Proverbs, man, thinks, heart, humankind, Christians, character, habits, do good, decisions, actions, wrong, better, shekinah, practicing Presence, mindset, Romans, live, flesh, Spirit, life, peace,

Sermon: Mindset

READINGS:

  • Romans 8: 1-11

We read this morning:

Romans 8: 5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

This reminds me of Proverbs 23:7 **

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

thinking, thoughts, Balboa Union Church, Panama City, Panama, churches in Panama, English speaking, Sunday service

As we have been studying Romans over the past few weeks, we have looked at various aspects of humankind, of Christians, and our character and habits.  For example, last week we read how Paul said:

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Somewhere, in Paul’s subconscious mind, there was still something that was more important than doing the good that he decided to do.  The week before that we looked at living in the freedom of God versus the slavery of sin or simply ego: choosing whom you wished to serve. Where is your focus? We have also studied the difficulties of rejoicing in our sufferings, choosing discipline even when it’s not an easy path. In that sermon, we considered resilience – the quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever – they rise from the ashes, rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve. And we especially looked at how resilience forms character. There we read Romans 5, verses 3 to 5:

… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 

And so I want to talk, this morning, about your mindset.  What is your mind set on?

I want to invite you all, for just 30 seconds, to clear your mind of every thought – and then see what thoughts wander in? Where does your mind take you, when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do?

What did you think about? What is “on your mind”?  rootedinChrist

Now, I want us to take a few minutes, and I ONLY want you to think about the picture on the front cover of your bulletin this morning. Focus on this and think only about this!

How many of you thought about other things? What happened with your focus?

And now, one find experience: whatever you do, do NOT think about the image on the front cover of your bulletin.  You can think about anything, just don’t think about that!

How many of you thought about the image on the front cover of your bulletin?   This is what happens when something is worrying, and you tell yourself, I’m just not going to think about “that”, guess what your mind thinks about? When you say “I’m going to trust God and I’m not going to worry about ‘this’”, guess what your mind thinks about? Usually not about trusting God: in fact, it starts worrying about ‘THIS’! It’s especially the same thing when you are upset about something that someone else said or did, you mind just plays it over, time and time again. You try to focus on something else, and it the anger or frustration or hurt bubbles back up to the surface and you replay once again the whole scenario!

“Well, I’m just not going to think about that right now!”

How’s that workin’ for you?

The mind can be so fickle – it has to be trained to focus! We’ve only spent a couple of minutes looking at what is on your mind, and I hope that you’ve been able to get a feel for what you are thinking about, what weighs on you, and how much effort it takes to focus on one thing or NOT think about that one thing.

In order to set your mind on Christ, and have a Christ mindset, you need to have the daily discipline and practice of focusing on God, the way that Jesus showed us by his example.  Let’s take a moment and look at the example that Jesus gave us in the gospels:

MEMORISED VERSESmeditate, God's Word, memorise, memorize, Bible verses, Balboa Union Church, Panama City, Panama, English speaking, Sunday service, churches in Panama

How many times do we see Jesus quoting scripture in the Bible? I am pretty sure Jesus wasn’t carrying around with him all of the scrolls of the Pentateuch and the prophets everywhere he went. He probably didn’t have an iPad or a mobile app with the Bible. That means, every time that Jesus quoted scripture in his sermons, his teachings, his parables and his responses to the Pharisees or Scribes, he was quoting a scripture he had memorised already!

Deuteronomy 6, verses 6 to 9 says:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Those would be the verses that you memorise, that you have on a post-it stuck to your computer screen, it would be the daily verse App that you have on your mobile phone, or the email you sign up for to receive a verse daily, it would be a screen saver on your computer, or a bracelet or prayer beads that you wear. It would be simple, daily reminders of promises of God that you focus on, at all times, so that when you are in the middle of a difficulty these verses come to mind as easily as they did for Jesus.

IT’S YOUR PRAYER LIFE

Luke 5:16 reads, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” I would like to highlight two things in this verse: the word “often” and the word “lonely places”. Your prayer life should be often, and is many times best when you are alone. You can be alone in the middle of a mall on Christmas Eve, but I am sure that your prayers will fill more stillness if you were on the top of the lookout at Parque Metropolitano or Cerro Ancón or the Causeway.  Luke 6:12 says, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray …” He could have gone to a home, a synagogue or if He were near Jerusalem he could have gone to the temple to pray. But we see that many times Jesus used nature for his prayers.  Psalm 46:10 reads, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Sometimes it’s important for us to “be still” before God, but the only way to do this, especially in our hectic culture, is to do so alone with God.

How is your prayer life right now? How disciplined is it? Do you often take time to withdraw from your hectic life and spend time in prayer.

IT’S IN YOUR SERVICE

Philippians 2, verses 5 to 8 explain to us the attitude of Jesus.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient…

We find a Jesus that served others, picking up a bowl and a towel, washing the feet of his disciples. When we are focused on others, as Jesus was, we have less time to think about “I want” or “I deserve”.

Servant, service, serving others, free from pride, strength from God

STAYING PLUGGED IN

Another important point we learn from Jesus is that he stayed plugged in, each and every day. He spent time alone in God’s presence each day, reminding himself of his purpose.  This lead him to say to us, in John 15:5 :

 Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those that remain in me and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing.

LIVING A PURPOSE FILLED LIFE

We read in John 17:4, Jesus says in prayer:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

Are you living out your purpose filled life? Have you identified the purpose that you are on this earth for?  Think, for a moment, about the legacy that Jesus left here on earth! Two thousand years later, and we are still trying to live up to his example! 2,000 years after he said “greater things than these”, and we still struggle to live according to the Sermon on the mount. In 2,000 years time – what will people be speaking about YOUR legacy?

Can you say “I have completed the work the Lord gave me to do”? If not, where is your mind set?

