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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Only the Best Resources

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Believe it or not, I was a child who was on the receiving end of a good amount of discipline, if you've talked to my mother, I'm sure she’s mentioned it. Truth be told my claim to fame is throwing 3 hour temper tantrums, which was usually the result or cause of a good amount of discipline. The traditional timeouts, groundings, privileges being taken away and some more creative options such as cold showers and soap in the mouth. As a mother myself now, discipline is a tricky thing. We know it's necessary for all of us, but no one likes it and I don't know many people who feel like they do it well or without unintended harm. But like it or not we know that discipline makes us better people, we know that under the best circumstances it's done out of love and genuine concern for the other person in the long run. In the scripture for today Paul is telling the Hebrews that discipline is a part of life, they know it from their own lives, but he invites them to consider the hardships of life in a new way, not as something God is doing to punish them, but as a means of growing and becoming more like Christ.
Will you pray with me? God as we listen for your voice this morning, we pray that you open our hearts and our minds, that you help remove distractions and worries, that in this time you would teach us, comfort us, challenge us and give us your grace and peace. In Jesus name, Amen.
We're in the middle of a sermon series called Spiritual Makeover and we've been talking about this spiritual makeover and making a connection to the physical makeover that we hope to do with in the Friendship Room. A couple weeks ago we talked about the real goal of the Friendship Room makeover, which is to create a welcoming, inviting space for those not yet here. And so today I really want to be clear about the goal of our own spiritual makeovers.
Now when we think about what a spiritual makeover really is, we can think of lots of different things we can do differently: coming to church more, praying every day, being nicer to people we work with, giving more money to charity. All these kinds of things might be what a spiritual makeover might look like for you. But for our purposes today, as we try to understand this as a community, we really have to define the broader goal of a spiritual makeover.  And I'm here to tell you that this is nothing new, as Christians we are constantly in the process of a spiritual makeover with the goal being: be more like Christ! Seems pretty obvious right? If we were to be totally made over spiritually, we would be like Jesus.
Now I'm going to throw out a big word to make myself look smart, but my confirmation kids should know this one too. The word is sanctification. Sanctification is the fancy word for becoming holy, becoming more like Christ. John Wesley who's the founder of Methodism was a big fan of sanctification; he firmly believed that sanctification is God's plan for us, that sanctification is the way that God fulfills God's promises to us. And I think Wesley really understands sanctification in the very best way because he not only talks about it as a way to be holy or more like Christ, but the way for us to be whole, and I’d add it’s the way that we become fully human, the way God created us to be. Sanctification is the path to our holiness and our wholeness.
So, now that we have a pretty good idea of what we're trying to do with our own spiritual makeovers, how do we go about that? I'm betting you all could make a list of things you could do to be a better Christian, I thought about making a list this week for you all and frankly it was depressing so I didn't. It's depressing and overwhelming and not very encouraging, right? It’s like saying, “Here are all the ways you're failing at being a human being, congratulations, now fix it.” Now take comfort in the fact that we all could make a list like that, you're not alone. But God does not want to leave us there. Which is why God has given us resources, I want to talk about 3 of them today, the BEST resources for our spiritual makeover, the BEST resources for becoming more holy and whole. Now these resources come out of our tradition as Christians, these are things that those who have gone before us have practiced and trusted in their journey of faith.
As I've mentioned, I think John Wesley totally gets sanctification and one of the most helpful things that he emphasizes is the role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the #1 best resource that God gives us to help us become more like Christ. The way that John Wesley talked about it is called sanctifying grace, the grace that God freely gives us that works in us to make us more like Christ. And this is the #1 resource because it's not about anything that we do. Remember that list we just talked about? It probably involved a bunch of things that you would have to DO something about. Get yourself out of bed and go to church more often, pray every day, give money to charity, say and do nice things to people at work. But sanctifying grace is not about you doing something to be more like Christ, it's about the Holy Spirit working in and through you so that your heart is more like Christ's. I'm here to tell you that you can force yourself to sit in a pew every Sunday or be nice to that person at work through clenched teeth, and I trust that through those God can work to change your heart, but it's still not about your actions. Your actions might be more Christ-like, but your heart won't be different, you won't be more whole. As Methodists we understand grace in 3 different ways, which is a whole other sermon series, but the definition I like to use for grace in these three ways is: “the Holy Spirit enabling us to believe, love and serve God.” The Holy Spirit enabling us to believe, love and serve God. The Holy Spirit does the work in us that enables us to be more like Christ, to trust God more and to take bigger risks. The Holy Spirit gives us the power, the strength, the heart to be more like Christ. One of my favorite things that I learned in seminary is the role of the Holy Spirit. So so many times I know people who are so concerned about how do we change people? How do we save people? (although I strongly dislike that terminology) How do we convince people that Jesus is the way? And what I learned that’s not my job. That’s not your job. THAT, my friend’s is the Holy Spirit’s job. Don’t go trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to love people, to care for people, to share our faith with people, to change our communities, SO THAT the Holy Spirit can do her job. The best resources we have as Christians to make ourselves over spiritually, or to be more like Christ, to be whole, is the Holy Spirit. We open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives and we tune ourselves in to what the Holy Spirit is doing around us.
