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

Sermon: Inside Out

READINGS:

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

 

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

Our readings this morning dealt with 2 particular topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHICH “I” ARE YOU FEEDING?

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

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

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

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

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

BEING “BORN AGAIN”

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

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

1 Corinthians 7: 7 reminds us:

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

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

As we read in Romans 11:

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

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

We read in Psalm 19, verse 14:

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

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

Readings:

  • Romans 11: 1-2a; 29-31

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

  • Matthew 15: 10-11; 15-20

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

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

Sermon: Compassion

READINGS:

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

Compassion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Compassion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do We Start?

First – we start with ourselves!

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

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

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

Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:

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

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

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

Let’s pray:

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

 

Sermon: Slavery or Freedom

Yesterday, July 1st – was Canada Day… in a couple of days, the United States will be celebrating 4th of July – a day of celebration of independence.  Choosing whom to serve.  It seems very appropriate then, that today we consider Romans 6: 12-23 that Phil Edmonstonread for us: freedom or slavery, discussing who we choose to serve.

For my example today, I’m going to use “anger”, because it is such a controlling emotion. How many have not felt controlled by their anger, rather than in control of their anger.  But the reality is that you could replace anger with any sin, because there are so many to which we can be slaves. Proverbs 6, verses 16 to 19 caution us:

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes (pride of the heart – arrogance, someone who is holier than thou, looking down on others because someone is better than…), a lying tongue (deception in speech, a lie is a lie – no matter how white or little),
    and hands that shed innocent blood (while it’s talking about murder, it even applies to gossip & character assassination),
18 a heart that devises wicked plans (remember – “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”, this is premeditation, planning)
    feet that make haste to run to mischief (they have gone from machinations to execution readily – from planning to doing without restraint. But it’s more than that!  It is also when we know what to do and we consciously choose NOT to do it! It could be not participating in gossip – when you listen avidly and fuel the fire; it could be character assassination),
19 a false witness who breathes out lies (knowingly speaking falsely about another person, not simply lying – and that, once again, could include circulating rumours and gossiping),
    and (this is the worst one of them all, the 7th) one who sows discord among brothers (this is basically the sum of the previous 6… and we are back again to gossip & slander, speaking ill of another behind their back, creating divisions rather than unity).

But, unlike animals, humans suppress anger, and more importantly we have anger problems because we forget the purpose of anger.  Instead of using anger to protect our “cubs”, life, loved ones or friends, we have started to use anger to protect our ego!And the reason that I want to talk about anger, is that it is so closely related to many of these sins mentioned in Proverbs.  You know, that emotion that you feel: fury; wrath; rage; mad; ticked off; peeved… whatever you want to call it!  However much we may value loving kindness, we still get angry.  But what happens when anger controls your life? Let me clarify what I mean: there is a healthy and normal anger.  It is part of our fight/flight/freeze response, in which many species, not just humans, get a driving force of adrenaline that helps them escape from danger. With this, we respond to a perceived threat, whether to our children, our self, or our home.  We also see in animals, the same as in humans, the anger that arises from frustration, when we are trying to do a task, and confront failure in our performance.  I’ve watch more than one horse kick the bucket to get the water out!

And by ego, I mean our perception of our ego, which is partly how we want to regard ourselves (internal) and how we want others to perceive us (external).  Ego is our sense of “I”, the way we differentiate ourselves from others.  For some, it is an intoxicating sense of self-importance, something that must be protected.  But it is interesting that the Western view of ego is so different from the Eastern view of ego. For us, our ego is the self, the conscious part of me (my mind, my being) that knows the experience.  But, in Eastern tradition, ego is simply a part of the mind, a trait, a characteristic – but it isn’t actually WHO you are.  And this is important to differentiate when we are talking about anger, especially anger that is directed at protecting the ego! And this kind of anger is poisonous to us.

You all know the story about the boy with the bad temper, whose father sent him out with a bag of nails, and to hammer a nail into the fence every time he lost his temper, right? The first day, he had to drive 37 nails into the fence.  Over time, he got control of his temper, and it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered that it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.  Finally, the day arrived: the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father, and for a moment they celebrated that he had finally learnt to control it.  The father than suggested that for each day that the boy was able to hold his temper, he pull one nail out of the fence!  It took a long time, but finally the boy was able to return to his father and tell him that all the nails were finally pulled out of the fence.
The father took the son by the hand, and they went to look at the fence. And here they saw all of the holes that the nails had left.  The fence would never been the same.  And the father told his son: “When ou say things in anger, or lash out at another person, the words leave scars like these.  You can put a knife into a person and draw it back out, but the hole remains.  Saying “I’m sorry” will not fix the wound.  It is still there.”