CONCLUSIONS

If every thought in your head is a prayer, how’s your prayer life? Every thought is part of the reality you are creating, it is where you are spending your focus and energy: what are you praying?  If you remember, we read in Romans 6:16 a few weeks ago:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin… or to obedience…

Is you mind set on Christ and God within? Have you set your mind on the Spirit, which is life and peace?

Our challenge, as Christians, is to have the discipline to set our minds on “things of the Spirit”, as expressed in Romans 8.

Let’s pray!

 

 

**

Proverbs 23:7

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

This verse is so strong and persuading, that James Allen wrote a book in 1903 title “As a man thinketh”.  This book dealt with the power of your thoughts: In James Allen’s own words “It shows how, in his own thought-world, each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances.”  The book starts with the statement:

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.

Sermon: Abounding in steadfast love

READINGS:

  • Psalm 145: 8-14
  • Romans 7: 15-25a
  • Matthew 11: 25-30

SLOW TO ANGER AND ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE

I titled this sermon “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as a reminder of the nature of Christ and the ideal version of every Christian. What would this world look like today, if that were a true description of every person in the world that called themselves a “Christian“? Imagine if every evangelical, every conservative, every progressive, every fundamentalist, every liberal, every Catholic, every 7th Day Adventist could say, in spirit and in truth: “I am slow to anger and abounding, overflowing, exuding steadfast loveI love God and I love my neighbor.” What would the world’s experience of Christians be if we truly followed in Christ’s footsteps?

Did you know that the word “Christian” is used 3 times in the Bible? Three times, in all of the Bible. Twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter.  Christians in this first century after Christ’s death were called such because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ” or “belonging to the party of Christ.” One of the better known followers of Christ was the Apostle Paul, who wrote many of the letters that we now have in our Bible. These letters were directed to different communities of faith, and often were in response to specific questions that they raised in their letters. Paul was probably a more prolific writer than the disciples, as he was originally a Pharisee, a well-educated man, with an advantage that they did not have for writing.

Nevertheless, we find that Paul still struggled with some basic spiritual issues.  I want to take a moment, and read for you Romans 7, verses 15-25a from the Bible version “The Message”, because it seems to me that this version is very practical and easy to understand:

ROMANS 7:15-25 THE MESSAGE (MSG)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

When Paul wrote Romans, he was already 20 years into his ministry! This was no longer a young, zealous man, battling with temptations of his youth.  This was a man that had lived through trials and tribulations, who had spent most of his adult life as a missionary.  And yet, he writes to us “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.”

What hope is there for you and me if Paul cannot get it together? Paul had many advantages over you and me: as a Pharisee he knew the 621 rules for righteousness and was well- versed in keeping them. But, just like each one of us, Paul had an ego. I imagine his ego also responded to pride, self-centeredness and selfishness!

God's grace: free & unmerited favor
God’s grace: free & unmerited favor

Paul comes back to GRACE as the solution for his battle! Knowing the law and doing his best to keep the law was not enough. Without grace, Paul was just as lost as the next person. In verse 25 of Romans 7, Paul says “Christ can and does”: it is not I, but Christ that lives in me that allows me to live out a holy life.

Last week, I used the example of the worm inside the apple, an egg laid inside the apple blossom that hatches inside the apple when it is maturing. Sin can be like that in our lives: we are growing and maturing and suddenly find that a bad habit or attitude has been growing and maturing inside of us as well.

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.

God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!
God is looking on the inside: Your Heart!

Right now, I am at my heaviest weight ever! Even at eight and a half months pregnant, I weighed less than I do now! The weight was distributed differently then, and I felt much healthier than I do right now! And six months after my daughter was born, I was at my perfect weight! Then life happened! I excuse myself with the sleepless nights, the busy lifestyle, and the responsibilities that I have chosen to assume. The unfortunate reality is that I dislike, okay… it’s a little stronger than dislike… I despise getting up at 5.30 in the morning to do exercise!

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good (get fit and eat healthy), sin (food, laziness, lack of motivation) is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands (having my ideal weight and feeling healthy), but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge (and there I am, sitting down with a cheesecake!).

Everyone has an excuse and a scapegoat! This past week, I blamed it on Betsy for showing up with a gluten-free cheesecake. But the reality is that I have a sugar-tooth, and suffer from insulin resistance. I can either choose to take medications and live a healthy lifestyle, making diet choices that take me back to optimal health; or I can cheat and double the medication and not do the exercise and diet; or I can do nothing at all as I have been doing for the past 12 to 18 months! Last week, I decided to do 21 days of getting up at 5.30 and doing a 30-minute workout and stretching!

Doing right is a titanic struggle and an uphill struggle; doing wrong is a short step or a minor slip. The Chinese says, “Doing right requires ten years, doing bad requires just one minute.” The previous Chinese generation says, “Kids take three days to learn bad, three years to learn good.” Some have modified to say kids take three minutes or even there seconds to learn bad.

In truth, practice what you preach is easier said than done. The good you intend to do ends up not just merely bad, faulty or short, but evil (vv 19, 21) – sin’s Murphy’s Law equivalent: If anything can go wrong, it will. Not only wrong, but wicked and wasted.

For me, the solution to this issue lies in keeping my eyes focused on what I what I want my life to look like. Each morning when I arrive in the office, I look at my vision board: it reminds me of the different areas of my life and what I would like my life to look like if I were living to my fullest. There’s a heading “my best body” – showing healthy food, running, resting, stretching, and fitness! And I have been ignoring that section of the board since January!

Spiritually, there’s also a vision: plugged into the power of prayer! Paul says in Romans 7: 25 that the answer lies in that Christ can and does: Paul thanks God for being patient with him. As David says in Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

This grace allows us to say:

“Thank you that even though I’m a mess, you still love me and you are still striving with me and you want to make me something more today that I was yesterday.”

We are loved by God and God is willing to take us just as we are! With Christ within us, God works from the inside out to transform us. We are forgiven from the inside out! If God has forgiven us, we can forgive ourselves.

