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.