Sunday, 26 August 2012

Serenity and wholeness in life with God – step 2 restoration

Pentecost 13 year B Sermon
Title slide
The wisdom that comes from God through Jesus Christ…
wisdom to guide us through the fires of life…often this wisdom
comes as metaphor…as when Paul urges us to put on the armour of God

But how many times do we hear these words of wisdom
only to forget them…as we walk out the door to work…
or into the door at home? How many times have you failed…to pick up those… spiritual tools? When was the last time you consciously fastened on

Slide words
the belt of truth and
the breastplate of righteousness,
when did you last slip into  shoes …for proclaiming the gospel of peace,
or wielded the shield of faith…to quench the flaming arrows
of the evil one,
or protected yourself with the helmet of salvation,
and the strong sword of the Spirit,
who is witness to Jesus …the very Word of God… made flesh.

How seriously do you rise to Paul’s challenge

Slide words
for heaven sakes… pray all the time… in the Spirit. [pause]

Blank slide
This is wisdom to use…as we seek to bring about God’s will on earth these are spiritual tools to employ… when the flames of our own weakness… threaten to engulf us…
when the burning frustration…of our own powerlessness over others
is about to consume us…

the full armour of God is great wisdom to cling to…
wisdom… for life with God.  

Lake and sunset slide
And the gaining of wisdom is the aim of the first step we learned last week at the start of our teaching series on twelve steps…to serenity and wholeness
in life with God …twelve steps…twelve spiritual tools
which come from the teaching of Jesus
steps which have changed and healedmy life
and I pray will do the same for yours. [pause]

Last week the first step we learned was to accept
the wisdom Jesus offers… at the start of his sermon on the mount.

Slide words
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
Which translates pretty well as,
‘It’s an incredible blessing… to accept that we’re not God.’

Word slide
So we take the first step and … humbly accept there are things about
ourselves… other people… and the physics of the universe
over which we are powerless.

Blank slide
And as we reflected on our lives… we found… a lot of our frustration and unhappiness…came from refusing to take this step…
how bitterness and resentment …and even emotional exhaustion
result from trying to control… what is outside… our power to control.

And we learned how much… this refusal costs us…
disabling our feelings, wasting our energy, stopping us
from growing in faith, isolating us from God…
and damaging our relationships

and what’s worse…we found that clinging on to the illusion of control …actually prolongs our pain.

We concluded… there can be no wholeness and healing…
while we refuse to take this step…and our lives feel completely unmanageable. [pause]

And so we decide to take the first step… toward serenity and wholeness

Slide words
And we learned the serenity prayer
and we learn the words…Let go and let God.

In taking last week’s stepwe came to accept something about ourselves

But in this week’s step… we come to accept something about God

Slide word
A step which… is the beginning of restoration…
in our unmanageable lives.

When we own our own powerlessness and our utter dependence on God then we’re ready to take the second step.

Slide words
We come to believe… that God can and will… restore us to wholeness.

This step is expressed by Jesus… in his Sermon on the Mount.

Slide words
as blessed are the meek. In other words…it’s actually a blessing
to meekly trust in God…for wholeness and healing
to rely on God utterly… for our restoration.

Blank slide
And that’s what I found thirty five years ago…when I was crushed and and defeated by the emotional violence which raged at me…
from my first husband…I was only twenty eight

at work in television I seemed confident and happy enough…
but at spirit had been crushed…I lost the joy and humour which had always characterised my personality…I walked on egg shells all the time at home… under the illusion
that it was somehow within my power…
to control the emotions of another person…my life was unmanageable

And if doing the same thing… over and over again
hoping for a different result …is the definition of insanity
then I suppose you could say… I was insane. [pause]

But by the grace of God through the compassion of others…
who’d taken these steps… I… not only came to accept my powerlessness
over that young man’s rageI saw how powerless I was…
over my own compulsion to change him…
And so I took the first step…and I learned the serenity prayer…
and I practiced… letting go and letting God

And then… a Christian friend encouraged me onward…to step two
when she told me… ‘God is just waiting for you to ask him to restore you.’