Many of you may think that you handle your anger well: “I don’t express my anger, I hold it in and don’t say nasty things.”  But bottling the anger up inside, if you are not actually addressing it, leads to problems also.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, verses 21 and 22, Jesus said:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

So, a small question:  how many of you know how a worm gets inside an apple?  You may think that the worm burrows in from the outside.  But scientists have discovered that the worm actually comes from the inside.  What happens is that the insect lays its egg on the apple blossom.  The blossom becomes an apple, and when the worm hatches, it is already INSIDE the apple. This is how our ego works on our thoughts, words and actions.  It is already inside of us, and we are busy protecting it!

But, like I said, our “ego” is not “us” – it is our perception of how we “see” ourselves and how the world “should see” us. It is only when we are able to not identify with our ego, that we are able to stop protecting it against every attack and begin to look rationally at our anger! Many of ous think “that made me so angry” or “if so-and-so hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have reacted that way”.  But the truth is: they didn’t actually “make us” do anything. They may have been a source of temptation, but the reality is that they simply EXPOSED us and how we relate to our ego! And what comes out of our mouths when we are angry, is simply an expression of what is in our heart!

If we would take a moment, and “listen” to the thoughts in our head when we are angry, our self-talk, you might hear:

  • I can’t believe they would say that me!
  • How dare they think they could treat me this way!
  • They aren’t going to get away with this!
  • Karma will teach them a lesson!
  • This isn’t fair!

And so our mind  and thoughts escalate it… IT controls us! How many times have you been angry about a perceived injustice and your mind just won’t let it go? You know you need to relax and stop thinking about the situation or the words, but it keeps playing over and over in your head.  It’s as if there were a recorder stuck on replay! And you decide you’re going to forgive, and the anger just keeps welling up inside of you.  You start praying, and the thoughts interrupt and keep side-tracking you. How long are you a slave to these thoughts and this anger? How long does the replay keep popping up in your mind?

Think about it: how many times is this anger about getting our own way, self-centered desires. You feel righteous indignation – but how righteous is it really? Wasn’t it really about getting your way? Being right? Having your needs met? Ephesians 4:26 warns us:

Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

The whole purpose of the Bible is to draw us closer to God: the same God that is LOVE! God is love and we are called to draw near to God, draw near to LOVE. How do you draw near to love when you are controlled by anger? And what happens when you hold onto that anger past nightfall? You push it aside, deeper down, put a lid on it and ignore it. But it’s still there. You haven’t actually dealt with it, you’ve just covered it up. And when you try to draw near to God, you feel that there is something blocking you.

The truth is anger is a powerful emotion that deceives us into using it to demand our own way, and then we arrive in front of perfect love and we don’t know how to accept it, because perfect love drives out fear. Our ego can’t handle us letting go of our fear! It has been protecting itself for so long, that it can’t afford to let us let go of anything! It has to be right! It has to be protected! It cannot be vulnerable. It cannot be open and accepting. It cannot be forgiving.

If you want to get a handle on your anger, anger is not the problem you must address. Your temper is a symptom of what’s going on in your heart. If you gain self-control over your temper that’s great, but the deeper problem that causes your anger is what needs to change. How we act and live flows from what is in our heart – what we desire or want the most.  So, who do you serve this day? Are you a slave of your ego and your desires? Or do you have the freedom to love others? To see their interests, their point of view, and weigh what they want or need as well as your own wants and needs?

Freedom is being open to love – no longer under the yoke of EGO, but rather under the yoke of LOVE. Choose this day whom you will serve!

Sermon: Rejoicing in Sufferings

READINGS:

  • Romans 5: 1-8
  • Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
  • Psalm 100

REJOICING IN SUFFERINGS

I invite you to think for a moment about that Olympian champion, the one that sat on the sofa every day watching TV, checking their internet, and reading books.  The one that slept in every morning, had a full cooked breakfast, eating anything they wanted, when they wanted, partying with their friends any time they liked, and taking it easy. On the day of the meet, the simply went out and effortlessly won gold because they were just the best.

What do you mean you never heard of that guy?  Apparently it’s not that easy to be an Olympian Gold Medalist! There may be suffering involved on the road to glory: it takes work, effort, consistency, perseverance, and faith to become perfect and complete, lacking nothing! Rapid success stories happen, true. But the reality is that most “overnight successes” come at the end of years of hard work and those witnessing the “success” part too readily assume the “overnight part.”

Joy comes in spite of our pain! To have joy in spite of difficulties and struggles  is not to deny pain; it is to recognize that they can co-exist. The same way a pregnant mother can go through the agony of childbirth and still have joy in thinking about what is to come. She knows that there is a beautiful light and life at the end of these painful hours.

This morning, Paul says that we are to “Rejoice” in Suffering!  And the reason that Paul gives for this is that suffering produces “endurance”: in other words

  • intestinal fortitude
  • grit
  • perseverance
  • stamina
  • tenacity
  • gutsiness
  • resilience

Paul  goes on to say that this endurance will produce character, and character produces hope, and out of hope comes an outpouring of love into our hearts.

