January 6, 2008
Pastor Brian Shimer
"The Life of the Beloved"
Romans 12: 1,2
- Last week I wrote a message that worked with the issue of shame in relationships as the final week on the 2007 theme of relationships. Then I worked in the practice preaching aspect of it and realized the flow did not work right. I tried it again and prayed and believed I needed to take a different tact. I wrote another message from that tact, which also did not seem to flow right. I wrote a third, a fourth and then worked with a fifth which I worked with and practiced. That is the one I sought to present last week and for me, anyway, it fell flat. I had the sense that I was unclear within myself, and began to deal with shame even as I was seeking to speak about it. The shame said things like, "you will never amount to anything," "you are a terrible communicator," "you might as well give up now".
It was shame, an interior voice that shouted while I sought to communicate about relationships, about life, about how the fall affects all of life, about how there is a cycle of
Guilt, shame, blame and sin that is inherent in all our lives and affects all our relationships. All this was clear to me as I was seeking to preach.
The message fell far short of my goals, my hopes for what I believed the Lord wanted me to communicate. I felt badly too for there were people hearing me for the first time, and I thought it was a poor example. It is a terrible lie that the hopes of people rest or fail based upon one person's ability to deliver. But that was the lie that reigned in my heart as I preached.
All this was going on. It was not a pleasant experience. It was not the first time it has happened.
I remember a Christmas Eve when I was just beginning to work on preaching more effectively, that I had this great idea to work with the theme of light and darkness. I practiced the message, but had not done so in total darkness. That night, with the lights off I preached but found I could not see the notes. I was nervous and lost my place. The ideas I had to flesh out the outline fled as I stared at notes that made no sense and which I could barely see. It was such a sense of failure that engulfed me as I stood there.
The blame in my life goes inward most often unless it is a question of who left something in the back of the refrigerator until it became a science experiment, then the blame readily flows out from me to others!
But that night, I knew I was nothing, I was worthless, and had nothing to offer anyone. Like a whipped puppy, tail between my legs I left the time of worship in utter defeat. Janet Towne sought me out. She was working with me on preaching at this point. She said to me just a simple message, without me having to say a word: "Brian, the word went out" (we had read a lot of scriptures that night), "the Lord is sovereign." I think that was it. But it allowed God to be responsible for something I was taking total responsibility for!
Back to last week, I have grown over the years. I did not flee chased from the place by feelings. I stood against them. I simply sought to speak what I could. I ended up repeating myself, saying "um" more than I meant to, and don't know all that I communicated but then I did what had come to my mind to do several times during my preparation, I opened it up to you and simply asked you to share into that message on relationships - if it is a relationship we share then perhaps you could add to what was shared.
I opened it up and so many of you shared - I believe 10 or so - and that was a marvel to me. And there was a redemption that happened in all the sense of failure I was sensing. I had many positive comments following the worship time from folk who don't usually say anything, which usually mean more than others. I had some clear appraisals also of the fact that it was not the "best tailored message that you have done" from others.
- I tell you this, not to just tell on myself - although there is part of the message right there to let you know that the things that you encounter, I encounter. But I tell you this because our new theme is about transformation. It recognizes that God's goal for you and me is to not leave us as we are. Meaning that as you look back over your life you ought to be able to see some places you have grown - where you have a longer fuse, where you have learned not to react but respond, where you don't take things so personally as you once did.
But the means of transformation - which I want to touch on today from this passage in Romans, works into the theme of the meal we share in today. The means God uses to change you and change me is the means God demonstrated in Jesus when the Lord took the bread, blessed it, broke it and offered it to the people. It is the means of brokenness.
That is not a happy thought if your goal in life is to stay whole, is to become progressively 'better and better' like some of our modern day prosperity Gospel preachers will tell you.
God's goal is that that "better place" is not achieved through ascending some ladder of success. We do not get better by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, or by "making ourselves different". I don't know about you, but I am not very good at effecting change in myself, are you?
And if you question if this is truly God's means of transformation, note how he worked in some of the Patriarchs lives - take Joseph whose rise to being Lord over his brothers and the means of saving all Israel, came through being thrown into a pit, reportedly killed by wild beasts, sold to traveling salesmen, placed into slavery, suffered false criminal accusations, and spent years in prison before finally being lifted up to an honored position.
Or try on David's career for a moment and realize that his rise from obscurity to rule included over a decade of fleeing for his life and learning to duck spears.
- God's design for me and you to transform us not for our sakes but for the sake of being vessels used by him in this world to change lives, comes about only through suffering, through brokenness or to use another word through sacrifice.
