Sermon: Oneness

I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you…

JOHN 14:15-21 (ESV)

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[b] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Good morning,

Two weeks ago we spoke about “the Good Shepherd“, and how we have protection, guidance, purpose, security, blessing, and healing every single day.  During this, we spoke about the Omni-Presence of God in all of life:  I AM the way, the truth and the life.  It is the breath of life that we breath each moment of every day.

Last week, María de Lourdes spoke to us about 1 Corinthians 13, and the love that we need to have in our lives.  More particularly, she spoke about how one of the translations for 1 Corinthians 13 is not whether we “have” love, but rather “I am” or “being” love.  So verses one to three of 1 Corinthians changed from:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

and became:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I am not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but I am not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but I am not love, I gain nothing.

And so today, in John 14, verse 15 we read:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Which commandments, well, quite simply the most important two that Jesus identifies, which sum up all of the prophets and the law:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This reminds me a little bit of the safety briefing you receive when you are sitting on the airplane, waiting to take off.

In the event of sudden loss of cabin pressure individual oxygen masks will automatically drop from the panel above your head.  
If this happens, remain seated and pull down firmly one mask to start the flow of oxygen. 
Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. 
Secure the mask, using the strap and adults traveling with young children, please attend to your own mask first. 

Before you can love others, you need to have God’s love filling you and your own life.  And so, I am struck by this passage we read in John 14, where Jesus assures us, time and time again, that we are going to have help, and that God will not just be with us, but in us!  Sunday, June 4th, is Pentecost Sunday – when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised by the prophet Joel:

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…” (Joel 2: 28-29)

So, in this passage in John, we find Jesus making a promise to the disciples, that God, represented by the Holy Spirit will be IN us – not just with us!

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[b] in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

How are we meant to interpret this statement from Jesus: to be “in the Father”, and us to be “in Jesus” and Jesus to be “in us”? I made the mistake of doing a Google search for “What does it mean to be in God?”, and the search results came up as:

  • What does it mean to serve God?
  • What does it mean to Seek the Lord?
  • What it means to be God’s Woman
  • What does it mean to be in the presence of God?
  • What does it mean to be God-centered?
  • What does it mean to walk with God?

In John 14, Jesus didn’t say ANY of those things… he said “in”, not serve, not seek, not in the presence of, not God-centered, not walk with… he said “in” God.  So, I changed the search: “What does it mean to have God in me?” And once again, the first result from Google seemed to ignore my question!

  • What does it mean that God is with us?

I didn’t ask that – I said “God in us”.

But, the results after that were a little different and more to the point:

  • Christ in us – from Life, Hope & Truth
  • How can God be inside us?  – and that’s from the newspaper Telegraph
  • 8 verses that show Jesus Christ Lives in You
  • Greater is He that is in Me (the Real Meaning of 1 John 4:4)
  • Union with God – the Way to Righteousness
  • What does abiding in Christ mean?

So, out of curiosity I went with the verses that mention Christ living within us, and then found some more:

  1. John 15: 5 – I am the vine and you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit
  2. John 17:21 – that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…
  3. John 17:23 – I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
  4. 1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you…
  5. Romans 8: 10 – But if Christ is in you… the spirit is life…
  6. 2 Corinthians 13:5 – Or do you not realise about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?
  7. Galatians 4:19 – Christ is formed in you
  8. Ephesians 3:17 That Christ may make his home in your hearts
  9. Colossians 1:27 Christ in you, the hope of glory
  10. Galatians 2:20 – It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me

These verses are not talking about the Holy Spirit within, they speak of Christ being within.  Of Oneness with God, with Christ and with the Holy Spirit.  John chapter 1, verse one starts with:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus, the Word, was with God and was God.  And Jesus promises the disciples this same level and quality of oneness or union with God.

How is your relationship with God?  Do you speak to God as “You/Thou”, as if God were separate from you?  Why the separation?  What is standing between you and perfect oneness with God?  I want us to take a moment and just contemplate this…

I don’t know what your experience of this is, but I can tell you mine:

That same separateness from God is exactly what separates me from others.  Whatever barriers I have between me and another person, are the same barriers between me and oneness with God.  When I experience, however fleeting, oneness with God, I experience that same love and oneness with others!  And each barrier that I allow to arise between me and another person, is the same barrier I experience when I try to turn back to God!  

