Monday, 19 September 2016

Outline- Christian Caregiving 2- Listening

Outline- Christian Caregiving 2- Listening
·        Listening as a Christian Caregiver.
·        Listening is a constant theme in the Bible. (Prov 17:27-28; Psalm 81; James 1:19, 26; 3:5-7, Mark 4:9).
·        So who are we listening to?
o   In the Bible, listening to God (revealed word in Scripture or through the prophets).
§   We want to learn to listen to God in prayer, through Scripture, as well as other ways. (see “Hearing God” by Dallas Willard)
o   It also speaks about listening to teachers
o   general listening. (Proverbs 18:13)
·        Hearing people in pain-
o   We learn to listen to God in the midst of listening to someone who is in pain.
o   The disciplines that make us better listeners of God will also makes us better listeners of others. (contemplative prayer, or the discipline of silence)
·        Caring for people in their pain is a holy place. Jesus says when we care for people in their needs that we have done it for him (Matt 25). There is a mysterious encounter with God when we enter into a person’s pain.
·        Remember the mystery of the person you are listening to.
o   Created in God’s image
o   a person Christ has died for.
o   God desires eternal life for this person- a life where they will grow into a more and more glorious being reflecting Christ’s image into creation.
§  CS Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (The Weight of Glory).
o   Think about any person you know- even the most dull person. No number of words could ever sum that person up. There will always be something missing that we can’t necessarily explain. The Orthodox theologian Vladmir Lossky said, “There will always remain an ‘irrational residue’ which escapes analysis and which cannot be expressed in concepts; it is the unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence.” (in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church).   
·        There is also a simplicity to human beings- all human motivation can be broken down into either an attempt to avoid pain, or to find happiness.
·        There are some stumbling blocks to listening
o   schedule enough time to listen to the person well
o   ‘Noise’ can be a stumbling block.
§  external distractions like a TV, or being in a busy place. Or maybe we have hearing troubles and need a hearing aid.  
§  inner distractions (or inner noise). This might be an attitude, a prejudice, a belief, etc.,. The best way to deal with inner noise is just being aware that it is there.
·        It is when we are not aware of it that it tends to catch us. Michael Nichols, who wrote The Lost Art of Listening, wrote “genuine listening means suspending memory, desire, and judgment- and, for a few moments at least, existing for the other person”.  “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1-4).
o   Interruptions- We might interrupt the person we are listening to.
§  We might have a “profound insight” that just can’t wait,
§  We finish a person’s sentences.
§  We might be dominating the conversation to alleviate our own anxiety and feed our own need for control.
§  We might change the topic.
§  In general we should try to talk less. If we are talking more than the person we are listening to then we are probably speaking out of our own internal anxiety or need to control.  
·        To listen well it is important to make sure you can actually
o   hear the person,
o   then to really attend to what they are saying by attempting to understand and asking clarifying questions.
§  Listen to what is important- meaning and emotion.
o   It’s also important to try to put yourself in their place. Try to see things from their point of view.
·        Listen with more than just our ears- Our attention will often be where our eyes are.
o   focusing our attention
o   we need to also listen with our eyes by noticing the person’s body language.
§  They might fidget a lot when they talk about a certain topic,
§  They might make less eye contact.
·        Danger of texting and email- no body language.
·        The kinds of things we say.
o   Repeat back or sum up what someone is saying to make sure we understand.
o   Affirm them or encourage them. We can also ask questions-especially open-ended questions (one that you can’t answer with a “yes” or a “no”. For example, you might ask, “how did you feel when that happened to you?”  
o   Encourage people to express how they are feeling because sometimes people don’t want to bother you with how they are feeling, or they feel like they are being selfish by talking about themselves. But, it is important that we all have safe places to talk about these things.
o   Recognize that as we get close to real raw emotion that anxiety will increase and we might have to be careful about not avoiding it, or notice when the other person attempts to avoid it.
·        Listening to a person’s soul means to listen for meaning and purpose.
o   Listening as a Christian Caregiver doesn’t always mean listening for churchy words.
o   We might hear practical physical needs, emotional needs, mental needs, or social needs, but hovering over all of it and tying it all together are the spiritual needs. Spirituality is the integrating holistic element that ties a person’s life together and helps them live tomorrow.
o   What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of MY life? Why am I here? Why is this happening to me? What does God think of me? What is right and wrong in this situation? Why does God allow suffering?
o   These question can make people uncomfortable. As Christians, it is important that we are safe people to talk about these things with. They need to trust that we won’t flip to a different topic or crack a joke when they share a deep hurt with us that makes us uncomfortable.
o   Clichés often contain truth, but they can also be shallow and can shut down a conversation. It would be better to not say anything or to encourage them to elaborate.      
·        “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” -David Augsburger
·        We have to be “governed by that simple but countercultural rule, ‘No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight’“ Parker Palmer.
·        Palmer assumes people can be listened into understanding their own issues, and when they are given space to be deeply listened to, the Holy Spirit often becomes their own inner Counselor- convicting them and correcting them where needed- Often without us saying a word.

