oneness, at-one-ment, We are One - but we think we are separate. We have forgotten our Oneness. God is not "somewhere out there" - but rather right here - in me. When I can see God in everything and everyone, how could I possibly harm another?

At-One-Ment: Atonement & Oneness

Last week, on Divine Shenanigans, we pulled our topic “from the Sorting Hat” – random name generator – and it picked the topic for us to discuss of “at-one-ment”. Very similar to atonement – but really about Oneness. At-One.

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field of mustard, mustard seed, humble, humility, noble cedar, cedar trees, evergreen, faith, growth, branch, uprooted, chopped down, defeated

“A noble cedar or a humble mustard seed?”

A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost.  I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree.  And we all know how big an avocado tree can get.  So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!Read More »

Sermon: United in Heart & Mind

This morning’s reading from the book of Acts described a very simple, and yet Oh so difficult, aspect of early Christian life that we’ve lost:

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)

This morning’s Psalm is equally clear:

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133)

We are a community rooted in relationship. One big happy family, right?

“To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be glory!

To dwell below with saints we know…well… that’s a different story.”

Jesus modelled community with His disciples: they lived out their faith in connection with one another. They shared a common purpose, united around their Teacher. The disciples didn’t always get along. There was some bickering and competitiveness. Jesus had to remind them that they were brothers, not rivals. Together they transformed the world. If it is not visible that we care about one another, it is doubtful whether we love one another.

The earliest Christians had a major challenge, to break down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, and to welcome men and women alike. Paul describes this obstacle as a wall that needs to come down. To do so meant stepping out of one’s comfort zone. When we become members of God’s family, we tend to look for a church filled with people like us.

The Protestant Reformation emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Pastors provide spiritual leadership, but we are all priests, with access to God, called to ministry, and set apart for service. What the church offers is unique—the unity of the Spirit.

“The church is not an organization but an organism; it’s … a body, not a business.”  (James Montgomery Boice)

How easy is it really to live in unity?  How many of you here have brothers or sisters or both? Did loving your brothers & sisters mean that you always lived in unity and harmony?  Did you have the rule that I can hit my brother/sister, but no one from the outside can?  Or how many of you are married?  Do you ever disagree as a couple?

So, if you can’t do it with one other person or a small group of family members, how are we supposed to do this as a growing church body?

While we trust Christ to give us strength to live spirit-filled lives, this doesn’t stop us from being human.  Our personalities do not change. If we were quiet, analytical, unemotional before becoming a Christian, we’re not going to suddenly become touchy-feely extroverts. We are who we are. Our Creator God made each and every one of us, and God appreciates the diversity within His family. We may not think alike, but we should work together. We need to unconditionally accept one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. The fact that we are all unique is an advantage.

For many of us, we are waiting for the Spirit to fill us with that love that we are supposed to have for others… how long are we supposed to wait? and what are we supposed to do until it arrives?

How are you supposed to love your neighbour when they are SO difficult?  What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit of God and have Jesus’ love flow through us?

How many of you can relate with the following description of the Christian life?

  • Do you think we act as though God only works today in the ways we personally have experienced God in our past and therefore we limit what God wants to do through us right now?
  • Well, yes, we believe in our heads that God does wonderful things because we’ve read it in the Bible, or we’ve heard of His Spirit working in other people’s lives and places around the world, but … if you haven’t experienced it, can you believe in your heart that it will happen here at our church or with us?
  • If we haven’t experienced a miraculous healing, we don’t expect much of God now even though we pray for it.
  • If we haven’t seen God change or transform people in a long time, we just assume people will continue to trickle in to the church if at all and maybe find faith.
  • If our experience of church in the past is not even close to the love and fellowship the first Christians experienced, we think all churches are this way.

Or perhaps we don’t want it to be that way because we are afraid it might require us to change our ways or priorities.

 

No where in the Bible will you find “love your neighbour, if they deserve it”, or “pray for those who persecute you, so that they all shrivel up and die”.  I can remember a time when I used to pray “give them 10 times whatever they give me”… unfortunately, that prayer wasn’t Biblical.   We are told in the Bible, simply, to love others.  Irrespective of what they have said, what they have done, whether or not they deserve it!

