Monday, April 23, 2012

Ember Monday

Yesterday morning I sensed that God wanted me to give a different message at church than I had prepared. I had planned on giving an old message called Agape, from 1 John 4. It's a very important message, one that I'll probably preach this coming weekend. But God had something else in mind for last night's church service.

In the hours leading up to the service, I sensed that the Spirit was going to show up. I had no idea what that would look like, of course, but I just had the feeling that God was going to move in some way. In my mind I was thinking, "I sure hope so, God, because I have only a vague idea of what I'm going to say!" So in our prayer time before the service started, I asked the team to pray over me--that's something I haven't done yet at Ember.

The service started and Emmy belted two powerful songs, You'll Come and Closer, neither of which I had ever heard before. It was a powerful way to start the service. I especially appreciated the simple words of Closer:
Beautiful are the words spoken to me
Beautiful is the one who is speaking

Come in close, come in close and speak
Come in close, come closer to me

The power of your words
Are filled with grace and mercy
Let them fall on my ears and break my stony heart
That's the whole song, but I felt the words were right on target with what my heart, at least, was yearning for.

When I got up to pray before the sermon, the tears came. It took me completely off guard. I hadn't even started preaching yet, but I was already crying. I haven't cried in a long time, and certainly not while preaching since I don't even know when. But I wasn't crying because I was sad, or downtrodden, or empty. I cried because I was full. I cried because, after running on empty for months, God had filled up my soul.

The sermon was about the second beatitude, Matthew 5:4, which reads like this: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I basically talked about what I had learned from Dave Johnson, pastor of The Church of the Open Door, while at the ARC National Conference last week. The basic point of the sermon was that mourning means letting out what's on the inside, and that God's kingdom is where the people who have the courage to do that are comforted, not condemned.

I preached without notes for the first time at Ember. I didn't know exactly what God wanted me to say, I just knew that this is what he wants for our community: that we would be a place where those who mourn are blessed because they are comforted. After the sermon, which you can listen to in the sermon player, I invited everyone to take whatever posture they felt appropriate for our responsive worship set. As I sat in the back, running the slides, I didn't see anybody standing. I thought to myself, "The sermon fell flat, but that's okay. God wants us to be this kind of church, so I'll keep preaching this message." But when I stood up I saw something unexpected. I saw people laying across the chairs, heads buried in their hands. I saw people kneeling. I saw people weeping.

I don't know exactly what happened. I don't know what was going on in each person's heart. But I believe that the Holy Spirit showed up, and I believe that he spoke to us. Beautiful are the words spoken to me. Beautiful is the one who is speaking. Come in close.

It was a rich and tender time together in the presence of Jesus. I hope that we have more times like that. We gather together every Sunday night at 5pm at 401 E. Schrock Rd. All are welcome. Always.

1 comment:

Andrea B said...

If you hadn't told us otherwise, I'd have sworn you had notes for the whole sermon. (Thank you, Holy Spirit!)

More than anything else, I appreciated your vulnerability and authenticity. I think your tears enabled us to lower our guard with you. They gave us permission - and perhaps the ability, too - to also be vulnerable and authentic in that moment, despite whatever fears wanted to keep us locked up emotionally.

I know the feeling of being stuck in the wilderness, of questioning the direction or meaning of your ministry. To use your words, it sucks. It comforted me to know someone else has been through (is going through) the same thing I am.

Thanks for being real with us on Sunday night. It was truly unique, when the service ended, to see everyone still sitting - not jumping up to do the next thing but resting in that Spirit-filled atmosphere and loving and comforting each other. Awesome.