Keep this small image in mind:

How did you learn to walk? Have you ever seen a little one learning to walk. They don’t get up and just start walking the first time they try. They crawl for awhile. They pull themselves up and take one step and fall back – up again and fall forward. Soon they are taking a couple of steps before they fall. And they walk, and they fall, and they pull themselves back up again, and they totter and they fall.

Life as a Christian, with each new step of the way, is a new learning. As you overcome one challenge, there will always be something new. Paul reminds us to “work through our salvation”, because it is a constant process of growth. We are free from the penalty of sin, but we need Christ in us to be free from the power of sin.

But we remember and we meditate on Psalm 145, verse 8:

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And if Christ is in us, then each of us should be able to look in the mirror and say: “I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” Imagine a world in which that were the description of each of us!

Sermon: If you really loved me…

LECTIONARY:

IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME…

Recently I was listening to a presentation by Jim Rohn, where he was talking about measuring our personal progress – about how each of us, no matter how young or old, should be growing and progressing. We need to be realistic, look at ourselves and our lives carefully, asking regularly – am I really growing?  He put it this way:

“How many years do you want your child to spend in fourth grade? About one.

Well, if they’re nice kids, would you give them three or four years? No. You can’t give your child four years to get through fourth grade. That’s too much time …

And that got me thinking about our spiritual lives, spiritual growth and church growth (not the numbers – the actual heart and soul of our congregation).

There’s a saying in business:

Measured performance is improved performance.

When we want to improve something, we measure it – can I run 5 KM, 10 KM, 15 KM, a half marathon?  Can I do 50 sit-ups? Can I play Concerto No. 5 in D Major?

What about your life?  How are you ensuring that you continue to grow each year? How will I (or others) know if, and when, I am growing toward a more full experience of faith? What is the real difference between someone who has only been a Christian for one year, and someone that has been a lifelong follower of Christ – a person devoted to Christ and his vision, for say 30 years? What does this look like?

With so many devotionals out there, online courses, causes that we could take up, programs that we could implement in Balboa Union Church, how is what we are doing today, this week, this month, this year, lead us toward becoming more Christlike?  When I look at my life and my beliefs, do I want to be influenced by and glean insight from the emergent church? The seeker movement?  Am I looking for a house church?  A bible study?

Can you, individually – can we collectively, as a church – afford the luxury of an unchanged life and vision?

Spiritual life is not just about doing things – being busy – it’s about doing the right things.  And when you are looking at the results and measuring your progress – it’s about measuring the right things too!

Individually:

  • Am I more patient?
  • Am I learning to love people that are hard to love?
  • Do I desire to be more like Christ today than I once desired?

Obviously, it’s hard to put numbers on these intangibles – it’s so much more satisfying to look at something “measurable” – On some levels, it’s much better to say “I want to lose 10 pounds” than “I want to lose weight” – we need to know if we’ve arrived.  But how do you know you’re growing? By what criteria do you objectively quantify the growth?

In some instances, there is a measurable criteria (the 3 “B”s – bodies, budgets & buildings):

  • Does the Church have more income today than it did a year ago?
  • Are we within budget?
  • How much are we spending on missions and serving the community?
  • Do we have a bigger membership?
  • Have we increased attendance?

But when we shift this to spiritual pursuits, and we say “my goal is to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ” (2 Peter 3: 18) – How do we measure progress? For some years, the practice of spiritual discipline was used:  growth is happening if the person was reading the Bible each day, praying, attending church, generously giving, fasting, meditating, serving in some capacity.  But, then we discover that these actions might not actually lead to spiritual maturity. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were great rule keepers, but they completely missed the point!

Maybe it’s knowledge: how’s your spiritual vocabulary? How many books have you read? How many retreats have we attended? How many seminars are we organising as a Church?  But while it’s good to grow in our knowledge, this isn’t really a measure of spiritual maturity either – just look at the Pharisees – it’s hard to get more learned than them!

Going to the other extreme –  “I feel closer to Jesus” – does that convince you? Too subjective?  

John 14 presents us with an easy litmus test: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  Do we love God? Do we love others? We can measure our love for God according to how we love and treat others.

So – what if, we measure service?

To be like Christ, means a life of service. BUT….  Doing something because we feel guilty or because we are worried about what others will think of us if we don’t do it, is all the wrong kind of motivation.  It’s not enough to look at attendance & giving, if we are overlooking anger, contempt, honesty and the degree to which we are simply guided by our fears!

I agree totally – if we are to grow spiritually -individually and collectively – we need to be reading books, listening to sermons and seminars, studying the Bible (personally and in groups) – but if we want to mature spiritually, then we must also become passionate about serving.  We need to BE the Church in the community.

Christian maturity is when we stand still long enough to perceive God’s amazing love for us, and so, in turn, begin to love and serve others because we just can’t imagine it any other way.  There’s a special vitality to this – it’s not the tempo of the music or the emotional response in a worship service. Instead, there is an expectancy, and enthusiasm, a sense of hope, a feeling that “life” itself is present.

Crissi Jami says:

“Good works is giving to the poor and the helpless, but divine works is showing them their worth to the One who matters.”

John 14 reminds us:

“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, …24 Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. 25 I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. 26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Do you love the world like Jesus?

I don’t – I usually have a conditional, temporal love – what I mean is:

I see love in my heart: for God, my daughter, family, and others.  But I also see other things: fear, despair, jealously, and even resentment.

Jesus says that we are left with a gift: peace of mind and heart, a peace that the world cannot give.  We are not to be troubled or afraid. But I don’t always feel this way!

 

For a moment, I want us to focus on why do some people feel this and others struggle with this?  Why is this easy for some, and so difficult for another person?  Do you know that person that loves unconditionally?  That just radiates love?  That always seems to have enough?