And how do we attain that oneness?  In stillness and quiet: in opening our hearts and spirits to God and saying “I want to become One”.  Does it come at a price?  Yes – you may have to set your ego and pride aside.  You might have to deal with pain and hurt that you have been carrying. There are many things you may have to let go of in order to obtain that.  Remember the rich young ruler – he was happy to fulfill the commandments, but when Jesus asked him to sell all he had, and give it to the poor, he went away sorrowfully – he wasn’t willing to let that go.

I would invite you this week to do a simple exercise, for just one minute, five times a day:  when you awake, at each meal and before you go to sleep.  For just one minute, take a moment to be present, in the moment, and on each in-breath say “God is…” and on each out breath say “I am…”.  Ideally, if you were to add, God is “love”, you should be able to say “I am love”, and if you were to say “God is kind”, you should be able to say “I am kind”.  But for now, just try this – 5 minutes a day.  “God is… I am…”.  And just be aware of any responses or reactions that you feel, which may be the Spirit telling you what you need to deal with in your life.

Sermon: Abundance of Grace

How many of you are awake this morning?  I’m looking for a show of hands here…

How many of you were awake while Betsy read the 7 verses from Romans 5: 12-17?  English Standard Version.  It seems amazing that the entire message of the Bible, from Genesis to the end,  is found here, all summed up neatly in seven verses.

If you all understood it, I don’t need to give you this sermon, and we can go straight to the offertory (we’ll skip the prayers) and then head downstairs to the coffee break.  How does that sound?

How many of you think you don’t need to hear this sermon?

How many of you think you can stay awake until I finish the sermon?

We’ll see how you all go with that, shall we?  …

This morning I’m going to take you on an intellectual (read: scientific journal mumbo jumbo), winding maze through one of the toughest texts that I’ve ever had to prepare for.

I am going to try to give you an explanation that you can hopefully understand…  although I am going to rely a bit on my high-school science as it relates to DNA sequencing in the human body and a very basic knowledge of NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming).

I want to start with the idea of the “Original Sin” and the effect of that “Original Sin” on mankind and how that is passed down from generation to generation.  Verse 12 of Romans 5 starts with

“just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men”

We’ve all been taught that Adam had everything he needed to live eternally, but that because of his sin in the garden of Eden, life becomes finite instead of infinite – death enters the world.

And I want to add to that mix the verse from Exodus 34:7 (ESV) that says:

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

And I’ve wondered to myself how that might be possible on a molecular and physical level – can science explain what the Bible says happened to Adam because of sin and to all mankind, through the passing of the sin from generation to generation?  How does Adam’s bad nature get down to me all these millennia later? Well, some say, it’s like pollution or poison poured into a river. If a company dumps hundreds of liters of mercury into a river, then no matter how far downstream you go, you still get mercury poisoning.

Now – today I’m not going to give you a definition of sin – or even discuss what Adam’s sin was – trying to become like God, transgressing the Commandment God gave him, or whether sin is simply missing the mark of the most perfect version of yourself that God created you to be (like the archer that fails to hit the target).

What I want to look at is the effect that sin has upon us, as a human race, and then briefly touch about the gift of Abundance of Grace that we are promised in Romans 5: 17.

Our bodies have 3 billion genetic building blocks, or base pairs, that make us who we are. And we are somewhere between 99.5 to 99.9% similar to the person next to us.  A printed version of your entire genetic code would occupy some 262,000 pages! Of those pages, only some 500 would be unique to you. So how much of that do you think you inherited from 20 generations back?  How similar does that make you to the person sitting behind you?

And it seems that in 2017, scientists are getting closer to having the answers as they study the effects of stress and life-styles on our DNA codes and sequencing.  And now it seems that there is a reason for this, on 2 levels: epigenetics and the shortening of our telomeres (the protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA).   The field of epigenetics refers to the science that studies how the development, functioning and evolution of biological systems are influenced by forces operating outside the DNA sequence, including intracellular, environmental and energetic influences (and by energetic, I also mean the emotional forces that affect our bodies organs, such as when we get angry, are upset, or stressed and tired, especially for long periods of time).

