Every morning, whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you have a routine.
- Genesis 1: 2-3
…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
- Mark 1:4-11
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
Another version that I read of Mark 1, verse 4 says:
“So, John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, calling for baptism and a change of heart that lead to forgiveness of sins.”
- Acts 19:1-7
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them
Without the power of the Spirit, there is no light! And without repentance – in other words, “a change of heart”, there is no filling by the Spirit!
I want us to consider two definitions for repentance: first the definition provided by Marcus Borg: repentance is not how we understand the word now (repentance from sins), but rather a “return from exile”. To repent is to enter the kingdom of God: we die to the old way of being and we are “born again” into a new way of being. Matthew uses this same opening: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So once again, we have this message that our relationship with God is changing: God is near to us (not far away) and that we simply have to turn around and return from exile (separation). But this goes hand in hand with the idea of repentance from sins, if we look at it in the following sense.
Repentance is more than simply asking for forgiveness or confessing that we have done something wrong and saying sorry. I read this morning
Saying “I’m sorry” is something anyone can do. Sorry doesn’t require change, only an acknowledgement that you messed up. Sorry is a way out of a problem, not the beginning of a new path. …Simply saying “I’m sorry” allows that a problem exists, but does nothing to bring about a genuine change of heart.
The idea of metanoia, which has been translated as repentance, is one of admission to God of our deep sorrow for the pain and hurt caused by our actions and sins, and a resolve to change our way of being and life to act correctly in the future. It is adopting a new way of life, a new way of being.
A little bit like trying to lose weight and get fit, as many of us do at the beginning of every year: but the reality is that it isn’t enough to go on a diet. We need to change our lifestyle and adopt a new lifestyle that allows us to be healthy and fit. It is a complete changing of our ways: adopting new eating habits, adopting a new morning routine, perhaps starting each morning with warm lemon water. And the first weeks and months of this new way of life are a struggle: you feel like you are on a diet, rather than adopting a new lifestyle. But you also are aware that if you go back to your “normal habits” you will go back to that weight and that body that you were trying to improve.
David admits: He struggles with addiction. He is determined to beat his habit but gives in, feels bad, intends to make a change, but ends up slipping time and again. When he does, it deeply hurts his wife and children. He sees the pain in their faces and feels bad that he has hurt them. David is remorseful but not repentant.
Regret and remorse have consequences, but do not necessarily address the wrong-doing of those consequences. People get caught and can feel remorse because there are consequences to their actions. For example, you can speed down the highway, get caught and feel remorse. But you may not feel repentant over the speeding. You have remorse because you received a ticket. The ticket temporarily slows you down, but eventually you creep back up to that speeding level.
Repentance would be sticking to the speed limit, rather than speeding. Repentance for alcoholism is getting into rehab, and then once out changing the lifestyle he has so that he has more human connection and less need to give into the addiction. Repentance would be living a new way of life, in spite of his weakness and addiction.
The same is true spiritually for us. It is not enough for us to be sorry or feel guilty for our sins. This feeling of guilt or remorse achieves nothing for us! Being sorry or feeling remorse is not enough either. To repent is not simply an emotional act, but rather requires a change of moral purpose, and requires regret of the past and pursuit of a new direction.
2 Corinthians 7:10 explains this as follows:
For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.
The Message explains this a little better:
Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.
It’s not enough to regret what you did. Repentance is about turning things around and living life a completely new way! Repentance is adopting a new way of thinking, it is a change of mind, transformation of your mind and thoughts, deciding to live your life with a new purpose. It is interesting that baptism is an immersion to complete saturation: it can just as well be immersion in a transformed mind and way of thinking, and not simply immersion in water. Water is simply symbolic of this immersion to change. The purpose of baptism by John was repentance: to bring about a change of mind, a change of way of being. The water baptism symbolizes a cleansing process, the letting go of the old way of being.
