Tag Archives: Celebration of Discipline

First Sunday in Lent (Year A, 13 March 2011)

I was at a family camp (fab time!!) this weekend. The service at Centenary UC was led by Rev Mary Haire. I thank Mary, and thank her for this copy of her sermon:

 

Readings

Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4: 1-11

Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’

These words of Jesus in the gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 4, Verse 10, sum up Jesus’ decision when faced with temptations and choices after he fasted for 40 days in the bush.

I don’t need to remind you about the number of choices and dilemmas we all have every day—the little things and the big things in our lives.

We have personal ethical dilemmas and choices; as a child, whether to own up to an accident or misdeed; as an adult whether to earn more money for our family or to devote this time to voluntary work for our neighbour. Whether to enter into the carbon tax debate?

At the times of the recent devastating floods in Queensland and the bushfires in Victoria a couple of years ago,  many made choices which put actions to save others above concerns for personal safety and property. No doubt after the terrible earthquakes and tsunamis which have just happened in Japan we shall see similar choices made both by trained rescuers and by ordinary people. Then there are the complicated ethical debates which cross boundaries of legal stability, national relations and social justice. The Law Report on ABC radio recently described the Vulture funds which buy up debts of desperately poor countries for a pittance and seek to have them enforced in countries around the world, creating ethical dilemmas for legal systems and international business relationships.

There are even life and death choices for individuals. I remember as a member of a committee for organ and tissue donation and transplantation needing to debate the issue of whether a prisoner who had been convicted of a very serious crime should allowed to be put on the waiting list for an organ transplant, when there were many others who were waiting.

In the story of the temptation of Jesus it is definitely not the small personal choices within this world which are the main subject.  It is not even the larger choices and ethical dilemmas—but the whole calling, and vocation of Jesus, the type of mission which God has for him. It is a story about the greatest choice which there has ever been in anyone’s life, whether or not to accept the way of the cross, the one which Jesus made on our behalf. Put in its starkest form: it is a life and death choice for all humankind—for all of us.

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Spiritual Practices 7 — Confession

If we confess our sins…

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Loving Christ,
you bring your people into the community of faith,
a community forgiven yet broken.
You are in the midst
as we seek to be reconciled;
give us courage,
that we may take the first step;
in your reconciling name we pray. Amen.

Readings
1 John 1.5-10
Matthew 18.21-35

We’ve come to the last week of our Lenten series on spiritual practices. We’re going to look at Confession as a spiritual practice that makes a space to keep company with Jesus and learn to know him better. You may remember that Richard Foster called Confession a ‘Corporate Discipline’ in his book Celebration of Discipline. Corporate disciplines are things we do together. Worship is a corporate discipline; that’s pretty easy to see. And last week we looked at Guidance as a practice of discerning God’s guidance in relationship with one another.

What about confession as a corporate spiritual practice? This is a little more tricky for many of us I’m sure. We’ve all been taught to look aslant at the way Catholics go to the confessional. (Or at least, the way they once went to the confessional.) We know we can just confess our sins to God. Yet Richard Foster really emphasises confessing our sins to one another. Not necessarily to me as the minister, but to someone who is mature in the faith and able to convey God’s forgiveness and love. Continue reading

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Spiritual Practices 6 — Guidance

Guidance and Grace

Acts 15.1-21
John 15.26 – 16.4a; 12-15

We’ve been talking about spiritual practices for a few weeks now as a series for Lent. A spiritual practice is something we do intentionally to make space to keep company with Jesus and learn to know him better. Today, we’re talking about guidance or discernment as a spiritual practice. If you look at Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, you’ll see he has grouped some spiritual practices or disciplines as ‘Corporate Disciplines’.

Corporate disciplines are things we do together. Worship is a corporate discipline; that’s pretty easy to see. But Foster labels the last two spiritual practices that we’ll look at as ‘corporate’. They are guidance and confession.

How are they corporate? Let’s look at that as we come to them. Today, it’s the corporate spiritual practice of seeking God’s guidance.