Since the 1970s, researchers had known that the tightly wound spools of DNA inside each cell’s nucleus require something extra to tell them exactly which genes to transcribe, whether for a heart cell, a liver cell or a brain cell.

One such extra element is the methyl group, a common structural component of organic molecules. The methyl group works like a placeholder in a cookbook, attaching to the DNA within each cell to select only those recipes —  genes — necessary for that particular cell’s proteins. Because methyl groups are attached to the genes, residing beside but separate from the double-helix DNA code.  Originally these changes were believed to occur only during fetal development. But it has already been shown that DNA can be added to in adulthood, setting off a cascade of cellular changes resulting in cancer, diabetes or other illnesses.  Not only that, but epigenetic change could be passed down from parent to child, one generation after the next (hence you find the reference in the Bible that the sins of the fathers are passed down to the son to the third and fourth generations). A study from Randy Jirtle of Duke University showed that when female mice are fed a diet rich in methyl groups, the fur pigment of subsequent offspring is permanently altered. Just by playing with the diet, they could alter the colour of the fur of the mice.  Now, what if emotions, such as guilt, could play a similar role?

The medical field has already shown that stress has this particular effect.  Telomeres are a protective casing at the end of a strand of DNA. Each time a cell divides, it loses a bit of its telomeres. An enzyme called telomerase can replenish it, but chronic stress and cortisol exposure decrease your supply. When the telomere is too diminished, the cell often dies or becomes pro-inflammatory. This sets the aging process in motion, along with associated health risks.

Now we all know that old wives tale that tells a young pregnant woman not to cry during the pregnancy because her child will bear the effects of it through their entire life – but now science is beginning to understand that the negative effects of stress begin before conception.  A baby’s intrauterine environment is shaped by a mom’s pre-existing physical health. There have also been several studies looking at maternal health and telomeres in offspring: the higher a mom’s prenatal anxiety, the shorter the baby’s telomere length (i.e. the shorter the life span).

According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA. Jews whose great-grandparents were chased from their Russian shtetls; a child whose grandparents lived through the ravages of a Revolution; young immigrants whose parents survived massacres; anyone who grew up with alcoholic or abusive parents — all carry with them more than just memories.

So what on earth does any of all this scientific mumbo jumbo have to do with the “Original Sin”, and Paul’s discussion of the original Adam and the posterior Adam (Jesus)?

Well, for starters – it explains how our genetic make up is affected by our habits, our environment, our diet, our stress, and even the stress and anxiety of being ashamed, berating ourselves, or failing to accept God’s forgiveness of our sins.  It explains how any resentment, bitterness or anger that we carry towards another person, when we fail to forgive, affects us to the most innermost of our being as David describes in the Psalms.

1. Your beliefs influence your behavior.  

One of the most basic ways that beliefs can shape reality is through their influence on behavior—no quantum physics or molecular genetics knowledge required.  Beliefs about your basic character—who you are as a person on a fundamental level—can be especially powerful. Research suggests that while guilt (feeling that you did a bad thing) can motivate self-improvement, shame (such as that felt by Adam & Eve in the garden), tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing hope and undermining efforts to change, leaving you stuck in the rut of the very behavior you are ashamed of.

And your behavior will directly impact you with respect to your habits, whether they are good habits, or bad habits.

2. Your feelings directly affect your DNA:   

“When we have negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and dislike or hate, or think negative thoughts such as ‘I hate my job,’ ‘I don’t like so and so’ or ‘Who does he think he is?’, we experience stress and our energy reserves are redirected,” and I’m not talking about a positive redirecting. Part of our energy reserves, which otherwise would be put to work maintaining, repairing and regenerating our complex biological systems, which you probably know as your “body”, are used to confront the stresses these negative thoughts and feelings create, leaving your body unattended.

On another level, science is now beginning to understand that humans have multiple brains: the one you know in your head, your heart brain (which generates much of your energy field), and your gut brain.  So, when you are feeling heavy-hearted, what effect is this physically having on your DNA and body – how is it affecting the helix structure of your DNA strands?  When you are in a gut-wrenching panic or suffering constant anxiety, what effect is this having on the nutrients that are getting to your cells and DNA on a molecular level?

