Sunday, October 9, 2016

Is This Right?

Is This Right?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 9, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Deuteronomy 31: 1-8
Hebrews 12: 1-11
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?—
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

For a while now I have been thinking about the Christian life. . . I have been thinking about how to put some of the issues we face into perspective. The issues that we have faced here as a church. . . the issues that we face as individuals, both in the long term with like the whole life, and then also with each of the small decisions we make and face in life. . . because I’ve seen cycles patterns. . . and so the long term and the short term seem to follow the same trend. . . I’ve been teaching the different parts of this in my class at school because my class is all about what it means to be human. . . and I try to instill it into the boys I coach because it’s not just about the Christian life really, but about all life. . . I think. . . and I think I’ve got something here. . . and that is why the title of this sermon is “Is This Right?” because I am really putting forth a hypothesis about what I think are the 7 parts of the way our identity as individuals is tied to what we do, and what we accomplish, and what we are up against in doing it. My plan is to lay the idea out today, with all seven, and then take the next seven weeks, leading us up to advent to look at each piece with more attention and focus. I want to use the life of Moses and Jesus and some of the other Biblical figures to bring it out. The Hebrews passage asks us to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. . . so it makes sense start there.
So here is basic landscape. . . the 7 categories. . . for lack of a better term. . . maybe steps is better, but not really. . . anyway. . . . First is Humility. . . then Discernment. . . then Resolution. . . then Perseverance. . . then Fulfillment. . . then Legacy. . . and finally Retirement. . . Yes, I think it is important that there are 7 because it then mirrors the concept of creation in Genesis 1. . .and like a week. . .  and because creation is an ongoing endeavor. . . and because life is built on week after week, so too is this pattern a cycle. . . one that doesn’t happen once in life, but again and again and again. We find ourselves at different parts in the cycle constantly. . . and it is possible to be one person at different parts all at once, which may seem strange, but hopefully will make sense in a minute. . .
Let me use Moses’ life as an example to explain what I mean with each. . . so the first is humility or doubt. . . it really a starts with a place of doubt. . . you have to question where you are. . . you have to be seeking something. . . and to be seeking you have to not know. . . or at least not be sure. . . for Moses he doesn’t know who he is really. . . he has been banished from Egypt where he grew up, and he has found some solace in shepherding, but something maybe is missing, at least enough for him to be going up that mountain to see that bush that is on fire, but doesn’t burn. . . and honestly this is why I called humility. . . because it is more about openness. . . because sometimes it comes to you even when you weren’t seeking, but you have to open enough to move on to the next step. . . which is discernment. . .
Discernment is a fancy word for seeking the truth. . . coming to know. . . for Moses the coming to know is in the shape of the burning bush. . . God comes to him and speaks to him. . . tells him who he is. . . that he has been chosen. . . that God has big plans for him. . . that it is time for Moses to go to the Pharaoh and say. . . as Erick so finely sung. . . Let My People God. . . and it’s a bit of a debate. . . He is there talking to God and he isn’t sure. . . discernment is a process. . . some people never get out of it. . . am I sure. . . who am I what should I do. . . that is the question of discernment. . . but Moses has a choice to make, and he decides to go to Egypt to Pharaoh. . . this decision is the next step Resolution.
When you resolve you are deciding to take that first step, and you take it. . . It seems like a small deal. . . because it is so momentary. . . making a decision. . . but how important it is because it takes you from the discernment stage into the next stage which is Perseverance. . . And this is a big deal because Perseverance hangs on the quality of the other two. How good was your discernment? Are you really called? Was it real? Did Moses really see that burning bush? Because he is going to face some adversity. . . Let My People God. . . Pharaoh says no. . . what now? . . . plague 1 still no. . . plague 2 still no. . . all the way to plague 10. . . yeah people put some lambs blood on your door, eat some unleavened bread. . . ignore those wails and screams you hear outside your door. . . with that blood we are safe. . . Perseverance. . . up against the world, its doubts. . . craziness. . . and your resolve is tested. Are you strong enough? This is why Discernment is so important. . . . is God calling  you to this action. . . was God calling you to this action? If the answer to that was yes and is yes, then what can sway you from it? What challenge can you not face? What can be thrown in your way? What can make you quit? Now we have a problem with perseverance these days. . . I think it is because we don’t discern first. . . we go it on our own. .  . or we drift from thing to thing. . . we are not rooted. . . think of Psalm 1. . . those who follow the law of the Lord are rooted. . . finding the Law of the Lord applying it to yourself in the specific sense that is all about discernment. . . If you have discerned what you are to do and who you are what should make you quit. . . no you persevere. . . and Moses does. . . up against Pharaoh. . . up against the sea. . . in the desert with no food. . . no water. . . people questioning him. . . up on the mountain getting the 10 commandments only to come down and find that they have been broken before they’ve even been read. . . the golden calf. . . and so another 40 years of wandering. . . all of it persevered.
The next piece then is Fulfillment. . . and fulfillment and perseverance can happen simultaneously, but usually Perseverance leads to fulfillment, but it doesn’t mean you are done yet. . . that comes later. . . but you have to think that along the way God gave Moses glimmers of hope. . . rays of light. . . dare I say Manna from heaven. . . or water from the stone. . . when he needed it, he was persevering, but along the way he felt like there were things getting done. . . he felt good about it. . . a sense of accomplishment. . . you get that feeling like you were in the right place at the exact right time, that your skills were exactly what was needed. . . I think Moses most have had that too. . . a sense that he was on the right path. . . this is fulfillment. . . it is all coming full circle. . . you may still need to persevere, but it all starts to make sense. . . and the next is legacy. . .
