Inside out, Romans, Matthew, reject, rejected, gifts, calling, mercy, listen, understanding, practicing presence, squeeze, news, environment, true colours, masks, fears, anger, healing, love, fear, mouths, words, tongue, practicing presence, Shekinah

Sermon: Inside Out

READINGS:

    • Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31
    • Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20

 

This week, in the news from Charlottesville and then Barcelona, we see far more fear and hatred in the world than we are comfortable with. This is not the world that I want my daughter to grow up in. The unfortunate reality is that we are in an environment today where people have become comfortable showing us what they really hold on the inside – they are letting it come to the surface and showing their “true colours”. While I’m repelled by it, I’m also a little relieved that the masks are off – now that we know you have these fears and anger on the inside, let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about healing. Let’s talk about a love that casts out all fear!

Our readings this morning dealt with 2 particular topics:

  1. We each have a gift and calling from God that are irrevocable; and
  2. Whatever comes out of our mouths, comes directly from our hearts!

We are all like lemons: a lemon has some wonderfully positive characteristics; it’s full of vitamins, it can help your liver deal with bile, it can cleanse your bowels, you can use it to bleach your hair (if you don’t mind it getting dried out), we put “real lemon juice” in our dish-washing liquid and our furniture oil; it is considered anti-bacterial. On the other hand, it’s also sour, acidic, tart, astringent and in some cases just plain bitter! When you squeeze a lemon, what you get out is lemon juice – because that’s what is inside.

And when you or I are put under pressure and squeezed – the “real” you comes out: that which is really inside of you! And, like the lemon, you have some wonderful qualities, gifts and calling; and other parts of you are sour or bitter or not so pleasant.

STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES strengths, weaknesses, talents, gifts, serving others, learning, growing, born again, rebirth, transformed, renewing, God, Spirit, healing

Before I talk about your gifts and your callings, I want to remind you that our strengths and our weaknesses are usually connected: they can’t be looked at as independent attributes.  For example: your stubbornness is the determination that gets things done; your creativity is probably somehow tied to your day-to-day chaos; your inconsistency may allow you to remain flexible; your calm may be seen by many as emotionlessness. Many adventurers are seen as being irresponsible; someone who is realistic may tend to be negative and pessimistic; and someone who is self-confident may easily become arrogant.

Behind all of this, is the heart and the intentions of the heart! Is the heart coming from a place of love, caring and calling? Or is the heart  coming from a place of lack, fear and ego?

There is a story that is told of an old Cherokee teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

WHICH “I” ARE YOU FEEDING?

If you have followed me so far, you will realise that every one of your weaknesses might actually be a strength – a gift that God has given you to help you fulfill your calling. They say that the best moment to plant a tree was 20 years ago; but if you didn’t do it 20 years ago, the next best day is today. If you haven’t identified your calling in life, today is the best day to sit down and identify what you were called by God to do. Every single person that is born was born with a purpose to fulfill on earth! Everyone.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

You have your gifts and talents. You were given enough. But if you are busy feeding your heart anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt & ego – that is what will win. When you are put under pressure and squeezed, that is what will show to the world!

So, when you look at your gifts and talents, and you identify your calling: then you have to strive to perfect those gifts. Use it, or lose it? Anyone that has ever tried to learn a musical instrument knows what no matter how much talent you have, without practice it’s impossible to improve. There are hours of practice of techniques, until muscle memory takes over instead of having to think about each movement. They say it takes some 10,000 hours to become a master! If you look at your spiritual gifts and your Christian life – how far along the path are you investing 10,000 hours to master being a Christian and following in Jesus’ footsteps?

If you considered a University degree – 4 years of study, which is about 8 months out of the year, let’s say 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? That would be about 5,500 hours that you spent only to reach a bachelor’s level of education. Most of us would not consider a recent University graduate to have mastered anything yet. So, when it comes to your spiritual life and transformation, when it comes to what you have inside your heart, why do you expect it to be so easy?