·        “the best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher” P. Palmer

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Outline- Christian Caregiving 1- Human Health as Christ-likeness

Outline- Christian Caregiving 1- Human Health as Christ-likeness
·        All Christians are called to be caregivers, though some will have a special gift for it (Rom 12:5-6).
·        Hindrances to caring:
o   Not feeling like an “expert” (psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor).
o   Not having a “quick fix”.
o   The community should be the normal place for healing (while calling on the help of “experts” if necessary). We are not “experts” and we do not have “quick fixes”. We are people willing to sit in the uncomfortable mess with people and call on God in hope.
·        What is a healthy human being?
o   We are not healthy by just ‘not having a problem’. Just pulling weeds makes a patch of dirt, not a garden. 
o   We try to be ‘health-centered’, rather than ‘problem-centered’.
o   Health looks like a human being continuously being shaped into the image of Christ. This means being his disciples/apprentices to learn his ways and character. We call on him to be Lord of our lives- Trusting him to know what is best for us. This is to live in the kingdom of God- to have God’s will done in our lives. 
o   As we care for people we keep God’s goal for them in mind (Christ-likeness- Gal 4:19; Gal 5:22-24; 1 Cor 13; Matt 5:48).
·        How does God’s goal (of Christ-likeness) for humanity help us as we care for people?
o   The help we offer has to be in line with God’s goal for a person.
o   This goal means God might be more concerned about your character than your comfort.
§  Don’t misunderstand, God cares about your suffering, but He also cares more about your long-term healing than your immediate healing.
o   This healing is God’s job, not ours. It’s not all up to us to make a person better. Our job is to compassionately walk with a person as we seek after God. We can let go of the pressure to ‘fix’ the person.

o   We can let go of the pressure to be an ‘expert’. If a fully healed person looks like Jesus, then caregivers need healing too. We are companions along the way, rather than an expert. We are on the same path and neither of us has arrived yet.  

Chrstian Caregiving 2- Listening




Today we are continuing our sermon series on Christian Caregiving. We started with the assumption that we are all called to be Christian Caregivers and that some have a particular gift for it. Last time we highlighted God’s image of a healthy human being, which is a human being that is growing in Christ-likeness. We also said that this image of health is what we should keep in mind as we care for someone, because we want to have the same goal as God does for the person. If we recognize that God has a bigger goal for us, then we have to put our immediate discomfort into that broader picture and recognize that there might be a way that we can use our suffering towards that end. As we help people we can also feel free from the pressure to provide the person a ‘quick fix’ for their problem because ultimately it is God’s healing that is needed. We can also feel free from the need to be an expert because if a healthy person looks like Jesus then we are all in need of healing. … So that is a summary of what we dealt with last time.

This week we will be looking at the topic of listening as a Christian Caregiver.  Listening is a constant theme in the Bible. In our readings today we heard 
“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge … . Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Prov 17:27-28). 
In Psalm 81 God laments that His people don’t listen- 
“Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! ... But my people did not listen to my voice … Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (81:8, 11a, 13). 
St. James gives direction saying, 
“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless” (James 1:19, 26). 
 Later in his letter St. James says, 
“…the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. … It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-7, abbreviated). 
He advises his people to listen and then warns them of the dangers of speaking. And our Lord taught saying, 
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).
 He taught knowing that having ears and actually hearing are two separate things. … We could give many more examples- The importance of listening is emphasized over and over in the Bible and in the guidance of the saints.

So who are we listening to? In the Bible, the emphasis tends to be on listening to God and his revealed word in Scripture or through the prophets. It also speaks about listening to teachers, but it does talk about a general listening. For example, Proverbs 18:13 says, 
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
 So to be a wise Biblical Christian we should be careful to cultivate an ability to listen carefully.