3. You may choose, or not, to accept the abundance of God’s grace:   

The entire Bible is about the transformation of man… having been made perfect, having become imperfect, and having reached perfection once more in the person of Jesus Christ.  Having loved perfectly: God and others – fulfilling the 2 greatest laws of the Bible:  To Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.  And how Jesus came to make the way for us to become perfect also in Him, breaking the curses so that they are no longer passed down to future generations, allowing us to re-write the code and become truly transformed, by the renewing of our mind (which will, of course, affect our bodies and even down to our DNA).

There is only one question:  are you willing to allow God’s grace to truly sweep through your life and transform you: To practice abiding in His presence on a daily basis until you reach a level of peace that transcends all human understanding, guarding your heart and mind in His love? 

Let’s pray.

 

Sources and further reading:

Sermon: Prayer & Fasting

This morning we are looking at Isaiah once again, but now a chapter towards the end.  You may recall that as a whole book, I explained that it can be viewed as 2 parts, chapters 1 to 39, and then from chapter 40 to the end.

As a whole, Isaiah addresses the Babylonian exile of the Israelites over about 50 years (more than 1 generation), and how this exile fulfilled God’s plan of judgment, but more importantly:  restoration.  The Israelites are now busy rebuilding their homeland, and yet they still don’t quite get it (does that resound with any of you?).

It seems like they’ve fallen back into the pits that the Pharisees continued suffering with over 500 years later! The tragedy is that they believe they are doing all the right things and that it’s God who is letting them down!

Let’s read verses 2 and 3 again:
Yet they seek me daily,
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’

So, they are praying every day and reading their Bible “as if they were righteous and were obeying God’s rules” and they ask God for righteous judgments and delight to draw near to God.

But they’re confused.

They are even fasting, not just praying.

Fasting is good, right?

It shows how serious your prayers are!  And the Israelites are convinced that they will please God and bring favor. In fact, so much so, that they made this into an ancient practice and instructed it as a pious act – fast and humble yourself before God.

So, why is God rebuking them?  How could God possibly not be pleased?

Well, there may be one or 2 small issues that they need to review in their lives.  Small things like social injustice, failing to share what they have with those who have not, failing to bring the homeless into one’s house, or give clothing and shelter to the naked… maybe reconciliation issues pending with family or loved ones, and failing to help the afflicated.

God doesn’t have a little book in which there’s a checklist:

  • So… check – Reynaldo has fed the hungry one – so, he doesn’t need to do that again for 5 years.
  • Ah yes, Connie has given clothes to the poor – so she’s good now for 3 years.
  • Look, how sweet, Betsy has brought a homeless person into a restaurant and bought them a meal – she won’t need to do that every again in her entire lifetime.

It doesn’t work like that, does it?

These are more than one-time actions:  they are a way of life.  Behaviours with broad social consequences – actions that will restructure our relationship.

God couldn’t care less for singular, pious acts – he is looking at the Church to dismantle the entire structure of injustice!

And the Church doesn’t refer to this building.  The building isn’t called in Matthew to be the Salt of the Earth, and give flavor to everyone around it.

The Church is made up simply of the people that are in it!

Isaiah 58, verses 3 to 6 remind us:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

There’s no point in going through the motions of a Christian life, if you are not becoming each day more like Christ.

Out of curiosity, have any of you EVER been accused of being too Christ-like?

Sometimes, being called a “Christian” can be more of an insult (referring to being sanctimonious rather than filled with the Spirit), but have you ever heard of someone saying about another Christian – “What I really can’t stand about him/her is that they are just too much like Christ?”

Traditions and systems are not all bad – but when they become rituals that are void of meaning, they lose their effectiveness.

Isaiah calls the people of Israel to a new way of life:  “the fast that God has chosen”.  It’s no longer a periodic fast day that is set aside to punctuate ongoing life – but it’s a new relationship with life and with all that it in it!