That was thirty five years ago…
my life today is blessed…I am restored… I have serenity and I feel whole most of the time
and yet I still take…these two steps… every day of my life. [Pause]

One of the most helpful things we can learn
is that God is just waiting to restore us…to help us…if we only ask for God’s guidance and healing. And God doesn’t work alone…you know
the Trinity of love…is surely a revelation of that.

For this reason God often operates through other people…
who can share their experience …strength and hope with us…
So it’s important to trust there are others…
who’ve been exactly where you are…
 and that sharing your burden with them will help in your restoration.

Unfortunately there are two lies…two false beliefs…which get in the way of our accepting…. God can and will restore us…

One is the lie… that we should have enough faith and strength already...
to get through anything…to faith everything out
We become angry at the demands and expectations of others
because pride won’t let us admit… we can’t do it all.
And we insist on carrying an emotional load… that threatens to crush us
We can’t admit we feel out of our depth and don’t have all the answers.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ may have to remind us that our refusal to ask for help… may demonstrates the sin of pride…to remind us that confessing and repenting of the sin of self sufficiency
can be the beginning of our healing.

At times like this we need encouragement… to ask for God’s help
And to seek out wise friends or maybe even trained professionals…

Some of us are programmed from childhood …with the illusion that everything depends on us… this false beliefthis lie… comes from
not being able to trust anyone as child…and as a coping strategy…
it may’ve worked well for us once…but it’s not helpful for adults

We have to take the step of asking for help because… not asking
for practical, emotional or spiritual help… can drastically limit
how much we can accomplish… in God’s service
whatever we achieve… will be restricted to the limits of our own energy.

When we refuse to delegate or ask others for help…
when we insist on doing everything ourselves…
We’re in denial there are limits to our strength and power.
This amounts to a refusal to trust God… and the children of God.

The second lie we buy into…the second false belief
is to think we’re so unique… we can’t be helped…even by God.
Oh we recognise help is out there,
but just not for us.

Instead of refusing to ask for help…we buy into the lie… there’s no point
in asking…because we’re beyond help. We isolate ourselves…even from God.
You might call this…the illusion of ‘terminal uniqueness’.
A false belief …that no one else can understand our suffering…
even God.  Or we don’t deserve help… because our suffering is our fault. Or our sins are too great… to be forgiven.

The real issue… is to recognise we’re a child of God like everyone else deserving of God’s love and healing…
If we elevate ourself… to the special status of un-helpable
once again we’re suffering from the sin of pride..
and need to repent… and turn our face back to God.

Step two… is about trusting that you
even you
are worthy of God’s help and healing.

One of the greatest ministries the church can provide
is to encourage supportive networks and home groups…
so people can share how God is working in their lives. And it’s helpful…
to set up these supports before a crisis hits. If we wait …it may be too late for some people.

In the realities of life…in our relationship, our work and spiritual journey… we will hit the wall… many times…and when that happens, it’s nice to have people around …we can count on. And so the church can be a vessel of God’s healing …and we are committed over the next year
to make group formation a top priority.


Slide words
You know there’s an old saying
some people come to the fountain of knowledge to drink…
Other’s com just to gargle.

And most of us will laugh at these words…till we start worrying about whether we’re a drinker… or a gargler. And if you see life
in black and white
then you’ll think it has to be one extreme… or the other…

Change slide
But the reality for all of us… is both… sometimes we drink … and sometimes we gargle…and sometimes we stub our toe on the fountain as we stumble by.

But the gift of God’s grace means we don’t have to be perfect. We’re seeking progress not perfection.
So we can relax and enjoy the joke.

And as I’ve found…redemption is a daily thing…
I take steps one and two every day. There are situations where I have to let go and let God every day.

My prayer is that these steps will be the beginning of wisdom for you

Waterfall slide
Let us say the serenity prayer together as we drink from the fountain of wisdom.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Serenity and wholeness in life with God Step One - seeking wisdom

Pentecost 12 year B Sermon 12

For three thousand years the world has heralded…
the Wisdom of Solomon.

And as you just heard…King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom pleased God very much. 
Often when we pray as
a church family or as leaders… we pray as Solomon did
for the wisdom and discernment…which come from God.

If you and I are committed to this Christian journey …committed to grow … 
to seek serenity and wholeness
in our life with God… how do we gain the wisdom
for which King Solomon so desperately longed?

