Saturday, May 30, 2009


Reclaiming the Holy Spirit

Pastor and theologian Wilhelm Leohe once compared the church to a river flowing through time. He emphasized that the church wasn’t a territorial or local establishment but all of God’s people in all times and all places. He went on to talk about mission as simply the movement of the church through time. Wherever the church was being the church in the communities and places it was called to mission was being done.
I was reminded of Leohe’s work as I prepared for Pentecost this week. Pentecost is a funny day. We often refer to it as the birthday of the church but it never quite garners the hoopla of Christmas or Easter, it hasn’t made the mark on secular calendars like the other two. Even liturgically it is often seen as simply a transition between the season of Easter and the lull we call ordinary time or time after Pentecost. I have heard Lutherans refer to Pentecost as the one day we talk about the Holy Spirit; as if we need to shift our focus of Jesus Christ to be able to talk about the 3rd person of the trinity. In the contemporary church it often seems like talk of the Holy Spirit is reserved for those communities who participate in seemingly supernatural faith practices such as faith healing and speaking in tongues, things that are usually alien to mainline liturgical communities like ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be alien or foreign in a Lutheran Church. Some of you may remember Martin Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed from your years of confirmation. Let me refesh your memories.

“A. I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intellegence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel,
enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true
faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy
the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true
faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin
committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, He will raise
me and all the dead from the grave. He will give eternal life to me
and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!

I strongly believe that that the church must reclaim the importance of Pentecost and give it back it’s rightful place alongside Christmas and Easter as a major festival of the Church. Because as goes our connection to the Holy Spirit so goes our ability to call Jesus Lord, and as goes our sense of being called so goes the mission of the church. The Holy Spirit isn’t about speaking in tongues although that may be edifying for some Christians. But first and foremost God gifting us with the Holy Spirit is about calling and empowering us to be the Body of Christ. This is why the third article of the Creed groups the church and the Holy Spirit together, this is why Pentecost is both the day God first gifted his children with the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church; and I would go so far as to say this is why in large parts of the American Church an inability to talk about and sense the leading of the Holy Spirit has led to disastrous failure in focusing on mission. I believe that actively remembering that God has gifted the whole church with the Holy Spirit would lead to much renewal in many congregations.
Brothers and sisters the Pentecost story that we read an Acts isn’t a one-time event that happened to people a long time ago in a faraway place. It’s a story we relive at baptisms when the Spirit calls a new believer and every time we gather to do the work that God has called us to do. My friend David Barnes graduated from Seminary a few weeks back, he has been called as a Mission Developer in the Baltimore area, his first call will be funded entirely from the Synod and he is called to build and develop a congregation entirely from scratch. Heather and I are among David’s prayer partners and through the call of the Holy Spirit are connected to this congregation to be. A few years ago this community had the awesome opportunity to invest in and/or pray for a new mission start in this Synod New Hope in Farley, this serves as a reminder that we are not an isolated community whose story begins with immigrants to the American Shores in the mid to late 1800’s. But our story begins the same place that all Christian communities of the past preset and future. That is with a God who made us, loves us, and calls us to be the church flowing like that river that Wilhelm Leohe speaks about from the source, God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit until we reach the river’s mouth and spill into the Glory of God.
Brothers and sisters the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the God of Life living and moving in us. Empowering us to do amazing and wonderful things as ________ Lutheran Church a part of the Body of Christ. It’s easy as a congregation to get wrapped up in our own needs and struggles that we forget we are a part of something so much grander. Only when the Holy Spirit is reclaimed can we remember who we are. How do we reclaim the Holy Spirit? It begins by talking about it more than once a year; I challenge all of us to spend some time in intentional prayer asking for the leading of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these churches. And I want to challenge us as a congregation to spend more time in communal prayer, when WELCA meets every meeting should begin an end in prayer, when I meet with bible study groups I am going to try harder to cultivate deep prayer, in the near future I will provide opportunities for us to gather for the sole purpose of prayer. Because brothers and sisters a praying congregation is a living congregation, a Spirit filled congregation is a congregation doing mission and part of something great. Please pray with me.

