Our congregation is going through a time of great suffering right now. We need to remember that those who die with Christ will also rise with Christ, and that goes for congregations as well as individuals. As a church we are in the pain of dying and longing for the joy of rising.
Ephesians 3:14-21 is a pastor’s prayer for a church that needs help to take heart again. It is in the Revised Common Lectionary for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. Here is what I said to my flock from this text.
More Than We Can Imagine
A Sermon on Isaiah 43:16-21 and Ephesians 3:14-21
This time in prison could well be “it” for Paul. He knew it. The church knew it, too. It was only a matter of time before they’d be hearing sorrowful news.
Paul was concerned that his suffering and death might tempt the church to lose heart. The early church was in a vulnerable time. The apostles, the church’s towers of strength, were falling one by one. All of them experienced arrest and imprisonment, and all of them except John son of Zebedee were executed. The church was wrestling with the pain of rejection, and sometimes outright persecution. Could the church survive so much struggle and so many deaths? Paul very much wanted to help the church take heart.
Many of our families and the Morton Church family have been dealt a series of very painful blows. Towers of strength have fallen to illness and death or been taken away by other circumstances. They are all greatly missed. Some of us are coping with injury and illness ourselves. We can’t do all the things we used to do. We just can’t.
Like any family, faith families grieve, and recovery takes time. Our situation made me remember how another pastor described what happened in one of the churches he served. In his book Small Church Evangelism, Jim Cushman writes, “The memory of my third year at the Beverly Presbyterian Church in Beverly, West Virginia, remains fresh in my mind, although it occurred a decade ago. [Thirty plus years ago now, in 2012.] That fall was one of the most difficult periods I have endured as a pastor. The church had just begun to add some new members when disaster struck. In a period of three months several key members of the church and community died. As we approached the Advent season, usually the high point of the church year, the congregation seemed ready to dissolve. Worship attendance had fallen off drastically. Church members showed little willingness to attempt anything.
“As pastor,” he continues, “I was mentally drained and had fallen into a seemingly terminal depression. I was exhausted…
“What I had failed to grasp at the time was that we were in the midst of a deep grief cycle over the loss of some important and trusted members of the church. The grief basically immobilized the congregation…If any prospective members had ventured into the church during that period, they would have quickly turned away…” (Cushman, p. 16).
Our situation at Morton isn’t exactly like the situation at the Beverly Church, but I think it’s similar. We are grieving because of our many losses and because of all the hurt we see around us, and our tears keep coming. (more…)
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