The fundamental idea with this repentance is not sorrow or remorse: it is change. But profound and deep change: not just a change superficially of our actions to follow the rules, but rather as Jesus taught us, a profound change of being. There’s a reason that Jesus spoke of forgiveness being not 7 times, but rather 7 times 70 (7X70) times (490) – because you need to be sorry and forgive yourself this many times in order to truly change your way of thinking and being regarding a certain situation or action. This repentance is the first step in the realization of Truth and knowing God. The Word (Jesus) dissolves, breaks up and washes away all thoughts of the material world. And it leaves us as spiritual beings that need and hunger to be connected with Spirit.
We all want light in our lives, we all know that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Light. We all know that after the baptism of repentance, we make room for the baptism of Spirit. But are you willing to pay the cost for this power and light – filling of the Spirit?
What am I talking about? Why am I talking about paying the cost? Isn’t this a free gift? Yes, the indwelling Spirit of God is a gift: but throughout the Gospels, Jesus would say to the sick or the blind or the lepers that he healed: “Go and sin no more.” The healing that took place was a physical and spiritual healing: and this required a new way of life and being! And you: have you had this transformation? Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling?
… for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
And so, we are told as children of God to do everything without grumbling, murmuring, complaining, arguing, hesitation or disputing. (Philippians 2:14) Everything. What does this “everything” refer to? God’s will and God’s work for God’s good pleasure: because it is God who works in you to will and to work. THEN you will shine like stars, a bright light in this world, full of Spirit, and showing to all the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.
Every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit, but every Christian does not heed the direction and instruction of the Spirit in their lives. Some Christians are still caught up listening to their material needs, their fears, their ego, their selfish ways. But those guided by the Spirit can rest in the assurance that God’s good will be done. Those who are spiritual “live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), that is, they walk, or live their life, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God says in Genesis 1 – “Let there be light” – and Jesus says to us in Matthew 5: 14
You are the light of the world.
Not Jesus – YOU! A city on a hill cannot be hidden. And if the Spirit fills you, that light cannot be hidden! So – let your light, of a changed way of being, of thinking, of speaking, of acting be the beacon of light that draws others to God.
- 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.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
8 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:
- 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.”
- Submission – special prayers reminding ourselves that “Thy Will be Done”, as opposed to “My Will”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- There are many gifts and many services, but they all come from the same Spirit;
- There are many activities, but they are all lead by God;
- Some get wisdom
- Some get knowledge
- Some get faith
- Others get healing
- Working of miracles
- Discernment of Spirits
- Speaking in tongues
- 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.
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.”
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. 2 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. 3 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.
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. 2 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. 3 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:
- 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
- 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…
- 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.
- 1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you…
- Romans 8: 10 – But if Christ is in you… the spirit is life…
- 2 Corinthians 13:5 – Or do you not realise about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?
- Galatians 4:19 – Christ is formed in you
- Ephesians 3:17 That Christ may make his home in your hearts
- Colossians 1:27 Christ in you, the hope of glory
- 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.
I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing…
Over one hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career. In addition to touching on his own family history, war, human and property rights, Roosevelt railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place. People like Isaiah, trying to turn the people of Israel back to God, and yet failing miserably at it.
Teddy Roosevelt in this speech said:
“A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not … of superiority but of weakness.”
Life is made up of challenges – for each one of us they are different! And there is always going to be someone on the sidelines criticising your performance, as you struggle to be “wonder woman” or “super man”. And that intimation of failure often causes us panic, even despair.
Failure is considered an unpardonable sin in a world where we sanctify the successful and worship winners. Everybody wants to succeed – no one wants to be considered a failure! How many people do you know whose life goal is to fail? But this emphasis on success can put an enormous stress on us. No one wants to be called a failure. If I fail, what will happen to me? What will others think? Will they reject me? Are they going to think I’m worthless? And yet, our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement.
Simply put: your task on earth is to become your best version of you. You are unique. God made you specially just like you – there is no one else exactly like you – and you have a special purpose on this earth, otherwise God would not have made you and put you here! And if you haven’t done it already, you need to take a day or two and sit and medidate (in silence – and for pity’s sake, stop talking and turn off the mobile devices!), and listen to hear what that purpose is. The Bible of full of examples of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. We’ll talk more about that next week!
The world has a few examples of failures that went on to do some remarkable things:
- I’m sure you’ve all heard of that guy Henry Ford, bankrupted 2 automobile industries and ruined all his chances of good investors.