Well our gospel writers give us a clue…

Word slide
Wisdom greater than Solomon… is here.
The short answer for Christians… is we look to Jesus Christ [pause]
For the next twelve weeks, I am going to be preaching on Word slide
How we can find serenity and wholeness…in life with God
twelve weeks…twelve steps…twelve spiritual tools
which come from the teaching of Jesus
twelve incredible Jesus principles
which have changed and healed… my life
and I pray will do the same for yours.

And the first step we will learn to take…
the first step toward serenity and wholeness in life with God is to accept 
the wisdom Jesus offers in these words

Slide words
‘blessed are those who know they’re spiritually poor’
for that knowing…is surely the beginning of wisdom
in life with God.

It’s my own experience that without this wisdom
there can be no wholeness and healing. Without this wisdom we’re stuck in the Fall with Adam and Eve…
ever seeking after our own omnipotence…trying to make ourselves God …and all the while…
wallowing in the sin of pride

So here is our first step… in language we can understand for today…when we take this step…we learn to

Slide words
humbly accept… there are things about ourselves, other people, and the physics of the universe… over which we are powerless. That is to say…we admit…we’re not God.

Now of course you’ll be thinking well I don’t need to take that step…I don’t think I’m God…
I accept my place in the universe…

but the problem is… were you to examine your life closely you might just find…
an awful lot of your frustration and unhappiness comes from trying to control what’s…
not in your power… to control.

The truth is… all of us are…in one way or another…
control freaks. And just as in the story of Adam and Eve …this desire to play God…interferes
with our serenity and wholeness… in life with God.

When Jesus lays out his prescription for wholeness…
in the sermon on the mount…
he starts with the step we’re learning today …

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ This translates pretty well as,
‘It’s an incredible blessing… to accept we’re not God.’

When we decide take this step in our Christian life
we willingly surrender …the illusion of our own power…
and we pray as Solomon did… for the gift of discernment …the wisdom to know what’s within our
power to change and control…and what isn’t. This is the beginning of wisdom…the beginning of our experience
of the kingdom of God.

And the beautiful thing is… we take this step in complete freedom… in response to God’s grace…
and as we practise
this step…we come to accept as Paul did… that there are things about ourselves and others…
over which we’re powerless…
things that can only be changed with God’s help

Remember in Romans where Paul says…

Slide words
I know I have the desire to do what is good,
but I can’t carry it out.

Basically Paul is saying… I may want to live Jesus way…
but there are just some aspects of my personality
my physical desires… and my emotional makeup
I simply can’t control…in fact I’ve discovered I’m powerless over these things. Paul tells us.

And it’s the same for us too. We can’t choose our parents or our genetic makeup…and it’s a waste of precious…
 God given life… to spend our lives wishing we could.

In recovery language refusing to admit our powerlessness over some aspects of our own life
 is called denial.

Ok so…what are the things you struggle to control about yourself…things you beat yourself up for…
time and time again… for failing to stop doing …with will power

just spend a moment in reflection and make a mental note about one of two things that spring to mind…
 about yourself that you struggle to control. Just think of it…
I’m not going to ask you to share it. [silence and pause]

Well the things some people struggle with are obvious things like the way they eat and drink…weakness for chocolate or fried chicken, or that third glass of wine…

Some are powerless over the images they’re drawn to…
on the internet or in magazines; others can’t seem to stop gambling on the pokies or the stock market…
with money they don’t have to lose…still others struggle
when they want to relax and feel driven to work all the time

And for others it’s more subtle…
some of you can’t stop yourselves from worrying….
or gossiping or criticising.

When we can’t admit our struggle then it’s fair to say we’re in denial
especially when those closest to us can see it plainly. Fortunately for us all…the apostle Paul admitted there were things he didn’t want to do… but couldn’t stop doing in his own strengthFortunately…
Paul was not in denial… or we wouldn’t have his confession to learn from.

But he had and encounter with the risen Christ who teaches it’s a blessing and a relief to admit when we’re defeated by our own weaknesses and lack of understanding.  A relief to surrender the illusion of control…
which takes up so much of our time and energy.

And so we see that in this first step is the gaining of wisdom …the kind of wisdom which leads to
serenity and wholeness in life with God…to humbly admit there are some things about ourselves which we can’t control in our own strength

And the insight that comes… when we discern this…this wisdom… causes us to turn to God for help.