People see what you are doing. . . they are drawn into it. . . there is nothing more attractive than someone who is in the right place at the right time. . . their skills. . .their tenacity. . . their struggle against adversity. . . people see it and want to emulate it. . . and new leaders are born. . . they want to follow in your footsteps. . . this is legacy. . . Joshua is that for Moses. . . he is groomed to take over. . . and he does. . . and finally. . . the last piece is retirement. . . there comes a point in time where your work is done and it is time to pass it on to someone else. Someone else must take the reins and you have to let them. . . stepping aside completely, knowing that you were called, you discerned that you were, you ran the race. . . and now it has come that it is time to set it aside. . . so you do. . . Moses does not enter the Promised Land. . . it is not his lot in life. . . the completion of the mission was not a part of his discerned call. . . . it was time for another to step in. . .
Now if you think about it the pattern for Jesus is similar. . . though we could argue that the first two stages of humility and discernment may take a slightly different form for the Son of God. . . we see it. . . his baptism and call to ministry. . . persevering through life on this Earth. . . though great moments of fulfillment throughout. . . time with people. . . his healings and miracles. . . moments with children. . . . persevering through the cross and death. . . the fulfillment of in his last moments reaching and converting the heart of the criminal hanging on the cross next to him. . . then persevering death and descending into hell. . . only to experience the fulfillment of the resurrection. The legacy he leaves with his disciples, those he was teaching. . . converting them into apostles. . . those he is sending out into the world. . . and then ascending into heaven. . . maybe not full retirement. . . but certainly giving over much to his followers. . . to us. . .
So you can see the flow. . . from Humility. . . enough to not know. . . enough to ask. . . or be open to being led. . . then to discernment. . . seeking who am I. . . what am I being called to do. . . to Resolution. . . deciding to do the thing. . . persevering. . . not allowing yourself to be shaken from it. . . to fulfillment. . . yes I am in the right place at the right time. . . I am right for this work. . . to legacy. . . others see what you are. . . what you are doing. . . maybe that helps them in their own discerning. .  . and finally retirement. . . your time with that is done. . . and it is time to start again. . . a new challenge a new thing. . .because retirement isn’t the same thing as the end. . . just of that. . . time to move to something else. . . . Just like creation after the 7th day of rest, the world keeps turning, and God keeps working. . .Just like Sunday rolling into Monday. . . the weekend ends and a new week begins. . . My examples of Moses and Jesus were lifetimes. . . but they need not be. . . Maybe you are called to a short term thing. . . you discern. . . you persevere . . . you are fulfilled. . . you leave a legacy of it. . . and you pass on. . . Like perhaps being called to serve a 3 year or 6 year term as an elder at church. . . there is a time where the system forces you to take a break, pass on the reins. . . you see this progression is in some ways built into our system. . . though perhaps the natural flow is much more messy than what is proscribed in the Book of Order. . . But the pattern is the same. . . there is a cycle. . . and we each live many cycles. . .
So that is a picture when everything goes right, right. .  . it all makes sense. . . it was good for Moses and Jesus. . . but what is the alternative? Let me go through a couple of scenarios of trouble to show the importance. . . what if you don’t start in a place of humility. . . what if you start in a place of you. . . you decide what you are going to do. . . it doesn’t matter what anyone says or tells you different. . . you get started. . . maybe you will do whatever it takes to get ahead. . . .maybe you will step on anyone to get it done. . . since you didn’t discern from something outside of yourself you aren’t grounded to anything but yourself. . . so why be ethical. . . you are in charge. . . in control. . . do whatever it takes to win. . . just win baby. . . or maybe you aren’t so confident and you get up against some of that adversity and you quit. . . you can’t persevere because there is no foundation to build on, no rock, just you and your fickle mind. . . Like the Preparation I put in your bulletin, the famous Pliable from Pilgrim’s Progress, he gets going, but then at the first sign of adversity he quits. . .I think we see a lot of both in our broken world. . . quitting and doing whatever it takes to win with no sense of things outside of self. . . how much of life would be better if people took the time to see their lives. . . their decisions. . . in a perspective greater than their own. . . and we will talk about this more when we look at how we discern in two weeks. . . the other trouble is that no discerning leads to fragmentation and compartmentalizing of our lives.. . . we don’t see it as all connected. . . instead we are making the rules. . . and we may be living multiple lives at once instead of one. . . . can you see how it leads to problems? What about Legacy and Retirement. .. have you seen people hang on too long. . . not be able to let go. . . often it has become about them. . . and what they have done. . . and they can’t walk away even though it’s time. . . and what is the legacy of the undiscerned life?. . . fragmentation. . . brokenness. . . stagnation.
Our world needs more. . . I think I’m on to something here. . . I think this reflects the natural rhythms of life. . . I believe that it isn’t just individuals but institutions that follow this same pattern. . . Looking back through history you can see it. . . groups of people starting off on the right footing, but then getting away from their original idea. . . quitting. . . not persevering. . . or holding on too long. . . many civilizations or empires have made that mistake. . .they stopped renewing themselves in the pattern. . . they held on too long. . . and got lost. . . The beauty is, and maybe this is where grace fits into this assessment. . . what happens when you fall off the cycle. . .what happens when you can’t resolve. . .you can’t persevere. . . you are unfulfilled. . . or  you hang on too long. . . yup, you get humbled. . . but is not the end of the world. . . but rather the beginning. . . and we are invited to start again. . . It doesn’t matter where your exit is. . . you can always get back in. . . hallelujah and amen to that. . . I’ll ask again. . . Is this right??? I think so. . . let’s look deeper into phase 1, humility next week.