Sunday, 24 June 2012

What is faith?

Pentecost 4 year B Sermon  Based on Matthew 17:14-21;  1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Title slide
Faith that can move mountains. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have that degree of faith…is it humanly possible to have faith that strong…was Jesus trying to encourage his friends or make us feel bad because our faith is so puny?

And what is faith anyway?

Probably if we’re going to talk about our faith at all
if we’re ever going to encourage others to have faith…
we ought to know what it is…don’t you think? But I find most Christians get quite tongue tied…if they’re asked this
by a non-Christian friend.

Hanging around café’s in Wanaka…this curly question
can come in many forms…

Is faith something you have…or is it something you do?
How do I get it…how do I do it …
What difference does it make? What’s the pay-off?
Are belief and faith different? Does it matter?
And do you really take that stuff seriously
about moving mountains?

Let’s say you’re sitting in a café somewhere in Wanaka with a friend…they’re comfortable with the fact you’re a Christian …you’ve known them a long time…long enough to trust you …not to laugh at their spiritual questions…or reject them

They ask you ‘What is faith?’
How would you answer? What would you say?

Talk to your neighbour…  [wait]
Anybody want to give it a go? 
In a spiritually thirsty community like ours
these conversations aren’t rare…certainly in my job.
Recently the question came up when I was talking to my YAK group at Kai Whakapai…YAK means Youth at Kai…
we were talking about baptism and confirmation…
about making a public confession of faith.

The question took this form… ‘but Diane how do you know when you’re ready? What if you have doubts sometimes? Or when you’re praying and you can’t tell if God is really there …or listening?’

It suddenly occurred to me that… no one had ever told these girls…what I discovered quite by accident in my early twenties at university faced with the strong assertions that if you can’t see it or measure it… it doesn’t exist…I discovered that for an adult…
the Christian faith isn’t

Mountain slide
a feeling you have about a set of ideas
but a decision you make…a decision to trust
that God revealed Gods very self… in Jesus Christ.

Of course you can have lots of wonderful feelings about God
but feelings are fickle things…they go up and down
you can have a bad day with feelings…a day of doubt and fear… or frustration and impatience… anger and disappointment…

Were we to rely entirely…on having warm fuzzy feelings
about God all the time…our relationship with God would fall apart the first time something happened that doesn’t fit with what we want God to do or when we can’t sense the presence of God

It’s like marriage in a way…probably we’d never stay married… if we thought we had to feel romantic all the time…for the rest of our lives…but we decide to love…

Both love and faith are about making a decision really…
when you’re in something for the long haul…
neither love nor faith are going to provide nice feelings
by which you’re overwhelmed all the time.

Certainly not the kind of love and faith
Jesus  was living out… and dying for.

And in the Christian community…we regard faith as a
mature decision don’t we…because when you’re a child
you just trust what your parents and teachers tell you is true
You don’t make a decision about it. But when you grow up and you’re confronted with many versions of what the truth looks like … you have to decide… which version to trust.

But let’s see what a decision to trust…
what faith….actually looks like in practise

 Imagine you’re standing on the bank of a lovely clean…warm slow moving river…with a sandy bottom…you can see there are no rocks or slimy moss logs 
or taniwhas…lurking below the surface…

you decide to step into the water…it feels good on your feet
…you imagine how good it would feel to get in a little deeper …so you keep walking slowly…one step at a time…
toward the middle…gradually going deeper and deeper
on the firm but soft sand…

you like the feeling of the river flowing gently around you …you walk slowly in up to your knees…then to your waist …you decide to go still further out…so now you’re in up to your chest and then the tops of your shoulders…
you could almost float

but to go any deeper…to actually float…
you have to do what?


To actually float… to allow the river to carry your weight…
you have to make a decision…to take your feet off the bottom

And trust…

For your friend in the café…
it may take many small steps over many years…
to decide to turn their will and their life completely over to the God revealed in Jesus Christ…each step a decision to trust.

Like deciding to trust… there actually is a God…
but which God…what are the options…is there one God
or are there lots of gods…where do I find out…
whose view of God do I chose…and you say

well while your reading the Kuran and the sacred texts of Buddhism…why don’t you check out Jesus’ understanding of God…expressed in the Gospels?

