you clap to the sending song, and no one joined me.

I understand that we are Lutherans, and typically Lutherans from Minnesota and Pennsylvania don’t display emotions during worship. Mom and Grandma taught us to sit still and behave. We smile as loudly as we can when the pastor says something we find humorous.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As you hope to have new members and a new permanent pastor, I encourage you to overcome some of those habits and show a little excitement in worship. Younger people are used to moving around and singing to a beat and clapping their hands during worship.  If you hope to draw younger people, Ascension needs to look and sound like what younger people are seeking.

I am not saying you have to raise your hands while we pray or sing, but it would be OK if you did. I do. It is appropriate for the pastor to take the prayer position (with hands raised) – it’s called the Orans position, and we were taught to do it in worship. There is nothing wrong with you joining me.

There is nothing wrong with raising your hands as the Spirit moves you during the songs. There are some songs that lift my spirit and my hands just go up on their own. When I do so, I am seeking to connect with God.

Some songs, especially those old Gospel songs, call for us to clap our hands to keep time. I know most of you grew up with popular music, and you would sing along to the music on the radio, clap your hands with the musicians, and maybe move your body in response. There is nothing wrong with doing that in church. I don’t mean to act like young people at a rock concert, but God gave us bodies that respond to the music and prayers and words we hear in worship.

In a few minutes, you will be invited to come forward for anointing with oil and a prayer for healing. I hope you respond with an enthusiastic “Amen” because you believe something can change. Otherwise, why are you coming forward?

… A story. When I was at seminary, there was a young black man, Sean, who was developing a black congregation a couple of miles from the school. In one of our small groups I learned he had a way with prayer. I went a few times to his congregation because I wanted to hear him preach. The congregation in most black churches talk back to the preacher. One evening, Sean was preaching and no one was talking back to him. There was no one saying, “Preach it!” No one telling him, “Right on!” No muttered “Uh-huh” or “M-m-m.” Sean stopped his message and looked at the folks. And he said, “I can’t do this without you.”

It may seem like pastors expect to talk and be listened to politely, but it is much easier to talk knowing that there will be some feedback. I hope you will consider this and at least chuckle when I say something humorous. I don’t expect to hear Amens and preach-its, but you could at least smile and nod a little more loudly.

… When it comes to singing, I always ask the sound person to turn off my microphone because I am always off-key. But I always sing aloud because God does not ask us to sing perfectly, just joyfully. If you feel like you are singing a solo, move closer to other people. There is plenty of room here in the middle. There really is something to be said about singing with a group to make the singing better.

I hope and pray that Ascension can become a congregation where God’s Spirit is known and evident. A place where the members are not afraid to express the love they feel for each other and for God. Imagine taking the love and enthusiasm you share during the passing of the peace to the rest of the service. I think that would be an amazing transition to a new Ascension Lutheran Church.

Please repeat after me. Jesus loves me. … I can clap my hands to the music. … Jesus loves me. … I can raise my hands in prayer and praise. … Jesus loves me. ,,, I can say “Amen” during the sermon. … Jesus loves me.

Because Jesus loves us, we can let God’s Spirit show in worship in many ways. We can believe that the Spirit fills us and sends us out to share the good news with those who need to hear some good news. Amen