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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Talk on Sacraments to Happening Youth Retreat

this is a talk I was privileged to share with a group of high school retreatants on Saturday afternoon. Much of it is similar to what I have spoken about at Sunday Schools recently, perhaps it was unconsciously making itself present even then....

What is a sacrament
The general definition is a visible, outward sign of an invisible, spiritual grace.
So what does that mean?
One day I was headed to lunch. I came to a four way stop and sat there as the cross traffic passed. It was my turn so I started forward when to my surprise a second car followed the first. Then I took my foot off the break and a third car did the same. As the driver looked at me I pointed to the car in front of him and indicated that he was supposed to let me go. His facial expression and the international sign (middle finger) of disdain left me shaken. That was a sacrament. It was a physical sign and it conveyed a spiritual inner reality (though not terribly gracious).
Our world is material and spiritual. There are realities you can see and there are realities which one cannot see. My confusion and his anger were conveyed through physical gestures. Have you ever been angry? Or confused? Can you show me some anger or confusion, or joy or peace, or love or mercy? In this world, no. We can never put a slice of love on a table. We can, however, express love. Love, a spiritual reality, is an invisible reality, which a hug, a kiss, a kind word, a helpful hand, etc. convey. We don’t see love, we see the thing or the action. But in and through those material people, things and events we experience love. Right? Isn’t that how the world works?

God is not material. Material gods are idols. They are false. The real God is bigger than we can ever imagine. He is also not made out of stuff. We can never see Him as He is. Many atheists and agnostics haven’t figured it out though. They believe that they have ideas even when no one has ever seen an actual idea (because ideas are invisible). But they doubt the invisible God exists when they can’t see Him! It is easy to doubt God exists. I have done it many times. But that doubt is, in the end, because I cannot see or touch Someone who is not made of concrete matter. I have never doubted that I have feelings or thoughts, or any number of other invisible things. Apparently, I am inconsistent.
God is invisible, however, He is able to connect with us in and through the material world. The most important sacrament of God is His Word. Jesus Christ is that Word, and He became flesh and blood. We can see God in and through Jesus. It is a sacramental presence. It is the best we can hope to attain in this world. If God is present in Jesus, then He is also present in the church--in and through human beings. This is what “humans are made in the image and likeness of God means.” We are concrete, but He lives in us. So the second most important sacrament is The Church. God is present in us. If you want to see God look at the church. See people and understand, He is coming to you through them.
Here is the problem. People, you and I, are reluctant to let God in us. We are partial sacraments, free to mess up. So God is trying to love and bless, heal and save the world---in and through us--- and we are doing our best to make sure people can’t experience God in us! The church is an imperfect sacrament because people sin. So the limitations of the material world mean God is sometimes hidden away, locked up. WE are potentially His presence in the world, but we can prevent it.
The church also has events which are called the sacraments. Baptism is a bath. It is (re)birth waters, it is cleaning of sin, it is a sign of passing through the exodus waters from death to life. Baptism means you are dead and belong to Jesus. It means you live a new life in Him. Confirmation seals that deal. You are anointed as prophet, priest and royalty. Now those things are true, but the spiritual source of that--the Trinity living in you--comes without any special magic. So most of us, shoot, all of us, who have been baptized and confirmed don’t allow the reality to change us. We act, much of the time, like we are still dead in sin. We are authorized by God in these sacraments to have power in Jesus Name. It’s like we got the driver’s license and the car but we let it sit in the driveway while we walk everywhere….
Jesus spent most of His ministry reconciling sinners to God and setting them free from spiritual demons and physical illness. Healing and exorcising are gifts given to the church. We have power and authority to do amazing things in Jesus Name. Do we do it? The sacraments of Reconciliation and Healing are gifts to us. Most people never, ever, ever confess their sins to the priest. We toss that gift away. We carry the guilt of sin deep inside and say “God forgives” without availing ourselves to the way He is physically available to us. Countless times people who have done terrible things have come to me and confessed. Some confess a sin from ten, twenty, thirty years ago. They weep. They experience eyes contact and a human voice and human hands. There is power in forgiveness.
And we only get anointed if the doctor can’t get us better. I have been very involved with this ministry. I have seen amazing things. Someone had cancer and it disappeared. Someone needed surgery for gall stones and it was cancelled when they disappeared. A lady came and prayed for her son’s alcohol problem. We anointed her and she went home to call him. “Son,” she began, “you need to stop drinking…” but he cut her off. “I know momma,” he said, “I heard Jesus say that half an hour ago. I will never drink again!” These are all true stories. I know the people personally. Healing is not always so dramatic, but it is real.
And we imagine demons are nothing to worry about. Demons are like termites, by the time you figure out that they are around the damage is done. A man in a coma sat up in bed as two Christians prayed prayers of healing and bound up satan. A man whose brain was in a coma, sat up and with a different voice said to the couple, “Oh so you want to play hardball!” They were scared to death but continued praying and soon after they heard the sound of a basketball hitting a window. The next day the man with no hope for life was awake and talking. He had used pornography regularly and his physical illness was connected to a spiritual force. All these stories are just like Jesus’ ministry in the Bible. Jesus is real. Healing, forgiveness and even exorcism is real.
Every time you forgive someone, pray for their health and spiritual freedom in Jesus, you are also living out the sacramental life of the church.
Eucharist, the meal with Jesus, the food is Jesus. This is my body. This is my blood. He is present as a gift. We don’t believe it enough. WE skip church or go through the motions. We say it’s boring. What if we took it seriously? What if eucharist was a deep act of self gift to God and openness to receive Him back? Wake up and understand. The eucharist bonds us to the body of Christ, it is also a pledge that we are involved in His ministry. You eat and drink, you commit!
Orders (deacon, priest and bishop) are leaders set aside for the church. God works in and through these human persons to perform the various ministries. Like lay people, they are called to be the Body of Christ in the world.  Marriage is the first sacrament in history--Adam and Eve. The love is a sign of Christ’s love for the church. The children produced in marriage are a fulfillment of the first commandment God ever gave us: BE fruitful and multiply.
There is so much more to say, but I have already gone over my time.
God is invisible. However, He acts and communicates in and through the visible world. Faith gives us the ability to encounter God in sacraments. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be sacraments and do sacramental ministry. DO NOT WASTE THE GIFT!

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