Monday, July 27, 2009


Psalm 145: 10-18; Ephesians 3: 14-21
******** United Church of Christ
July 26, 2009

How many of you have ever been to Silver Lake Conference Center? One of the things I love about it is that for a week you can enjoy a unique faith community, with its own little idiosyncrasies and church culture peculiar only to that week. Two weeks ago my youngest daughter Olivia and I attended the “Mom and Me” conference at Silver Lake. During the same week, my oldest daughter participated in the “Sing Praise” conference. Each summer at Silver Lake there is theme that frames, infuses and supports everything—worship, morning devotions, staff shows, even conferences. This summer the theme is ‘breakthrough’.

The Sing Praise crew took this theme to heart, using it in skit exercises to get their creative juices flowing. In one skit, the 8th grade boys demonstrated their breakthrough of realizing that they and their room stank.

One of the fun things about camp is the meals in the social hall. We sing grace, we learn fun songs, we shout cheers, clap hands, stomp our feet, and we do some crowing about the conference we’re involved in. During the week, each conference comes up with a call-out to identify themselves with:
“Mom and Me” used the call-out “Mommmmyyy!”
“Reach for the Sky”was “Woooooo!”
“Footprints” called out “Footprints (stomp!), Footprints (stomp!), Footprints (stomp!), knee slap, knee slap, clap, WHAT (right arm and index finger pointing up)!”

But as usual, the Sing Praise crew took to the theme like water in the lake. If you called out, “Hey Sing Praise!”, this is what would happen next: 50 people, teenagers and their deans and counselors, raising their arms over their heads in an arc, making a circle with their hands, yelling out proudly in unison “Grapefruit!”

You see, the Sing Praise folks had had a breakthrough. While listening to the deans and counselors talk about the concept of ‘breakthrough’, the kids heard the word ‘grapefruit’ instead and wondered what was the big deal about grapefruit that it had to be the summer theme for Silver Lake. When they realized what the big deal was, they had an epiphany, a breakthrough: in order for God to break through, we need to be listening, looking, and paying attention, with lots of imagination.

Are you listening? Can you hear that still, small voice?
God is breaking through to us (God is breaking through to us).
Open your heart and let God in.
Are you ready for the breakthrough? Can you hear God calling you?
God’s calling you.

‘Cause you can’t see if you’re not looking.
You can’t hear if you’re not listening.
You can’t find if you’re seeking.
Just open your heart…let God grow.

In our reading from Ephesians, a circular letter that was distributed widely among the churches in Asia Minor, Paul was praying for his readers not only in Ephesus but wherever they were gathered, that they would have a breakthrough in their experience of faith.

The situation from which Paul was writing was rather shaky, you see. He was in prison in Rome and not likely to be released. He was writing mainly to gentile Christians, those who came to the faith not through Jewish tradition but as new converts from Roman, Greek or other faith traditions of the time. These new believers followed the teachings of Jesus who was considered weak in the eyes of the world, having been publicly and wrongly condemned, and then executed on a cross. Throughout the Roman Empire, persecution of Christians was rife. Everything that mattered seemed broken apart.

In his introduction to the letter to Ephesians in his paraphrase The Message, Eugene Peterson writes:
“What we know about God and what we do for God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives. The moment the organic unity of belief and behavior is damaged in any way [as when a pastor of fourteen years leaves and moves on to another congregation], we are incapable of living out the full humanity for which we were created. …Once our attention is called to it, we notice [this brokenness], these fractures all over the place.”[1]

A few of you have mentioned to me that you feel you are not being spiritually fed at church right now. I don’t doubt it. I think what some of you may be sensing is this feeling of brokenness, of things falling apart, and yes, they are, in a way. One of the patterns of behavior this church needs to let go of is depending on one person, whether it be the pastor or any another leader, to be the locus of control, direction, decision, communication, and spiritual nourishment. No one particular person is filling that role right now, so it feels like things may be spinning out of control, that there is no center from which to gain that spiritual fuel needed for living. And when one aspect of our lives feels like it is breaking apart, we start to notice other fractures in our lives and in the world around us.

As for spiritual food, or a center for us to go to, it’s right here in our very hands. One of the very real gifts of the Reformation was that the scriptures were translated into the vernacular, into everyday speech, and the folks in the pews were allowed to not only read the words there but to interpret them for their own lives. Let’s look and see what Paul’s response is the brokenness that he experienced.

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.”

First, he gets on his knees before God. Now for some of us, that particular prayer posture might be the equivalent of a Herculean effort. But it’s the attitude of being on one’s knees that counts. It’s the first, second, and third of the twelve steps. When we kneel before God we are penitent, humble and ready to listen and receive God’s direction. Here’s the direction:

“I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”

Paul then prays that these believers will open themselves to Christ, to the expansive magnitude of his love. The irony is, however, that when we are experiencing brokenness, God has the perfect inward path to us! All those fractures we notice are also the very source of God breaking through to us.

Often we move through this world as though there is a boundary between us and the holy, between the everyday life we live and the divine, between life and death. What if those fractures, those cracks in the world that we’ve so carefully constructed are God breaking in, dispelling our illusion that God is somehow apart from us?

Paul invites his readers to test the boundaries, the depths, the height of God’s love, to find that there are none. In Acts 17: 28 we read that “[In] him we live and move and have our being.” In our psalm for today we read “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down”, that God satisfies the desires of every living thing. Paul then finishes his prayer with a glorious benediction:

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

Breakthrough at Brighton Beach Pier

God is always ready to break through within us, with unimaginable love, compassion, and forgiveness. God is shaping us for the kingdom, that kingdom of light and freedom, of peace and justice, of wholeness and wonder for all of God’s creation. Each breakthrough is a step toward that kingdom. The breakthroughs come in big and small spaces, in little cracks and huge gaping holes. And they take time. But with God, it’s time well spent.

Are you willing, to trust God’s plan for you?
The journey’s worth the time it takes (the journey’s worth the time it takes).
Each moment matters, embrace your life.
Are ready for the breakthrough? Can you hear God calling you?
God’s calling you.

‘Cause you can’t see if you not looking.
You can’t hear if you’re not listening.
You can’t find if you’re not seeking.
Just open your heart…let God grow


[1] Peterson, Eugene. The Message (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), pg. 2125.
[2] Ibid., Ephesians 3: 14-15, pg. 2129.
[3] Ibid., Ephesians 3: 16-19, pg. 2129.
[4] Ibid., Ephesians 3: 20-21, pg. 2129.
[5] “Are You Listening?” Original song written by the Sing Praise conference, Silver Lake Conference Center, Sharon, CT, July 2009.

1 comment:

Andy said...

"GRAPEFRUIT!" right back at ya!