COLLECT: (borrowed from Rick Warren)
“Most Holy Father, We remember right now the gift you have given us in the love of Jesus. Thank you for the miracles you’ve worked in our lives, and down through the ages. Lord God, help us to remember your grace and to be gracious. We remember your generosity to us. We ask you for the strength to be generous toward others. We trust that you will be with us, and we trust that you will finish the good work you have started within us. In the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”
Acts 5: 12, 14-16
Mark 16: 9-17, 18b - 19
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Oh Lord our God, the Three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Okay. I’m not sure all of you noticed, so I’ll point it out: Today is the very first time I’ve ever gone “off Lectionary”. That means that our Collect and Scriptures were of my choosing: they are not the scriptures chosen by the people who compiled the Revised Common Lectionary, or even the Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. I chose them myself. The Collect is simply a prayer I came across last week, and thought appropriate for what I was called to say today.
It is not against the “rules” to very occasionally stray from the scriptures assigned each week. It is even okay to go “off Lectionary” for a series of sermons on a certain topic. Many other denominations don’t tell their preachers what scriptures to preach upon at all, but let them choose themselves what they are led to in prayer. The reason we even have a Lectionary is to keep us honest, so we don’t consistently ignore the hard things to preach on.
The reason I have chosen to go “off Lectionary” is to talk to you about what has been happening to me in my prayer time over the last year, and where I believe God is calling me. Now don’t panic, I’m not leaving St. Paul’s. I truly believe that God is calling all of us to a new attitude and relationship with Him. So, here’s what I need and want to say.
Beginning last year, or even perhaps before that, I felt a pull to investigate what is called “Healing Ministry”. I’ve been reading books, and praying a lot about what this might mean for me, and for us. Week before last, I went to San Antonio for a conference of the Order of St. Luke, the Physician, an ecumenical, but strongly Episcopalian and Anglican Order that focuses on Prayers for Healing: physical, mental and spiritual healing for God’s people.
I found a widely diverse group of people, all of whom are either searching for healing, or being conduits for God’s love to actually heal people. Miracles happened there. The books I’ve read speak over and over again of God’s healing Grace, of miraculous things occurring in the world today, just as they did in the times of the New Testament.
There was a time a few months ago when I felt conflicted. I knew I was being called to respond to God by beginning some form of healing ministry, but I didn’t have any idea how that could happen. I even thought that it wasn’t possible to do it here at St. Paul’s, and that I would have to leave and begin again in a new way. But I was shown that this is the perfect place for God’s love to flow and for healing to happen, if at least some of us are willing to open our hearts and lives to God’s grace.
Here’s what I’ve learned at the OSL conference, and the Forming Disciples Conference at St. David’s yesterday. First and foremost, at the end of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verse 2, when Jesus told the disciples to “Preach the kingdom and heal everyone”, he meant it not only for the 11 disciples who were with him on that day of his ascension, but also for all the disciples who would choose to follow him down through the ages. He meant that statement for us: we are not only to bring others to Christ, but also to heal everyone through the power of God.
So we pray prayers for our friends and family members, and nothing seems to happen…why is that? I have been told, and I believe, that something happens whenever we pray. We say we are Christian, but powerful miracles don’t seem to show up in our lives. What does that mean? Is it possible that we haven’t understood what the plan is for our lives? Might there be another way Jesus is calling us to live our daily experience? Here is what I have heard: There are a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians, who say they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, yet WE, and yes I’m including myself as well as most of us in this room, we don’t really believe it. We admire Jesus and what he did as he roamed the Israeli countryside two thousand years ago, but rather than being followers of him, truly living his words and believing what he taught, we do little more than come to worship and then somehow put him on a back shelf in our minds during the rest of the week. We come to worship, yet we don’t really follow him with all our hearts. We put our trust and our feelings of worth in other things like our jobs, or families, or what we can accomplish on our own. We have no true concept of how glorious our lives really could be if we would determine to completely turn our lives over to him. If we truly became his followers, rather than admirers, putting Jesus first in our lives, amazing miracles would flow from this place. We would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and empowered to do God’s work right here in Pflugerville.
And here’s the deal with God, and it’s very important: God wants us to completely give ourselves to him. She wants us to love her first and foremost and trust her to show us the way to live. (Since God has no gender, we can use both to describe God.) The reasons we tend not to trust God are fear and pride. We must take our pride of doing it all ourselves, of being in control of our lives, and our fear of turning over our lives completely to God’s care, and give that very pride and fear away to God. Until we can do that, we will be continue to be caught in ego and mistrust, and we will not be completely open to letting God’s love in.
It begins with the things expected of every Christian: that we will pray daily, that we will come to church faithfully, on Sundays and other times more often than not, not just when it’s convenient. That we will put learning about God in a place of honor in our lives, being in some sort of Bible study or spiritual discipline, for developing a relationship with God is a lifelong process. We will participate in the work of the church for those less fortunate, and pledge a portion of our income for the maintenance of the church – if not a full tithe at present, that each one of us will consciously work on raising that pledge over time to a full tithe. And perhaps, more important than anything: that we will forgive: forgive ourselves, and forgive all others who have caused us pain throughout our lives. Have you been assaulted? Ridiculed or beaten as a child or molested as an adult? Forgive those persons, let our anger go. Abandoned and unloved as a child? Forgive your parents. Whatever is holding us back from experiencing the complete and full love of God must be let go and given to God.
Have you ever wondered why I am up here? Has it ever occurred to you to question why I am a priest? I mean, seriously, why would anyone want to do this, especially someone who wasn’t getting paid a single penny, to spend hours and hours each week for St. Paul’s Church? I’ll tell you. I once experienced the overwhelming joy that can come from giving myself away to God, and putting God first in my life. Flawed as I am, God showed me the immensity of His love, and I absolutely have to share it with others, as the joy present in that time is to precious not to share it. That is the main reason I’m here, to convince you that it’s worth the decision and the follow through.
I’m asking you to join me on a new adventure. I’m not sure what form it will take, or how we as St. Paul’s will do it. I do know it’s not the easiest work in the world, but it is the most rewarding thing we will ever experience. It all has to do with what our real priorities are! Are we willing and ready to really put God first in our lives? Do we want to be transformed into the body of Christ? Would you like to be a part of the healing of the world through Christ Jesus, in this day and time? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind and heart that miracles can happen here at St. Paul’s. I’m putting God (and myself and all of you) on the line here, and I’m asking you, each one of you: Are you ready to make Jesus your only lifeline? If there are even a few who are willing, I’d like you to stay seated here for a few minutes after the service, so that we can pray and plan the beginning of our trans-formation.
Please pray with me:
Oh Glorious and Gracious God: we come before you this day, bringing our broken hearts and broken lives, telling you that we want to make a new beginning: A new covenant with you that you are first in our lives. That we commit our lives to growing in your love, learning more about you and truly becoming your heart and hands and eyes into the world. We want nothing more than to be your healing hands in this place. Guide us and keep us, and show us Your ways, that we may carry your Love to the world. In the names we are taught, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.