We need God’s guidance. Sometimes the direction we should take in life just isn’t clear. Perhaps you think of seeking God’s guidance as more of an individual thing. I’d invite you to consider what Foster says: we need to have more direction on searching for God’s guidance in partnership with one another.

We’ve done this already, when we discerned he way forward for our strategic plan, and our vision statement. We sought God’s guidance to come up with priorities for our life, things like increasing a sense of community with the fellowship and reaching out to the neighbourhood outside our walls. We formed our Vision Statement:

Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit

There’s another obvious case in point for us right now. Is worshipping in the round a good thing or not? Should we continue with it beyond the six month mark?

How do we determine that? Do we listen to the most deafening supporters, or to the loudest complaints? Do we end up doing what we’ve always done? This is often how decisions are made by congregations.

My genuine hope is that whatever we decide about worship in the round, we’ll have learned a great deal about discerning God’s will together through this exercise.

You know, if the people of the early Church had decided on controversial things the way we often do it today, the Christian faith may not have lasted.

We read Acts 15 today. It’s a pivotal New Testament passage which—amazingly—is not in the Revised Common Lectionary. Let’s set the scene. Five chapters earlier, in Acts 10, poor unsuspecting Peter has a vision from God. Oh oh… Three times, a sheet comes down from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals on it. Things like pigs and prawns and oysters. ‘Arise Peter, kill and eat!’ comes the voice from heaven. Peter wouldn’t. He’d never eaten those things before, they were unclean. Then the punch line came: ‘You must not call unclean what God has called clean.’

Then three Gentiles came, people who Peter had always considered unclean. Coincidence? I think not. Peter goes with them to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius. The Holy Spirit doesn’t even have the manners to wait until Peter has finished proclaiming the good news about Jesus before it falls upon the Gentiles and they speak in tongues and praise God. There’s nothing for it but to baptise them and welcome them into the family, just as we welcomed L and R today.

It was never a foregone conclusion that Gentiles like us would be admitted into the Church of Jesus Christ without first becoming Jews. People were going about saying just that:

Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.

If these people had had their way, the Gospel would never have got to Britain, let alone Australia and Samoa! It wouldn’t have gone there because this was not the Gospel.

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Spiritual Practices 5 — Study

Studying the Scriptures

Acts 17.1-3; 10-12
Luke 10.25-28

I’ve been introducing the sermons in this lenten series on spiritual practices in a similar way for the past few weeks. I told my family I was milking the introduction for all it’s worth. Their feedback suggests I’ve been milking it for more than it’s worth! So all I’ll say by way of introduction is that if you’re putting the spiritual disciplines into practice, and you’re still succumbing to crippling cynicism or to terminal grumpiness, we may need to talk.

Today, we’re talking about study as a spiritual practice. In particular, we’re talking about making room for Jesus as we study the scriptures. We’re talking about our minds and our very selves being remade in the image of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

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Spiritual Practices 4 — Worship

In spirit and truth…

Readings
Isaiah 6.1-8
John 4.19-24

We’ve been talking about spiritual practices for a few weeks now as a series for Lent. We’ve heard that a spiritual practice is something like prayer, seeking God’s will, fasting, and worship. It’s something we do intentionally to make space to keep company with Jesus and learn to know him better. Or, if you prefer, spiritual practices help us to get to age 70 or 50 or 30 without succumbing to crippling cynicism or to terminal grumpiness.

Today, we’re talking about worship as a spiritual practice. Worship as making room for Jesus in our life together here and now.

What is Christian worship? Christian worship is firstly God’s gift to us. As we worship God through his Son Jesus Christ, we are drawn by the Spirit to share the intimate spiritual communion of the three Persons of the Trinity. We learn to know God in his love, which is freely extended from Father to Son to Spirit and all around the circle of the Holy Trinity. We learn to know and feel that love within us and among us. Friends, Christian worship aims high.