And if they find Jesus understanding of God and what it means to serve God attractive… they could decide to become a Jesus’ follower…decide to view God the way Jesus did…
to view people the way Jesus did…to trust God
the way Jesus did…even on the Cross.

And while you’re discussing this your friend throws you another curly one…your friend says…but I thought you said Jesus was God…

And thank goodness you’re prepared for that one too
yeah that’s absolutely what we believe…that God was in Jesus revealing God’s very self…somehow… mysteriously…in the life and teaching of a human being…how is a mystery…
can you cope with a little mystery

Can you decide to trust…to step out in faith…
without every question answered…

Can you decide to trust…that just as God revealed
his will and his purposes of in Jesus
God is working out his purposes of love… today…
here at the ends of the earth…and in a world that seems
beyond redemption and out of control…with violence and greed and injustice

Can you decide to look for signs of hope… that signal
God working in your life and in the world…
Can you decide to get in on what God is doing…[pause]

And so these conversations go…but it does help to have thought it through…and maybe practised a little…
don’t you think?

Now back to that mountain we were trying to move…

Before the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit… Jesus closest friends were frustrated and discouraged
because they thought faith was some magic power Jesus had which they wanted to get

they wanted to know why they couldn’t drive out demons like Jesus did…but I think Jesus wanted them to understand faith very differently…I think Jesus wanted them to get that faith is about doing what you can and trusting God to work in God’s time and in God’s way…

not about working alone as some kind of magician
So what could Jesus really mean… when he talks about faith that can move mountains? When he says

if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

What is Jesus talking about? He certainly didn’t try it out
on the nearest mountain to prove his point

On a Christian blog recently I came across an old Chinese proverb that goes, "You can move a mountain one stone at a time." It reminded the blogger how Jesus tells his disciples about faith… enough to move mountains

She remembered the many times she turned her back on a challenging situation because she didn’t think she could make a difference?

But what this woman had forgotten all along…is that
when we take a step of faith… we are not alone…
we are stepping into the stream…of God’s love and power… [pause]

God understands the physics of the universe
God created the universe…

Jesus wasn’t ridiculing our puny faith because he never meant for us to tackle the entire mountain at once and all alone. Instead he urges us to take one step of faith at a time…one little mustard seed at a time…to move the stones we can…

step of faith at a time…one day at a time…sometimes one minute at a time…trusting that God is working with us… flowing with us…toward the future God has promised. Where all creation is reconciled to God.

And once you make a step of faith…
whether the mountains you’re trying to move
are personal or universal

whether its illness your tackling or global hunger…
Whether it’s bullying in the school ground …
or working for peace in the Middle East…

Every decision… every action… you take in faith…
to work in harmony with God’s purposes of love…
every step…every stone every shovel full…
will make the mountain smaller…

Monday, 18 June 2012

Strength and Weakness

Title slide
For the past few weeks…in a five part preaching series
called ‘Who are we?’…

List slide
We’ve seen how the story of our own lives can distort our understanding of God’s story…
and get in the road
of embracing the unconditional love of God… revealed in Jesus

we saw how a misleading view of love could lead us
into emotional bondage…and asked ourselves…
whether we lived out of  gratitude for God’s love
or emotional bondage to get love from less gracious sources.  

and we learned how conditional love from childhood
can not only cripple us spiritually…but wreak havoc with our bodies and our minds. And how keeping
God’s commandment for Sabbath rest is essential for our wellbeing and our service to others.

And last week… we explored how relationshipparenting and leadership patterns we learn in childhood…can sabotage our interaction with others when we’re older. How Jesus modelled an empowering style
of leadership…
for the new Christian family he was creating
and how different that was from fear based domination and control people were used to.

We learned that here among those gathered around Jesus…
we can break all our old patterns and habits…tear up our old maps from less gracious environments.
And root our identities in Christ. How we can practise on each other…Jesus new commandment to love one another…
and how practising this with each other equips us…to take the gospel of grace into the world.

Today in the last of the series…we’ll see why running
from the reality of our own weakness
can hinder our efforts… to serve Christ in the world.