James 1, verses 2 to 4 say something similar:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

I want to talk  this morning about cultivating resilience, which enables us to remain positive and focused. Resilience is a 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: a basic ingredient for happiness. So, Paul tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings” – note: he doesn’t say you will only suffer once.  There will be sufferings – did you hear the S? And yet, we are to rejoice, because this is how we learn and grow!

Paul says suffering will lead to endurance, and this will, in turn, lead to having character (that is, who you really are, when all the layers are peeled away – when no one else is looking!).  Said another way:  suffering produces steadiness, steadiness produces reliability, and reliability produces hope.  If we prove ourselves to be reliable, even in the face of hardship – there is hope!

How many of you here today have survived every day of your life so far in spite of the ups and downs?

Amazing! You have survived everything that life has thrown at you so far!  Every one here today is a survivor.  But here’s the challenge: it is not enough just to be here – you should be better for it!  Better equipped, greater patience, more understanding, a higher level of emotional intelligence, empathy for your fellow man or woman.  How do you make this happen, faster and easier on yourself and those around you?

For starters, I would say that the first step is acknowledgement: recognizing that you are in a situation that is outside of your comfort zone and that makes you feel that you are under threat.  The reason I say this is that when you are in denial, “this isn’t happening to me”, it’s impossible to actually act!  You can’t make any decisions about something that isn’t happening to you!   So, step one is admitting that you have a situation.

But I invite you to be careful in your choice of words: transform “hardship” into “challenge”, giving yourself the possibility of seeing opportunity and to make this a productive situation. What do you want life to look like on the other side of this adversity? Remember: your success rate so far is 100%: how will you come out of this one?

Step two, is getting a handle on your emotions.  The signs of a resilient person is that when they are in a difficult situation, they keep calm, evaluate things rationally, and come up with a plan, and so they can act.  The biggest emotion we have to face is fear – fight or flight or lizard brain (paralyzed by fear, shutting down).  Imagine how many times the word “fear” is dealt with in the Bible!  John 14: 27 says

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Or Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…

Or even Psalm 23: 4

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Our human response is we try to hide our fear – we mask it:

  • with anger (anger feels much more powerful than fear!);
  • with frustration (“I don’t know what to do” sounds better than “I know what to do, but I’m too scared to do it”);
  • with stoicism (I’m bearing this – rather than getting off my butt and doing something about it, because I would hate to make a decision and be wrong).

When you identify your fear or fears, you can then identify the possibilities that lie on the other side: opportunities. Managing  emotions requires that we grow deeply in emotional intelligence – so much to learn from difficult circumstances!

The third step in resilience is a little crazy: you need to be delusional! And by that I mean: you need to set the bar to recovery WAY HIGH! Crazy successful people and people who survive tough situations are all overconfident. And by overconfident I mean… a delusional sense of self-worth.  But wait!! – wasn’t step one and step two about acknowledging where you are and what you are feeling?  Yes. But now I am asking you to go all out in believing:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…

Yes, you need to clearly understand and acknowledge the situation, but be overconfident about YOUR ability to get yourself through and out of the situation successfully.  Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Remember: so far your success rate at making it through difficult days and situations is 100%.What does successful look like this time?

Step 4 in the process is something continual: Preparation.  Whether you are in a difficult situation or not, you should always be in preparation.  Luke 12:35 reminds us:

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.

And likewise, 2 Timothy 4:2

… be prepared, in season and out of season…

It’s impossible to prepare for the unknown, but we can constantly improve ourselves, practicing good habits and overcoming our bad habits.  Habits are what will come through in times of difficulty.  Think of common habits you have: breathing, walking, putting on your seat belt…

When I was 22, I spent 7 hours preparing and training for the most important 10 seconds of that day.  I arrived at 8 a.m., with a group of about 20 other people, and we trained, over and over and over again, lying on the floor, standing up, hanging from harnesses in the air… and when they felt that we were actually ready, they put us all in an airplane, with parachutes on our backs.  And when we reached an altitude of over 3,000 feet, one by one, we jumped out of the plane.

I have complete amnesia about those first five seconds of the jump – no sense of falling, no sense of the wind rushing past my face, nothing!  All I remember is my security check: arms in position, knees bent, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, Check (over my right shoulder), check (over my left shoulder).  Parachute properly deployed!  We were static line jumping, in our first solo jumps from the plane.  I do remember the last 5 vital seconds of the experience – the landing.  There are really only 10 seconds in a jump that are the most important:  the first 5 and the last 5:  making sure your chute is open (otherwise releasing that chute and deploying the reserve – if that happens, go back to step one!), and landing on the ground.  You don’t want to collapse your chute 3 stories up in the air, otherwise you could break both femur’s as you plummet down straight onto your legs! But we spent 7 hours preparing for those 10 seconds – and hardly any time at all on how to actually control your parachute, turns and having fun.  Just pay attention to your headset and what the instructor is saying and you’ll be fine.

What does your preparation for the hard times in life look like? Does it bring you hope?  I had hope as I jumped out of the plane – not one, but two parachutes on my back, and knowing that I knew exactly what to do if there was a problem with the first one.  I was as ready as I could be.  There is an amazing adrenaline rush on the other side of fear!

