Sunday, 14 October 2012

Serenity and wholeness in life with God Step 10

Pentecost 20 year B Sermon  1 Corinthians 4:1-13
How on earth do we achieve the heights of serenity and wholeness in life with God…that Paul shows us…in this letter to the Corinthians. Hear his words again…

Word slide
I care very little if I’m judged by you… or by any human court; indeed I don’t even judge myself. My conscience is clear,
but that doesn’t make me innocent. It’s the Lord who judges me.

Title slide again
In our latest preaching series...that’s precisely the level of spiritual maturity we’re striving we explore twelve steps toward serenity and life with God. Twelve…spiritual tools which come from the life and teaching of Jesus…
and as Paul reminds us so bluntly today…
God is the only judge of how we’re doing.

And as we take these steps of faith… one after the other...

Reveal wisdom
first we seek wisdom…to discern what we can and cannot control.
Reveal restoration
next we seek… restoration to wholeness… only God can bring
reveal surrender
in step three we surrender our will and our lives to the care of God
reveal reflection
Taking step four…we reflect honestly and fearlessly…on our own motives and actions…past and present…good and bad.
reveal confession
And then we make our Confession…bringing the whole unvarnished truth about ourselves before God
reveal willingness and consent together
Cleansed and forgiven…we move on to steps six and seven…
with the willingness…to submit to every change…God wants to make in us.  And humbly consent…asking God to re-shape us
so God’s will can be done in us and by us.

On the road to serenity and wholeness in life with God
there still more growing to do…and two weeks ago…
because we already made an honest inventory of our lives
we discovered our readiness to take steps eight and nine and

Reveal Resolve and Make peace
resolve to do justice and work for peace within our family
our community and the world. We resolved to be Gospel bearers …to do whatever it takes…to bring about God’s Shalom.

Slide words Step 8
We decide to make a list of every single person we’d harmed…
and we become willing… to make amends to them all.
And when we are willing

Slide words step 9
then in step nine…We make direct amends wherever possible
except when to do so would produce more harm.

Blank slide
These steps…all part of a process…a practise…a spiritual discipline…of making ourselves ready and willing to allow God to shape us…into his children…into peacemakers…into the likeness of Christ... [pause]

Nine steps already out of twelve. And today we’re ready for step 10.  And you know…I’ve never preached anyone else’s sermon
in these past  ten years…but today I will…and that’s because last Sunday…the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church
gave the best message…the best rationale…for taking step ten
I’ve ever heard.
Reg shared it with me when he got home from Assembly…and it’s based on our reading today…where Paul tells the wayward church in Corinth…he cares very little if he’s judged by them… or any human court…Paul doesn’t even judge himself. His conscience is clear, but that doesn’t mean he’s innocent. Paul’s only judge is God.

Ray slide
Here’s how the Right Reverend Ray Coster unpacked it in Rotorua.

A few years back Ray begins…I was climbing Mount Ngauruhoe  And this beautiful day was spoiled by one silly thing…I wasn’t wearing proper tramping boots, only a pair of running shoes. 

On the way down I kicked my left foot into a solid rock. 
My big toe came off second best… the rock wasn’t damaged at all. 

It wasn’t too long before the pain subsided enough to keep walking.  But the pain is still there to this day. I damaged the joint on my big toe and now it’s arthritic. And now every time I walk… my toe demands attention – it lets me know it’s hurting.

Have you ever noticed we aren’t aware of our body parts
till they hurt. You never think about your teeth till they have pain and then you can’t think about anything else. You never think about your knees or hips till they’re in pain…
and then they demand attention all the time.

And it’s the same with our ego, or self-esteem, or identity. 
When it gets hurt…it calls attention to itself.
And for most of us, that’s every day. 

In [his letter to the Corinthians] Paul talks about the wounded ego [or wounded pride… in contrast to] a Kingdom identity or a resurrection mind-set…an attitude or way of thinking…
that comes through understanding our identity in Jesus…the
risen, living Lord.  It’s the transformed sense of self that happens when we’re in Christ.This is the liberating good news of the gospel

The natural human ego…is painful and draws attention to itself
It’s also empty, busy and fragile. Whereas the ego transformed in Christ…is at peace and outwardly focused.

The ego hurts because there’s something wrong with it.
[It demands] we think about… how we look and how we feel and how we’re being treated by others. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But feelings can’t hurt. It’s the ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. It’s hard to get through a day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or
getting down on ourselves. 

The natural ego is empty and needs to be filled…so Paul says we keep busy– comparing and boasting. And do you notice there’s no full stop after the word pride here. Paul doesn’t say if you’re in Christ…‘you won’t take pride.’ He says, ‘you won’t take pride in one person over against… another.’ 

the natural human ego… tries to fill its emptiness and
relieve its discomfort…by comparing itself to other people.

in his famous chapter on pride in Mere Christianity… CS Lewis says, Pride gets no pleasure out of having something,
only having more of it than the next person. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they’re not.  They’re proud of being rich-er, or clever-er, or better-looking than others. If everyone became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking
there’d be nothing to be proud about.’

Pride destroys the pleasure that’s intrinsic to something good.
[Pride over inflates our ego!] [So] it’s fragile…[because] anything over inflated is always in danger of being…de-flated.
And when that happens we begin to hate ourselves. I wonder if you ever said those words inwardly, ‘I hate myself.’

But now the good news of the gospel. The good news I’d love to bless [this] city and its citizens and all the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Jesus transforms the ego by giving us a new identity that brings righteousness, peace and joy. Listen to what Paul says,
‘I care very little if I’m judged by you, or any human court.’

The word judge [here] really means a verdict.  So Paul’s saying, I don’t really care if I have your stamp of approval or not.