You see there’s another lie that creeps into our thinking…
just like the lie we have to earn God’s love…and it’s likely to stop you in your tracks…
from service in Christ’s new family

it’s the lie you have to have it all together
have your life completely sorted…
to qualify as Christian… or be of any use…to the mission of God

So you hang back in the shadows…believing your weaknessesthe failures…rule you out
from serving God and others. My friends that is a diabolical lie.

But the truth is far more interesting and empowering.
Sometimes the messier your life ‘s been…the weaker you are …the greater support you can be…
for other people. And the truth is…no one… absolutely no one…in any Christian community…has their life completely together. Our acting Session Clerk, Barbara Lee puts it like this…we are a broken and wounded people… gathered around Jesus.

Eleven years ago…while I was still a student for ministry…
Reg and I felt a call to serve God in this place. But Catherine was still here.

We waited.

Catherine retired and Jim Symons came as interim minister for a whole year. I graduated…we waited.

The introductory work group arrived at the front door…to hand us the profile of the Upper Clutha Parish.
We knelt down and prayed for God’s will to be done. Then we waited.
Graciously the local settlement board asked me to meet with them. When I did I fell in love with the people.
But they wanted a young man with a young family…we waited…another three months.

And during that time by the grace of God… one by one…
each member of the board began to believe I was the one to call.

That was the easy part…I was a woman with a past.
One parish leader said they’d resign if I came.
Suddenly everyone was interested in my past!

Now being a sinner, there were many things in my past that could have come to light…
Yes I’d grown up in the church…
but took a holiday to be a wild young thing…a hippy even …
but that wasn’t it…I’d had cancer when I was eighteen and could be a health risk…but that wasn’t it…

I’d worked in that cauldron of heathen… known as TVNZ…
but no… that wasn’t a problem…I’d had great challenges as a single parent of a young daughter
but that didn’t seem to bother anyone…I’d experienced depression
but that wasn’t it either

What do you think it was? Talk to your neighbour…

Take guesses

I’d been married before. I’d had a failed relationship.
I’d been divorced…and remarried. And my new husband
had been married before as well. So I knew I’d face tough questions when I came to meet the Session
and preach to a congregation who largely knew nothing about me except that I’d been married before…
The decision to offer myself…
for service here in the Upper Clutha
was made from the conviction that God was calling me for my strengths and my weaknesses.
If I’d thought I needed to hide the weakness and failures in my life I’d never have taken the risk.

Fortunately, by that time in my life…
God’s forgiveness and grace was the basis of my identity.
What I couldn’t have predicted…as a new minister…
is just how much God could use the imperfections of my life
to bring hope and strength to others. People know…
that I know… about vulnerability and failure.

Because of distorted ideas
of what it means to live the Christian life
some of you think you have to run from weakness at all costs
that you must pursue strength… at all times. Somewhere along the line… you’ve been convinced
a person’s either strong or weak. Either…or…But the truth about being human
is that it’s both and…isn’t it?

The truth is…admitting our weakness and our suffering
can be the very thing God uses… to build us up…to equip us
for service in the Kingdom. The truth is…
a suffering world can’t possibly… see us as authentic
if what we offer…doesn’t come from a heart… wounded by the very pain we’re speaking into.

In a broken community trying to widen the circle of grace around Jesus… we must never put
each other on pedestals of perfection because they simply don’t exist.

Now some people struggle to admit their weakness more than others. For older generations in particular
this goes against the keep things private mentality they grew up with.

And sometimes our emotional and physical health breaks down… just from refusing to admit their
vulnerability and pain to themselves and to God and to even one other human being who can be trusted.

Just as God knows Sabbath rest…is essential to sustaining our working life… God knew that…honesty…
particularly honesty with ourselves… is the cornerstone of our mental and emotional health.

In the new family gathered around Jesus…the truth is we’re all weak and strong…
we all broken and forgiven…
and in the process of healing.

The apostle Paul took great pains to explain
how his service to the gospel of grace
was rooted in weakness
just as his identity had become rooted in Christ.
Note the blending of strength and weakness in Paul’s writing… as a prerequisite… for living life… in Christ.

In his second letter to the very messy church in Corinth…
Paul writes…

Slide words
All this happens that we might rely
not on ourselves,
but on God, who raises the dead.