- Or maybe that guy Fred Astaire. His first screen test didn’t go so well: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.”
- Then there’s that guy that had trouble adjusting to the culture and classes at Yale, so he dropped out. He went back again later, and it still wasn’t for him, so he dropped out again. His name’s Dick Cheney. Never going to amount to anything!
- Or there’s that single mother on welfare who was trying to write. I think her name was J.K. Rowling or something.
- Or that kid whose teacher told his mother he was “too stupid to learn anything”. He was unfortunate enough to be called Thomas Edison.
- And there’s that guy who was so frustrated trying to write his first novel, that he threw away the entire first draft! His wife found this manuscript for a book “Carrie”, and rescued it from the trash. You might have heard of him – Stephen King.
There’s a reason you are in church this morning – maybe you are stuck in a place of despair, ready to give up, not sure how to keep up the good fight. But men and women can change: once again we have a Bible full of examples of people who stopped in their tracks and had a heart change, which became a totally new person. To mention a few of the better know examples from the New Testament: Saul who became Paul; Simon who became Peter; Jonah (in spite of his best efforts to the contrary); Levi the tax collector who became Matthew the disciple.
But on the road to that transformation, there are holes. And if we’re not careful, that hole becomes a rut. And before you know it, you’re stuck in that rut, and your following that rut instead of the path that you’re supposed to be on, because it’s much more comfortable to stay in the rut than to try to get out of it. And let’s be honest, sometimes getting out of that rut looks impossible! You tell yourself, it just can’t be done! This is is – the best I can do, the most I can be.
Isaiah is in a rut (and feeling sorry for himself), in verse 4 of our reading this morning:
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.”
This is the same servant that said:
“Before I was born, the LORD called me: from my birth he has made mention of my name.”
He knew what his calling was! He was predestined to do God’s work! There’s an amazing amount of expectations upon him! And God gave him all the gifts and tools he needed for the task. Remember verse 2:
“He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me: he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in His quiver.”
I was MADE for this.
But his progress report in verse 4 is not very encouraging:
“My work is so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.”
Probably a good time just to go back to bed! The task is too great! I’m inadequate. I can’t do it!
Now the whole book of Isaiah can be divided into 2 principle sections:
- Part one is chapters 1 to 39, which address Israel’s continuing sin and rebellion, where their hearts are so hardened that no matter the strength of Isaiah’s tone and words, nothing will turn them. They became self-centered and inward-looking; they forgot their covenant. They forgot they were a people belonging to God. Finally, Isaiah brings a message of judgement and exile – the Old Jerusalem is condemned and will be no more.
- Part two, chapters 40 to 66, opens with words of consolation “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. It finishes with the emergence of the NEW Jerusalem.
So we see in Isaiah a transformation – from the old to the new: the old Jerusalem is torn to the ground and then rebuilt as a new Jerusalem. You see, when everything is stripped away, our spirit starts to show through, and then our relationship with God and the eternal comes clearly into focus. Maybe right now you’re sweating and you can’t see the results of all your hard work: and instead of giving up, maybe it’s time to take a small rest and remember WHO you are and WHY you were put on this earth!
1 Peter (2:9-10) reminds us:
You are a chosen people… a people belonging to God… Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God…”
And I have another little gem for you, God expects you to fail! Yes, you heard that right: God doesn’t expect you to get it right the first time. In fact, he has an expectation that you are going to fall!
How many of you have children and have taught that child to ride a bicycle?
The first time you put them on the bike – did they get it right? How many chances did they need to learn? How many got it on the 2nd time? the 3rd? What do you mean it took 54 times before they learnt?
Well, why are you so hard on yourself? Why do you expect to learn in just one go? Let’s go back to the kid on the bike: you have a little hill (without a main road down the bottom!), it’s a safe place to learn to ride. So you have this kid who has finally mastered balance and steering (for the most part), and they riding down the hill now pretty well! So you finally reach the moment when you think they are ready, and instead of pushing the bike back up to the top of the hill again for the kid, you tell, well, why don’t you ride UP the hill now? And what’s the first thing that happens? They fall off! Because it’s easy to ride the bike down the hill and keep your balance when you have a little momentum! But when you meet resistance and you have to keep your balance AND pedal hard, and you’re new at this, you fall over the moment you push too hard on the left side without adjusting your balance on the right side to counterbalance the force you’re using to get yourself up the hill! Right?