Step five, is kind of obvious: hard work! Whatever the situation is that is bringing you suffering, there are things you will need to do! Whether it is the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a drop in income, or the ending of a relationship, there is work to be done. After acknowledging the situation, and facing your fear or pain or loss, and getting delusional about your ability to survive this, relying on all the preparation that you have brought to this moment in your life: you have to actually stand up and do what needs to be done!

Proverbs 14:23 reminds us:

All hard work brings profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

It’s not enough to talk about what needs to be done and what you are going to do. You actually have to do it! I understand the desire just to stay in bed and pull the covers up over your head and give in to mind-numbing sleep!  I am sure that we have all been there – plagued by the depression.  Step one:  get up!   Take the first step!

Survivors take great joy from even their smallest successes. That is an important step in creating an ongoing feeling of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness.”

It is those small victories that carry you forward – one more step, one more challenge, one more day.

And finallyhelp: there’s a time to receive help and there’s a time to help others. Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. And sometimes, in our most challenging moments, what our souls and spirits need is to reach out and help others. It is when we find a sense of purpose in our lives that we transform the most. For example:

After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Upset by the driver’s light sentence, Lightner decided to focus her energy into creating awareness of the dangers of drunk driving.

I’m thankful for her impact – she reached me, as a teenager, teaching me two important lessons: never drive drunk and never, ever get in the car with a drunk driver.  So, I was usually the designated driver.  Candace Lightner will never know me, or the thousands of teenagers whose lives she saved: but she made a difference! Are you making a difference?

This is where we find hope and an outpouring of love in our hearts!

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: Love Thy Neighbour

As you know, when I talked earlier this month, I spoke about Social Justice, in light of Isaiah 58 and the call to prayer and fasting that was pleasing to the Lord.  In the current political climate, in the US as well as in Panama, where there is such a backlash against “immigrants” and “illegals” and so much discrimination, I find it challenging that once again today’s readings focus on aspects of social justice and what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to really and truly love our neighbour.

We all know pretty well the text in Matthew, chapter 22, where one of the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment of the law, to which Jesus replied (Matthew 22: 36-40):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

The ENTIRE message of the Bible can be summarised in this short paragraph!  You can ignore all of the small print of the Bible, if you just do these 2 things.  Easy, right?

Maybe not so easy, because we find that in another part of the Gospels, (Luke 10: 22 and following) a lawyer who wished to justify himself by asking “who is my neighbour?”, to which Jesus responded with the parable of the good samaritan.  I’m not going to look at, this morning, “who is our neighbour” – but rather focus on what it means, in a very practical sense, to love your neighbour.  What is the visible expression of your love for God and the commandments that were given to the people of Israel through the Law and the Prophets?

In Romans 13, verses 8 to 10, Paul says:

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Our readings this morning, especially from Leviticus, give a context to the response that Jesus gave the Pharisee and then his conversation with the lawyer and the parable of the Samaritan.  When Jesus spoke of “Love your neighbour as yourself” he was making reference to these particular verses from Leviticus 19, which would have been well known to the Pharisee and also to the lawyer. We might not know them so well; so I’d like us to take a moment to review the verses we read this morning and the examples of what it means to love your neighbour in a very practical sense.

  • Verses 9 and 10 – be kind to the poor and the alien by leaving something for them in your fields and vineyards: do not reap to the very edges, do not gather the gleanings that fell, do not go over your field a second time picking up what you missed and do not pick up what has fallen.  The poor and the alien still have to work for it, but it is made easy for them to find and forage for food.
  • Verses 11 & 13: teach us compassion and absolute honesty and justice in our relationships
    • no lying
    • no fraud or dealing falsely
    • no stealing
    • no defauding
    • and don’t keep for yourself an employees wages until the next day – always pay on time.

It’s interesting this last point, because under the Law it was perfectly legal to pay the labourer the next day for his work – you didn’t have to pay him the same day.  But God’s law says – it’s just and right to pay him that day, so that he can take food home to his family.  It wasn’t about what was legal, it was about what was right.

According to an article I read recently, it says that a persons lies 2 to 3 times every 10 minutes.  Yes, mostly totally white lies:  “How are you doing?”  “I’m great!” – the lie may be the person asking how you are doing – when they really don’t care, or the lie may be the “I’m great” when they really aren’t feeling that way…  And of all the lies we tell, 25% of those lies are for the sake of the other person!  Very thoughtful of us, isn’t it!

Nietzsche said:

What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on, I can no longer believe you.

  • Verse 12:  Don’t swear in God’s name
  • Verse 14:
    • don’t curse the deaf
    • don’t put a stumbling block before the blind

It’s very easy to make fun of someone that can’t hear what you are saying or see what you are doing, but that doesn’t make it right.  Verse 14 reminds us to treat every person with empathy according to their situation and not take advantage of any weaknesses that they might have.