…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

And Paul remembers the risen Jesus’ words to him…[pause]
Slide words
My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Now just dwell in those words for a moment
and let God address you though them…


The great founder of the Methodist Church…John Wesley
called these words… ‘Christ’s tender repulse to us in pain!’
He says in Jesus words ‘We see there may be grace where there is the deepest sense of pain. And that Jesus’ strength…
is more illustriously displayed by our weakness.

‘How Paul could glory in his weaknesses
rather than his strengths because it was in weakness…
so could Paul experienced the strength of Christ resting on him.

The Greek word Paul uses for resting on him…
is like being covered all over like a tent.

Oh how we strain to be strong when the truth is…
the strength of Christ is made perfect in our weakness. [pause]

And so as we discovered in this preaching series…
it’s the intent of the gospels to reveal our true identity
…rooted in Christ…in a new covenant family…with new patterns of relating to God and to one another…
in strength and in weakness… for better or worse…
in sickness and in health… we are called to be his church
…one body…made strong by the grace of God.

Together in weakness God can use us…
to bring good news to the poor in pocket and in spirit…
release for those captive to distorted messages of love…
and restoration of sight to the blind to the unconditional love of God…

Together in weakness…
with  the strength of Christ covering us like a tent
we can bring the good news of God’s shalom…of wellbeing… peace justice and compassion with our
very bodies…
to a world lost in pain. [pause]

Our community in Wanaka is hurting at the moment and severely stressed. Is it just possible God might
be calling you…
to minister to each other and to our community…
precisely because of your weakness?

Calling you to share your experience with those who need to hear. For this is one way we widen the circle
of those gathered around Jesus. Because w
e are one Body who share the one bread…broken for us.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Intimacy and relationships

Title slide
For the past few weeks…in a five part preaching series called ‘Who are we?’…we’ve been asking if the basis of our personal identityis the unconditional love of God… revealed in Jesus Christ...


is our understanding of who we are distorted
by unhelpful messages of… conditional love from childhood.
Like growing up… believing being loved…
on meeting our parent’s expectations.

In part 2 we asked ourselves if these distortions caused us to live in emotional bondage…in order to get love…
or whether gratitude for God’s love was our motivation
for growing in faith and service to others?

And we discovered it’s the intent of the Gospels
to reveal our true identity…rooted in Christ…and loved by God
so what we do for the wellbeing of others… flows out of that.

And we reminded ourselves how fundamental these issues are
to the Christian faith…because God sent Jesus into the world…
at great cost… to tell us this good news in the flesh.

To deliver what Paul refers to… as… the gospel of grace…

Last week we looked at how unhealthy ideas
of love with strings attached…could not only cripple us spiritually…but wreak havoc with our bodies and our minds.
We saw how obedience… to God’s commandment to keep… the Sabbath rest…is essential to the sustainability of our lives.

So we’ve looked at God’s unconditional love…our true identity as a people of the new covenant formed by grace
and our need for Sabbath rest… to continue Christ’s work
in bringing about the wellbeing of all creation…
in the reign of God.

And today we’ll see how all this can impact…
on our relationships at home and in the family of God...
And how patterns we learn in childhood…
about how you do relationships…can sabotage our interaction
with others when we grow up.

Remember our identity as Christians is meant to be rooted in God’s grace…so wouldn’t it be wonderful…
if our relationships with other people… were rooted in grace too? But all too often…it’s as though we believe… yes God is love, and we love God…but people… are a nuisance. [pause]

You know what it’s like when you’re out exploring the bush or sailing or trying to get around an unfamiliar city? When you don’t know where you’re going… you need a have no way
to understand the territory you’re in if you’ve never explored it before…

to make sense of what you’re seeing and experiencing …it helps to have a guide…so you can get from one place to another
with ease.

Well it’s the same for us as little children…our family of origin gives us our first map… of the territory of relationships.
They’re our first guides

And intentionally or unintentionally…our family of origin imprints on us…not only what it looks like to have a relationship with God…or not……and they map out for us… at least ten
serious determinants of all our future relationships.

slide words
1. Power 2. Alliances 3. Intimacy 4. Self-regard 5. Individuality 6. Expressiveness 7. Mood 8. Empathy 9. Conflict and 10 Openness

Pass around hand-outs …wait till everyone has one.