BEING “BORN AGAIN”

rebirth, transformation, patience, struggle, effort, hard work, mercy, gifts, calling, God, listen, understand,, mouth, heartI know for myself, there is this lingering idea that when you are “born again” you become a new creation! Suddenly it’s all easy, right? But if you remember, about 2 months ago we were studying Romans 7, verses 14 to 25, where Paul was agonizing over how he wanted to do good and yet was doing exactly what he didn’t want to do! It was a constant struggle. But as you get to know your strengths and weaknesses, as you cultivate yourself – you practice, sharpen, and develop – then your heart becomes transformed closer each day to the calling that God has for you.

But I would dare to say that “being reborn” is simply “the first day of the rest of your life”. As today is. As tomorrow will be when you wake up tomorrow morning. So use your gifts well. The gifts and talents that God has given you  are not for your own benefit, they’re for the benefit of other people. My gifts are for your benefit. Your gifts are for my benefit. You are to use those gifts in the service of other people. God has given you a special role in this world: you have a special contribution to make that others cannot replace!

1 Corinthians 7: 7 reminds us:

each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

LIVING FROM THE HEART:true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, virtue, praise, meditation, heart, words, mouth, acceptable, Lord, gifts, talents, focus, meditate, excellent, praiseworth, English speaking, Sunday service, Panama City, Panama

As we read in Romans 11:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

God has NOT rejected us! God’s love abounds for everyone: the gifts and calling are irrevocable. But it depends upon us to make our way back to God’s calling and to use the gifts we are given. It is up to us to get ourselves back on track with the forgiveness, healing and help that God has promised throughout the entire Bible. We may reject ourselves. We may reject others. But God is love: God is not ONLY loving. God is love. This means that God cannot help but love us. We are all children of God, called according to God’s purpose. May our hearts and minds reflect this calling.

We read in Psalm 19, verse 14:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

David knew well that what he meditated on, in his heart, would control the words that came out of his mouth. As you take stock of your gifts and talents, as you identify your calling and purpose, how you are called to serve others, then you will find the focus on which you are meant to meditate, ruminate, ponder, consider, reflect and think. And as you spend more time, thinking on things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, just, commendable: when you are squeezed by life – that is the fruit that will come out of your mouth from your heart! I trust, as we all leave today, that we will go forth to our calling, using our gifts as we were meant to do.

Readings:

  • Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … God has not rejected his people who he foreknew.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you… have now received mercy… so they now, by the mercy shown to you, they too many now receive mercy.

  • Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”
Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions… false witness, slander [gossip, lying, cursing, blasphemies, evil speaking, complaining, railings, perjury, impiety of speech]. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

compassion, Romans, Matthew, Psalms, Jesus, Christ, Messiah, Paul, countrymen, Christianity, moved to action, Luke, widow, sick, lame, blind, crippled, healed, hungry, practicing presence

Sermon: Compassion

READINGS:

  • Romans 9: 1-15
  • Matthew 14:13-21
  • Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21

Compassion:

These verses from Matthew & Romans 9 contain a common theme: the compassion of Jesus for the crowd and the compassion of Paul for his Jewish countrymen.  Paul is anguished that his Jewish countrymen cannot see the truth of Christ being the promised Messiah:

9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred … to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, …

He expresses himself as having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for these, his countrymen: how many of us could say we feel like this for our countrymen in Panama?

Where is our Christianity, if we have no compassion? For so many people, life is hard: every story of the gospels shows us Jesus moved to action.

Take a moment with me, to consider the following passages:

  1. Luke 7: 13 – When the Lord saw her (the widow from Nain whose only son had died), he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.”
  2. Matthew 15: 32 – he had compassion on the crowd that came to him with their sick, lame, blind, crippled, mute and healed them. But more so than this, they were hungry and so he ordered the disciples to feed them, all 4,000 of them!
  3. Matthew 9: 35-38 – Jesus was travelling throughout the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
  4. Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus left Jericho, a great crowd was following him and 2 blind men were sitting by the roadside, calling out to him. And Jesus stopped and asked “What do you want me to do for you?”, and they said “Let our eyes be opened”. And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight.

Where have we, as Christians, gone wrong? I cannot imagine a Christ without compassion, but I see so-called Christians without compassion! Where has humanity gone wrong?

I want you to consider a 2, 3 or 4 year old child: if you drop something, they will scuttle to help you pick it up. If they see another child crying, they are anguished and want to make it better. They are anxious to help with the cleaning, the dishes and all those household chores. They are compassionate and caring, they notice the emotions and feelings of those around them.