But then of course, it’d be helpful to know how do we connect with the Holy Spirit? How do we best connect to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives and the lives of others and the life of our community? Well I’m glad you asked! This also could be an entire sermon series, but it’s worth getting the shortened version. The second best resource that we have for our spiritual makeover is the spiritual disciplines. Going back to the scripture for today, this isn’t the type of discipline that I think that Paul was talking about, but it has the same effect. These are ways that we grow in our faith, that we learn and practice how to be more like Christ and where we open ourselves up to what the Holy Spirit is doing. Towards the end of the passage, Paul says this about why all this discipline stuff: “in order that we might share in God’s holiness” and so that “no one fails to obtain the grace of God”. That’s the point of disciplines.  
So many of you are probably familiar with spiritual disciplines, these are those things that Christians who have gone before us have practice and come to believe that they work. Here’s a short list, there are plenty of others: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, service, worship, Sabbath, spiritual friendship and I would add bearing hardships like the scripture talks about today. These are all things that we can actively do to become more like Christ and open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit. While I don’t want you to forget that #1 resources, I want to be clear that there ARE things that you can DO and should do. But not for the sake of crossing them off your list or for impressing others, but for the sake of giving the Holy Spirit a chance to do her job.
The last couple of trimesters I’ve led a LifeGroup that tries different prayer practices. It’s not about becoming experts at any of them, or event liking all of them, but it is about trying new things, new ways to connect with God. And both times that I’ve led this group, every single week I’m honestly kind of surprised that God very clearly shows up, that people experience change and growth just because they’re opening themselves up to the possibility. The truth is that many of you probably have more spiritual practices than you realize. Fishing or running or gardening or cooking. These all can be spiritual disciplines when we use them to help open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, not only so that we can be holy, but so that the Holy Spirit can bring healing and peace and direction so that we might be more whole. So I encourage you to find at least 1 spiritual discipline to practice. Try it for a month, see what happens, try another one. It is a dynamic process, one where we have to keep moving and growing and being changed.
And the last resource that I want to talk about is community, because we weren’t designed to do this alone. We’re a very individualistic society and so often we have this idea that our spirituality is really just between me and God, that we can become like Jesus on our own. The problem is that Jesus wasn’t on his own either. The Bible is based in community, it’s always been God’s people, not God’s individual persons. Jesus modeled the importance of community with the guys that he surrounded himself with, community is the way we do life together.
Community is important for us as Christians and as people who are undertaking a spiritual makeover because it tells us who we are, it helps us understand what we believe and why we believe it, it gives us a place to ask questions and express doubt, it provides care and comfort when life is inevitably difficult, it keeps us on the right track and it widens and deepens our understanding of God and the kingdom of God. We are more whole when we are in community. Just like the scripture that talks about the body of Christ like a human body, we are more complete when we are a part of a community, a body.
My prayer LifeGroup would have been a whole lot different if it had been a take-home course. If I had given out the instruction sheets to everyone and told them to go practice them, I imagine that maybe 2 of us would have actually done it. I wouldn’t have been one of them. But ask anyone in that group, the impact and the power of what God was already doing in our lives was amplified because we were doing it in community. Because we practiced together, because we shared our experiences, because we helped each other interpret and understand what God might be saying to us, because we prayed for each other. We needed each other, the experience would not have been the same if one of those people hadn’t been there.
We have LifeGroups at this church because we believe that community is important and that LifeGroups give us the opportunity to do life together. Not just Sunday morning, not just Bible studies, but running together, gardening together, even texting each other. These are all ways that God works through the Holy Spirit in and through and among us, to make us more holy and whole. Our summer LifeGroups are about to start so I again encourage you to find one, find a way to connect in a new way to this community and to God.
A spiritual makeover isn’t something that we undertake once, or only while we’re doing a sermon series on it. This is the journey of the followers of Jesus, so remember that God has already provided the best resources for you: the Holy Spirit, spiritual disciplines and community. But more than that, that God is in this with you and that God has been, is and will be in the process of making you more holy and more whole. Amen.
Pastor Jen Hibben