Life and death are in the power of the tongue, speak life, every cell in your body

Life and death are in the power of the tongue

I’ve been somewhat unsettled in recent weeks hearing masses around the world chanting “I can’t breathe”. I believe in the power of the tongue in creating wellness and illness in our bodies.

I pin my hopes on George receiving justice: what was done to him was an abomination. I firmly believe that the systems that stand in place to perpetuate injustice and prejudice should be exposed and torn away—all the wrongs of those who are silenced and told that their opinions don’t matter.

I wasn’t going to write this post. This has been sitting in my drafts for two weeks. Not my place to comment. I didn’t want to be one to criticise.

But does holding back my voice not make me part of the problem, rather than contributing to a solution? So, let me say this clearly:

I am horrified by the continued use of the slogan”I can’t breathe“.

On the one hand, it’s great for the media. On the other hand, do those chanting it consider the double-edged sword it can be for their health?

Words spoken by masses with strong emotions: powerful stuff.

Calling into existence that which is spoken.

The question is: what does it create?

What spells are we casting?

We laugh at “abracadabra” – but many believe that the word actually has meaning and power.

Scholars who support the Hebrew etymology say that abracadabra is a corruption of the Hebrew, ebrah k’dabri, meaning “I will create as I speak,” ie that the act of speech will magically create new realities. … the words and letters of the Hebrew alphabet have the power to create.

Abracadabra, https://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/abracadabra-1.466709

life and death, Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts & words, i can't breathe, #icantbreathe, united we stand, we can do it

Similarly, you may scoff at those that use affirmations and recite promises to themselves or God, claiming a blessing or healing.

But what if words and thoughts and emotions do have power?

This is particularly true of words spoken full of emotion.

What if I can’t breathe has power?

The first reference I can find to this slogan arises in late 2014, shortly after the asphyxiation of Eric Gardner by a police officer. His last words “I can’t breathe”, were raised like a mantra in the protests that followed in New York City.

“There was this quote staring me in the face, and that’s something that should be the quote of the year,” Shapiro recalled.
So the Yale Law Library’s associate director and lecturer revised his 2014 list, placing “I can’t breathe” in the top slot. His widely cited annual list, which is intended to capture the political and cultural mood of the country each year, serves as a supplement to “The Yale Book of Quotations,” originally published in 2006.

‘I can’t breathe.’ Eric Garner’s last words are 2014’s most notable quote, according to a Yale librarian

Unfortunately, when I took a quick look at the 2014-15 flu deaths for that same period, there was a small spike – from the usual 36,000 a year up to 51,000. Mere coincidence? Quite likely. There are probably a million factors that played a part in the increase. Again in 2017, when the book “I can’t breathe” by Matt Kaibbi comes out, and Queen Ifrica publishes her song “I can’t breathe”: we get another spike up to 61,000 flu deaths. Probably irrelevant.

However, at this moment in history, following on the heels of mass sickness caused by a little-studied virus, we have angry crowds chanting “I can’t breathe”. We have media pushing fear and uncertainty. We have politicians using fear for personal safety and security for their platforms and personal gain.

So, if our words do have power and every cell of our body is eavesdropping on our thoughts, emotions and words – recreating what we declare into existence – how important then are the words that we choose to chant in protest?

Justice for George becomes much more powerful than I can’t breathe if we believe that we have a hand in creating an outcome!

every cell in your body is eavesdropping on what you think, say, do and feel

Every cell in your body is eavesdropping.

In the same way that our mind is aware of everything that goes on in our body, our body and cells are listening and experiencing our thoughts, emotions and words. Unfortunately, our body takes those thoughts, emotions and words literally.

Our cells don’t differentiate when we are protesting from when we are having a phone call or merely meditating alone. Your body experiences your thoughts, emotions and words as they are. You can’t tell your body “I was just joking”.

Like a child that doesn’t understand sarcasm, our body responds to what was said and doesn’t take a joke. It takes everything we feel, say and think quite seriously.

In many different teachings, we find the effects of emotions on our organs:

  • anger: affects the liver
  • fear: affects the kidneys
  • grief: weakens the lungs
  • worry: affects the stomach
  • stress: wreaks havoc on your heart and mind

Examine, for a moment, how your words spoken with emotion are affecting different parts of your body.