We want to learn to listen to God in prayer, through Scripture, as well as other ways. (If you want to know more about this there is a great book called Hearing God by Dallas Willard.) … We are thinking primarily about hearing as caregivers this morning. And as we learn to do this more we will learn to listen to God in the midst of listening to someone who is in pain as well. For example, we might feel an unusual inner urge to ask a particular question. Sometimes this is the Holy Spirit nudging us in a particular direction. We shouldn’t think that listening to another and listening to God are all that dissimilar. The disciplines that make us better listeners of God will also makes us better listeners of others. If we practice contemplative prayer, or the discipline of silence, then we will be better listeners to both God and others in our life.

Today we will look mainly at listening to a person we are caring for. Some of the problems we have with listening can be alleviated when we learn to take the situation seriously. Caring for people in their pain is a holy place. Jesus says when we care for people in their needs that we have done it for him (Matt 25). There is a mysterious encounter with God when we enter into a person’s pain, but we are often not aware of it. …

It is important to also remember the mystery of the person you are listening to. This is a person created in God’s image- a person Christ has died for. God desires eternal life for this person- a life where they will grow into a more and more glorious being reflecting Christ’s image into creation. … Sometimes when we don’t listen well it is because we are dismissive of the person. We don’t take them with the seriousness God takes them. I mentioned this last time, but as CS Lewis said, 
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (The Weight of Glory). 
We need to learn to think more about the mystery of the person we are with. Think about any person you know- even the most dull person. No number of words could ever sum that person up. No number of books could really help you grasp that person perfectly. There will always be something missing that we can’t necessarily explain. The Orthodox theologian Vladmir Lossky said, 
“There will always remain an ‘irrational residue’ which escapes analysis and which cannot be expressed in concepts; it is the unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence.” (in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church).

While there is this mystical side to people there is also a simplicity to human beings. For example, I once heard a very wise man say that all human motivation can be broken down into either an attempt to avoid pain, or to find happiness. All the complexity of human behavior, he believed, could be found in those two motivations. As caregivers, it can be helpful to listen for those two motivations in the person we are caring for.

There are some stumbling blocks to listening well that might be helpful to name. Some are practical. Like, making sure you schedule enough time to listen to the person well so you aren’t glancing at your watch because you have a dentist appointment.

‘Noise’ can be a stumbling block. This can be external distractions like a TV, or being in a busy place. Or maybe we have hearing troubles and need a hearing aid. But, there are also inner distractions (or inner noise). This might be an attitude, a prejudice, a belief, etc., that is getting in the way of really listening. Say someone says something in passing about a political issue while they are describing an issue that is troubling them. The political issue really doesn’t have anything to do with what’s troubling them, but say you care deeply about the issue they mentioned. Your mind might fixate on that and create a kind of ‘internal noise’ that makes it difficult to listen. This inner noise can cause us to obsess about a topic that really isn’t that important, or it can cause us to avoid certain issues, or change the subject, or it can make us feel defensive. The best way to deal with inner noise is just being aware that it is there. It is when we are not aware of it that it tends to catch us. Michael Nichols, who wrote The Lost Art of Listening, wrote 
“genuine listening means suspending memory, desire, and judgment- and, for a few moments at least, existing for the other person” (p64).
 Jesus says, 
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1-4). 
When we are listening it is very important to withhold judgement, especially when we haven’t heard the full context of what they are trying to tell us.

Another stumbling block can be interruptions. We might interrupt the person we are listening to. We might have a “profound insight” that just can’t wait, and our internal pressure is building until we feel we just have to say it. Sometimes we finish a person’s sentences (I’m preaching to myself here). We might be dominating the conversation to alleviate our own anxiety and feed our own need for control. Our own discomfort might cause us to change the topic. In general we should try to talk less. If we are talking more than the person we are listening to then we are probably speaking out of our own internal anxiety or need to control.

To listen well it is important to make sure you can actually hear the person, then to really attend to what they are saying by attempting to understand and asking clarifying questions. Listen to what is important- meaning and emotion. It’s also important to try to put yourself in their place. Imagine going through what they are going through, or at least try to see things from their point of view.

It is important to also listen with more than just our ears. Our attention will often be where our eyes are. So not only is it important in terms of focusing our attention, but we need to also listen with our eyes by noticing the person’s body language. What is not being said with their voice, might be being said with their body. They might fidget a lot when they talk about a certain topic, or they might make less eye contact. This is why email and texting can be so difficult when dealing with someone who is hurting. I remember texting a friend and I thought we were having a theoretical philosophical conversation, but little did I know that for about the hour we were texting back and forth she was in tears. This was not a theoretical philosophical topic for her. In a text conversation you lose access to body language, which often says more than a person’s words.