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Instead of stopping eating food for a day, or doing the fast of Daniel for 3 weeks, or giving up red meat for Lent, God calls the people of Israel to stop the daily practices which block their relationship with God and their fellowman:

  • Stop domination and taking advantage of others
  • Stop blaming others
  • Stop talking behind someone’s back
  • Stop complaining
  • Stop being so self-centered and focused on self-satisfaction
  • Stop your feeling of entitlement
  • Stop your blindness to your privilege

The fast that God is looking for in our lives is the one that calls for vigilance for justice and generosity- each and every day!

Verses 8 to 12 remind us that we work (actions) on our relationships with our fellow man, and THEN it follows that our relationship with God grows deeper.  The barriers that we build between ourselves and our fellow man and the very same barriers that block our relationship with God! It’s impossible to have a relationship with God without having a full relationship with each other!  Your piety or righteousness is not disconnected from everyday life.

The way that you treat the waiter, the security guard, the beggar is just as important as your prayers or reading the Bible.

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
58:9a Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

We say to God “Lord, give me patience” and then are upset when he responds with, okay – this is the way that I teach patience.  “Here, have a 5 year old!”.

We say to God “Lord, give me abundance” and then you don’t understand when God asks you to be generous.

We say to God “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”, and then fail to mediate a discussion in the office, or ask for forgiveness when another feels offended.

Prayer is so much more than just making our requests known to God – it’s going out into the World and LIVING the lessons each day.

Sermon: Laboured in Vain

I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing…

Over one hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career.  In addition to touching on his own family history, war, human and property rights, Roosevelt railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place.  People like Isaiah, trying to turn the people of Israel back to God, and yet failing miserably at it.

Teddy Roosevelt in this speech said:

“A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not … of superiority but of weakness.”

Life is made up of challenges – for each one of us they are different!  And there is always going to be someone on the sidelines criticising your performance, as you struggle to be “wonder woman” or “super man”.  And that intimation of failure often causes us panic, even despair.

Failure is considered an unpardonable sin in a world where we sanctify the successful and worship winners.  Everybody wants to succeed – no one wants to be considered a failure!  How many people do you know whose life goal is to fail?  But this emphasis on success can put an enormous stress on us.  No one wants to be called a failure.  If I fail, what will happen to me? What will others think?  Will they reject me?  Are they going to think I’m worthless?   And yet, our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement.

Simply put:  your task on earth is to become your best version of you.  You are unique.  God made you specially just like you – there is no one else exactly like you – and you have a special purpose on this earth, otherwise God would not have made you and put you here! And if you haven’t done it already, you need to take a day or two and sit and medidate (in silence – and for pity’s sake, stop talking and turn off the mobile devices!), and listen to hear what that purpose is.  The Bible of full of examples of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. We’ll talk more about that next week!

The world has a few examples of failures that went on to do some remarkable things:

  • I’m sure you’ve all heard of that guy Henry Ford, bankrupted 2 automobile industries and ruined all his chances of good investors.
  • Or maybe that guy Fred Astaire.  His first screen test didn’t go so well: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding.  Can dance a little.”
  • Then there’s that guy that had trouble adjusting to the culture and classes at Yale, so he dropped out.  He went back again later, and it still wasn’t for him, so he dropped out again.  His name’s Dick Cheney.  Never going to amount to anything!
  • Or there’s that single mother on welfare who was trying to write.  I think her name was J.K. Rowling or something.
  • Or that kid whose teacher told his mother he was “too stupid to learn anything”.  He was unfortunate enough to be called Thomas Edison.
  • And there’s that guy who was so frustrated trying to write his first novel, that he threw away the entire first draft!  His wife found this manuscript for a book “Carrie”, and rescued it from the trash.  You might have heard of him – Stephen King.

There’s a reason you are in church this morning – maybe you are stuck in a place of despair, ready to give up, not sure how to keep up the good fight. But men and women can change: once again we have a Bible full of examples of people who stopped in their tracks and had a heart change, which became a totally new person.  To mention a few of the better know examples from the New Testament:  Saul who became Paul; Simon who became Peter; Jonah (in spite of his best efforts to the contrary); Levi the tax collector who became Matthew the disciple.

