So if you know how much God loves you, What are You Waiting For?

Sermon:  So if you know how much God loves you, What are You Waiting For?

Date: 10th May 2015

Preacher: Rev’d Jonathan Chambers

Church Calendar Date: Trinity Sunday 2015

Lectionary Reading: Isaiah 6.1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8.12-17, John 3.1-17

 If I asked you to picture God in your mind’s eye, what do you see?

Do you picture a King on a throne, like the vision of Isaiah “high and lofty and the hem of his robe fills the temple?  Or maybe the image that comes first to your mind is Jesus- with his disciples or healing those in need.  It’s much harder to come up with an image for the Spirit though isn’t it. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in today’s reading. Like the wind “it blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes”.

Our minds find it much easier to fix on an image – More concrete it gives us control and a perception of something we know. Problem is, being something ‘we know’, tends to eliminate the possibility of what we ‘don’t know’!

I had some assistance this week, when people asked me what I was preaching on. When I said the Trinity, Kaye Rands said she got her theological understanding from films. She went on to tell me of the Mexican who trumped the priest who was making hard word of explaining the Trinity. The Mexican simply took his blanket and folding it into 3, explaining that it had three different sides, but it was the one blanket.  Similarly Margaret Irvine told me that she had no problem explaining how one person could have three roles as she had multiple roles mother, grandmother, physiotherapist and parish member.

My favourite description of the Trinity is Jim Cotter’s. He spoke of God as Giver of Life, Bearer of Pain, and Maker of Love.
The value of these images are that they about actions of what God does, which I now find helpful. My spiritual journey has been from understudying God as a Man in the sky, to concentrating on God in action, as Jesus, to now probably more a Verb who is the force and power of Love in which we and all the creation lives.

So why this change? Well I think we get to know God more through experience, reflection and relationship than by understanding concepts. Our concepts are limited…. but our experiences are real for us.

When I stand, looking out to sea, hearing the sound of waves breaking on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and the gentle breeze, smelling the salty air, I’m filled with wonder and I’m feeling good. This good, ecstatic happy feeling comes from something outside myself. I’ve done nothing to earn or receive this. It comes as a gift. And so all feelings of goodness, happiness, and joy, I’ve come to realise are my experiences of living in God who is Love.  Certainly if I believe in God who created all, then I can appreciate that my ecstatic experiences in nature, come from God. Again it’s the experience that makes God real.

My knowledge of Jesus has come from studying the scriptures and hearing what he did and taught. My experience of Jesus is limited. However I have felt some level of resonant righteous anger at the treatment of the poor and marginalised when working in prisons.

But what has my experience of the Holy Spirit been? I felt some moments of euphoria when I attended a charismatic church in the 1980’s. But I wondered if it was real, and how much different to the excitement of going to a good rock Concert – maybe that was the Holy Spirit too?  The other way that I’ve grown to know God is though growing in my understanding of myself.

Let me tell you of my experience over the past few months. As part of my professional development for my work as a ministry supervisor I’ve been studying a Post Graduate Certificate in Supervision at The University of Divinity. This semester we have used a methodology called Critical Reflection to help us understand ourselves and why we make the assumptions we do, in our dealings with others.  Our Lecturer is a Quaker who also lectures in Social Work at Latrobe University. To start the exploration process she asked us to talk about an incident with someone which had upset us.

I told the class of 8 of an occasion when a long-time friend came for dinner and to stay overnight. I was cooking dinner and Susanne and Anne were sitting at the dining table having pre-dinner drinks.  Anne often butted in or took over conversations.  So I called Susanne over to speak to her quietly about whether to start cooking without Anne overhearing.  Well before Susanne could reply, Anne said “Oh no I wouldn’t put that on yet.”  To which, in my annoyance I replied. “Well actually I didn’t ask you.”  To which she responded… ”Ooh … we can see who has a problem here”.  Although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time… She was right!

So the lecturer and class asked how I felt at the time.  I felt angry. Having put up a boundary to keep myself safe, it had been violated. My authority had been taken away and I feared that I was at risk.  So why did I put up the boundary?

After some reflection and re-entering the experience, I realised I was afraid of my voice, being lost. Asking Susanne was safe, but I feared that if Anne entered the discussion I might find that I had negotiate her advice, Susanne’s suggestion, as well as what I wanted to do .  So why did I fear losing my voice? Why is the boundary so important?

With the help of my Lecturer we explored where this experience may have come from.  I’m an only child who grew up in an adult world. My parent’s parent’s, born around 1900 believed ‘children should be seen and not heard’.  My Father was born of missionary parents in India. He was home schooled until 8-9 and then put in boarding school in Australia, while they sailed back to India. So my father’s experience was that other people’s needs come ahead of his too.  At Belgrave aged 4-5, Dad busy in his first parish, Mum I suspect now, was suffering from depression, and was not emotionally available for me.  So I became funny to get her attention, and cared for her needs in order to get the attention, gratitude and love that I needed.

I have memories of Dad late for dinner, meal burned, Mum cross and an argument and so I’d have to adjudicate……. to keep me, feeling safe- quit a responsibility for a 4-5 year old!  I’d often escape and play alone for hours on our enclosed Veranda; where I was safe. Looking back now I’ve come to realise that this safe place was where I first experienced the presence of God. This was a place where I grew to know my own Truth – that I was okay, despite what was happening in the house.

So the boundary I put up to speak to Susanne privately was bit like moving to the veranda.  My Lecturer then said “So is that still true? Are you still at risk? …Will your voice be lost, beneath all the other grown-ups?”………. “No”, I said “I know my own Truth- and I can state it quite articulately! My ‘Truth’ is about ‘what I know is right for me’, which connects with the words ‘authority’, ’clout’, and ‘sovereignty’…………”  “Behind the fear of ‘My Truth’ not being heard or understood is the assumption that ‘other people’s needs are always more important than mine’ and that ‘I’m not as important’…….so perhaps I don’t need to defend my Boundaries quite so aggressively, as I used to”.

“So would you like to adopt a new assumption now?” She asked .  “Yes I know my Truth and can state what I need without so much fear”.  “So what would your New Assumption look like?”  I thought. We all have baggage from our past and the effect of this will come out from time to time, especially when we are under stress. This is true for me as well as for Anne, who has her own story and legacy. So we need to be gentle with ourselves and with others.

“So would you like to come up with a Mantra to help you live into this new Assumption?”  Yes I said “Compassionate Boundaries, we are all children of God”.

I’ve come to understand that we are born perfect. Loved children of God with no expectations. In the rigours of childhood and life we were hurt and these wounds need healing, before we can be whole. The wounds need to be acknowledged and we need to realise “that it wasn’t our fault”. When we have got angry and grieved enough for our loss, we can then start to understand that our parents did they’re best. If we look at their parents..! ….we generally start to understand… and maybe in time we can forgive. If we don’t forgive them though, we will carry the anger and resentment which will prevent our spiritual growth.

The Spirit is like the wind, can’t see it, but we can we see and feel its effects. She blows between, through and around, lovingly nudging, challenging, consoling and inviting to new life, as I discovered again this Lent. The Spirit has taken me to places I didn’t know or had forgotten, with the freedom to be myself and less worried about what others think.

From the ‘Man in the sky” I’ve come to understand that God ≠ Father or Mother. God is much more understanding than my Father and more available than my Mother could possibly be. The parable of the Loving Father and Prodigal Son shows the God who loves me recklessly.
This is prodigal Love where I don’t have to manipulate, to get God’s attention, This is God who is looking out for me, busting for me to arrive home, who doesn’t count the cost when I fall short, but who just loves me as I am.

This is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God.

The Lord be with you.