God says to love your enemies and do good to them that hurt you and pray for those people that spitefully use you. We ought to love everybody- whether they are in God’s family or not. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, where they’ve been or what they’ve done in the past or what color they are.

It seems like it’s the nature of human beings to be self-centered. We like to have things our way, and when they don’t go our way we get upset. We like to have our opinion and share it, and when people disagree with us we like to argue.

Imagine getting all the Christians of Panama City (or just the Balboa, Albrook & Clayton area) together for worship, eating together, day after day after day. Sounds great doesn’t it, well maybe for about the first day or two, until people start complaining; why do all the Catholics want to keep sitting, standing, and kneeling all the time? Could someone tone the Pentecostals down? they’re so excited they’ve been singing for the last hour straight, and that babble of them speaking in tongues is just too much! Would the Baptists PLEASE quit talking about getting everyone saved? and then there are others complaining about the members of Balboa Union Church because they suggested setting up a committee to look into the complaints and report back in a month…

Being of one heart and mind is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us, and draws us closer together. The Spirit is not divided. He leads us in the same direction.  When people are filled with God’s Spirit, God does a work in our heart where our self-centeredness and pride is replaced with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our focus is shifted away from ourselves, and onto God and what his Spirit is leading us to do.

 

Recently I missed giving Sunday school because I was spending the weekend as staff at a coaching seminar.  I’ve done this seminar before, and it blew my mind in the way it challenged me to view all of my relationships and reactions. It called into question how I viewed love and relationships.

Don’t get me wrong – I did this coaching a year ago, and I still struggle every single day to apply what I learned in the “real world” of relationships… but it changed my view of each relationship I have… whether marriage, parent, child, friend, co-worker or any other.

How many of you think that marriage is 50/50? What if I told you that the secret to a happy marriage is 100/0?  100% on your part, and expecting absolutely nothing in return?  I’ll be honest with you – I’m having a REALLY hard time getting my head around this one?

What do you mean I can’t expect ANYTHING in return from my husband? It doesn’t matter how he acts… it doesn’t matter what he says… it doesn’t matter if he gets upset…  But if I fail to communicate, if I fail to listen, if I fail to be affectionate, if I fail to show him love… it’s 100% on me.

This is Christian love – and that’s why it’s so hard!  It’s about giving 100% without expecting anything in return… Irrespective of how you feel… Irrespective of what your day in the office was like… irrespective of that car that cut you off… irrespective of the business deal that didn’t work out the way you wanted it…

Unity in the Church is about each and every one of us putting aside our egos, our ideas, our self-centeredness, our need to feel praised and valued, our need to hear what a great job I’m doing, our need to receive the praise and recognition… and work together in harmony & unity.

Unity is about stop waiting to “feel” the love and choose to “BE” the love you are expecting to see in the Church!  When we decide to make it happen, then it will happen!

Leaving the walls in ruins

Lectionary Readings:

  1. 2 Samuel 7:1–14a
  2. Psalm 89:20–37
  3. Ephesians 2:11–22
  4. Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

What was the very first thing you did this morning when you woke up?
Think… for a moment:  How did you set the tone for your day?
Did you smile?
Did you groan?
Did you pull the covers over your head and think, just a couple more minutes, pleeeease God?
Did you say a small prayer: “Thank you God: This is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!”?

How were those waking seconds?
Now… delve a little further: What is your morning routine?

  • Do you stretch and get all those toxins out of your muscles and moving through the lymphatic system?
  • Breathe deeply and get the toxins out of your lungs and fresh air to feed the cells of your body for this day?
  • Do you break your fast with water to cleanse your digestive system? Add a slice to lemon to it to improve the taste and the cleansing effect?
  • Do you go for a walk, get on the treadmill, use a rebounder, elliptic machine, body shaker – anything to wake all the cells and muscles of your body and make sure the blood and lymphatic system are truly flowing and cleansing the body?
  • How about your mind? What do you do first thing in the morning to rid your mind of the toxic thoughts and attitudes you may have suffered yesterday and ensure that today is filled with love?  Before you went to bed last night – did you let go of the toxins of the day? Or did you take them to bed with you?

As usually happens to me on the internet, I was searching for more information about the God gene and I went off on this tangent of how to renew your mind, find peace, and connect with God.  And that lead me to this webinar[1] about “how to start your day right”.