Consider your inner child and the children around you:

We all have the voice of an inner critic stuck in our heads – and quite often it’s the voice of a parent, teacher or someone we respected or feared as a child. The voice that our child hears now is the voice that will become their inner critic in the future.

Do we want our children to have an inner voice that says “I can’t breathe”?

consider the impact of words on children

What are our children hearing and experiencing in the chants and protests? How are we explaining the situation to them? What conversations do we have that allow understanding, compassion and wisdom to guide the experience?

Consider a child: how do you build them up after you’ve stripped them down with words said in anger? Think for a moment about any relationship where words have been spoken in anger: if you don’t move past the hatred into love, understanding and acceptance, what footing is your relationship on?

The protests in Panama are not about Black Lives Matter: they are about the lock-down and people going hungry. I have it so much easier in what I have to explain! But I still have to explain to my daughter the images, emotions and even violence that she is witnessing if she catches the news.

At the same time, I explain how incredible our bodies and immune systems are! I talk about how we eat, and even how our emotions and thoughts can help us stay healthy and strong. I check myself any time I notice that I am feeling fearful or anxious: careful not to stuff it down but to release it. I don’t need my daughter to latch onto my fear or anxiety!

In the same way, I have to relate and quieten that inner child of my own: that part of me that feels insecure in any way.

Philippians 4:8, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.

The power of your thoughts

Your thoughts influence your words and your actions. Long before you choose to do something, you have probably considered it multiple times.

Think, for a moment, about words that you spoke to someone in anger. How many times had you thought that before you actually said it? Then, in a moment of rage and slightly out of control (or perhaps in control but no caring about the consequences) you actually said what you’ve been thinking for a while. You voiced how you truly felt. Maybe it wasn’t the whole picture. But it started with thoughts that you have mulled over.

Consider the effect of thinking “I can’t breathe”, with all the nuances that it carries. Perhaps one of those nuances is that the system is unjust and doesn’t allow you to speak your mind.

If you regularly think “the system is unjust”, are you motivated to change it? Or do you get caught in a feeling of hopelessness? Notice the difference between thinking “I can participate in changing this unjust system” versus thinking “the system is unjust”.

Have you noticed how all your thoughts influence your emotions and your words? If your thoughts control your actions, then they have a role to play in creating your future! The action you take has a direct impact on your results.

The power of our emotions when mixed with words.

Our words are so much more powerful when they are spoken with emotion. It doesn’t matter if you are creating and destroying.

Anger at injustice can provide us with the strength and courage to embark on a journey that we might otherwise never take. Unfortunately, anger can also eat us up on the inside if we bottle it up, rather than channelling and releasing it.

Before becoming a bitter person: this was probably an angry person. Over time, the fire of the anger dies down, but the embers continue to burn within. The dissatisfaction and discontent are still there, unresolved. After the explosion of rage burnt out, bitter ashes and disillusion are left.

When we start a journey to transform our community, we may embark on it out of anger and frustration at the current situation. It is terrific to shout out to the world:

This is wrong! Wrongs must be righted!

"Your anger is the part of you that knows your mistreatment and abuse are unacceptable. Your anger knows you deserve to be treated well, and with kindness. Your anger is a part of you that LOVES you."
“Your anger is the part of you that knows your mistreatment and abuse are unacceptable. Your anger knows you deserve to be treated well, and with kindness. Your anger is a part of you that LOVES you.” https://twitter.com/apocalynds/status/1269711325749563399

But at some moment, love and compassion for our community need to replace that anger against the aggressors as the driving force of change. When we fail to recognise that our passion is driven by love and stay only in the rage, we miss an opportunity to grown in greater love and compassion.

Revolutions begin in angry protest and perhaps even rioting but have to end in love and compassion to build!

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Make sure your thoughts, emotions & words serve your goals.

I love that injustice has awoken people to stand up and make a difference in their worlds. But if I could ask just one thing, it would be this:

Choose your words carefully, especially those spoken with emotion.

I want to hear the masses chanting:

Justice for George!
We can do it!
United we stand.
Black lives matter!

Fighting for justice!
We stand for justice.
We demand justice!

Respect me.
My voice matters!