Thinking back to your childhood

How was power shared in your family – was there an appropriate distribution of power… so no one person or set of persons
made all the decisions?

Were there an absence of alliances, so the good of the
whole family was prized?

Intimacy – was appropriate and helpful care and affection expressed toward each member of the family?

Self-regard – did everyone demonstrate a healthy regard for themselves and respect for the self-regard of other family members?

Individuality – were people allowed to be individuals in the context of the whole family?

Expressiveness – did everyone feel free to express their opinions, feelings, and beliefs… knowing they’d be heard and respected?

Mood – was there a relaxed familiarity in the family and genuine expressions of warmth and encouragement?

Empathy – did every family member feel understood by the others?
And what about Conflict – was conflict handled in a fair and respectful manner so acceptance of differences and reconciliation were possible?

Openness – was it clear that there were boundaries around
the family so each person could find safety, support, intimacy
and care within it… and also gateways…so members of the family could connect and relate to people outside the family. [pause]

Blank slide
Not only will these have impacted on our relationships as adults …but since we’re meant to be a new family…
a family of God…gathered around Jesus
it’s helpful to ask how well our early relational blueprints
match our new identity… as a community of grace.

Of course relationships take many forms…and as an adult…one of the ways we relate to our family
and sometimes to our church family…is as a leader
Compare your parenting style with Paul’s description of
Jesus leadership.

Slide words
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God
and become… mature,
attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

What are the key concepts here?

Slide words
Christ himself gave…our leaders are never self-appointed but called

What’s their job? To empower and equip others for works of service

Why? So the body of Christ may be built up

How will we know… when it’s built up?…
because we have unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of GodAnd we measure up to the fullness of Christ.

We see here an empowering style of leadership
practised by Jesus…

Blank slide
But as children our family of origin… may have modelled for us…quite a different style of parenting and leadership.

Janet Hagberg is an internationally respected mentor
for Christian leadersshe finds three leadership styles…
people can learn from their families…
and might subsequently… look for… in a church family.

Slide words
1. domination

2. charisma

3. empowering

Each one reflecting quite a different map…
on how to do relationships
and what is the right way… to parent or lead.

Slide words with reveals
She says a leadership style based on domination…
expects blind obedience – success is measured by compliance.

A leadership style based on charisma demands loyalty
but when the leader disappears people don’t know what to do.

But Jesus leadership style was like the third…about equipping people to action in the world…empowering them to continue his work when was no longer be with them.

And Hagberg says the degree to which we can successfully form intimate relationships…is likely to govern the style or parenting or leadership we choose.  [Repeat]

blank slide
Another great spiritual mentor of the Christian life, Henri Nouwen… observes the same thing…he says the temptation to control… dominate and abuse power…
is greatest… if a leader is threatened by intimacy.[i]

He says sadly… a lot of ‘Christian leadership…is exercised by people who don’t know how to develophealthy, intimate relationships… instead they opt for power and control.
He notes that…‘many Christian empire-builders…
have been people who were unable…to give and receive love.’

Intimate relationship is at the core of our faith…
when we fully believe God’s Word became flesh in Jesus
we don’t just relate to ideas about God…
we want to have a relationship with the God who shares our humanity in Christ.

When we fully believe God’s Word became flesh in Jesus…then our faith is never dis-embodied…it’s incarnational…it’s about Christ’s body...the person of Jesus of Nazareth who walked and talked and ate and loved…

about how Jesus related to people…
how we are to relate to people…
When we fully believe God’s Word became flesh in Jesus
then our image of God can’t be divorced… from incarnation …Jesus the image of the invisible God…

So how can we pretend to praise God…
and refuse grace to anyone made in God’s image? [pause]

In the sharing of Communion you’ve heard me say…

slide words
we break this bread to share in the body of Christ.
And your reply is
‘we who are many are one body for we share the one bread.’

Here among those gathered around Jesus…
we can break all the patterns and habits…tear up the old maps
formed in less gracious environments.
Here among those gathered around Jesus
we can transform our understanding
and practise gracious relationships.