Ok that covers our powerlessness… over our own struggles … but what if its other people’s faults and weaknesses
we struggle with…in the gaining of wisdom
do we really have to give up
our illusion of power over other people as well?

The short answer is yes…it’s all part of knowing we’re spiritually poor.

Often we believe the diabolical lie
that it’s our calling in life and our responsibility
to fix everyone me meet. Particularly our family and friends.

We may suffer from the illusion that we have the right solution for any and every practical or emotional problem other people have.

We may think it’s obvious how other people should change or what they should do…to be healthier and happier or more productive…

and we take it on as our crusade to help them see this at all cost…Sometimes a false belief that all solutions depend on us… comes from having to fend for ourselves and protect everyone around us in childhood.
And it served us well when we’re little…it gives us a sense of strength in our very great vulnerability.
But it is not at all helpful in adulthood and quite contradictory to a dependence on God in all things.

One sign we’re not ready… to take this step toward serenity and wholeness in life with God…
is that we can’t tell the difference between a making a simple suggestion attempting to control others

A suggestion is to mention once and only once…
and in good faith… what you think another person should do …a suggestion is fine…but when you find yourself thinking about it and hinting at it…over days and months and maybe even years…then my friends…
it’s an attempt to control someone else.  

It’s natural for us to do this with children because they need a lot of direction…but it is most un natural
and in a sense un wise for us to do it with another adult. But as a good Christian person you may be thinking
how can I be a control freak…
when all I’m trying to do is help...

or how can I be a control freak… when I’m the one who’s being hurt by another person’s behaviour.

But when you’re being hurt the question is ‘what do you need the courage to do…
so you won’t continue to be hurt.
Or so others won’t continue to be hurt.

And another sign… you’re not ready to take this step is when you hear yourself saying…‘yes but’ when someone encourages you to let go… your need to control.
‘Yes but’ could signal your prideful refusal
 to accept something over which you are actually powerless.

Refusing to take this step… comes with a cost. It disables our feelings, costs us energy,
stops us from growing in faith, isolates us from God, and damages our relationships…
not only that refusing to seek wisdom over what we can and can not control…actually prolongs our pain.

In reality… denying our powerlessness won’t protect us from suffering…
it only allows our pain to fester and grow.

So if your considering this step…considering giving up your illusion of control…
your desire to play God in other people’s lives… it helps to consider the price you’re paying
by continuing to focus on things you have no actual power to change?

And God hasn’t got a chance to work when we are in the way.

A very wise man named Eberhard Arnold once said,
‘Whenever even a little power rises up in us, the spirit and authority of God… will retreat to the same degree.
The root of grace is the dismantling our power.’
This applies not only to our own health but to the health of the church itself as the Body of Christ.

Blank slide
On 14 January 1935 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother from Germany’s largest prison…just before he was hung for treason…for his Christian refusal to join Hitler’s pogrom against the Jews. Bonhoeffer longed for the restoration of the wisdom of Jesus in the life of the church in German…and he wrote this in a letter to his brother from his cell.
 ‘… the renewal of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old… but from a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.

And he ended with this line…
I think it is time to gather people together to do this’

And to this I would add…the life Jesus called for would not only lead to the restoration of the church…
but to the healing of you and me…and our relationships with one another and the world. [pause]

So to help you take this first step on the road to serenity and wholeness with God…
to begin to accept your own poverty of spirit. Here are two very effective spiritual tools.

The first is a slogan you can put on your fridge or your bedroom mirror.

Slide words
Let go and let God.

It reminds me of the image we had of stepping into the river of God’s grace and taking our feet off the bottom…let go and let God.

The second tool is  known as the great serenity prayer
which is on your order of service today…

Slide words
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Blank slide
My experience is that only when take we this step of humility before God, can we become a vessel of God’s healing for others. In a word, this and the following 11 steps are about the wisdom of a radical surrender to God,
so we as disciples of Christ can become… a source of life, expectation and hope for our families, our community and the world.

Will you please join me in the congregational version of this Prayer.

God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change;
the courage to change the things we can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as we would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if we surrender to His Will;
That we may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.