I’d never bothered to think about the first action I did when I woke up, until now that is!

Let me make a vivid comparison for you:
I’m pretty sure my first actions are groan and think: “OKAY, gotta get out of the bed and take the dogs for a walk”; stumble to the closet and get exercise gear and get dressed, make my way to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea, search the house for my keys, grab the leashes, find my mobile and earphones, and get out the door.

All the while, Susy and Mercedes are, on the other hand, bounding round the house! She woke up!  GREAT! Ah, fresh air! Scenery! Companionship!  I’m so excited. I can’t wait to go!  Yes, we’re going for a walk.  The day has begun!
They exude happiness and joy at the start of a new day.  They live in the moment.

The webinar about how to start your day right got me thinking:
What is it about the day that I groan about? Why do I “complain”?
Do I feel “obligated” to take the dogs for a walk and resent it?
No.
In fact, I actually enjoy it.
For an hour and 10 minutes I can shut myself off from the entire world, live in the present moment and only think about walking, the scenery, the dogs, the street, the trees, and morning…
To me, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing. I’ve gone out in the pouring rain to walk the dogs.

I have other options – I could train the dogs to get up at 6.45 instead of 5.45… I could get up and put the dogs out of the bedroom and go back to bed, and Yari would take the dogs for a walk.  I don’t actually have to take the dogs for a walk every morning.
But that hour and 10 minutes of being out, breathing deeply, listening to my affirmations and meditations, is an essential part of my morning ritual.

The affirmations go something like this:
I joyously release the past, I am at peace. I forgive others and I set myself free from them. I forgive, and I let go of the past. I am forgiven, I forgive, I forgive others. I forgive myself and I set myself free from the past. I accept others for how they are, and how they are not. I forgive myself completely, let go of the past, and choose to live in the present moment. … I love and accept myself, exactly as I am now. I love everything about myself: I am perfect, whole & complete. [2]
I am in harmony with God, … I am always connected to my source, to Spirit, to God. I am one with all that is, and with the Power that created me, with Source, with Spirit, with God. The love, power, and presence of God protects & surrounds me, wherever I am, God is. I am the manifestation and infinite possibility of God. I live life in the present moment, in the now, in Spirit. My power is in the present moment, in my Source, in Spirit, from God. Who I am is Spirit, Source, God. … God is always present in my life. [3]

So… I have made a conscious decision, from now on, when I wake up, the first thing I am going to do is SMILE, and say “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it”. I will stretch those muscles and let my body release the toxins; I will breathe deeply, while I’m waiting for the water to boil to make my tea, and drink that glass of water with lemon juice.  And THEN I’m going to put on my sneakers and go and enjoy that hour and ten minutes that I am so blessed to have that I can spend bonding with my two dogs, meditating and spending time with God; choosing to forgive and getting into the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.

I choose to leave the walls which God has broken down, as rubble; and more importantly, to clear away the rubble, rather than using it to build new walls.

Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-48 teaches us:

43-47“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. … When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

And so, in Ephesians 2:11-22 we read:

14-15The Messiah … tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

16-18Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. … He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

19-22That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. … You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, … God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

Think of these walls that existed at the moment that Christ died:

  1. There’s the wall that kept the Gentiles from approaching the temple – marked by signs in both Greek & Latin – warning foreigners that they would be killed if they tried to enter further…
  2. Then there’s the wall that separated the males from the females – a gender wall, INSIDE the temple… right in the middle of God’s house!
  3. And inside that wall, there’s another wall, beyond which no lay person could pass.  Priests only from hereon in!
  4. And then there’s another wall – a curtain – that separated the holy things from the unholy.  Setting apart the Holy of Holies.

And yet, here we read in Ephesians that Christ knocked ALL of these walls down.  Jesus told us, and Ephesian repeats to us – there is NO ROOM for “us and them” in this new kingdom.  Everyone is welcome to come to God, to become spiritual beings, to have that personal relationship.

It’s interesting to notice that in the original Greek text, it doesn’t actually say the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised”.  That’s a very politically correct translation. What it actually says in Ephesians is the “circumcised” and the “foreskins” – you know, that little piece of useless flesh that you cut off and throw away!  That’s what they were calling the gentiles.  Foreskins.[4]  It wasn’t merely a description.  It was a hateful slur against the new Christians.  Used by Christians to refer to other Christians.