I believe the answer lies in our beliefs and perceptions:  You and I may differ in our views – the glass is half full, the glass is half empty.  We are both missing the whole point!  It doesn’t matter whether the glass is half full or half empty, Jesus says that the Father loves us, and is sending the Advocate, with gifts of peace of mind and heart – the glass can ALWAYS be refilled!

The real question should be: do I truly believe that God is love, and that in this world and Universe there is enough love, if I would simply open my heart and allow my soul and spirit to be filled to overflowing with this love?  If I would be willing to simply become a vessel that could be filled and not depend on how much I have, but rather to allow all of God’s peace and love to flow through me – there would always be enough!

Let me ask you one more time – how would you measure your growth and progress as a Christian?

Let us pray:

Creator and all-knowing Spirit:  help us to stop measuring our spiritual growth by checklists and numbers.  Give us the grace and peace to measure our lives by love and love alone.  Help us to receive your love, and teach us to love.  Create in us clean spirits, that live out amazing love stories so that others are drawn to You.

Amen.

Just Do It!

Lectionary Readings:  February 2, 2014

  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12

As many of you may be aware, since November I have been participating in coaching seminars (once a month).  These seminars focus on increasing effectiveness, especially with relation to your goals and relationships.  One of the purposes of participating was to “stop procrastinating”.

I’m one of those people that when I read on someone’s CV “works well under pressure”, my automatic assumption is “this person is just like me – they procrastinate”, otherwise that wouldn’t be in their CV.
Of course, as I was finishing preparing this sermon last night (yes, you heard right… last night, after I put Isabella to bed), it struck me “so how have these seminars helped me? It’s the night before, and here I are, finishing up again at the last minute”…

But I did notice a big difference – on Thursday, when I was busy doing other things, I thought to myself – you should be preparing your sermon – and then I decided that I needed to do that instead.  Conscious decision.

Friday I was busy with the house and paediatricians appointment – once again, I realised I could be preparing my sermon, but chose not to.

Saturday morning – I chose to participate in the Patio Sale here at church, knowing that it would without a doubt mean that on Saturday night I would be at the laptop, finishing off my review of my sermon and putting my thoughts together.

So, what is different?  What have I learned after almost 120 hours of seminars and coaching?
The value of my decisions and choices – that I own them.  The results are completely mine.  Over the next 15 weeks I have given myself what I consider to be some extraordinary goals – not because they require me to do something extraordinary today, but rather because they require me to be consistent every day.  There’s not a single day that I can just tune out and say – “not today.  Today I’m not responsible…”

I remember as a kid, we always used to joke “the Devil made me do it”… like I had no say in the matter… It is about as effective as “if I was really filled with the Spirit, I wouldn’t sin anymore”.

Really? Why am I still waiting for that “magical” moment when suddenly I will be a new person and magically stop doing what I know to be wrong?  Why am I waiting for the Holy Spirit to do the job for me, when I already know what I’m supposed to do?

How many times have I given myself the excuse – I’m going to love my neighbour when the Holy Spirit fills me with Christ’s love?  That unknown moment in the future – that lets me off the hook today.
How many times will I continue to excuse my behaviour, because I have that perfect excuse?

This morning we read the beatitudes – which like Paul mentions in Corinthians, differ completely from the wisdom of man.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who are truly humble before God. This means to be free of arrogance, self-righteousness and self-sufficiency.  To be poor in spirit gives me the freedom to be completely available for God.  It’s when I acknowledge that bring nothing of my own: power, possessions or merit – that’s when I gain the kingdom of heaven.  Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean that to get in I am humble and then as soon as I have entered I become self-sufficient:  it means that I live in a state of humility.  It’s a way of being – consistently humble before God and others.  Constantly being available to others.
  • Blessed are those who mourn – we often look at this as being those who have lost a loved one: but I think it’s more than this.  How many of us see another person with problems and think “that’s their problem”?  I have enough issues of my own – I don’t need to take on anything else.  But when we read this passage of Matthew, it’s as if there is a mourning for the loss of another.  What if I opened myself up to feeling another person’s suffering?  What if I was open to making myself available and feeling empathy with their pain?  How much more could I achieve in “loving my neighbour” if I took it upon myself to feel his or her pain and not simply write it off as “their problem”?
  • Blessed are the meek – the meek in the Bible are those who have a spirit or gentleness and self-control.  This means to be free from malice and a condescending spirit.  The meek don’t exploit and oppress others – they are not violent, and they don’t seize power for their own ends.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – not just their own righteousness (of doing what is right in God’s sight), but the righteousness in terms of justice throughout the nation.  These are people who are concerned about social justice and ensuring that the law is followed and due process is given to all.  They are crusaders in their community for what is right – not silent bystanders watching as injustice happens around them.
  • Blessed are the merciful – showing mercy to others means both compassion to the sinner, as well as compassion for the hungry and needy.  It means that I will show kindness and heal wounds.  It is only if I shun that place where I think I deserve the grace that I have received and avoid becoming intolerant of others or judgement, that I can show mercy to others.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart – this describes not only inner purity but singleness of mind.  This is where my will and choice come into play.  To be pure in heart means that my desires, thoughts and intentions are aimed at pleasing God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers – When my effort is to strive to establish a peace that embraces God’s provision of peace, where everyone around me is in harmony, because we are all at peace with God.  This is a spiritual state of peace, not a political one.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – if we start to promote peace or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, we will find opposition.  And that may get nasty.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Jesus.  What if I would really stand up for what Jesus taught us and refused to live in the grey area?

Have you noticed that all of these refer to states of being – I am poor in spirit, I am meek, I am a peacemaker, I am pure in heart.  None of these refer to how I feel.  None of these refer to being a Christian “when the circumstances and my emotions are in the right place and it’s easy”.

Jesus was a radical – the same way that Paul said that the wisdom of God doesn’t make sense for the wisdom of man.

What do you mean the poor in Spirit are blessed?  Then, as now, most of us would have said “Blessed are the rich and powerful, for they have it all”… But that’s not what Jesus said….  Jesus bucked the establishment and focused on what really mattered spiritually.   And as a follower of Christ, I’m expected to also.

