Sunday, December 06, 2009

Preaching benedictions (2 Corinthians 13:14) or theology in a hard place

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my pastoral experience of finding myself locked, temporarily and unexpectedly, in a psychiatric hospital ward.

Today’s sermon continued our Advent blessing and is a text we often hear inside the comfortable walls of the church, as a final benediction. But what does the blessing mean in the hard places. So the sermon (script to be spoken) sought to relate the Bible text to that experience.

A few weeks ago I found myself locked in Hillmorten, in the Acute psychiatric assessment ward. It was scarey. In hindsight it was funny. But it got me thinking. So let me tell you the story of what happened. And then ask what apply today’s Bible text means, in light of what happened.

It was a Sunday. I’d been phoned and asked to visit someone. To visit you go through two locked doors. Only a nurse can let you in. Who gave me strict instructions: This is a secure unit. No patients can leave. Whatever you do, give nothing, anything, to those inside.

And I met the person I was visiting. We spent time together. By then it was about 6:20 pm. I was due to preach in 40 minutes, so made my goodbyes.

The nurse showed me to the door, unlocked it, and let me through.

I walked about 5 paces. Came to the second door. Which was locked. Turning to ask for help, I found myself alone. The nurse who had let me through the first door was now gone, back to her work station.
I gave the outside door another pull. It didn’t move. I found the exit button. But it needed a key to turn. Which the nurse would have. But she was gone.

I went back the 5 paces to the door the nurse had let me through, thinking I could go back and ask for help. Pushed it, but you guessed it. It was locked. A secure unit.

I peered through the glass, but the corridor was empty.

I remembered I had my cell phone. So I scanned the walls, looking for a number. None there.

I tried the main exit door again. Pulled. Still locked. I peered through the glass into the main area. Noone there. I could bang and yell. But yelling “let me out, I don’t belong here” might not help.

I breathed deeply and looked closely at the door. When I pulled hard, the door did bend. Enough to let me see that the metal glasp was down. Enough of a gap to get my fingers in. A bit of a fiddle, poke and prod and I managed to push the glasp back.

And this time gave the door a push, not a pull. It opened. I was out, free, feeling like an escapee prisoner as I walking through the empty main reception.

We’re doing this series on Bible blessings. Those moments when we hear the words “bless you”, not as people sneeze, but as the Bible reflects on God. Last week we looked at Numbers 6. This week we look at 2 Corinthians 13:14. That’s the green banner. And you should have got the card as you walked in their door. Part of set of 4. If you missed out last week, or want sets to give away, please ask. They’re meant to be a blessings.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

We often hear this passage in church. Service is ending. We’re about to leave. Which is always exciting. Cafe coffee and time with friends in the foyer. Even more exciting.

But what does this “bless you” mean for our life. Not just inside church. But in the hard places, like being locked in a psych unit. Where is grace and love and fellowship? Is it through the door, that opens into the pysch unit? Is that where I can find the grace of Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of God’s spirit?

Or is it through the main door outside that gets to church on time? Is that where I can find the grace of Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of God’s spirit?

What does this “bless you” mean in the hard places of our places, when we’re sick, when those we love are sick, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, feeling a long way away from the comfortable walls of the church?

As I apply this Bible “blessing” to my life, I find myself saying, “Yes, I can find God in the hard place of a pysch unit.” First, because the grace of Lord Jesus Christ came for those who need a doctor, not for the healthy. Second, because of the love of God, for people in hard places. Third,because when we’ve got no faith, is the time when others, when the fellowship of God’s spirit, is holding our faith for us.

That’s my sermon. That God is most wanting to bless, in the hard places of our lives.

But how do I get there? How do I get from a pysch unit to this bless you benediction?

Well lets look at the Grace of Lord Jesus Jesus. Jesus introduces himself in Luke 4. He tells us he come not just to die. He’s come to live.
 18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,  to release the oppressed,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

So the grace of the Lord Jesus is never just about the cross. Never only about sins forgiven. The grace of God is always also about the ministry of Jesus. A life focused on poor, on the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed.