But on the road to that transformation, there are holes.  And if we’re not careful, that hole becomes a rut.  And before you know it, you’re stuck in that rut, and your following that rut instead of the path that you’re supposed to be on, because it’s much more comfortable to stay in the rut than to try to get out of it.  And let’s be honest, sometimes getting out of that rut looks impossible!  You tell yourself, it just can’t be done! This is is – the best I can do, the most I can be.

Isaiah is in a rut (and feeling sorry for himself), in verse 4 of our reading this morning:

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.”

This is the same servant that said:

“Before I was born, the LORD called me:  from my birth he has made mention of my name.”

He knew what his calling was! He was predestined to do God’s work!  There’s an amazing amount of expectations upon him! And God gave him all the gifts and tools he needed for the task.  Remember verse 2:

“He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me:  he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in His quiver.”

I was MADE for this.

But his progress report in verse 4 is not very encouraging:

“My work  is so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.”

Probably a good time just to go back to bed! The task is too great!  I’m inadequate.  I can’t do it!

Now the whole book of Isaiah can be divided into 2 principle sections:

  1. Part one is chapters 1 to 39, which address Israel’s continuing sin and rebellion, where their hearts are so hardened that no matter the strength of Isaiah’s tone and words, nothing will turn them. They became self-centered and inward-looking; they forgot their covenant.  They forgot they were a people belonging to God. Finally, Isaiah brings a message of judgement and exile – the Old Jerusalem is condemned and will be no more.
  2. Part two, chapters 40 to 66, opens with words of consolation “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”.  It finishes with the emergence of the NEW Jerusalem.

So we see in Isaiah a transformation – from the old to the new:  the old Jerusalem is torn to the ground and then rebuilt as a new Jerusalem.  You see, when everything is stripped away, our spirit starts to show through, and then our relationship with God and the eternal comes clearly into focus.  Maybe right now you’re sweating and you can’t see the results of all your hard work: and instead of giving up, maybe it’s time to take a small rest and remember WHO you are and WHY you were put on this earth!

1 Peter (2:9-10) reminds us:

You are a chosen people… a people belonging to God… Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God…”

 

And I have another little gem for you, God expects you to fail!  Yes, you heard that right: God doesn’t expect you to get it right the first time. In fact, he has an expectation that you are going to fall!

How many of you have children and have taught that child to ride a bicycle?

The first time you put them on the bike – did they get it right?  How many chances did they need to learn?  How many got it on the 2nd time? the 3rd? What do you mean it took 54 times before they learnt?

Well, why are you so hard on yourself?  Why do you expect to learn in just one go?  Let’s go back to the kid on the bike:  you have a little hill (without a main road down the bottom!), it’s a safe place to learn to ride.  So you have this kid who has finally mastered balance and steering (for the most part), and they riding down the hill now pretty well!  So you finally reach the moment when you think they are ready, and instead of pushing the bike back up to the top of the hill again for the kid, you tell, well, why don’t you ride UP the hill now?  And what’s the first thing that happens?  They fall off!  Because it’s easy to ride the bike down the hill and keep your balance when you have a little momentum!  But when you meet resistance and you have to keep your balance AND pedal hard, and you’re new at this, you fall over the moment you push too hard on the left side without adjusting your balance on the right side to counterbalance the force you’re using to get yourself up the hill!  Right?

And God knows this!  God’s been watching us since the Garden of Eden.  How many people has he seen fall off the proverbial bicycle since the world was created?

Matthew 26 reminds us that on the night of the betrayal, when Judas betrays Jesus and gets him arrested, that Jesus said to ALL the disciples (not just one of them, not just Judas):

Tonight, all of you will desert me.

We all remember Peter’s response to that, right? Oh no, not me!  I’m good.  Even if everyone else does.  I won’t.  I’ll be the man.  And in the garden, when Jesus is taken, Peter tries to live up to his word, taking out his sword and cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers.  I’m sure he’s flabbergasted when Jesus heals the ear!

But there was one lesson that Jesus hadn’t taught his disciples yet, and they needed to learn it the hard way – enough with parables and teaching. They needed to experience this first hand.

How do you handle failure?  What do you do in the face of fear?  

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are going to talk about next Sunday.

 

I want to leave you with one parting thought today from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Let’s pray!