Growing in God’s LovePosted: September 11, 2016
Growing in God’s Love
SLIDE 3: PAUL PROBLEMATICAL PERSON
Like many of us, Paul was always a problematical person. He was a zealot. He always believed he was right and he was willing to confront others, get right in their face, when he thought they were wrong. Even though Paul continued to be a difficult person, under the influence of the love of Christ he did change for the better. Before his conversion, if he thought you were wrong, not only would he be obnoxious, he would arrest you, torture you, maybe even execute you. After all he was part of the group that stoned St. Stephen. As far as we know, after the death of Stephen he never participated in killing another human being. He might give you a hard time, but he wouldn’t kill you. And that was progress.
SLIDE 4: PAUL FIGHTS WITH PETER
Also, maybe you will recall earlier this year, I recounted the story of Paul and Peter fighting with one another over the Jewish dietary laws during a congregational meeting at the church in Antioch with Paul accusing Peter to his face of hypocrisy. “I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: ‘If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?’”
SLIDE 5: USE OUR ENERGY GETTING ALONG WITH EACH OTHER
As Paul grew older he apparently mellowed. Toward the end of his life we find Paul offering this advice to the Christians in Rome: “Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you.” The older Paul had learned about compromising in love.
SLIDE 6: HOPE FOR YOU AND ME
We can see this more mellow and loving Paul in his letter to Philemon last week. Rather than taking a heavy handed approach and commanding Philemon that he must set free his slave Onesimus, Paul tried to appeal to the slave holder’s better nature: “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner for Christ Jesus. 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose spiritual father I have become during my imprisonment. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.” Again this is an older, more mature Paul. And I recount this mellowing of a crusty old saint because I believe this ripening and sweetening of Paul’s personality holds out some hope for you and me.
SLIDE 7: GOD IS NOT DONE WITH US YET
For you see, when Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus, in many ways he remained the same old Paul. Before his conversion he was a zealot for the Law of Moses, after his conversion he became a zealot for Jesus Christ — but he was still a zealot, uncompromisingly convinced that Paul’s way was the right way — the only way. Over time living his way into his faith in the way of Jesus, the love of Jesus began to change his life and his personality. Even after his initial conversion on the Road to Damascus Paul matured and grew in his faith and became more loving. And that is good news for us. Even after we make the decision to follow the way of Jesus God is not done with us.
SLIDE 8: GOD TEACHING ME NEW WISDOM ABOUT COURAGE & PAIN
All my life I have struggled with an obsessive need for approval, and my lack of courage. My need for approval has a lot to do with my family of origin, where pleasing my parents was important. You have often heard me preach about my own lack of courage, when I ask the question, what would we do. if we weren’t afraid? As I have grown older living into following the way of Jesus, I have become less focused upon pleasing other people and more attuned to the still small voice that represents divine guidance in my life. I guess I am getting too old to worry about what other people think of me. From time to time I still hear God prodding me, “What would you do, if you weren’t afraid?” Courage is still a challenge. But God isn’t done with me yet, and perhaps with all these surgeries, and physical therapy God is teaching me new wisdom about courage and pain.
SLIDE 9: STRUGGLE WITH FOOD
God isn’t done with me. So now let me ask you, how is God still working in you as you follow the way of Jesus? Perhaps like me you struggle with food both the kinds of nutrition and the amounts. Managing our food intake can be difficult, because we do have to eat to live, and our eating habits are so deeply programmed into our bodies. Unlike other addictions we can’t go cold turkey. Although for some of us giving up sweets, chips, dips, ice cream, chocolate may seem like cold turkey. Maybe you are facing blood sugar problems I know, I am with you. We have to get our food under control to preserve our health. I may not be quite there yet, but let me assure you, if we are faithful in prayer, God will help.
SLIDE 10: MONEY MANGEMENT
What other challenges are we asking God’s help in addressing in our lives? Maybe money management? Does our spending ever get away from us? Does affluenza drive us to purchase stuff we don’t need? Maybe we are setting ourselves up to work until we die. Like food spending is a discipline. Jesus reminds us: Matthew 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. As we grow into God’s love things become less important, relationships and sharing with others can become the focus of our lives.
SLIDE 11: LETTING OUR TONGUES GET AWAY FROM US
Another challenge some of us face, like Paul, is letting our tongues get away from us. Maybe we are so convinced of our own wisdom, or our own righteousness that the rest of the world needs to know what we think. Or maybe when our anger gets hooked we just can’t control our tongues. You know how that works. Our self-righteous anger takes over and all the vitriol comes out without thinking. And then we struggle with gossip. We want the attention that comes from passing on an important piece of “news,” showing that we are in the know. And when we can pass along someone else’s failure, we can feel better about ourselves. Of course we mess up, but did you hear what my best enemy did?
SLIDE 12: GOSSIP
I am reminded of the story about Mildred, the church gossip and self-appointed arbiter of the church’s morals, kept sticking her nose in the other members’ private lives. Church members were unappreciative of her activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She commented to George and others that everyone seeing his truck parked there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny; he said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred’s house… and left it there all night!
SLIDE 13: BE POSITIVE, BE FAITHFUL, SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER, GROW IN GOD’S LOVE
And now that we have the internet our ability to get into trouble with our words has been multiplied. Email can be deadly And now we have social media, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Pintrist, Linkedin. Just imagine how much damage we can wreck upon the community of faith especially as we move into an interim time. We need to stop and think before we press post, or send. Is this a communication better made in person? How are our words open to misinterpretation? Will our words be magnified and distorted by social media? My prayer is that as a congregation as we have grown in following the way of Jesus we will manage our tongues, our use of email and social media to responsibly shepherd our community of faith through this time of temporary leadership and uncertainty. We want to be positive, faithful, support one another, and grow in God’s love.
SLIDE 14: USE OUR ENERGY GETTING ALONG WITH ONE ANOTHER
God is not done with us yet. Each one of us can still grow in faith. We can grow in our love, and United Church can still grow as a community of faith through the grace and love Jesus. Remember Paul’s advice: “Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. “