What God did in my life last week was to allow my own challenges, my own encounter with shame to become a vehicle by which to refine me and means by which to instruct me again in the meaning of success and failure, and in the purpose of my life - to be an instrument transformed by offering it to God. As I journaled about the feelings I had encountered which were chasing me about a bit on Sunday night, the Lord met me and pointed out something that I was missing -
So we begin this first month of the year planting ourselves firmly in this text in Romans -
our theme for the year, in order to get more fully acquainted with how God works.
1. I was his child. This was an important fact to accept
Again that faithful message of the Lord: trust Me.
2. That perhaps I needed to redefine failure, for I had prepared, I had prayed diligently, I had stood my ground and not ran, I had spoken of Him and His word, and I had listened when he told me to stop speaking and invite you to speak. Indeed, the Lord said, "Child, you fulfilled my desire. And what I desire, child, counts. Trust Me."
The encounter has taught me anew that my life is not about excellent performance but obedience and that my obedience begins where this passage of scripture begins.
- Look at Romans 12 with me. Do you see that THEREFORE that starts it off? That THEREFORE points us back to certainly the whole of the book that precedes this place but moreso to the previous chapter which is a powerful declaration of the greatness of God's Mercy - who has had mercy on you and on me that we would be invited into this great salvation and mercy upon those Jewish people who will be able to enter again into Salvation if they but respond to God's call upon them to do so. It is the greatness of God's mercy, the faithfulness of God upon which everything that Paul will yet say rests.
So we read: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, you see there it is his finger pointing back at God's mercy.
Then he tells us what to do, the one thing we are to do, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, …
What are we to do? Offer God our lives - actual the language is to "offer" our bodies as "living sacrifices". It is curious language here. It is the language of the Old Testament sacrificial system, in which a lamb or ram was brought for sacrifice. That animal had to be perfect, without blemish, spotless to be brought into the temple. It was killed and then burnt on the altar. There were several kinds of sacrifices. But the key to sacrifice was death.
Paul here uses the idea of being a "living sacrifice". Offer to God the whole of your life - or as the Message Translation states it:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Eugene Peterson contextualizes the mercy of God with the idea that it is God who helps us to do this-which indeed is true. God never leaves us alone to "offer ourselves to Him". And then he puts into that incredible phrasing just what this means to offer the whole of our living breathing lives to God. To embrace what God does for you and me is the best thing we can do for God, he wrote.
Or as in the NIV translation, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice - give this life to God, a gift which is holy and pleasing to God, for this is "your spiritual act of worship".
We are worshiping when we offer God these nitty-gritty lives we have. That is another message.
But today, let's stick with this picture of offering or presenting our lives to God. We present ourselves and then God receives what we offer.
And then what happens?
Well, an offering was something that was sacrificed. It got broken. God intends for you and me to encounter our own brokenness, our own inability to become anything more than we are, and offer that to Him.
We must walk through the shame, the hideous inadequacies we find within ourselves. But the gracious work, the mercy of God is that God helps us offer ourselves and then he receives us as we are. God receives us, and blesses us. It is not before being blessed that brokenness comes. God blesses who we are - He places upon you and me the blessing of His love, His call upon us. It is then, after blessing what we offer, that the Lord allows the breaking. He breaks us, he allows measures of suffering - this might mean hardship, difficulties, losses, or even the mothering of small children - God uses everything, with God, nothing is ever wasted! And God does this in order to allow our lives to be of some measure used for others. For Joseph it meant years before finding the purpose of his life. For David it meant relinquishing the crown to receive it in God's timing. For me it has meant a war with preaching that lasted some 15 years before I experienced God's gracious meeting so that last week did not leave me crippled. For you and me both, we are still growing, still encountering brokenness, and encountering sharing of this life with others. That is the fourth movement of the meal behind me and of our lives, that of being offered for others' sake.
Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples: Take, eat this is my body broken for you, and do this in remembrance of me. And Jesus does the same with you and me as we present our lives, these walking around lives to Him.
We are taken, blessed, broken and given for the sake of others. In the process we are changed more and more into His likeness. And the wonderful part is that none of this happens "out there" apart from his gracious mercy, his gracious care. None of this happens in a vacuum, but within the gracious care of the Lord's love. We are "in the beloved" as we live and the life in the beloved is one of a continuous movement, the movement of this meal.
May you welcome the opportunity to offer your living breathing selves into the Lord's mercy to be taken, blessed, broken and given that you and this world may be transformed. Amen.