And God knows this! God’s been watching us since the Garden of Eden. How many people has he seen fall off the proverbial bicycle since the world was created?
Matthew 26 reminds us that on the night of the betrayal, when Judas betrays Jesus and gets him arrested, that Jesus said to ALL the disciples (not just one of them, not just Judas):
Tonight, all of you will desert me.
We all remember Peter’s response to that, right? Oh no, not me! I’m good. Even if everyone else does. I won’t. I’ll be the man. And in the garden, when Jesus is taken, Peter tries to live up to his word, taking out his sword and cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers. I’m sure he’s flabbergasted when Jesus heals the ear!
But there was one lesson that Jesus hadn’t taught his disciples yet, and they needed to learn it the hard way – enough with parables and teaching. They needed to experience this first hand.
How do you handle failure? What do you do in the face of fear?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are going to talk about next Sunday.
I want to leave you with one parting thought today from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech in 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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:
“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.
“‘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.
HE SHALL NOT JUDGE
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).
- Seeing with the eyes of another;
- Listening with the ears of another; and
- 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:
- 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;
- having snack food in the car with you or in your purse, so you’re not in a bad mood from low sugar levels;
- 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
- 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:
- 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);
- 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;
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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 –
- 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;
- 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
- 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.
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!
- 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.
Lectionary Genesis 2:18-24
A HELPER WHO IS “JUST RIGHT”
You’ve all heard the 10 reasons why God created, Eve, right?
- God worried that Adam would always be lost in the garden because He knew men would never ask for directions.
- God knew that Adam would one day need someone to hand him the TV remote because men don’t want to see what is on TV; they want to see WHAT ELSE is on TV.
- God knew that Adam would never2. buy a new fig leaf when the seat wore out and therefore would need Eve to get one for him.
- God knew that Adam would never make a doctor’s appointment for himself.
- God knew that Adam would never remember which night was garbage night.
- God knew that if the world was to be populated there would have to someone to bear children because men would never be able to handle the pain of childbirth.
- As Keeper of the Garden Adam would never remember where he put his tools.
- The Scripture account of creation indicates that Adam needed someone to blame his troubles on when God caught him hiding in the garden.
- As the Bible says, “It is not good for man to be alone”, he only ends up getting himself in trouble.
And the NUMBER ONE reason…
- When God finished the creation of Adam he stepped back, scratched his head and said, “I can do better than that.”
Seriously, there is so much debate now about the correct interpretation that we should give of the Creation story, and especially of the role and relationship between man and woman. The Church is supposed to be shaped and guided by the Word of God, and yet it is clearly evident that our cultural norms and expectations have guided our interpretation of the Bible, and even come into play with respect to the translation of the Bible.
There is no question that gender issues have been shaped by our culture. In a patriarchal culture, the Church accepted and used passages of the Bible to justify male superiority and female servitude.As cultural views shifted, we have looked back at the translations and words used, and searched for a new understanding of the Bible – but we should ask ourselves, are we simply looking to once again “be right”, as opposed to being guided by the Word of God? Are we simply now looking to justify a feminist or egalitarian perspective of the creation story that is acceptable in today’s society? Or are we looking for the Bible to present to us an actual Biblical response to the question of “what is a Godly relationship between a man and woman?”
This morning, I would like to explore the verses of Genesis 2: 18 to 24, and provide some insight regarding translation and meaning. But this is merely one of many possible understandings and meanings that can be found, and I would venture to say only scratches the surface of a possibility of interpretations. But there are lessons here for us! While God created man & woman equally in His image, there is no doubt that we are different – the same way that the males and females of all species are equal but different.