One of the things we can learn from this passage of Ephesians is how our view of God and our relationship with God needs to be perfected.  Ephesians is about my identity in what God has done for me.  Paul calls me to be changed by Christ – but God Himself – to allow God’s spirit to work in me every day.  The debate about circumcision was about people changing themselves (physically) so that they could make themselves acceptable.  It contrasts our view: how God loves me just the way I am and God’s Spirit works to transform me; on the other hand: I must earn God’s love by changing myself to conform to man’s standard of what God wants of me.

Do I use hateful words, just as they were hateful in former centuries? Do I build walls?

Hostility, almost inevitably, goes both ways.  When a person is cruel and unjust, there is anger.  Cruel words lead to more cruel words, forgiveness is difficult.

We all know about walls.

  • The Great Wall of China – built to protect and to keep out the invaders.
  • The wall built in November 1940, by the Nazis, in Warsaw, Poland – to create a ghetto for hundreds of thousands of Jews to segregate them from the rest of the population of the city.
  • The wall built in August 1961, separating “East” and “West”, right down the middle of Berlin.  Separating families and friends.
  • A wall built in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to separate Protestants from Catholics

Yet, somehow, all of these walls are built on the foundations of fear, misunderstanding and hatred. We build these walls to protect us from being hurt, or being changed, or being vulnerable.  My wall feeds off your wall. When I come into contact with your wall, I build mine a little higher and little thicker.  Others learn not to be trusting or vulnerable when they run into my walls.[5]

So, Christ came into this world for the purpose of tearing down walls. It’s our job, however, to let go of the rubble.

Unfortunately, many of us see the pile of rubble that used to be the wall – we see that rock or stone that reminds us of the hurtful words spoken by another, and we use it as the cornerstone to rebuild a new wall. For cement, we’ve used the mortar of name-calling, labelling and prejudice.  Rather than understanding that we need to throw away all the rubble that is left from the wall, we hold onto it.  “I might need it later”.

This is not what we are called to do.  We all live in the same house – God’s house.

Ephesians 4: 31-32 call us to:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Peter 3: 8-18 reminds us:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and
see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.

We have been given the gift of peace from God – but it’s hard to receive a gift if you aren’t holding out open hands to receive it.  It’s especially hard when your hands are busy clutching the bricks for building personal walls, especially those bricks labelled prejudice, bias and judgement.

We are God’s masterpieces, created by God to do the good works for which we were predestined.  God Himself is our peace – peace in the full sense of “Shalom”.  Not just the absence of animosity and outright fighting, but “shalom” in the sense of true oneness, wholeness and healthiness.  All roads to peace begin with God.

And to be one with God, to commune with Him, there is no room for personal or group grudges.  There’s no room for self-righteousness or holding on to hate or malice.  To be in harmony with God, we cannot break fellowship with our fellow man over differences in doctrine, liturgy, politics or controversial moral issues.  This is a denial of our oneness with God, which we have from Christ.

Christ tears down the walls – who are we to rebuild them?  Jesus abolished bitterness, unforgiveness, and unresolved anger. It chokes our fruitfulness, keeps up from growing and hinders our ability to truly pray and be in communion with God.

I started this morning, asking “how do you start each day?” Each day we have to make sure that we clean away any rubble left from the ruins of the walls that God has torn down.

The same way that we take the time to cleanse our body of toxins, we need to clean our heart and mind of the toxic materials that we used to build those walls.  The same way that we hop in the shower and let the water wash away anything that stains us, we have to let God’s love wash away all the stains in our heart.

Because we have this promise from God:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.[6]

And so we cry out each morning to God for cleansing:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.[7]


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PliFBr__T7Y&feature=related
[2] Dr. Harry Henshaw – Affirmations for Forgiveness
[3] Dr. Harry Henshaw – Affirmations for Spirituality
[4] http://michaeldavidjay.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/sermon-on-ephesians2_11-22/
[5] Beth Richardson.  From http://www.pflame.org/html/worship/sermons/PFUMC_Sermon_20090621.pdf
[6] Ezekiel 36:26
[7] Psalms 51:10