Next weekend I’m going to be back in the seminar that I mentioned, but this time as a volunteer helper in the first weekend.  The principal reason for doing this is that I want to give back to a new group of people a little of what I received.  But I will admit that there is this curiosity in me that I want to satisfy.  I want to see if Jorge, the leader, really is a sweet and loving on the first day as what he is now!

What changed? How he treated me? Or my perception and expectations of how someone that truly loves others treats me?

I have to say, I have never met anyone like Jorge and Nicholas… These two men work in black and white.  No grey areas.  I would go as far as saying for the first time I have met someone that helps me understand the Apostle Paul – I have always seen him as harsh and judgmental, not loving – but maybe the reason his letters were so well accepted among those he wrote to was that they had experienced first-hand how loving he was. Perhaps they knew that he was telling them exactly what they needed to hear – not what they wanted to hear.

Jorge and Nicholas call me out – they don’t just let me slide.  If I have said that the most important relationships in my life are my marriage and Isabella, then they expect my actions to reflect this.  That rather than giving Alessandro and Isabella the “left-overs” of my time – they are getting my prime time.  Rather than taking Alessandro for granted (because he loves me), that I am giving to Alessandro my full attention when we are together, because that is how you treat the most important person in your life.

Now, I have some great excuses about why that doesn’t happen:
1-    I had a really hard day at work;
2-    I was up at 3.00 a.m. checking on Isabella and I’m really tired;
3-    I got pounded by work today and then I had to meet with so-and-so and then I took the dogs out;
4-    You have NO IDEA how much I had to do today…

The list can go on and on… I even believe my excuses!  But Jorge and Nicholas don’t. They don’t buy into them… they question them.  They question my priorities.

And for most of us, it’s socially unacceptable for someone to call you out on these things.  When someone gives us a good excuse for why they aren’t a loving and attentive Christian, we let them off the hook – because we want them to let us off the hook when we aren’t.

But I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says “Love your neighbour when you’re having a good day and feel like it”.  I haven’t found “It’s acceptable to complain when you need a little self-pity”.

What we find are verses like:

•    Philippians 2: 14 – Do everything without grumbling and complaining.
•    1 Peter 4:9 – Show hospitality to one another without complaining.
•    1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances…
•    James 1: 2-3 – Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

There’s no getting off easy in the Bible for having a bad attitude, responding to someone with harsh words, feeling self-pity.  But would I call someone out on this?  I’m expected when someone complains about how hard their day has been to listen to them and give them that hug they need.  But is what they need really that hug and my pity?

What if I really listened to them, and rather than just accepting what they told me out of their mouth, I read their body language and listened further – and actually got to the bottom of what was really bothering them?  What if instead of buying into their words and giving them a pat on the back and “there, there, it will be okay”, I challenged them to be better than the circumstances they were facing?  Wouldn’t that be true love like Jesus showed?

I claim to love others as Christ loved us – but I only do it until it’s comfortable.  When it starts to get uncomfortable, that’s when I back off and step back into my comfort zone.

And the Bible tells us, in unequivocal form – JUST DO IT.

My ego – the root of my own downfall

The ego – the root of all evil

Lectionary Readings:

  1. James 1:17-27
  2. Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

How do you react when you hear the word “Pharisee”?  What type of emotional reaction do you feel rising within you?

What if I told you that in the years of Christ, the Pharisees were the heroes, not the villains?  That to be a Pharisee was to ascribe to a holy life?  Of course, after 2,000 years of Church history, we have a negative picture in our minds when we hear the word “Pharisee”, because we know how they responded to Jesus.  But there’s always more to the story than the part that we’ve heard.

The Pharisees were all lay people, not priests.  Many were scribes or had a level of education which allowed them to study the scriptures and the written traditions.  They were a reform movement; it was their passion that the ordinary people of Israel learn to live out their devotion to God, in a practice, hands on sense.  They believed that every detail of the scriptures could be applied to everyday life, living out holiness in a practical way.

Their virtue was that they believed that everyone could and should strive for the same level of godliness and holiness that God required of the priests who lived in the temple.  An effective “priesthood of the saints”.  They believed that if Israel was to be the nation of priests that the prophets had claimed, then all people should live by the same standards that were required of the priests.

The Pharisees only error was expecting a higher level of obedience and commitment among the people than what the scriptures actually required of the people.  This reform movement was an attempt to call the people of Israel to a life of godliness.

Admittedly, the Pharisees put their traditions on an equal footing with the laws of God given in the Old Testament.  They claimed that God had given 2 laws:

  • the ones written down and
  • the traditions given to the elders.

And so they took it upon themselves to write down these traditions in the Talmud and the Mishnah – because while the Bible tells us what God wants us to do, it doesn’t always tell us HOW to do it.  So, we’re going to help you and tell you HOW God wants you to do it.

For many of us, it’s quite hard to understand the controversy found in Mark.  We automatically think of the hygienic aspect of “washing your hands” before you handle food. Images may come to mind of the SARS virus outbreak or the bird-flu or the influenza H1N1 virus.  But these rituals were about purity and holiness.

In ancient Israel, you had to be in a state of ritual purity in order to worship God.  If you were ritually impure, you needed to go through a purification ritual to become clean again.

The most well-known part of these ritual purity rules are the Old Testament dietary laws:  the clean and unclean. Or the kosher or not-kosher.  The obedience of these rules were the boundary markers between the Jewish people – maintaining their uniqueness as a people and culture.  To obey was to say you were Jewish; to disobey was to abandon your heritage.

The hand-washing law went something like this:

Before you eat, you must pour one and a half (1 ½) eggshells of water over your hands, in a specifically prescribed manner:  hold your hand with the finger-tips upwards and pour the water over them until it ran down to your wrists; and then cleanse the palm of each hand with the fist of the other; and then hold your hands with the finger-tips pointing downwards and pour water on them from the wrists downwards so that it runs off the finger-tips.