In Genesis 1 we find a chronological view of Creation – from day 1 in which God creates time, through to day 7 in which God rests. On day 6, God is particularly busy, creating all creatures that habitat on land. Great and small, he creates them, and when God is done, he declares that “it is good”. After this God – Elohim – the multiple nature of God, decides to create man in his image. God says:
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”
And so, man is created, both male and female. In order to avoid confusion, I’m going to use the term “mankind” to refer to humans, and man to refer to the male gender. To emphasize the godlike nature of mankind, God gives mankind dominion over the earth, and asks Adam to name all of the animals.
The creation story in Genesis 1 is repeated in Genesis 2, but told from a different perspective, demonstrating different facets of God’s character. And so, in Genesis 2, we rewind a little, and are given more details regarding the creation of mankind, and in particular the differentiation of men and women.
Most versions of the Bible have simply translated verse 18 “It is no good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” or “a helper that is just right for him”. And because it was culturally acceptable and appropriate to define “helper” as an assistant or as subordinate to the man, the woman was interpreted as having a role of serving: somehow intended to be responsible for catering to the needs and demands of her husband. Because if woman is the helper, man is the boss, right? Even Paul says that the man is the head…
But much has been written about the translation of this section, especially regarding the original term “ezer” having been user rather than “azar”. “Ezer”, with an e does not mean the same as “azar”. Azar does mean helper or servant, but ezer has a different meaning completely.
The word EZER is used in the Old Testament some 21 times, 2 in the context of Eve (women made in creation), 3 times in relation to man’s help and 16 in relation to God. And the 3 times it’s used in relation to man’s help, it is referencing that help did not arrive such as that help which only God can provide.
So let’s see what other words and terms ARE used throughout the Old Testament that might have been used to describe women as servants or assistants, that would have clearly established woman’s role as being subservient to that of man:
- The best word for helper or assistant in Hebrew is Azar – and it is used 82 times in the Old Testament, in contexts of helping, assisting or giving aid. So, if God had wanted to say helper, he could simply have used this word, azar, instead of ezer, right?
- And if we wanted to specify that woman was a servant-helper, a better word would have been ebed. In fact, the word ebed is used over a thousand times in the Old Testament. But that’s not what it says in Genesis 2.
- Or then there’s the word sharath, which means high-ranking assistant, like Elisha was to Elijah, or like Joshua was to Moses. But Genesis 2 doesn’t use sharath.
So, what does ezer mean, then? Ezer is help from God: not only from a superior, but a miraculous help. Divine intervention.
Before you go off thinking that women are witches and we really fly on broom sticks, let’s get into the translation issues a bit more closely. Ezer means that God is the help. Ezer conveys that it is never a servant, helper or assistant.
So, how does this help us? Well, possibly because if we realise that this was Divine assistance, we will realise that maybe we’ve always been misunderstanding this verse. It never was intended to say that the woman was the helper! In fact, it should not be ascribed to any human at all. So, if she isn’t the helper, what did God make? What does Genesis 2:18 refer to?
Let’s look quickly at the other word that rises in this verse – “suitable” or “right” or “companion”. The word in Hebrew is kenegdo. Kenegdo arises from 2 words: Neged refers to a mirror image or reflection, and ke refers to “himself” or “likeness”. So, God has said he will make a likeness of his mirror image or reflection. So, woman was supposed to be a mirror-image of man.
Going back in the verses in chapter 2 of Genesis we see what the story of the creation of Eve starts out with the only time God says about creation – “this ins’t good”. And what isn’t good? It’t not good that man is alone. Man is incomplete – because unlike all of the creatures that he has just named, male and female, Adam is alone.
And so God says, I will help man by making his mirror likeness, a reflection of himself. The solution for man’s loneliness is woman, made to reflect him. God did not create woman to be man’s servant, or assistant or subservient to him. He didn’t make Adam “the boss”. But rather, God makes them one – flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. Equal and together. In harmony and communion.
But, as with the fall in Eden, the moment we allow our self-interest to get in the way, we start to run into relationship and control issues. The moment we start to allow our egos to rule, we look at our differences, and then separation and domination begin to take hold, rather than unity and oneness. Separation and domination was never part of God’s divine plan for men and women.
