I love you, indeed I am a part of you and have chosen to follow a call to be so, but I have to admit that there are times when I walk or drive away from our meetings and I simply want to weep. I see that we do many good things, but I weep for so often we miss the best, by refusal, by blindness or by misunderstanding, don't we know that the message we hold is a glorious Spirit fired, message of grace and love? Let me explain a little by telling you a part of my story;
I came to join you as a mixed up teenager who wanted to know God, and for years (yes literally years) I tried to fit in, to do and say the right things, to understand your practices and rituals, all the time believing that if I could only get them right then God my receive even me! It took a real crisis in my life to draw from me a heartbroken prayer and a realisation that I could not be the person I was trying to be, I would always get it wrong, make mistakes and trip over my own feet. It was in my moment of giving up and giving in that I discovered something amazing and freeing, life-giving and affirming, the amazing truth was that God had been wanting to love me, help me and support me and equip me and even carry me when necessary all along.
The scale of that revelation was mind blowing for me, and I can remember days when laughter and joy would simply bubble up inside me for the sheer wonder of it all, and I could not understand why you hadn't shared this secret with me! I looked for people who had had a similar revelation, and found some, some within my local fellowship, and some in other places, and I sought them out and drank form the life giving streams of the Spirit whenever I could.
But, and it is a big but, everywhere I went I discovered rules to be followed and again and again I would try to live within those rules, and again and again I would find myself thinking that I was not good enough for God and would have to try harder, and when I did, the joy left me and I would find myself struggling. As I talk with you I find that we are often in that same place, striving and struggling to get it right, wanting to know God, and it saddens me to know that again and again we lay burdens upon one an-others backs.
Now before anyone gets cross or hurt please know that I don't say that lightly, I say it because I see it all of the time and I don't doubt that I too have been guilty of it. The truth is we have a tendency to get strange ideas about God into our heads, only yesterday I heard someone say that "if we truly lived as Jesus wanted us to then we would be a strange buttoned up, straight laced group of people that would confuse and repell others....."
Where on earth did that idea come from? How could anyone who has read the Gospels believe that "if we truly lived as Jesus wanted us to then we would be a strange buttoned up, straight laced group of people that would confuse and repel others....."
When I hear things like this I want to weep with frustration and anguish and anger, yes anger that we have told ourselves such lies, that we have loaded one another with so many burdens of how to and what to that we stumble around under the weight of them, and in the midst of all this confusion and stumbling we wonder amongst ourselves why we are not attracting new members! Then we feel bad and so we plan and scheme and work and strive and frankly we wear ourselves out, we take on new initiatives and struggle to keep them afloat....
It saddens me that we are like this so often, and I wonder if you'd pause with me for a few moments to listen to the words of Jesus, spoken on a day of frustration in his ministry (go and read the Chapter, and the Chapter's around it and you'll see what I mean);
"16-19How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, 'We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.' John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating."
The Unforced Rhythms of Grace
20Next Jesus let fly on the cities where he had worked the hardest but whose people had responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way.
21-24"Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you. And Capernaum! With all your peacock strutting, you are going to end up in the abyss. If the people of Sodom had had your chances, the city would still be around. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you."
25-26Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: "Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You've concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that's the way you like to work."
27Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Jesus wants us to live and move within his unforced rhythms of grace, yes there are boundaries and yes there are rights and wrongs, but by the Holy Spirit he will lead us gently into them, he longs take our hands and dance with joy for us...
He longs for us to know the life giving freedom and order of Pentecost, and yes I truly did say order, for just as the Spirit brooded over the chaotic waters at the beginning of creation so she broods and breathes over the chaos that is her church today longing to bring us to a new birth. That is a powerful picture, for it is not brooding in the sense of being filled with morbid thoughts but rather the sense of the Spirit as a mother hen incubating her eggs or her new chicks, warming, nurturing and protecting them until they are able to run freely...
The Spirit longs to birth her new life in amongst and through us, bringing order out of our chaos, the chaos of our misunderstandings and our stumblings, just as she did on the day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the power and love of God and when the message of Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection suddenly took on form and meaning transforming their timidity and placing in Peter ; you remember Peter, the stumbling, lying, denying, terrified one; well yes placing in him the a firey eloquence that drew a crowd....
So here is what I am trying to say through all of this, when I drove away weeping from a service on Sunday I saw you (us) as the crippled woman we find in today's lectionary reading;
"She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. "Woman, you're free!" He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God."
Jesus longs to lay his healing hand upon us, to set us free from our self imposed constraints and rules, he longs to give us the fresh gift of his Spirit to enable and comfort, to teach, equip and lead us, to set us free to stand tall, and to live in the light and glory and freedom of the God who does not berate us for our sins, but removes them from us as far as the east is from the west, freeing us to dance with him, to become all that he has called us to be. If we dare to do that "casting off all that hinders us" and daring to run free with him, entering into the glorious circle of love and allow ourselves to be embraced by the God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who only wants the best for us, and has chosen to make himself known through us, if we dare to do that then our strivings will cease and we will learn to live freely, lightly, joyfully abandoned to his purposes day be day transformed more and more into his likeness overflowing with the generous generosity of God.
Quite simply dear Church, he wants to bless us that we might be a blessing to others....
Will you join me, as I join him in the dance? It is from that dance that we are set free to sing his harmonies of truth and justice, grace and peace, from there that we can invite others to join us to work for wholeness and healing as in and though him we learn the fullness of our calling and our being....