Here among those gathered around Jesus…
we get to try out on each other
Jesus new commandment to love one another…as he loves us.

And if we practise enough…perhaps we’ll be equipped
to go out into the world… to love and to serve others
and to widen the circle of grace around Jesus.

My prayer is that your identity and all your relationships
at home…at school… at work… at play… and in the church

will be rooted in the grace of God.

[i] Again my thanks to Rod Wilson, President of Regent  College Vancouver for planting the seeds of this material in his addresses to the South Island Ministry Conference in 2012. He quotes Henri Nouwen’s book In the name of Jesus. NY: Crossroads, 1993, 60.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sowing and Sabbath

For these past few weeks…in a five part preaching series entitled ‘Who are we?’…we’ve been asking
whether the basis of our identity is the unconditional love of God …revealed in Jesus Christ...

or… is our view of who we are…our worth and the worth of other peopledistorted by unhelpful messages about conditional love from childhood. Like when we grow up believing our lovability… depends on meeting our parent’s expectations.

In this series we begin to embrace the truth…
that God loves us…whether anyone else does…
or whether we love ourselves…and how this changes our view of God… and our relationships.
And we saw how hard it is…to spread this wonderful good newswhen we don’t believe it ourselves?

Last week we asked ourselves… if we were living and serving our family, our church and our community
out of emotional bondage…in order to get love…
or were we motivated to grow… in faith and service to others…out of joyful gratitude…
for the love God already has for us.

And we learned the intent of the Gospels…isn’t to tell people what to do, but to remind us who we are…to reveal our true identity…rooted in Christ…so that what we do
for the wellbeing of others… flows out of that. [pause]

These issues are fundamental to the Christian faith…because the revelation all humanity are loved unconditionally by God …is why God sent Jesus into the world…at great cost
to deliver that good news in the flesh.

To deliver what Paul refers to… as the gospel of grace…

This week we’re going to see… how distorted ideas of identity and love…can not only cripple us spiritually
but wreak havoc with our bodies and our minds.

Recently at the South Island Ministry Conference at East Taieri…I heard the confession…of the President of Regent College…one of the finest theological seminaries in the northern hemisphere.

Dr Rod Wilson… admitted his family’d given him an identity… which was inclined to ignore one of the Ten Commandments…given for the wellbeing of humanity.

Can you guess which one it was?…just for fun talk with your neighbour and see which commandment you think…
an educated Christian family… might inadvertently
teach their children to ignore. We’ll put them up on the slides

1 You shall have no other gods before me.
2 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven or on earth or beneath the waters below.
3 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
4 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
5 Honour your father and your mother.
6 You shall not murder.
7 You shall not commit adultery.
8 You shall not steal.
9 You shall not tell lies against your neighbour.
10 You shall not yearn for your neighbour’s house or spouse or servant, ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Well the one they taught him to ignore… was number four. Here’s how it reads in scripture…

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that’s in them, but rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

You see Rod Wilson was taught from birth…that the Wilsons …did not rest! Resting was lazy…they told themselves …maybe God needed to rest but…Wilson’s don’t. Out of pride and dedication to their family identity… the Wilson family chose to ignore the fourth commandment.

Rod told a story about how he used to work long into the night after his wife was asleep. Sometimes he’d even get up around three in the morning and go down to his home office
telling himself what a dedicated professional he was…

One night a friend rang at 330 in the morning from overseas wanting to leave a message for the family when they got up.. and at 330 in the morning Rod answered the phone like…
Dr Rod Wilson speaking how may I help you?

His friend was shocked of course and concerned.

Now it has to be said that Rod really enjoyed his work.
That he loved his work…and he did it out of gratitude for the love of God…but… he never stopped
what Rod hadn’t realised… is what we now know…
about the impact of stress on the human body
thanks to the work of  Doctor Hans Selye
a famous Canadian endo-crinologist. That’s someone who studies what our glands do…

In his research… Dr. Selye discovered that stress
is the response of the body to any demand made on it …positive or negative.  Any demand…

Think about it…the Wilson family enjoyed their work…
they told themselves they were performersachievers
but around mid-life…Rod discovered that guess what? …positive or negative…enough demands on his body without appropriate Sabbath rest…simply depleted him…

he ran dry…and when he was asked by his board of directors to take time off…he discovered…he didn’t know how to rest!