Lessons we can take away from Genesis 2 today:
- Companionship – It is not good that the man should be alone. Human’s are social creatures – we need to connect with other people. One of the most shattering emotions of which human beings are capable is that of loneliness – it consumes people: whether they be teenagers, struggling with acceptance, stay at home mothers or fathers who are thirsting for interactions, or the elderly who are feeling forgotten. We need each other. What are you actively doing to be part of the lives of those around you? If you are a spouse, are you making sure that your other half doesn’t feel alone?
- Are you sharing the load and the burden? Whether it be with your spouse, or a team member at work, or another volunteer in an organisation you have joined: is someone feeling that they have to do everything themselves and that they are not getting the support that they need? What can you do to support that person? What needs to change so that you become a team player?
- Are you taking care of your responsibilities? In every team, each person has different functions and tasks: and your first priority should always be to have fulfilled your responsibilities first. It’s no good to be worried about what others aren’t getting done to the detriment of your own responsibilities. You will always hear – finish your own responsibilities before helping another – just like in an airplane you put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. AND FINALLY
- Acknowledge and rejoice in our individuality and differences. They are not meant to separate us from each other – they are intended to complement each other. Yes – women and men are different – women may be more emotional, or protective of our little ones – but that doesn’t mean the weaker sex! And some of us are black, white, yellow, pink or any other colour under the sun. We come from different cultures and customs. But these differences are to be enjoyed and celebrated, creating a diversity in our team work and fulfilling all of the needs.
Today I would invite all of you to explore how you were created to be “just right”, a Divine gift to help and connect with those around you.
If you asked me to name my favourite book of the Bible, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Proverbs and James. This could be because James seems to be so knowledgeable about Proverbs. The book of James is quite short: it has only five chapters and is known for its practical wisdom and common sense. At about 12 years of age, after having memorised the book of Philippians, I set out to memorise the book of James. Practical wisdom for a teen – controlling your words!
Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who gossiped about each other and tore one another apart with their tongues. Throughout the letter, James is helping his readers learn to view their trials from God’s perspective and to resist temptation as they bridle their anger. They were in a church where their tongues were used to destroy each other, as they participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another. Complaining and grumbling are mentioned in the Bible more than 100 times (compared to the 6 times that the sin of homosexuality is actually mentioned). Guess which one has done greater damage to the Church, to groups and to growth? We all stumble in many ways, most of us tripping over our tongue!
Our reading from James this morning is simply fascinating, with its similes and his presentation of the tongue as a restless evil, a spark (that can cause a forest fire), poisonous venom, or a spring of water. A human tongue weighs about 3 ounces… if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s about 0.1% of your body weight.
This morning I want to present two opposing ideas: tearing things (or people) down versus creating or building the reality and relationships that you dream of having. As well as presenting you with the Biblical angle, I’m going to steal some ideas from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). NLP explores the relationships between the way we think (N), communicate (L) and behave (P). Let me explain it to you this way:
Our words become thoughts, our thoughts become feelings, and our feelings become actions. If I see a negative world I will use negative words, creating negative thoughts, generating negative feelings, which will make me act me in a negative way, then I will see an even worse world, and have even worse thoughts, … (Ruben Marcelos Lagos)
Who saw the rain storms this week as a blessing – filling up the Canal basin and feeding our water supplies? Who saw the rain storms this week as floods and chaos? Were the 2 families that lost everything an opportunity for this Church to participate in the community? Or a burden?
There are those who firmly believe that words are not just elements of speech or writing, because they can be used to affect how energy travels through space. When spoken out loud, words transform into vibrations, and as we know, vibrations can direct energy and how energy flows around us.
There is a whole science based on “Words that Change Minds”, how you can use positive words to impact your own life and also to influence others around you – to build them up. What kind of words do you speak to yourself? Are they words of encouragement and self-esteem? Do your words reflect the fact that God created you in His image and that He loves you? If not, they should.
It will be your tongue that will shape your character. Do you know that Christian person that is always negative, complaining and grumbling? They have nothing positive to say: their demeanor, or the way they carry themselves, reflects this. Please get this in your spirit, a person will eventually get what his or her mouth says. Is it any wonder that the person that is always complaining and bitter about how life has treated them always seems to get the short end of the stick? They never seem to get a lucky break? Their words are creating their reality, as if they were speaking it into existence.
