This morning the communication between the ibook and the printer didnt work. I preached my sermon from memory. I was all thrown off from the confusion. Anyway here is the sermon I wrote for this morning:
Within the Bounds of Worship
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 6:1-6; Psalm 4; Mark 5:24b-34
text: “…Be gracious to me and hear my prayer”(Psalm 4:1)
Our worship on Sundays offers us the once-a-week opportunity to place our hearts on the altar, to put our faith on the line, to plead for God’s mercy, to let God have it, and to get down to the business of authentic religious living. We aint got time to waste; there is no room here for empty promises, meaningless platitudes and dusty words. We are here to connect with God, with each other and our true selves.
Everything about our time together should be completely different than anything we do throughout the week. We mark this time differently, it isn’t just February 19, 2006 it is the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; it isn’t just a Sunday, it is the Lord’s Day. By demarcating this day and time we hope that together we will get a foretaste of the glory divine, we hope that we will catch a glimpse of kingdom living that will challenge and inspire us, we hope that our hearts will be changed and mended.
To accomplish this we have to change our attitude, surroundings and expectations. That is why we have an order of service. This order can be rearranged and changed in whatever order, but we have to have a beginning, an invocation, and an ending, a benediction. What happens within those bounds the local worshipping community determines due to local customs and tastes. The order is present to guide and direct us to a real and authentic religious experience. What happens within the bounds of worship should cover the complete spectrum of human emotion; we should laugh and cry, praise and lament, forgive and be forgiven, sing and be silent, bless and curse. Worship is not a preconceived, preplanned, or tame event; it is an open, wild and unpredictable spirit-filled experience.
Our primary objective when we gather is to hear, sing, and pray the good news of God in Jesus Christ. We all long to do this or we wouldn’t be here, yet we have such barriers and obstacles to cross before we experience the good news. Christians have labeled the barriers and obstacles as sin, which causes our vision of God who delivers, proclaims and is good news, to be greatly distorted. The bushes may all be burning around us, the smoke from them may fill the air but we are held back. God breaks through the distortion and numbness on occasion to get our attention.
One day while watching sheep in the field God called to Moses from the bush, but Moses failed to perceive exactly what was going on. All God asked Moses to do was to take off his shoes to mark his experience as holy and different. Look at Moses’ response he doesn’t shout for joy that God has spoken to him; instead he hides his face for he was afraid to look. But God never asked Moses to hide his face, God only asked him to honor the experience by taking off his shoes. As soon as Moses hides his face God doesn’t say “Aha finally a human being who gets it.” God said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt.” God has a message of good news; God has a message of liberation to share. God aint got time for Moses to wallow in self-pity; God’s got some good news to release. In worship we are here to be reminded that God is communicating, stretching out to us to redeem us not condemn us. God still has plenty of good news to share; we are still in need of good news. We cannot afford to let sin define who we are. We are sinners yes, but we are so much more than that, we are redeemed – we have been bought with a price on Calvary.
Sin, however, keeps us from truly living like folk who have some good news to share. So once a week we gather and confess our sins. By praying our confession of sins we are coming to terms with our own sin as we willingly and unwillingly sin. No one, I repeat no one, want to think and label himself or herself as a sinner, but we can’t ignore that we sin. I am not here to call you out as a sinner or name your sins for you. We all know that we sin and we all know that our sinful actions we commit cause us to feel suffocated, alienated and estranged from God, our neighbors and ourselves.
As we take the time to confess in prayer both outwardly and inwardly we are not hiding our face from God but are being honest and open in preparation to receive and deliver good news. We cant have sin holding this mission back; there is no room here to lie, kid ourselves or keep secrets, all of which are pathological and destroy all relationships. By praying and confessing we are naming our sins and releasing sin’s power over us. By praying and confessing we are going dealing directly with God who can and does do something about our sin.
Taylor Branch in Parting the Waters: America during the King Years 1954-1963 describes a scene in the life of the young pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after eight weeks of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After a negotiating meeting with the town council Dr. King left feeling that all was lost, that the eight weeks were null and void. The whites in Montgomery could and would not budge an inch on the issue and he questioned his own leadership. “King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he said as much out loud. He spoke no name of deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, ‘I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an ‘inner voice’ telling him to do what he thought was right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bringing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything.”
A prayer of confession pushes to the point where we admit and confess that we can’t do it alone. King’s experience is a possibility for all of us if we will take the religious courage to openly confess and seek God’s marvelous grace.
When we reach the point that we cant change ourselves all by ourselves, when we come to terms with our own sin. When we start calling our waywardness, wrongful actions and reliance on the tricks up our sleeves as sin we have intiated the great change towards new life. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest in Georgia, in her book Speaking of Sin says that when we engage in this process,” We have admitted that something is wrong…that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, that we cant live with this suffocating ache one moment longer, that we are as ready as we will ever be for a whole new self.”
This new self is what the Bible is all about; it is what Christianity is all about. Contrary to what folk say we were not created to be miserable. We were created to be in full communion with God, to be bearers and recipients of good news.
Not every person in the Bible that was ill was healed. Not every person that came to Jesus was healed. There simply wasn’t enough time for Jesus to touch and heal everyone. One person understood this more than any other person: an unnamed woman who had bled for twelve years. She knew that if she could only touch the hem of Jesus’ garment enough love would emanate from it to heal her. And she was right. Jesus instantly could sense that someone had touched him. When the unnamed woman came forward he simply said, “Daughter your faith has made you well, go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” The healing of the unnamed woman is what we are all seeking here in worship and in the Christian walk. We want our deep wounds healed, our sense of meaninglessness taken away and our loneliness replaced with the presence of a loving Savior. Brothers and Sisters these and much more do happen – everyday!
Burning bushes, the small inner voice of God, and healings of diseases can and do happen each day. We gather on Sundays in worship to remind ourselves, to re-create ourselves, and hone our souls to discern this kingdom reality in our everyday lives.