  • Verse 15:  be just and judge your neighbour with justice
    • do not be partial to the poor
    • do not defer to the great
  • Verse 16:
    • Do not speak badly of others
    • Do not profit at your neighbour’s expense
  • Verse 17:
    • Do not hate in your heart anyone of your family
    • If your neighbour makes a mistake, be the one to tell him so that you aren’t an accomplice to his actions.    When you give feedback to an employee, do you care about them enough to tell them the hard truths, the mistakes or omissions that they are making that are holding them back from doing better?  Do you love someone enough to tell them that they are messing up and that they need to turn their life around?  Or do you just want to be seen as the nice person that loves them just the way they are?   Loving your neighbour is more than just being nice – it’s also practicing tough love, to become all that they can be.

Imagine, if you will for a moment, your child:  when they make a mistake you correct them – because you love them enough that you want them to grow and learn.  You know that this mistake now may cost them dear later on in life and so you make a point of having the hard conversations now, so that later on in life they do better.

Do you do the same with other people in your life?  Or is that simply not your problem?

  • Verse 18:
    • no taking revenge
    • no holding grudges

And it ends with “but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Because God is God, you should do this!  Because God is love and we are children of God, we do this!

Matthew 5, part of the Sermon on the Mount, illustrates this love for your neighbour in greater depth.  If you haven’t already done so, re-read the entire sermon on the Mount!

In today’s passage, we read the following:

  • turn the other cheek if someone strikes you
  • give your cloak and not just your coat
  • go the 2nd mile
  • give to everyone who begs from you
  • do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you
  • love your enemies
  • prayer for those who persecute you
  • be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Because if you only love those who love you, what reward do you have?  If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  God sends rain to all: the righteous and the unrighteous – and so, as children of God, we should follow this example and not only treat well our family and friends, but treat everyone well.   The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies – probably because, generally speaking, they are the same people!

So, make an effort today to love your neighbour:

  • your homeless neighbour
  • your immigrant neighbour
  • your poor neighbour
  • your uneducated neighbour
  • your gay, lesbian, trans neighbour
  • your jewish neighbour
  • your right wing neighbour
  • your fundamentalist Christian neighbour
  • your athiest neighbour
  • your disabled neighbour
  • your drug addict or alcoholic neighbour

And let us all remember, 1st John 4: 20

If anyone says “I love God” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  

Let’s pray.

Sermon: 2017 plans

Happy New Years! Welcome to Day 1 of failed New Year’s Resolutions… a little cynicism for you… How many millions resolve to make a change in the new year and then fail in the first week?  Most of us see the New Year as a perfect opportunity to start over or to change bad habits. How’s the new diet going?  Did you start exercising this morning, or have you already started with “I’ll start on Monday!”? Oh, that’s right – Monday’s a public holiday – I’ll bet you’re starting on Tuesday, right?

I’ve been reading a lot recently about how to make (and keep to) your New Year’s Resolutions:

  • 29 New Year’s Resolution Ideas – Make This Your Best Year Ever!
  • Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Like a Boss 2017 – The Decision-Driven Secret
  • 6 Ways to Create (and keep) New Year’s Resolutions in 2017

I’m sure, as you look at all of your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, there is a common thread throughout – they are your version of YOU as a better person: exercise, less television or internet or social media, more prayer, giving, serving, practicing gratitude…

This New Years, I want to remind you of the disruptions that happen in life, and those who live with and around us whose lives have been disrupted.  Remember Joseph and Mary, living in Bethlehem – probably rebuilding their new life in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.  I wonder…   Where was Joseph working? Had they started to build their own home or were they living in a rental?

And suddenly, in the midst of whatever life and plans and dreams Joseph and Mary had now rebuilt, an angel appears in the middle of the night in a dream and tells Joseph to flee to Egypt and remain there until they are told they can leave, because Herod intends to search for the child and destroy him.   And we know what the collateral damage of Herod’s fear was:  all children under 2 years old in and around Bethlehem.  Now, maybe that was only 20-30 children, if Bethlehem only had a population of 1,000 or so people – but that’s 20-30 too many!

A few weeks ago you may have seen the image of a couple and their baby from Aleppo, the father wearing patched pants and mismatched clothes, carrying a baby in a blanket that was much too large for the child, with the baby in one arm and an IV drip in the other.  The look of determination, shock, and yet emptiness in the father’s face.  A mid-eastern couple and their child, fleeing from violence – just like Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus whose birth we have just celebrated last week. Displaced by a power struggle that really has nothing to do with them, and yet everything to do with them!

And how many displaced sojourners and aliens do we have in Panama at the moment?  People whose plans for their lives were disrupted by the situation in their homeland, who have now traveled to Panama, as Mary & Joseph traveled to Egypt, looking for a safer place to live, away from the imminent threat that their homeland held for them as a family.  There are over 90 verses throughout the Bible regarding the “sojourner” or the “alien”, and it’s good to be reminded of them:

LEVITICUS 19:33-34 ESV 

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

EXODUS 22:21 ESV

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

DEUTERONOMY 27:19 ESV 

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’

ZECHARIAH 7:9-10 ESV 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

LEVITICUS 25:35 ESV 

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

Isaiah 16: 3-5 ESV

3“Give counsel;  grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive;  4 let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them from the destroyer.  When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,  5then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.”