I’m sure you could make a better list of powerful statements that could create change, without cursing your body or those supporting you.

And when we are done tearing down what no longer serves us, let’s build communities of compassion, love and kindness. Communities that are safe for our children, and that allow us to learn what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Your words can either speak life, or your words can speak death. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down

Life & death are in the power of the tongue.

Prov. 18: 21

pay attention, words, sight, heart, health, guard your heart, bring healing, tongue of the wise, as a man thinks, so is he, a cheerful heart, good medicine,

If I look to Proverbs for Wisdom, these are but a few of the reminders about the power of our thoughts, emotions and words:

Proverbs 12:18
The tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 23:7
As a man thinks, so is he.

Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:20-22
My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.

Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Sermon: Pentecost Sunday

READINGS:

  • Acts 2: 1-21
  • 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Welcome to Pentecost Sunday – a day when we remember Jesus’ promise to the disciples to send “the Comforter”, so that they would never be alone.  If you recall, in John 7, verse 38, Jesus says:

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

And the disciples and followers of Jesus were waiting expectantly in Jerusalem for this.  I want to take a moment and look at the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, as it is given to us in the Bible, before Acts 2:

One of my favorite verses is in Jeremiah, chapter 31, verses 33-34:

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

And I am sure you all know Ezekiel 11: 19:

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,”

And Joel 2, verses 28 & 29:

It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Maybe you remember John the baptist, who promised in Matthew 3, verse 11:

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

And then Jesus promises, in John 15, verse 26:

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,”

And a final verse: Luke 24, verse 49:

And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

I would guess that there was a LOT of expectation among the disciples and followers as they lived together in Jerusalem, waiting for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, so that they could then go forth as commanded and testify.   As you will have noticed, the promise of the Holy Spirit was not simply a promise from Jesus, but rather a promise that was given time and again throughout the prophets, as being God’s promise.  We know, from Genesis 1 that the Holy Spirit is the creative power in the Creation story, the same way that Jesus is seen as being the Word and power of Creation.

Job 33, verse 4 reminds us:

The spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

David says, in Psalm 104: 30

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth

We also know from Proverbs that the Spirit is Wisdom: Proverbs 4, verses 5 to 9:

Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.

Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
.”

And so we find, on the day of Pentecost, the disciples all gathered together, waiting.  As we have read in Acts chapter 1, they were sharing everything, they ate together, and they spent their time in prayer.  Yesterday, in preparation for Pentecost, a small group of us got together to pray and prepare for today.  Our prayers centered on:

  1. Asking for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in this church:  “Pour out your Spirit upon us, for without You I am nothing. Clothe us with power from on high. You promised your Spirit would teach us; we need that teaching. You promised your Spirit would guide us; we need that guidance.”
  2. Submission – special prayers reminding ourselves that “Thy Will be Done”, as opposed to “My Will”
  3. Forgiveness & Reconciliation – the Holy Spirit came to a group where there was no quarreling or envy. They were no longer asking the question they used to ask, “Who is the greatest?” They were no longer seeking to sit on the left or the right of Jesus.  We all recognise that it’s hard to forgive if we’ve been hurt deeply, or something terrible has happened to us, perpetrated by another. But Jesus asks us over and over again:  forgive one another, love one another. We bring love, forgiveness and reconciliation into our world: if we don’t do this, who will?  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus if we cannot forgive? And so, yesterday, we prayed for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, starting with our relationship with God, moving on to forgiving ourselves and finally with forgiveness and reconciliation with others.
  4. We prayed for unity and oneness of mind and purpose in Balboa Union Church:  The disciples were of one mind, one will, one feeling, one plan, one purpose, and one prayer.
  5. Gratitude – we practiced thankfulness and gratitude for the work that the Spirit does in each one of us, from the inside out.

