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Moving outside the private faith

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 21, 2017. The Reading was John 14:12-24.

The Joy of being an Introvert

A couple of years ago, I was able to go and do a study unit that involved spending a week at a Monastery over in Perth. And part of what that unit involved was taking part in the Monk’s daily routine, which included their six daily prayer sessions, and maintaining silence between their final prayers of the day at 8.15pm and their first prayers of the morning, at 5.15am.

Now I’m sure that some of you might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such a life for even a week, let alone commit their whole lives to it. But I found myself bubbling with energy after just a couple of days. You might even say that I was overflowing with energy.

You see, I am an introvert, and that means I get energy from being by myself.

I love running… by myself.
I love reading… by myself.
I love having coffee… by myself.
I love going to the movies… by myself.

Now it’s not to say that I don’t love doing these things with other people.

I enjoy running with large groups of people.
I relish reading to my kids.
I savour having coffee with others.
I revel in going to the movies with my wife.

And while I cherish the effect that these activities have on me when done in a group, its not the same as the effect they have on me when I do them by myself.

I am an introvert, and being by myself is where I get my energy. But, being an introvert has its challenges. For example, I am terrible at chit chat. I can be shy in situations where I don’t know many people, and often revert to hanging by the wall being by myself – which makes me terrible at networking. And while I can be extroverted when I have to, it will drain my energy levels and if I do it for too long, then I can get snappy.

I also have a tendency to internalise everything. And that is a huge problem. I’m getting better at it – I’m getting better at talking to Liesl when I’m feeling down. She’s also getting better at reading me and telling me when I just need to go and have some alone time. But all the same, it’s something that I have to be wary of, because if I internalise too much, then I can end up in a bad place, lacking motivation, and possibly even depressed.

We Internalise our faith

It’s a problem that isn’t just contained to introverts however. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or you shift between the two, we can all be at risk of internalising our faith too much.

I’m all for exploring the contemplative side of our faith – through things like prayer, spiritual disciplines, bible study, and meditation. However, we can’t allow these things to be the sole basis of our faith.

If we focus on our internal faith too much, then we risk getting into a bad place – just as I risk getting into a bad place if I don’t share what’s going on with someone. If we are too internal with our faith, our spiritual life starts to lack motivation. If we are too internal with our faith, our faith can get depressed.

Jesus’ cyclical command

Jesus realised this was a risk for his disciples. In the reading we heard today, Jesus is giving his disciples a passage of extended teaching which is called the Farewell Discourse. This passage is just a part of it, but Jesus is preparing his disciples for what will happen after his crucifixion. He is preparing for them to know how to continue on without him.

Jesus realises that without someone to guide the disciples, they might just retreat back into their own world – and we see that happen. After the crucifixion, the disciples retreat to a locked room. After the ascension, they retreat back to a room to work out what to do next. They need some guidance.

Jesus provides this guidance in the form of a cyclical command. In verse 15, Jesus says:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:15 NRSV

But he also says,

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

John 14:21 NRSV

So we have this cyclical idea – if you love Jesus, then you will keep his commandments. And if you keep Jesus’ commandments, then you love Jesus.

We show Jesus that we love him through spending time with him – spending time in prayer, telling him that we love him. But it’s not enough to just tell someone that you love them.

One day, a child came running into the house to their mother, exclaiming: “Mamma, I love you!”

The mother replied: “I am so glad you love me. I have had a hard day, and I am so tired. If you love me so much, will you wash the dishes for me?”

The child replied: “I do love you, mother, but not in that way.”

We need to be sure we’re not like that little child. We can’t just allow our love for God to be just words. We need to keep Christ’s commandments, and to continue Christ’s work in the world.

We continue Christ’s work in the world, guided by the Paraclete

In verse 12, Jesus says

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 NRSV

He invites us to continue his work in the world. And what is that work? In many ways, it’s summed up in Matthew 25:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Matthew 25:35–36 NRSV

Or in Jesus’ own proclamation at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

Now this is a difficult thing for us to do. I mean, sure, it’s easy for Jesus to do that, he is the Son of God after all. But, for us?

Thankfully, Jesus knew that this was a difficult thing. So he says, “I will not leave you orphaned.” This was a word that was used for disciples who had been left without a master, or someone to guide them. Jesus promises them that he will leave them an Advocate, or a Counsellor which the NIV translates it as. The Greek word used is Paracleytos, and is often transliterated as Paraclete.  It has a range of meanings, such as “the one who exhorts,” “the one who comforts,” “the one who helps,” and “the one who makes appeals on one’s behalf.” And John draws on all of these meanings when he uses this word through the rest of the Gospel.

So, Jesus left us with someone to help us do his work, someone to encourage us, someone to appeal to God for us, and someone to comfort us. Jesus knew that if we were to do his work in the world, then we would need to have all of those things to help us. So we received the Paraclete, or the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Truth.

There’s a quote attributed to Pope Francis which says, “First you pray for the hungry, and then you go and feed them. That’s how prayer works.” See, we can’t internalise our faith and rely solely on our inward actions. In James 2:17 we read:

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2:17 NRSV

We need to have our faith, yes. We need to have those inward actions of prayer, study, and meditation. But those actions should drive us out into the world, to do the work of Christ. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and reveal the love of Christ to all people.

Reveal Christ in all that you do

In everything that we do, we should aim to reveal Christ to all people. We need to be open to what the Paraclete is exhorting us to do – to share about Jesus, to care, to love, to feed, to clothe. Yes, we do that through prayer, but that prayer drives us out into the world, and when we see what is happening in the world, it drives us back to prayer. This cyclical nature of our faith is essential. We love God, and so we talk to God and pray to God. But because we love God, we keep God’s commands and head out into the world and reveal God’s love to all. And because we are keeping God’s commands, we return to God in prayer, sharing with God our love, and our desire to see God’s kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.

So let us go out into the world, having been fuelled by prayer, and study, and meditation, and go and be used and guided by the Paraclete who Jesus has left for us.

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