And yet, our world has become one in which we have all become like Herod, treating the outcasts and the sojourners and the aliens as if they were a threat to us – wanting them dead and out of our towns and countries: they should just go home, they don’t belong here!  They have come to take what is ours!  They are a threat to our comfort and power!  So we should destroy them before they destroy us.

And yet this is not what we are taught if we closely read everything that God ordered Moses and the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the light of today’s reading in Matthew: Jesus was that outcast, whose parents ran with him to Egypt as an alien and sojourner to escape the anger and threat of Herod.

This New Years, I invite you to remember:

“As one person, I cannot change the world; but I can change the world of one person.”

 

We are called to be Christ-like – to giving living water to the Samaritan woman, to heal the lepers, to feed the hungry, to dine with the tax-collector, to accept the Centurions’ request and command from afar…  Decide this day, what will you choose?  And each day in 2017, choose again and again!  One act a day to being the presence and love of Christ in this world!  Actively choosing each day to be this love.

Let us pray:

Creator God, today we remember that you taught us by your very example humility and simplicity in live.  As this New Year begins, focus our hearts on paying more attention to others and less on ourselves; listening first and talking later; offering constructive criticism, without complaining; performing acts of kindness each day.  We remember this day that you have granted us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we might show the fruit of the Spirit in this world, being the light and salt of the earth.  In the name of him who taught us by his very example. Amen.  

Sermon: He shall not judge…

HE SHALL NOT JUDGE

ISAIAH 11:2-4

2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…

December is upon us in Panama – with its terrible traffic, frustrations as you try to get more done than you have hours in the day, and little patience for all the barriers you may find along the way.

  • There are school functions, plays, ballet performances, and all kinds of events that require your time and attention.
  • Mothers’ Day presents to buy and dinners to plan.
  • Christmas parties for the office, with friends, PTA and end of year celebrations.
  • It’s that time of year when you may well find yourself seated next to that difficult person: the complainer or the proverbial GRINCH of Christmas!
  • If you have children, they may be adding to the stress of the season with their demands for presents and the heightened anxiety of “I want”.

Everything clamouring for your attention and adding extra stress to an already busy schedule. And we are, as Christians, expected to put our right foot forward – with the Christmas Spirit-being the bearers of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, as expressed through our Advent Candles.

Our Gospel reading this morning in Matthew 3 indicates that Jesus’ coming promised a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire – that will sift through the wheat (or good) in our lives and a fire that will burn through the chaff (or that which is not productive or of any value).

And how will God know what is good and valuable in our lives, versus that which is not productive? Well, as we see in the verses of Isaiah 11:2

…the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah goes on to say in verse 3:
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear

And as Christ’s followers, we are all called to follow this example!

Not judge by what our eyes see or decide according to what our ears hear, but rather with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, that Spirit of counsel and might, and that Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON?

If I could sum it up in one word, that one word would be simply this: “empathy”!

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about!

Kindness is a wonderful way to let another struggling soul know that there is still love in this world.

We are not to judge others simply by the impressions of what our eyes see (or our perceptions or misconceptions) or what our ears hear (whether that be gossip about a person or even what we think we heard them say)… But rather, we are to allow the Spirit, through wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord guide us to what is right.

Our opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge: It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy – it requires that we suspend our egos and for a moment to live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding. (Bill Bullard).

Empathy is:

  1. Seeing with the eyes of another;
  2. Listening with the ears of another; and
  3. Feeling with the heart of another.

So, what would be wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord look like at Christmas time?

The Spirit of Wisdom at Christmas time might be as simple as:

  1. looking after yourself, making sure you’ve given yourself enough time to get where you need to be, without being overly stressed about running late;
  2. having snack food in the car with you or in your purse, so you’re not in a bad mood from low sugar levels;
  3. taking a moment before you get to the mall or a shop to speak with your youngsters about what you will or won’t buy for them, so that they have clear expectations and are prepared for the “no” when you have to give it to them; and
  4. thinking through the obstacles (traffic, queues at the cashier, etc.) before you get started, so that you are already prepared to face them and take them in your stride as they appear.

The Spirit of Understanding at Christmas time manifests itself as simply:

  1. as giving your child 10 extra minutes of cuddle time when they are upset, realising that they need to feel heard, even though they are being completely irrational or unreasonable, because you care (even if the answer is still no);
  2. planning “alone time” or “down time” for the introverts in your household that need to recharge their batteries after being overwhelmed with too many sights, sounds, people and stimulations of the Christmas season;
  3. identifying that person that’s sitting off in a corner by themselves, and sitting down with them to have a one-on-one conversation for 10 minutes, because you realise that they are overwhelmed by crowds, but love to have one-on-ones, without trying to “draw them in” to the crowd, but rather meeting them where they are at; and
  4. giving the extroverts in your family the party and group time that they need to enjoy the festive season, even if you are feeling up to it.

