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.