The question wasn’t whether or not your hands were dirty and needed washing or whether your hands were spotless: if you failed to wash your hands in this manner was to fail to please God – it was a sin.

But there was, as there usually is, a problem with focusing on the physical world and a list of “dos” and “do nots”.  We often try to solve our problems of the heart by focusing on the surface issues.  Jesus saw that the law was being used to turn people away from God, rather than to bring people to God to see and experience His love and mercy.

Our attempts to apply the Bible to everyday life can become the same kind of legalistic nit-picking Jesus found with the Pharisees.  We don’t have to go too far to find it:

  • Fundamentalist rules that say: no playing cards; no dancing; no movies
  • Baptism by immersion or baptism by sprinkling
  • If you don’t speak in tongues, you haven’t been filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Which translation of the Bible do YOU use?
  • If you don’t tithe 10% of your GROSS income (not net, after taxes or take home pay), you’re not a true Christian
  • If you don’t end your prayers with “in Jesus’ name”, then God can’t answer them

Now that I’ve said them out loud, they sound silly, right?   But they easily fool us into thinking that we can EARN points with God,  rather than to look deep into ourselves and let God fill us with His love.  It’s so much easier to focus on the practices than it is to go to the heart of the matter – as both Jesus (in Mark) and James challenge us to do.  Our worship of God easily becomes lip service: we may go through the motions by have no real inner devotion.

Jesus declared that these rules were no longer binding on us – not that they were wrong, but rather that these rules were obsolete.  It’s not the kind of food that you eat that matters, it what kind of person are you really?  Forget about the cover of the book – what’s the story on the inside?  Forget about the outside forces of nature versus nurture, the environment, the culture you were raised in or the education you had:  How’s your heart?

Many of us fall into the trap of focussing on the surface issues – the symptoms rather than the cause.

I have read (Timothy Peck):

  • If our greatest need had been for information, God would have sent us a teacher;
  • If our greatest need had been for technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
  • If our greatest need had been for money, God would have sent us a economist;
  • If our greatest need had been for pleasure, God would have sent us a entertainer;

But since our greatest need was freedom from the darkness inside ourselves, God sent us what we needed the most:  a Saviour to show us that the change comes from God and a Holy Spirit to be our teacher and comforter.

At the end of the day, Jesus summed up all of the law in just 2 Commandments:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul & might; and
  2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus doesn’t specify the details of HOW you are supposed to do that: He leaves the details up to us.  God has created each of us differently / uniquely.  We each have different talents, abilities and upbringings.  And we have the freedom to express our uniqueness as we live our Christian life.  But the principle stands very firmly: Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbour.  There is no freedom NOT to follow or live by these commands.  These commands transcend all of life: we don’t switch them on and off – today I will because I have some free time, but tomorrow I’ve got other plans.

The difficulty, of course, with such simple laws, is that we have to take full responsibility for ALL of our actions.  We stand alone before God – with all of our internal / HEART baggage – the way we were brought up, our cultural issues, any abuse or mistreatment that we may have received – and we can’t blame anyone or anything for our failure to fulfil these 2 laws.

Because suddenly there’s no small print!  There’s no black and white – you HAVE to do it this way.  The rule is that – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever YOUR situation – YOU have to Love the Lord your God with all of YOUR heart (the one that YOU have, the way it is), and love your neighbour as yourself.  No excuses.  That one commandment: “Love one another” is enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.  Of course, we squabble and fight with each other over the smallest distinctions of practice – clearly violating Jesus’ commands.

It’s like the law of gravity:

In the on-going battle between objects made of aluminium going hundreds of miles per hour and the ground (which I believe is moving at zero miles per hour), the ground has yet to lose the competition.  The ground ALWAYS wins.

We, on the other hand, prefer rules, that we can manipulate and change.  We tend to interpret God’s commandments in a way that suits ourselves.  A little like the No-Calorie Diet.  You know the one.  It’s the one that says:

  • If you eat something, when no one’s watching, it has no calories.
  • If you drink a diet soda, while eating a candy bar or French fries, the calories of the candy bar or French fries are cancelled by the diet soda.
  • When you go out and eat with someone else, your calories don’t count, as long as you ate LESS than the person you’re with.

And the list goes on… these rules that we make to bypass our character (or lack thereof).  We make the rules, and then introduce all the exceptions to them.

God has promised that He has put into each one of us a new heart and a new spirit – His Spirit!  And like a patient that has had a heart transplant, He’s given us an instruction booklet to follow.  A recommended diet:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.[1]

So, how are you doing with your recovery?  Are you sticking to your spiritual diet? Sneaking in too much junk food, when no one is watching?  Are you getting your spiritual exercise? How about the stress? Do you remember that God has promised that He will take care of ALL your needs?

We ALL have our moments of being a Pharisee.  What we really are, is what we are on the inside, not what we appear to be on the outside.  What we are determines our attitudes and our thoughts. It IS our character.

We make up our own rules about what is right or what is wrong.  We try to make others follow these rules.  We pretend that we know better than God; or we don’t want to follow God’s rules and so make up our own.  But God’s laws are meant to show us where we have fallen short in our relationship with God or our relationships with others.  They tell us where we have hurt our relationships or ourselves and how to heal the broken pieces.

Being holy is made far too complicated by religiosity.  We have to remember that holiness is a state of being, not a state of doing.  To be holy means to be set apart for a task and to be apt for that task.  And our tasks are, as we have already seen, very simple:

  1. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul & might; and
  2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

Yes, most of the Old Testament was written about being Holy.  But we have to stop focussing on cleanliness. Physical cleanliness does NOT equal Godliness.  Following a specific set of rules will not make us holy.