So that grace needs to send us into hard places. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any great insights. I do have this awareness of grace. That Jesus lived his life with the broken.

Which means I don’t need to take great words of insight. All I need is go looking for where is the grace of God, seen most clearly in hard places. So that’s how I get to my first conclusion. We find God in the hard places of life, because of the grace, the life of Lord Jesus Christ.

I see that grace at Opawa. Two weeks ago I mentioned in the sermon that our foodbank was empty. In the next 3 days we saw over $2,500 in food and money come in.

I started writing thankyou cards this week, to Opawa people who give their time to youth and children in our community. I realised I need 22 cards, that their are 22 people in this church who voluntarily give their time – to ICONZ, Girls Brigade, Koru, OBY, Shiloh,

That’s the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. My 1st conclusion.

How do I get to my 2nd conclusion, the love of God, for people in hard places? Because this “bless you” is placed in 2 Corinthians 13. Corinthians was written to a city called Corinth. A city with a reputation. Hard-drinking, for being sexually promiscuous.

Paul, who wrote the letter of 2 Corinthians, found that it was easy to get Corinthians to Christians. We read in Acts how he started a church over a 18 month period.

When Paul discovered was that when people say yes to Jesus, they still have past, their habits, their reputations, their relationships.

It was harder to grow disciples, than to attract people to your church. When you read through whole of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, we haven’t got time, you find factions grabbing for power, dodgy lifestyles and a growing disrespect for Paul’s teaching and ministry. People are flirting with other beliefs. They’re enmeshed in their culture’s lifestyle. They’ve become highly critical of Paul’s preaching ministry.

Which makes Paul’s bless you, his final words to the Corinthians even more remarkable.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

Which totally changes how he see’s the church and how the church see’s him. When you see me, you see grace, not ability or commitment or intellect. When I see you, I need to see grace.

No-one in the church is perfect. No-one deserves to be here. No-one has “rights.” No member is more worthy, more committed, more deserving of a vote or a voice.

We’re only hear because of grace and love. So’s the person beside us. So goodness me, we need to be humble and tender with each other.

So that how I get to my second conclusion; because the love of God is being offered not to healthy perfect people, but to a church in a hard place.

Then there was my third conclusion, that when we’ve got no faith, that’s the time for the fellowship of God’s spirit to hold faith for us. That’s what I say when I sit with people in hard places. Who tell me they’re too troubled, to sick, too worried, to pray. I tell them to stop.

Perhaps I’m a bad pastor and need my theology sorted out at this point. But it makes sense to me of Romans 8:26 “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

That’s the fellowship of God’s spirit. That when one part of they body can’t pray, another part of the body, by the power of God’s spirit, is.

So relax. Let yourself be held by the prayers of others. When one part of God’s body is weak, another will always be strong.

At that moment, the strong part of the body has 2 choices: “Shape up. Get your act together. You need to a strong Christian like me.” Or: “Let me hold you. Let my prayers, be your strength”

That’s how I get to my third conclusion, when we’ve got no faith, is the time when the fellowship of God’s spirit, the body of Christ, holds faith for us.

I started with a story. Of me finding myself trapped in a hard place. We’re all human. So we all find ourselves in hard place. Mine was a place, your’s might be a person, or a relationship, or a memory.

As I came to preach, wondering how on this bless you would apply to my hard place. I gave you a summary. And then I tried to show how I got to that summary.

One person called this bless you, this benediction in 2 Corinthians “theologically imposing.” Another called “the most profound theological moment “ in Paul.

Some of us hear the word theology and think of books and Bible College’s. That’s not theology. Theology is faith making sense. How do we find God, make sense of Christian faith, when life is tough and hard.

In this benediction, Paul shows us his faith making sense. Wrestling with life and a church in hard place.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the sick, not the healthy.
May the love of God, toward people struggling to live Christianly
and the fellowship of the Spirit, that holds our faith when we have none.

Posted by steve at 03:06 PM

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