Dr Selye’s wisdom about stress is factual…whether we like it or not. And so is the wisdom of the fourth commandment …whether we like it or not…God’s wisdom is better than our common sense. And when we find we can’t take a Sabbath rest…then we’ve lost the power of choice over our lives…

and my friends when that happens...we are addicted to work. Without intervention we’ll stumble blindly into the abyss … of exhaustion and burnout and emptiness. I’ve been there in my thirties.

The equation is simple
Sabbath = depletion + replenishment + re-creation
No Sabbath = depletion + exhaustion + emptiness

What is replenishing for me will be different for you…
but without Sabbath rest…we’ll just keeps on pouring out energy… until we’re empty.

The author of Hebrew’s tells us…Sabbath is no less important for people of the new covenant than it was at the time of Moses…and that our Sabbath rest is found in Christ.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest...also rests from their works just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so no one will perish… by ignoring the Sabbath.

Like Rod Wilson…sometimes we get really fired up for the kingdom…don’t we…maybe we believe we’re letting the side down if we’re not tirelessly working…to grow the people gathered ‘round Jesus…
or valiantly striving for peace and justice on earth

But how does that stack up …against what we know
of God’s will for us…revealed in Jesus Christ.

Take the parable of the sower and seed we heard earlier.
Jesus also said…this is what the kingdom of God is like.
A man scatters seed on the ground.
Night and day…whether he sleeps or gets up…the seed sprouts and grows…though he doesn’t know how. All by itself the soil produces grain…first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

In this parable the emphasis is on the power of the seed.
Sure the farmer scatters it, and harvests it, goes to bed
and gets up with the dawn
but once planted the soil produces grain all by itself…
The farmer can’t make the seed grow
or even understand why it grows…

That’s what the kingdom of God is like…according to Jesus …whether we’re resting or sleeping. Our work…if we are the farmer in the story…is to scatter the seed and harvest the crop.

And in my humble opinion the seed… is the good news of God’s grace…revealed in the life and death and overcoming of death of Jesus Christ… and Jesus calls his friends to sow that good news wherever we are…

and the harvest is the Shalom of God…peace with justice and mercy…the wellbeing for all creation that flows from scattering love.

Now…ministers are the worst at taking Sabbath…
All over New Zealand church pastors and priests are driven to burn out by a performance spirituality which ignores the fourth commandment.

Why…because they believe they’re the exception to the rule …maybe God rested on the seventh day…but I don’t need to …plus if I stop…someone will think I’m slacking off. So every year a hand full of ministers go under… because they don’t build the discipline of Sabbath rest… into their lives.

And a minister has enormous influence on the culture of a congregation…When a minister never takes a holiday or a day off…when a minister looks down trodden and exhausted… people think that’s what they should look like
if they’re really living the Christian life.

Now naturally, Sunday can’t be the Sabbath for a working minister…but sundown Sunday to sundown Monday can.
And it’s my conviction… I need to model what it means to live a balanced healthy life…or I’m letting myself and you down…And so I build a time of Sabbath rest…into every day… even if it’s half an hour resting in God…
and I really try to take a day off every week…
and take my holidays

Some people wear their exhaustion like a badge of honour … proudly flouting the fourth commandment…
but I hope I’m not one of them.

The risk of never observing Sabbath… is that we end up giving and serving others…without fullness.

Quaker author Parker Palmer says… burnout doesn’t result from giving all we have…it merely reveals…
the nothingness from which we’re trying to give in the first place… trying to give what we don’t possess.[i]

He says we begin to burn out inwardly long before we burn out outwardly…inside we become a frantic bundle of hollow energy…we’re busy among people… but devoid of life.

And so my question for you today is this…
is it God’s grace or self-judgment that drives your life…
is it God’s grace or the judgment of others that determines the rhythm of your life?

My prayer is that you will examine your life…according to the unforced rhythms of grace.

[i] Parker Palmer, Let your life speak p. 49. Again thanks to Dr. Rod Wilson for his shared wisdom.