There is a Japanese fable about a man who went to heaven and to his surprise he saw a shelf covered with human tongues. The heavenly guide told him, “These are the tongues of people who spoke sweet words of virtues, who said what was right, but never did anything to follow their words. So their tongues have come to rest in heaven and the rest of them are somewhere else.”

We should all be radical followers of Jesus and take seriously what He really said.  Follow that man that showed compassion to sinners: to the tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, the lepers and unclean.  He ate with them and hung out with them.  He said to those who would judge:

Whoever is without sin, throw the first stone.

Leave the judging to God.  Let God sort it out.  Don’t focus on the speck in someone else’s eye, when there might be a telephone pole in your own.

Be slow to speak – especially when it comes to talking with God.  If you’re speaking, you may not hear God talking.  Don’t ask God for direction or enlightenment and then carry on talking – you might miss the answer.

Be slow to anger – understanding that our anger is more likely to fuel the flames of controversy, dividing people and doing incalculable injury to yourself and others around you.

James warns that a true church is not one where the members are angry with each other because anger demonstrates that faith has not yet been implanted and is not yet growing in our hearts. Anger in the church indicates that God’s love is far from us. Anger demonstrates that the word of God has gone in one ear and out the other with no saving effect.

  • But a true church is one that cares for the widows and the orphans and poor and the needy.
  • A true church hears the word of God and keeps in their hearts.
  • A true church is transformed by the word of God into a loving church

I want to end this sermon with a lesson from Zen:

There was a great teacher in Japan: Nan-in.  An educated man, a professor, came to inquire about Zen teachings.  Nan-in served tea.  He poured the cup full, and then kept on pouring.  The man watched the cup overflowing, until he could no longer hold himself back: “Stop. It’s overflowing – no more can fit in!”  and Nan-in replied:  You are like this cup.  Full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I teach you and show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?

If we are to receive God’s message and be filled with God’s love, we first need to empty our hearts of ourselves, our egos, our pasts, our future, our rules and regulations that we so religiously hold on to.  Let God fill us with His love and His Spirit, so that we can easily keep His two commandments, Loving God and loving our neighbour.


[1] Philippians 4:8

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Lectionary Readings:

  1. Acts 10: 34-43
  2. Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
  3. 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
  4. Mark 16: 1-8

Let’s pray:
Lord of life,
From the beginning of time, You knew the final outcome and watched as the jigsaw pieces were slotted into place.
While Your blood was poured out and on Your head was placed a crown of thorns, even to the darkness of the grave, You saw the triumph that would be won over the power and fear of death.
You walked from the empty tomb, opening wide the gates of life. You defeated death to show us that we can rise from all that binds us to the world: pride, envy, anger, fear and the debt of sin that holds us here.
Lord of life, You defeated death to demonstrate a love that is beyond our understanding.
On this day we pray, Lord of love and Lord of peace, Lord of resurrection – be known through our lives and through Your power. Amen.

How many men in history can claim to have had such a radical effect on the world as that man Jesus of Nazareth?  While many may doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, it’s impossible to ignore the striking effect of Jesus on those who witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection.

In our day and age, with the internet, television & radio, news travels in a moment.  But 2,000 years ago, there were no mass means of communication.  There was word of mouth, the news was passed on from village to village… And yet, we find in Acts we find Peter in Caesarea, speaking in Cornelius’ household, where he said:

“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.  He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”[1]

In the first Century after Christ, we find that the Emperor Domitian (in the second great persecution – not the first one under Nero), some 40,000 Christians were martyred. If forty thousand died in just this second phase of persecution, how far had Christianity spread in those first 100 years?  It has been said that there may have been as many as five hundred thousand or a million Christians by the end of the first century.  All of this, by word of mouth.

Try, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of those early Christians, living 100 years after Christ. The apostles were all dead.  There was no one living that had been a personal witness to his life and death. There were no history books to refer to, cataloguing the life of Christ as a historical fact.  There was actually no New Testament either.

So, why would they slip out at night, away from their masters and hiding from the Romans, to meet in caves and catacombs and darkened rooms?  What did they expect to happen that was so different, so important, that it would attract them to risk their lives to hear of the gospel?  What kind of church meeting would bring them out at night, against the threat of a government that was trying to kill them?  If today it’s hard to fill a church when it rains, what would it be like if you thought you might be killed for coming on Sundays?

Forget about the paraphernalia, comforts and trappings that we have inherited from nineteen hundred years of church councils, traditions, theologians, translators & interpreters.  Forget the creeds, the prescribed order of worship, the special church language, the hymnal, scholarly commentaries, or anything else that we may use to structure our services.   What was so special about the events of Easter that it was worth dying for?

What is it that we celebrate today?

Today we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of that man Jesus, who taught us:

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.[2]

His crucifixion was indeed the greatest act of sacrifice, perfectly demonstrating his teaching.  But his death is not where it ends.

We are taught that there is no fear in death, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  This celebration is not about Jesus hanging on a cross; we celebrate because we believe he is the Lord of life, that there is life after death, and that there is victory over death.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians emphasises the importance of the resurrection:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.[3]

As followers of Jesus, we are to live in hope – not just a hope for a better world or life in this lifetime, but a hope for all eternity.

But I want to take this day not only to reflect on that ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, believing until death that his sacrifice would be enough; I want us today to reflect also on the sacrifices of his life.

His daily walk was an example of the Golden Rule: doing unto others as we would have them do for us.  He exhausted himself in giving to others: preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, healing, casting out demons, and comforting those who came to Him for help.

His life has been exalted as the perfect pattern for our lives.

But let’s be honest: sacrifice is not a concept that any of us truly enjoys.  Yet the man we know as Jesus, sacrificed those things that we prize as “good” and “worthy”:

  • Family, with all the joys and comforts that come with it;
  • Ambition, wealth, prestige & popularity
  • Position and other elements of success

How do we embrace being a follower of Jesus more seriously and focus on its core: the life of Christ?  When considering how to live our lives and how best to demonstrate the love of Jesus and that we, are truly his followers, we should ask ourselves daily “What would Jesus do?”