Lord God,
Send again your Holy Spirit to your disciples in this place. Breathe in us so we may be a breath of fresh air to the world around us. Convict us and lead us out of our comfort zones into the future you have called us to boldly and faithfully. And give us life Lord so we may live for you and you alone. In Jesus’ precious and Holy Name.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A sermon on prayer

The Prayer of the Disciples

The image is a familiar one, often used as a punch line of a joke but the discouragement is real. Children against the wall during recess waiting to be picked by one of the kickball captains. Finally we get down to two, one of them will be picked and the other one we be relieved begrudgingly by the other team as the unwanted consolation prize. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine today’s scene from acts in this light. The disciples have one spot to fill and two candidates. Matthias and Joseph are standing against the wall both with beads of sweat dripping from their brow. Knowing that at the rolling of a die one will be given glory and the other will be forced back to anonymity. The truth is friends that even though Matthias won this coin flip we do not hear of him again. This leads me to believe that this is included in the history of the early church not to draw attention to the people but to the process by which they were chosen. And I am not referring to the casting of lots. We need not be impressed by the rolling of the dice or flipping of a coin do decide such an important thing this may seem at best archaic and at worst foolish to a community that holds to democratic values where we enjoy having a voice and a vote.
However I think we’d be foolish if we thought we couldn’t learn anything from these dice throwing disciples. I think the effectiveness in their method was less in the wrists and more in the prayer.

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I think these two simple verses are the key to understanding the significance of what happened in this room. This room of disciples and the apostles called to lead them were so prayerful that even an act as random as a game of chance became something through which God acted and spoke through. The absence of any further information may lead us to assume that the right choice was made, and I believe that shows us that God answered the prayer of this community. A community as we read through Acts that was prayer-saturated. A characteristic that all communities of those who call themselves Christ’s disciples should strive for. Perhaps this can be where our democratic values hinder more than help. In the midst of everybody’s voice and vote we may forget to listen to the one voice that should drown all of the others out, the voice of God. Not that God never speaks through us but I think that it takes much intentionality on our part do be a people who welcome God’s voice to the conversation and seek to align God’s will with our own.
Prayer has been on my heart recently as I prepare to lead a study of the psalms and worked through the Lord’s Prayer in the last few weeks of confirmation. In these past weeks I have become more convicted that one of the ailments in many American churches is an absence of authentic prayer. Christian prayer is so much more than words spoken to God either memorized or extemporaneous. It’s not simply a conversation where we empty our hearts and hope that God is listening. Prayer begins as a conversation but in reality it is so much more.
What is it then you may ask?
Catherine Marshall wrote that
“A demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer…. Prayer is people cooperating with God in bringing from heaven to earth His wondrously good plans for us”

Likewise Augustine often prayed
Grant that we might seek never, never to bend the straight to the crooked. That is, your will to ours. But help us to bend the crooked to the straight. That is, our will to yours.

Brothers and sisters the prayer saturation that is modeled by the community in the Book of Acts and is greatly needed in churches today is a deep desire that God’s will is done in our lives in and the work of our congregations. It doesn’t begin with an invocation and end with an Amen. It begins at baptism and never ends. In the life of a disciple Thy will be done isn’t just a prayer petition but the driving force behind every prayer.
How blessed we are that we worship a God who has made himself so accessible; A God who longs to be in conversation with us and calls us to not just worship him but be a part of his saving activity on earth.
Brothers and sisters the last few Sundays we have heard a lot about things we do as Christians. We have heard encouragement to produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Today we are reminded that a lifestyle of prayer, the desire to see God’s will be done is the only thing differentiating our fruit from the work of the world. God’s voice turns the well intentioned deeds of people to the life giving work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me.

Lord God,
Lead us and guide us as we attempt to discern your will in the life of _____ Lutheran Church. Keep still our babbling hearts and human desires so they may be touched by your hand and inspired by your voice. We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.