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August 2011

Sermon 8-21-11 "Identity Crisis"

Identity Crisis


Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.


Matthew 16:13-20


13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


Sermon 8-14-11 "Crumbs"



Texts: Matt. 15:10-28

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

The Canaanite Woman’s Faith

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.




From the mountain to the valley

I'm feeling pretty down today. No, this is not a pity party, though if I did throw one, you'd be invited. No, I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm just down. It is, as they say, what it is. I'll get into more of why I'm feeling down in a bit, but if you've been reading this thing, I'm betting you can guess. 

I think part of the down feeling is the stark contrast to how "up" I was feeling only a week and a half ago. I had the great privilege of preaching for Montreat's Middle school conference. It was, in short, incredible. It was very well planned out, very well organized. With 600 middle schoolers involved, there was no shortage of energy. Everything was done well. And yet with all that organization, there was no shortage of Holy Spirit. God was doing something in that place. God was inviting middle schoolers to be on a lifelong journey of love, compassion, justice, service and rest. Yes, we talked to middle schoolers about Sabbath and it went very well! 

Beyond what I perceived to be the success of the conference overall and the opportunity to work with a fantastic team, I can't help but mention another key component for me personally. For about five days straight, I was really affirmed in my work. That's really important to me. I felt like I was an important part of a team. Not the most important part, just one of many. That's a nice feeling. I felt like I was getting feedback beyond "nice sermon". It was heartfelt, it wasn't said to be polite. I felt really good about myself for a couple of days...

... then I came home. Maybe I don't need to say more about what I came home to. Poke around the blog a bit if you need to know. Again, maybe what's getting me is the contrast. Being a part of a high functioning team vs. being in a place where I'm expected to both have and be the answer. Being strongly affirmed vs. being weakly applauded. or not applauded. or blamed for the problems that predate me by decades. Feeling like I'm doing something very meaningful vs. feeling like I'm (to borrow a cliche) rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

I've made myself sick in the last week. Maybe it was bound to happen. I haven't had a real break in a very long time. I'm worried that I'm burning out. I'm worried about being one of those statistics about pastors that flame out in the first five years. I'm worried that I'm not really made for this...

... which is why mountaintop experiences are so important. You need them to re-energize, to keep you going until that time when you can recharge or change venue. You need them because without you need the occasional glimpse of God. 

I've been sitting with the story of the transfiguration a little bit lately. I don't fully understand it or why the Gospel writers thought it should be included. But I love Peter's response to seeing Jesus in all of his glory. "Let's build a structure here to Jesus, Moses and Elijah". In other words, let's stay up here for a while. Let's bask in the coolness of seeing and experiencing awesome things. Let's stay on the mountain. Jesus quickly makes them snap back to reality. We've got work to do at the bottom of this mountain, guys. Some of that work includes crucifixion. We need the mountaintop, but we can't stay there. The mountaintop isn't what we're built for. 

I worry about people who only want the mountaintop experience. I think much of charismatic faith is built around the illusion that nonstop mountaintop is achievable and actually good for you. In those places, people beat themselves up when they don't get the high of the ecstatic experience. That's not healthy. God is on the mountain, but God is in the valley as well. Harder to find? Sure, but still just as present as on the mountaintop. 

So I'm down... but at least I'm not down here alone.