And so, this morning, we read in Acts 2 of the actual coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and followers of Christ in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

As we know, some of those in the crowd, who were being addressed in their native languages (they could understand what the disciples were preaching because it was their language),  were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others simply thought they were drunk – this is all just a big joke.  And so Peter stands and addresses the crowd to say “this is what the prophet Joel promised:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 … in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

So, apart from having this divine experience of speaking in other languages and prophesy, what does it mean for the Church today to have an outpouring of the Spirit?  If we have a quick look at 1 Corinthians 12, which we read earlier this morning, we can see:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good:

  1. There are many gifts and many services, but they all come from the same Spirit;
  2. There are many activities, but they are all lead by God;
  3. Some get wisdom
  4. Some get knowledge
  5. Some get faith
  6. Others get healing
  7. Working of miracles
  8. Prophecy
  9. Discernment of Spirits
  10. Speaking in tongues
  11. interpretation of tongues

But the most important thing to remember is:

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

As a Church, each member has different gifts and strengths – but we need to be pulling together and working together towards one vision and one goal.

They say that there was a man called Louie,  and he was shipwrecked on a desert island.  Finally, after many years, he was rescued.  Now, before leaving the island, he gave the rescue party a tour:
“I built myself a house. That’s it there. Here’s the barn, and over here is the church I worshiped in.”
“What’s that building over there?” one of the rescuers asked.
Louie sneered. “That’s the church I used to belong to.”

It seems to be human nature to be divided and pulling different ways, and it takes a lot of effort to leave to one side our pride and our prejudices, the need to be right and the desire to have control, and put everything under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that as a Church we all pull in the same direction towards a common goal: Divine Will, rather than our personal agendas.

This morning, as we invite the Holy Spirit to flood this church once again with presence and power, I invite all of you to take a moment to put aside “ego” and “self” and to ask God for Divine Will and Divine appointment to take place in this Church, that we grow as God would have us grow.

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: 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!

Sermon: International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and I would like to take this time to celebrate women in the Church!

I realise that throughout Church history, we have had leaders who have said:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… ”

– Saint Augustine of Hippo, Church Father, Bishop of Hippo Regius, 354 – 430

Or even Luther who stated:

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

Throughout the history of the Church, we have found philosophers, scholars and debates about the role of women in society & the Church.  The very idea that women might participate actively in the Church received support in the early years of the Church, but over time, this fell out of favor.  We find the following decision issued by the Synod of Carthage (398 AD).

“A woman, however learned and holy, may not take upon herself to teach in an assembly of men.”

These types of attitudes lead Elizabeth Cady Stanton to comment:

“The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”

Shirley Williams said:

shirleywilliams

But then there are also celebrations of women in the Church also.

“These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found.”

–Saint Jerome, (the 2nd most prolific writer after Augustine in ancient Latin Cristianity) after criticism for dedicating his books to women

Most recently, Pope Francis said

“We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”

We know that some of Jesus’ earliest followers were women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, & Susanna.  We find women at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and women were the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.

“When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven… But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

–Luke 24:9-11

We find the importance of women in Paul’s ministry: women were important members of the early christian church movement.  Homes of believers were where groups of Christians met and held meetings.  Those who could offer their homes for meetings were obviously considered to be important in this setting, and often went hand in hand with leadership roles.  We find Lydia of Philippi (a wealthy dealer in purpose cloth).  Acts mentions that “she and her household” were baptised.  (Acts 16: 11-15).

Although we may consider that the 1st century woman’s role was in the home, turning her home into a public religious setting opened up for these women opportunities for religious leadership.  These women were given leadership roles, dignity and status in return for their patronage, receiving a renewed dignity within Paul’s movement.

Even in Titus 2 we find:

Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not be malicious gossips… spending their time tearing others apart…  Instead, they should teach others what is good.

The role of women was that of active teachers… But striving for unity, not division.  There was no room in the early church for women who caused division.

Given that Paul is supposed to have said in 1st Corinthians things like:

  • Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is the same as having her head shaved
  • Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
  • Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

But, funnily enough, he then finishes this paragraph with

  • So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues.

So… women were to be eager to prophesy, but were not supposed to speak?