He’s not putting them down by saying their opinion is worthless.  All he’s saying is…he’s not looking to the Corinthians or any human court…to know that he is somebody. His identity isn’t tied in any way… to their verdict or evaluation of him.

How do we ever get to the point… when we’re not controlled by what other people think about us? You may’ve heard the saying: I’m not who I think I am. I’m not who you think I am. I am
who I think you think I am.

And that is true for most people, but not Paul. Their identity’s often determined by what they think other people think about them. Paul would totally disagree with that phrase.
His identity…his view of himself...isn’t determined by what
he thinks other people think of him.

Anyone who’s been a parent…knows children get hurt by what other people say about them.
The advice of parents and most counsellors is the same
when we get hurt by others. They tell us it doesn’t matter what others think about us. When we allow that to happen we become their slaves. We give them power over our mind. The only thing that matters is what I think about me…and what those who love me and are closest to me …think about me.

in our world we only seem to have one way to deal with low
self-esteem. Fix it…with high self-esteem. We tell people how great they are, what wonderful things they do and have accomplished. And that is important and helpful advice. 

But… the person’s view of themselves and their identity [are] still being determined by other people. It just depends which group of people. The ones who criticise… or the ones [who] praise.

Paul’s approach couldn’t be more different. He cares very little if he’s judged by the Corinthians or any human court. But Paul goes one step further and this is so radical. He won’t even judge himself

He says…I don’t care what you think…I don’t even care
what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me…
but I also have… a very low opinion of my opinion of me!
Wow… that’s amazing and radical.

What Paul would say to those who set their own standards is…
‘it’s a trap…don’t go down that path.’ Boosting our self-esteem by living up to our own standards or someone else’s…may sound great…but it doesn’t deliver. 

[And Ray shared about his own life…] I couldn’t always live up to my parents ideals and that made me feel terrible. I let them down and disappointed them often. I can’t live up to the standards I think you have of me as your moderator. Most of us as ministers will sometimes feel like a disappointment to people.
and if I try to live up to my own standards I feel even worse. 
The only thing would be to set lower standards for myself,
and I don’t want to do that. So I disappoint myself

And if according to Paul …[those standards are traps anyway]
where do we find our true sense of identity, [our] true sense of self? 
Remember what Paul says elsewhere? Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.  [He doesn’t say]…
I was the chief, but I am the chief…I am… the worst. 

We’re not used to people who can be totally honest…totally aware of all their moral flaws…yet still possess incredible poise and confidence.

Do you know why we can’t do that – because we judge ourselves, which Paul refuses to do.  He knows about his sins, but he doesn’t connect them… to his identity. Paul refuses to play that game. 

He doesn’t see a sin and let it destroy his identity.
Nor does he see an accomplishment… and congratulate himself. Even though Paul knows he’s a sinner…the chief sinner…he won’t let that stop him… doing what’s right…what he’s called to do.
He won’t stop his mission. If we want to be a missional church, we [have to] first understand our identity.

[Paul’s] ego isn’t puffed up, it’s filled up. He’s saying
he’s reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself…than any other part of his body.  He has reached a place where he isn’t thinking about himself anymore…

True gospel-humility means…I stop connecting every experience, every conversation…with myself. This is the freedom
of self-forgetfulness…which brings true rest. This is the full outcome…of living with a resurrection mind-set.

[And this humility] enables us to go out from here to serve and to minister.

So how does Paul get this, and how do we get it? 

The clue is when he says ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think. My conscience is clear but that doesn’t make me innocent.

The [Greek word] translated as innocent… is the same word as justify. Paul is saying…even if his conscience is clear…
that doesn’t justify him. Hitler may have had a clear conscience, but he wasn’t innocent. What Paul is looking for
is the ultimate verdict. 

the problem…whether we have high or low self-esteem…Paul reasons…is that every single day we’re in the courtroom…
we’re on trial. This is the way everyone’s identity works. In the human world…there is a prosecution and a defence. Some days we feel we’re winning… and some days we feel we’re losing.

[But] Paul says for him the trial is over. He’s out of the courtroom because the final verdict is in…[it’s] been announced by the judge.  Paul’s the Lord who judges me – not you Corinthians,
nor any human court, or even myself.  It’s the Lord. 
It’s only God’s opinion that counts or matters.

Do you know it’s only in the Christian faith…the gospel of Jesus that you get the verdict before the performance.
In all other situations of life…performance leads to the verdict…

Because God loves and accepts me I don’t have to do things to please him. My identity isn’t in other people or even in me,
it’s in Jesus. I don’t have to do things to make me look good. 
I can do them just for the joy of doing them.
I can help people… not so I feel better about myself
or to fill up some emptiness. I do it simply for the joy of doing it.

True Christian identity…operates totally differently
than all other forms of identity. A true Christian identity takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over. The verdict is in.
[We are justified through faith in Jesus Christ.]

Ray went on to say…I walked the Christian life for many years before I really understood this and found true inner freedom.
But what joy when I did. Many days I feel like I’m being sucked back into the courtroom. And at those times…I have to stand on the truth…that I shouldn’t be there. I don’t need to be there.
I walk out freely…knowing I’m free.

When we enable one more person…to live with a resurrection mind-set…the freedom to step out of the courtroom of condemnation the flame burns brighter and the church moves forward in mission, love and service.’ And that was the end of Ray’s sermon…And we’re back to our step ten…

Step 10 slide
because we have been justified through faith in Jesus…it is his standard…his teaching…his Gospel…by which we are judged…

And taking step ten…in the freedom that comes from Grace…
we continue to take our inventory and when we fall short of Christ’s teaching … we promptly admit it.
What better way to stay out of the courtroom!

Let us say the Serenity Prayer together