Proverbs 18:21 reminds us:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
Do you remember as a child, when you visited the doctor and he asked you to “stick out your tongue?”. He seemed to be able to tell a great deal about our health by looking into our mouths. Spiritually, it’s about the same – what comes out of our mouths is usually an accurate index of the health of our hearts. James explains this in chapter 3: how is it that you are worshiping and praising God, and then using that very same mouth to cut someone else down?
In fact James again addresses this issue for those who consider themselves “religious”. In James 1:26, he says,
“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”
Jesus called out the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37:
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
In the Bible we find 4 principal areas of talking that God condemns: complaining (or grumbling), slander, gossip & lies.
Phillipians 2: 14
Do all things without grumbling or complaining
Proverbs 26, versus 20 to 28 focus entirely on our words and the power of the tongue, covering all four of these areas: complaining, slander, gossip & lies.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
But there is more to it than just that, there is also thinking before you speak and speaking a kind word, even when you have been attacked.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
We have opportunities, constantly, to choose how we will respond. Will we be the spark that starts a fire? The venom that poisons the relationship? Or will our words be a healing balm?
General Robt. E. Lee was once asked what he thought of a fellow officer in the Confederate Army–an officer who had made some mean-spirited remarks about him. Lee thought for a moment, then rated him as being very satisfactory.
The person who asked the question seemed troubled. “But general, I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.”
“Oh yes,” answered Lee. “I know. But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
Each one of us has the power to stop gossip:
- We can stop listening to it, rather than participating. Without an audience, it’s hard to gossip.
- We can stop the cycle, by dealing with the problem. This is where tough love and the hard truth are sometimes the most difficult road to choose. It’s so much easier to say “it’s not my problem”, rather than get involved and have the compassion and love to see it through. People had being confronted.
- Start confronting those who spread gossip – calling it by its name.
For yourself, when you are speaking to someone, think before you speak, using this short Acronym: THINK
- T–Is it true?
- H–Is it helpful?
- I–Is it inspiring?
- N–Is it necessary?
- K–Is it kind?
Then, we should look at healing. We have all, at one time or another, been hurt by malicious words. But we don’t have to stay hurt, we have the power to heal.
Step 1 – Let it go: The longer you hold on to the cruel things that people say about you, it will begin to develop bitterness and resentment in your life. The best thing to do is let it go.
Step 2. Be gracious to those who say things you don’t like – Be gracious to those who speak bad about you. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe what the person said wasn’t meant the way you took it. Maybe the person was having an off day. Maybe there is turmoil in that person’s life that you do not know about. Remember this simple fact: Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by people. 9 out of 10 malicious gossips are people who are hurting so bad and so deeply that they have to hurt other to make themselves feel better. Let’s face it, Jesus has put up with an awful lot of things from us, we can be gracious to others.
Step 3. Be silent – If something that is being said about you and you do not need to respond, don’t. Sometimes remaining silent is the best thing that we can do.
Step 4. Keep your words sweet you may have to eat them – If you have to respond to a person who is either upsetting you or speaking bad about you, be kind and keep your words gentle. The words that you use carelessly may come back to haunt you.
Abraham Lincoln counselled us:
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Words have incredible power in our lives. For one, they provide us with a vehicle for expressing and sharing our experiences with others. Most of us don’t realize, however, that the words you habitually choose also affect what you experience. You have the power to take control of your habitual vocabulary to change the quality of your life. Simply by changing your habitual vocabulary—the words you consistently use to describe the emotions of your life—you can instantly change how you think, feel and how you live.
This week I would challenge all of you to be mindful of the words you speak – choose to speak only positive and hopeful things about your job, your children, your spouse, your health, your future, anything and everything that effects your life. It may be difficult at first, but see what type of results you get. As I said before, your tongue will reflect your true character. Your words will reveal the real you. (Do you like what you’re hearing? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then you need to change the discourse). If you are into journalling, I would encourage you to start writing down what you heard yourself say – and how you will say it differently from now on.