Of course, the most quoted scripture regarding the role of women in the Church is probably 2 Timothy 2: 12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

woman-1197111_1920And yet this appears to conflict directly with so many of Paul’s letters and greetings, and the women that he mentions in his Epistles.  I’m just going to list for you the women that Paul sends his special greetings to, and some of the circumstances in which he greets them:

  • Prisca (or Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, mentioned six times in the Bible, as missionary partners with the Apostle Paul (and in the craft of tent-making). The author of Acts states that they were refugees who came first to Corinth when the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. I’ve always noticed that when Paul referred to this couple, he always mentioned her first – so that some scholars suggest that she was the head of the family unit.
  • Mary and “the beloved Persis” are commended for their hard work.
  • There is then the greeting for Julia, who worked and travelled as a missionary with her husband.  He also sends greetings to Tryphena, Tryphosa and to Rufs’ mother, who “labour for the Lord’s work”.
  • Phoebe, a leader from the church at Cenchreae, a port city near Corinth is commended for her hospitality. Paul attaches to her three titles: diakonos meaning a deacon (lit. “servant”), sister, and prostatis meaning “a woman in a supportive role, patron, benefactor”.There is no difference when the title of deacon is used for Phoebe and Timothy. Diakonos (Gk.) is grammatically a masculine word, the same word that Paul uses in regards to his own ministry. Phoebe is the only woman to be named “deacon”. In Romans Phoebe is seen as acting as Paul’s envoy. Phoebe is named as a Patron of Paul, meaning that she would have been financially contributing to Paul’s mission. Phoebe was especially influential in the early Church seen in Jerusalem from the 4th century inscription: “Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.”

Paul in his letter to Timothy discusses the criteria for Deacons in the early Church which is explicitly directed to both male and females. Women flourished in the deaconate between the 2nd and 6th centuries. The position required pastoral care to women, instructing female candidates and anoint them at Baptism. They were also required to be present whenever a female would address a bishop.

  • And in Romans 16: 7 we find “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.”  Junia was in prison with Paul – and possibly the only female apostle we will find mentioned in the New Testament.  Junia may have been an evangelist and church-planter, just like Paul.  Some translations made her name into “Junias” – i.e. a man.  But it appears that this has since been corrected into the feminine version.  I can only ask, How inspiring and wise must this woman have been to have been deemed by Paul worthy of the title “apostle”?

We also find

  • Chloe, a prominent woman of Corinth.
  • Euodia & Syntyche, Paul’s fellow workers in the gospel (mentioned in Philippians).

I find it difficult to relate these instances of respect and high esteem to the concept of a Paul that hated women and put them down.  These messages of thanks were to women (and men) who had played a vital role in Paul’s ministry.

But what do we do if two thoughts or passages seem to conflict? This is where the heart of the gender debate begins…  On one hand, we have those who say, “well if the Bible says to do it, then we ought to do it.”

Well, Leviticus 19 says that “You shall not put on a garment made of two kinds of materials.” If you’re wearing a cotton polyester blend or any other blend for that matter, you’re disobeying Biblical command this morning.  Well, you may be saying that’s an obscure Old Testament command. And you’d be right.

But five times, Paul and Peter tell Christians to “Greet one another with holy kisses.” Done any kissing in church lately?

Oh! That verse is historical & cultural…

So what if in Timothy Paul wasn’t talking about women generally, but some particular & specific women that Timothy was having problems with?  We may never fully know or understand the circumstances of this particular verse in Timothy.

I think it’s a fair conclusion that the testimony found in the bulk of Scripture, including the Pauline texts, speak plainly for women to be able to fulfill any ministry or position that the Spirit of God places upon them, whether it be teacher, prophet, pastor, evangelists or apostle.

When we look at the church, more times than not, there will be more women than men in church. Often times this is seen as a failure on the part of the church. In reality it may be the success of women being in MORE tuned with the Spirit of God. If there is to be a great awakening in the church, it will take place because we, the women in the church will see begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Women may hold the key to unleashing the power available in the church.

As we read in this morning’s Epistle, God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. We may not fully understand the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we should whole-heartedly believe and cling to it.

Let us pray:

Creator God,

We give you thanks for the ministries that you have given to each one of us. We give you thanks not only for those women who have served you over the centuries, but also for those who serve you in whatever capacity today.

Today we specifically ask for your protection and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over six million people have died in the conflict so far.  We pray for the 40,000 women & children each day that are raped and tortured… asking for your healing hand over their lives.  We pray for justice for them – that even thought their country may not have anything of economic interest to the West, that you enlighten our leaders to see the needs of these people and intervene.

Today we ask that the lines of gender, race, wealth, and status completely disappear as we are transformed by your Spirit to be the “new creatures” in Christ we are called to be. May your church truly become the place where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” for we are indeed all one in the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.