The Spirit of Counsel at Christmas time requires that we take time to listen to God:

  1. It’s sitting in the car for 2 minutes, outside your home, and, before you get out, breathing deeply and allowing yourself to relax and be present:
    a. Identifying how you are feeling and why you are feeling this way;
    b. Breathing your way through leaving the day you have just had and any frustrations you were bringing with you, so that you don’t take those negative feelings home to your loved ones;
    c. Identifying who and what will be waiting for you inside, so that you are present with them when you walk in the door; and
    d. Praying for your loved ones before you walk in.
  2. The Spirit of Counsel is putting before God your concerns and worries, and then listening to God’s response – this means clearing your mind so that God can speak with you.

The Spirit of strength at Christmas time recognises that you are strong enough: Whatever today’s challenge is – you are strong enough – God promised to give you strength for today. If you will focus on today and today’s struggle and stop trying to deal with tomorrow’s struggle and adding tomorrow’s stress into the mix, you are strong enough! They say:

Depression comes from living in the past.
Worry and Anxiety come from living in the future.
The only place of peace is living in the present.

The only place you have any strength and power is in today – you cannot change the past and you cannot act in the future. Your spirit of Strength, this Christmas season, is when you are present in each day. When you focus your daily energy on what you need to get done today: therein lies your strength. If you need to have a conversation with someone today: have that conversation. If you need to have a conversation with someone tomorrow, program it today, and then leave it in tomorrow.

Give us this day our daily bread

It doesn’t say: give us this week or this month… just one day. Remember that this Christmas season – you are only given this much. The person standing or sitting in front of you is only given that much. All either of you have is today.

The Spirit of Knowledge at Christmas time –

  1. It’s using Waze to find out how long you are going to spend in traffic to be able to get to Atlapa for the Ballet presentation by 4.00 p.m., and leaving 2 hours beforehand, and having downloaded onto your iPod or phone on December 1st 12 hours of new Audiobooks, podcasts, meditations and other uplifting material so that you don’t feel like being stuck in traffic is a complete and total waste of time;
  2. It’s knowing the quirks of each one of your kids, nephews & nieces or other kids that you will be spending Christmas day with, and preparing yourself how to deal and interact with them to be a blessing to them; and
  3. It’s reading an article or book on a subject very close to the heart of a person that you will be spending time over the Christmas season with, so that you have a topic to talk to them about.

And finally the fear of the Lord is remaining humble… realising that you are no better than anyone else, that you are the product of all your experiences, decisions, and the people that God has put in your path each day of your life, that have made you into who you are today.

The fear of the Lord is what reminds us “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.

  • You are that child that is having a temper tantrum in the shopping mall;
  • you are that mother that doesn’t know what to do with her child who is hungry and tired and over-stimulated by all the sights and sounds;
  • you are that old man who’s in a bad mood and grumpy because he’d rather be somewhere else;
  • you are that young man behind the wheel beeping the horn because he’s in a hurry and frustrated that the traffic is not moving.

Whatever you are faced with over the coming weeks, remember that you are filled with the Spirit of the Lord: and this Spirit does not judge by what your eyes see or decide by what your ears hear.

You are called to be the light of the world – be LOVE this Christmas season.

Sermon: Raising the Dead

Lectionary:

  • Luke 7: 11-17
  • 1 Kings 17: 8-24

I’d like to introduce you all this morning to a special artifact from our home that is of vital importance for dressing up as a fairy princess: the magic wand.

A couple of weeks ago, I helped little Miss Two dress up in a pretty dress, and put a little crown on her head, and this little wand in her hand.  She was parading round the house rather happily and looking at herself in the mirror, admiring her princess self when she exclaimed “Is broken”.

As any good mother, I asked what was broken, and was informed that her wand was broken “Is not working”, followed by the words any mother wants to hear about a magic wand “fix it mummy”.  Since she knows that broken cars are taken to a “car shop” to get fixed, she made mention of a”wand shop” in her request for fixing her broken wand.  Now, I don’t know how other mother’s do it, but we’re miles away from Diagon Alley, if I were even able to find platform 9 3/4, and there are no elves from the Little Kingdom that I can call on to fix the fairy wand, and I have no special abilities where expectations of what a magic wand is suppose to do are concerned.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still left wondering what was supposed to have happened when she waved her magic wand and what it failed to do.

Oh! to have the simple faith of a child that can believe anything is possible and doable!  Matthew 18:2-4 calls us to become like children,

“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Mark 10: 14-15

14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

So, today I want to deal with an issue that I struggle with in my Christian faith: are Christians able to raise the dead through faith? In fact, are we supposed to believe in signs and wonders, like healing the sick and making the blind to see?  Is there a place for raising the dead in today’s modern world or is it just relegated to fables and myths and Game of Thrones?  If it is beyond our ability and powers, how should we live our lives as Christians?  What should we learn from today’s readings that we can really take out into this world and be the salt of the earth?

