1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
It’s good to be back among you this week. I had a good week at the lecture series at Acadia University in the Valley. The lectures gave me lots to think about. This is a mini-conference primarily for pastors, so the focus of the content was prepared for such an audience.
There were workshops on a variety of topics, I took ones on signs of stress and burnout and also one on the importance of being yourself as a pastor. The evening lecture series was very good as the speaker took us on three nights of looking through various aspects of being a pastor.
The first night we were asked if our identity as a pastor is grounded in grace. In other words, all the stuff we try to hide, our failures, our brokeness, our limitations, do we realize these things can be used by God in our ministries and lives? God’s grace far exceeds our failures, and our stories of hurt and pain can help people in need.
The second night we were talking about competence. In our roles as professionals, what does it mean to be competent? What does it mean to be professional? For Christians, to be a competent professional is to profess and ground yourself in the saving grace of God, through whom we are able to do great things.
And finally, on the final night we looked at the importance of Sabbath. Sabbath as a break from the demands of work and a chance to rejuvenate and reconnect personally with God. It’s very easy to get caught up in the demands of our lives; work, family, friends and so on. But we also need to reconnect and re-energize ourselves to face these demands. The power of stepping away from work demands and to take time for our own personal needs allows us to maintain the energy and passion for those things we see as important in the world.
Overall, from the conference I’ve come back with the word “be” on my mind. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “doing” aspect of being a Christian leader. There’s always paperwork to do, there’s always people to talk to, worship to prepare for, sermons to write, emails to send, meetings to plan for and attend, planning ahead for events, there’s always something that can fill my time. I can “do” a lot of things in a week. So how do I focus myself. When we wake up Monday morning, how do we know what the priorities are in the vast list of things we need to accomplish before Friday night?
We need to ground it by learning to “be”. We need to learn how to be in the presence of God so we may know more fully His plan for us today and everyday. We need to ground ourselves in scripture so we can learn more about how God interacts with the world and with His people. How else can we prioritize our lives if we don’t understand or know God’s priorities?
So why do I bring all this up this morning? Because Paul is telling us to do the same thing. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that we are all temples. We choose what material we are going to build ourselves with, we each have our own features, our own uniqueness. But what’s most important is what we have as a foundation. Paul says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
When we build on a foundation of Jesus Christ we are God’s temple. This is what we need to strive for, to be glorious temples of God. We need to get as strong a foundation as we possibly can. We strengthen our foundation by focusing on God. We need to build it with a deeper knowledge and understanding of scripture, we need to centre it with times of intentional prayer, seeking to be closer to God. These are what help us build a solid foundation for our temple.
Why is this so important? Why do we need such a foundation, such a grounding in Jesus Christ? How does that help us in the world?
Every year you will see something a particular story on the news. It will happen this year, sometime, somewhere. At the end of the news it’s become customary to show some sort of cute or humourous story. At some point they will show one that looks like this. A runner or cyclist will be in a race. And in all the bigger races you know there are more cars and motorcycles on the road than racers, full of cameras, capturing the emotions, the action so the whole world can see.
As these racers approach the finish line, the vehicle always have to turn off, so they will be well out of the way when the leaders make their final sprint to the finish line. Now this happens every year it seems. At some point in the racing schedule when these vehicles veer off the race leader will follow them off the track heading the wrong way, and lose the race.
These athletes, who trained for years to get to this point, where they are about to win the biggest race of their lives, lose it all in a moment of lack of focus. They are tired, pushed to the limit, and just following the crowd. They don’t have the focus needed to concentrate on following the race course and end up just following the vehicle in front of them. It could happen easily enough to anyone. Their bodies are trained well, but is their mind up to the gruelling task of completing the race?
Having this foundation in Jesus Christ helps us in the race of life. It gives us a solid base from which to run our life. By grounding ourselves in the Word of God and centring ourselves in prayer we are training ourselves to not follow the world, but to follow the course God has laid out for us.
We learn what part of this course is by reading what Jesus had to say in his sermon on the mount, which we have read more of today. Today Jesus tells us more about how God would interpret the rules people have adopted, the “an eye for an eye”, or “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” These are the sorts of rules they were following back then, and we still tend to follow today. But Jesus shows us the real way to interpret them. Instead of an eye for an eye, offer them more. They want our coat? Give them your sweater too.
It’s not easy stuff he’s asking us to do! Jesus tells us to go an extra mile, to love our enemies and to pray for them! Imagine! How often do we hear of stories like this in the news. Not too often do we. Sure they do pop up once in a while, but not too often, or maybe I should say not often enough.
These are hard things to even consider. Someone gives us a hard time and we’re supposed to love them? Wouldn’t it just be easier to love the ones who love us and that’s all. Even that takes a fair bit of effort some days. How in the world are we supposed to be able to pull this off?
This is where our foundation comes in. We can’t do what Jesus asks us to do without first having a strong foundation in Jesus Christ; without having a good grasp of the Word of God; and certainly not without a strong prayer life.
Jesus asks us to do great and Godly things in his name. The four Gospels are littered with these instructions but the world keeps us occupied. It keeps us from entering into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. It keeps challenging us with new ideas which are in conflict with what God has instructed us to do. So what are we to do?
I know there were times when I said Sabbath is making intentional time with God whenever we can. To take maybe not a whole day, but at least some dedicated time. But I’ve had my mind changed by the lecture series at Acadia. I still believe in taking the dedicated time in our schedule to spend in prayer, devotion, meditation, whatever you wish to call it, to take this time with God. But it is just that. It is prayer or devotion. This should be a regular time with God, connecting with God, seeking to understand God, to get closer to Him. We need this. This is how we build our foundation.
But we also need Sabbath. Sabbath is time to get away from those things which drain us. Sabbath is a time to re-energize and spend time doing what we need to be doing as an act of self-preservation, connecting with the people who are important to us, who support us. We do this so that when we do face times of trial and the world is getting us down we have the strength to rest on our foundation and resist the temptation to keep on the track right to the finish line, and not let ourselves be led off track down someplace we don’t want to go.
We are “do’ers”. We are people who love to keep busy and keep doing things. We love to help, we love to do things we think are right. This is good, let’s keep doing things. It’s what Jesus asks us to do.
But we also need to “be”. We need to be with the one who asks us to do. It is in our ability to be with the one who gives us life, instructions and inspiration that helps us to be the best “do’ers” we can possibly be.
Jesus closes our reading this morning with words reminding us we are greater than the world because we are with God. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We can only try to approach this perfection by opening ourselves to the changing strength of having Jesus Christ as our foundation. Then, and only then, are we able to be the perfect image of God in the world.
May Christ be the one who brings us there.