Sunday, 10 June 2012

Intimacy and relationships

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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.

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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]

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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?

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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…

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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]

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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…

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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.