I’ve spent the better part of a week reading various points of view on raising the dead. I’ve discovered groups such as a group of Evangelicals who call themselves the “Dead Raising Team”. I’ve read about Saint Patrick’s 33 cases of raising the dead in Ireland, in order to convince the many pagans of the day to convert.  What is amazing about Saint Patrick is that in 30 years he converted an entire island (Ireland) to Christianity, when previous missionaries had been unable to convert towns, and he gave all glory for this to God and the moving of the Holy Spirit.

But when it comes to raising the dead, as Christians, we’re skeptical.

As one writer put it:

“Levitating saints, sure. Weeping icons and statues, yep.  … The dying healed through the intercession of the saints, of course. The world is filled with miracles. …. We’re supernaturalists, but most of us live by the normal (supernatural) means of grace. We go through life in the usual and sometimes God disrupts things with a special benefit.”

While I would love to believe that we could all participate in the supernatural, my rational thinking gets in the way, and I’m left searching for practical and rational ways that I can transform this world.

Most of what I’ve read about Luke 7 speaks to Christ’s compassion for the widow who has lost her only son, in a society where she would have been left completely unprotected and without any rights.

How are we to react as Christ when we see those in need and hurting?  As Christians, we are called to have the same compassion for our fellow man. We are called to look beyond just what we can see, and commit to life-changing actions in the lives of others. But do you have the time, energy & commitment for that?

The principle of compassion is the very heart of Christ. The ministry of Jesus flowed from His heart of compassion toward those in need.  Compassion is a word of action. It is not observing from the sidelines; it is the heartfelt care for another with both the intent and action.  The compassion of Christ carries the notion of tenderness and affection.

The uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry rests in His concern for persons — He truly loves people and considers them worthy of respect and compassion because of what they are — bearers of the divine image of God.

John challenges us to look to the needs of others,

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (3:17-18).

Loving others is one of the many ways we put our faith into action.

“People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

So, how can we put this compassion into practice?  If we can’t do the supernatural, what can we do that will make life-changing differences?

I’d like to finish up with some practical examples of how we can help others to find new life and meaning, through compassion.
  1. Be considerate and present:  Practice having old-fashioned conversations (by that, I mean, without your phone), where you can give each person your full attention – use direct eye contact and keep your ears open to their needs.
  2. Do a body and feelings check regularly:  Check the motivation behind your words, actions and decisions. Always check in with your thoughts before they become words or actions to be sure your motivation is pure. If you catch yourself about to say or do something that isn’t coming from a place of integrity, or if it’s untrue, unkind, or unnecessary, think before you act. Every word and action generates a reaction. Be sure your ripple effect is positive and one that promotes a culture of compassion.
  3. Be affectionate:  Don’t forget the power of touch, especially for children, who thrive on feeling accepted as whole people. Give hugs and pats on the head or a squeeze of the hand.
  4. Communicate warmly:  Let your genuine interest in helping the other person show through heartfelt communication. You can make a world of difference by simply listening and talking in a warm, patient manner.
  5. Acknowledge people’s existence: Say good morning, good afternoon or hello to the people you walk past all the time – the concierge, the door man, the security guy, the homeless man that you prefer to ignore so he won’t ask you for cash, the elderly lady walking so slowly she’s slowing the pedestrian traffic. Get to know people.
  6. Practice acts of kindness:  Go out of your way to be kind.  Try  a 30-day kindness challenge.  Plan random acts of kindness – hold the door! (Put your arm around and comfort that Game of Thrones fan that just burst into tears, because I just said to hold the door!)
  7. Show empathy:  Empathy is showing that you understand another’s feelings or emotions; you identify with the situation and care enough to place yourself in another’s shoes. If someone is upset or acting unusual, consider why before you judge or get annoyed. There’s probably a backstory that would make you react differently. And when someone does share, you don’t have to have a perfect answer. You can just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you.”
  8. Allow your heart to break:  Be aware of what’s going on around you. When you open your eyes to your world, you can often see more clearly where compassion is needed.  The world is full of what seem like intractable problems. Often we let that paralyze us. There are some people in the world that we can’t help, but there are so many more that we can. So when you see a mother and her children suffering in another part of the world, don’t look away. Look right at them. Let them break your heart, then let your empathy and your talents help you make a difference in the lives of others.  Be the difference you want to see in this world!
  9. Be an encouragement:  Be the person that holds others up, motivates them, brings them cheer. Instead of dwelling on everything people do wrong, use your voice to tell them what they are doing right and encourage them to continue working towards their goals.

Let us pray:

Creator God,
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow pride to never get the best of us as You fulfill our dreams. Help us not to have a boastful tongue against our brothers. Let humility invade our souls.
In Jesus’ name. Amen

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.