What is Christian worship? It is also our response to God. We offer our service to God, in praise and thanksgiving, and in service to others. In this way, the life of God flows through us into the world, in Jesus’ name. Christian worship is linked to our witness and service out in the world.

Christian worship may be God’s gift to us. It may also be our response to God. But sometimes it feels like neither one nor the other. Isn’t that so?

These are the three things I want to look at today: worship as God’s gift; worship as our response; worship that is in spirit and in truth, as Jesus said:

God is spirit,
and those who worship God must worship
in spirit and truth.

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Spiritual Practices 2 — Prayer

When you pray…

Readings
Psalm 25.1-5
Matthew 6.5-15

When you hear the word ‘prayer’, what pops into your mind? A child kneeling by her bed at night; someone at sea in mortal danger, calling out to God for help; a group of people in a church, with candles and incense… Prayer is all these, and much more besides.

I was talking to an atheist acquaintance some months ago. He was about to go into hospital for surgery, and he earnestly asked me not to pray for him. I said I’d respect his wishes.

But you know, I broke my promise. I did pray for him. I tried to respect his wishes, but I found that whenever I thought of him in hospital, part of my mind was focussed on God. I couldn’t help it; there God was, and part of my attention was directed towards God. I was linking my friend and God together. I realised that I was in fact praying, and I just could not help but pray for him.

I’m convinced that people pray more than they realise. A sigh, a hope for better things, a desire for peace. Each one can be prayer. God doesn’t even have to be named. I believe that even people who profess not to believe in God let out an unnoticed prayer from time to time. Unnoticed by them, that is—God notices, God hears.

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Spiritual Practices 1 — Introduction

We’re going off-lectionary for a few weeks; our Lenten, and pre-Lenten, focus is on spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. Our home groups will be looking at some chapters in Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline, and the series will aim to help in their study of that book.

So let’s begin…

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Christ, in your power and wisdom,
you take what is nothing
and show that God is there.
Give us the desire to know you
in the riches of your poverty,
that we may rise with you,
the source of eternal life
now and for ever. Amen.

Readings
Psalm 1
Matthew 5.1-12

What are spiritual practices?

For the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about spiritual practices, or as Richard Foster calls them, spiritual disciplines. What is a spiritual practice? It’s  something like prayer, seeking God’s will, and worship. It’s something we do intentionally to give us space to keep company with Jesus and learn to know him better. If that sounds too spiritual for you, or too religious, think of the spiritual practices this way: they are ways of helping us to be human. And if that’s too airy-fairy for you, let’s put it this way: spiritual practices help us to get to age 70 or 50 or 30 without succumbing to crippling cynicism or to terminal grumpiness.

Spiritual practices are not a set of regulations. They are practices that allow us to see life in a new way, in God’s way.

We’re going to look at some of these practices as we move through Lent, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the victory of Jesus over death at Easter time. We’re in good company here. The very earliest Christians valued spiritual disciplines. In Acts chapter 2 we read,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The early believers in Jesus ‘devoted themselves’ to things that gave space in their lives for Jesus to be present to them: the apostles’ teaching about Jesus, fellowship with other Christians, Holy Communion and set times for prayer.

Perhaps you can see that many of us have already taken on some spiritual practices or disciplines. If you come to church in an intentional and regular way, you have fellowship with other Christians. If you listen to teaching about Jesus, if you come for Communion, if you pray regularly, you are already doing some spiritual practices, practices that help you to keep company with Jesus. Practices that help us to become more the people he wants us to be, and in fact, more the people we want to be—more compassionate, more faithful, more hopeful people.

Psalm 1 talks about choosing to walk in the way the way of the Lord, and proclaims that a person who chooses God’s way is happy. These people

are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.

When you’re out driving and the country is dry, you can see where the creeks run. Its greener there, there’s a line of shrubs and trees whose roots have found water deep down in the earth. That’s what this psalm is saying. Be a person whose life is grounded in God. Continue reading

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