But then, somewhere along the way, they lose that compassionate nature and they start to think only about self – “I want” and I don’t want to share. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature? Why do we stop taking the time to say “what can I do to help this person”?  We’re living in an epidemic of incivility, disengagement, and despair – in politics, in the work place, in our homes, and even in our church.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion: put simply is empathy PLUS action. It is more than just kindness; it is sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. It is:

  • the smile we give to a stranger
  • the food we give to the homeless or our oldies in our AAAM missions program
  • giving someone the benefit of the doubt
  • it is listening to understand, rather than listening to answer back
  • it is making all conversations safe – even when we have a difficult conversation or feedback to give

We all need more compassion in our lives: a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. We start with compassion towards those we are in contact with every day in our homes, each week day in the office, or once a week in our Church.

Think of this for a moment:
Let’s say you are very worried about your daughter’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a Dengue Fever. Later that day you are in Arrocha, buying some medicines, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.
Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst.

That is, simply, what most of us do. We assume the worst:

They were rude! They were harsh! They were judgmental! Did you hear the tone in their voice? Did you see the way she looked at me? She ignored me! She walked right past me!

Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others.

What would Balboa Union Church look like if every person in this Church were truly compassionate in word & deed, as Christ was?

Where Do We Start?

First – we start with ourselves!

How good are you at being compassionate to yourself? Do you forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Do you love yourself and your body? Do you take time to ask your body how it’s feeling? If you haven’t identified what you are feeling, how are you going to be able to identify what other people are feeling?  How are you feeling right now? Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling nervous or uptight anywhere? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Are you carrying any tension into today from the week that was – are you carrying the past with you? Are you brooding or concerned about the future: where are you holding it in your body?

We start with baby steps: practicing compassion each day. First, I want us to take a small step towards compassion for ourselves:

I want you to think about your body scan that you just finished and what you identified: that part of your body that is tense, tight, aching, whatever it was that you felt: and I want you to bless it. Right here, right now. I want you to pray mercy on yourself. I want you to show yourself some compassion – and instead of complaining about that part of your body, “oh, that knot in my neck”, or “that pain in my knee” or “that old injury that always plays up” – put your hands on it, and say “God bless you”.  Pray love to that part of your body that you always complain about! And every time you feel that ache, pain, tension: I want you to use it as your cue to pray for yourself. Remember God’s love for you, and surround that part of your body with love, acceptance and joy: and bless it. I am sure that you have cursed it enough times already – and I imagine that’s not working for you! So, why not try something different for the next 30 days? Whether it be a slipped disk in your back, a recurring pain in your shoulder, a tightening in your jaw, a sore ankle from when you fell over: let it be reminder to you to love yourself, bless yourself and show yourself and your body some compassion!

Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:

It might be just that person you passed in the street: if you are out and about a lot, in your car, I want to suggest that you use red lights, stop signs or just the traffic jams, and allow them to be your “pause”. Every time you stop, take a deep breath, notice how YOU are feeling, remember you are God’s representative in this world, and then breath out a blessing on another person – maybe a pedestrian that is crossing the street, or the person sitting in the car next to yours, or the traffic cop that is directing the traffic. And each time your car stops, take a moment to pause, to breathe in God’s love, and to exhale a blessing on another person: to reach a point where the red light or stop sign becomes your cue to cultivate compassion, and it helps you establish a habit of compassion for your fellow man.

And then, I want you to bring compassion home, to your house – the place that it is most needed! Unfortunately, most of us treat the people that we live with, our families, with a certain level of disdain that we would not give to others! And it takes extra effort to treat them with compassion, because you really know them, flaws and all! Each morning, take a moment to ask yourself what act of kindness you can perform today in your home, however small.  If you really want a challenge – try the 40-day love dare for your spouse or a person that you live with in the same house!

The world needs Christians that actively practice compassion and caring for their fellow man.  Without compassion, our love towards God is meaningless!

Let’s pray:

Spirit of Life,
Thank you for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life!
When the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, in moments without words, let us be present.
Let us seek to make another’s wellbeing the object of our concern.
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow us to be as compassionate as the air we breathe. Give us the strength to help our brother, to pick up those who have fallen. We declare and decree that we will follow the example Jesus has set before us, in his Mighty name we pray!
Amen