Right now the phrase “What would Jesus do?” is being used by the Occupy Movement.  It has been used by anti-war protestors in the question “Who would Jesus bomb?”, and even gone so far as to be the subject of the “What would Jesus eat?” biblical diet plan.

Many of us may be confused about how to imitate the life of Christ, when He lived in such a different culture, society and age as we live today.  Some may argue that the Bible offers little detail about Jesus’ daily life when he wasn’t preaching or performing miracles; and others will mischievously point out that when he wasn’t doing that, he was hanging out in bars, with prostitutes and tax collectors or trashing the temple.  (Perhaps that’s not quite the answer we’re looking for.)

Jesus’ purpose on this earth was to show us the way to establish a relationship with the Creator God, with the Divine.  To open the way for us to be anointed by the Spirit, to do bigger and greater things.  Jesus didn’t tell us to do what He did, He told us to do even greater things.

In the spirit of asking how we can better follow His example, it may be helpful to ask “What did Jesus do?”?

  1. He was humble and served others – no matter how much power and glory he had or was entitled to, this is the man who washed the feet of his disciples.  Is your life characterised by a servant’s heart?
  2. He glorified God – In all of Jesus’ teachings, he doesn’t speak of Himself, so much as of God and God’s Kingdom.  His purpose on this earth was to re-establish our relationship with the Creator God.
  3. He lived a life of prayer, meditation and constant communion with God.  As if points one and two weren’t hard enough, I truly struggle to take the time to stop everything and just be still.  Many of you know me as “the Prayer Lady” – but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier.  I’m not talking about those prayers were you have a list of petitions that you put before God, those ones where we try to convince God that we want Him to uphold our agenda, and bless our ambitions (I’m quite good at those ones! They fit into my way of working and thinking).  I’m talking about that prayer and meditation where you have a private two-way conversation with the Spirit.  That time where you stop everything else and get quiet, open your heart and mind, elevate your spirit, care for another and become one with the Universe, reaching out for God, where you bow Yourself humbly before the supernatural and inquire of the Creator, stop thinking, analysing and planning and just listen; and then make sure that you test the spirit & nature of anything that pops into your mind.
  4. And lastly, Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – He gave of his time to others, He gave of his energy to others, He laid his hands on the sick and worked till He was exhausted.  And his final sacrifice completely changed the world’s religions in a way none of us could ever have imagined.

For me, the following phrase sums up the life and example of Jesus “Not my will but Thine be done”.[4]

It’s that life that relinquishes and unclasps our grubby little fingers that are tightly grasping our possessions, money, hopes & expectations, and then demanding that God uphold our plans.  It’s understanding that our wants don’t come first, and understanding that it’s the Divine Way, not “my way”.

Today, we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  We give thanks to God for his gentle mercy and untiring love.  We give thanks to Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice and for his pattern of how to live our lives: saying “yes” to the Divine, and “no” to our own selfishness.  We learn today the meaning of sacrifice and surrender.  We learn today that we are given enough grace to do what our Creator has planned for us to do – whether that be serving a meal to a homeless person, buying uniforms for needy children, taking a meal over to widows and those without families to support them, or contributing to our society in any other way.

The pattern of the Christian life we are to follow, demonstrated by Jesus, provides us with unadulterated peace in our relationship with the Creator God. It’s one in which we may have to learn obedience through suffering, and submit to the will of the Divine.  Heaven is waiting for those who have gone through Gethsemane, who have finally handed over the reins of their lives, and let go.  No longer stubbornly refusing to submit, hoisting clenched fists defiantly in the air… but humbly saying to the Spirit: “not my will, but Thine be done.”

That will be the moment in which we begin to do greater things than even Jesus did, as we were put on this earth to do by our Creator.

Let us pray:

Grant us the strength, Lord God, of body and of spirit, to offer you the sacrifice of our lives.
So often we find ourselves apologising to you for our abbreviated prayer life; and yet you draw us into your presence, as you did the disciples at Gethsemane.  You ask us to share in your life and to play our part.   You ask us to watch and pray, so that we might not fall into temptation.  And yet, so often in prayer our thoughts are distracted by sounds or circumstances, or diverted by trivial concerns.  We carry our baggage with us, rather than leaving it at your feet.
Come Holy Spirit: dispel the darkness from our minds and open our eyes.  Revive our drooping faith, our doubts and fears.  Kindle in our hearts the flame of everlasting love.
Grant us each the strength to be still and know that you are God.   Speak to us through the grass of the meadows, through the trees of the forest, through the valleys and the hills.   Speak to us through the rain, thunder and lightning, through the waves of the sea, through the dew of the morning and the peace of the evening.
God of gods, in Thy mercy, in Thy love, be with us now.  We know and we speak of Your love and ask that you help us to put away, for this hour, the cares of this life; so that we may know in truth your presence.
Let us each find that place of the inner vision and through Your Spirit let us hear the wondrous secret.  Through Your mystic insight, cause a spring of knowledge to well up inside us, a fountain of power, pouring forth living waters, a flood of love and of all-embracing wisdom, like the splendour of your eternal Light.
Creator, open our hearts to peace and healing between all people; open our hearts to provide and protect the children of this earth; open our hearts to respect for the earth of which we are guardians and the gifts that it grants; open our hearts to do greater things than those done by Jesus in his brief 33 years on this earth.
God who sees all things, in our consciousness, let us find happiness in the love of Thee.  Fill us with love towards our fellowman. Make us worthy to serve our fellow men throughout the world, especially those who live and die in poverty & huger.  Let our life, our words, our deeds, bring the joy and happiness of Jesus to each person that we meet, day by day.  Give to our fellow man, through our hands, this day their daily bread and by our understanding, give them love, peace & joy.
Amen.


[1] Acts 10: 37-38
[2] John 15: 13
[3] 1 Corinthians 15: 13-19
[4] Luke 22:42