It is also important to pay attention to the kinds of things we say. We might repeat back or sum up what someone is saying to make sure we understand. We might affirm them or encourage them. We can also ask questions. We want to especially ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question is one that you can’t answer with a “yes” or a “no”. For example, you might ask, “how did you feel when that happened to you?” Or, you might just ask them to tell you more. It is important to encourage people to express how they are feeling because sometimes people feel like they don’t want to bother you with how they are feeling, or they feel like they are being selfish by talking about themselves. But, it is important that we all have safe places to talk about these things. … If we are in a trusting relationship we might ask something like, “how are you and God doing?” Or, when they express something that has happened to them we might ask, “Do you see any purpose in what is happening?” We also have to recognize that as we get close to real raw emotion that anxiety will increase and we might have to be careful about not avoiding it, or notice when the other person attempts to avoid it. It doesn’t mean we should hold their feet to the fire, but we might say, “I noticed to changed the subject when this topic came up. Would you rather not talk about it?”

Listening to a person’s soul means to listen for meaning and purpose. Listening as a Christian Caregiver doesn’t always mean listening for churchy words. We listen for what matters deep down. We might hear practical physical needs, emotional needs, mental needs, or social needs, but hovering over all of it and tying it all together are the spiritual needs. Spirituality is the integrating holistic element that ties a person’s life together and helps them live tomorrow. Spirituality is concerned with questions like, what is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Why is this happening to me? What does God think of me? What is right and wrong in this situation? Why does God allow suffering? These question can make people uncomfortable. They aren’t easy to talk about and they can be hard to listen to people talk about too. We don’t live in a society that is all that comfortable with these questions. We are more likely to talk about the weather, or the hockey game, or something in the news, than to talk about some of these deep issues. As Christians, it is important that we are safe people to talk about these things with. People need to be able to trust us that we won’t reject them or shut down the conversation when it disagrees with our values or gets too personal. They need to trust that we won’t flip to a different topic or crack a joke when they share a deep hurt with us that makes us uncomfortable. They need to trust that we are going to value the depth and complexity of what they are dealing with and aren’t going to respond with a cliché or some other “know-it-all” shallow canned answer to try to fix their problem. Clichés often contain truth, but they can also be shallow and can shut down a conversation. Saying “all you need is faith”, or “don’t worry, God loves you” doesn’t begin to value a person’s pain. Jesus never responded to a person’s pain with a cliché. It would be better to not say anything or to encourage them to elaborate.

David Augsburger, who writes books about pastoral counselling, once said, 
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
 That is the kind of listening we are looking for. To listen this way the author Parker Palmer writes we have to be 
“governed by that simple but countercultural rule, ‘No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight."
 He assumes people can be listened into understanding their own issues, and when they are given space to be deeply listened to the Holy Spirit often becomes their own inner Counselor- convicting them and correcting them where needed- Often without us saying a word. He says, 
“the best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher”.
 May God grant us the gift of profound listening as we care for others. AMEN





Pastor’s Guide to Interpersonal Communication. Blake J. Neff 
Christian Caregiving: A Way Of Life by Kenneth C Haugk
A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Christian Caregiving 1- vision of human health


Gen 2:5-9, 15-25; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:19, 5:16-26; Matt 5:13-16

In the letter to the Romans St. Paul says, “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:5-6). Paul gives examples of the different kinds of gifts the Holy Spirit gives- prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and acts of mercy. More examples are given in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12)- apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, tongues, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, discernment, and interpretation of tongues. I don’t think Paul was trying to give an exhaustive list here, but he was giving examples of the kinds of gifts given to Christians. God gives gifts to the Church so that the church will be strengthened in her mission in the world. Paul says these gifts are given for the common good (1 Cor 12:7).

Not using your particular gift is actually the sin of sloth. We often think of sloth as just laziness, but that’s not the case. Sloth is not using the special gift God has given you. So you can be really busy, and avoiding using the gift God gave you, and therefore a very busy and slothful person. The church hasn’t always been very good at helping people understand their gifts and the church hasn’t always made room for people to use their gifts. Sometimes the church can function as if the clergy are the ones with all the gifts, but if you’ve known very many clergy you know this isn’t true.

The church is healthiest when Christians know what their gifts are, they develop them, and are free to use them. Some of the gifts we all participate in and use, but some people have a special capacity from God for it. For example, all Christians are supposed be open to talk to people about what they believe, but some will have a special gift of evangelism that goes beyond what most Christians are able to do. Similarly, Christian caring is something all of us are called to, but some have a particular gift from God to care for hurting people. This week we are starting a sermon series on Christian caregiving. Each week when I’m with you we will be looking at an aspect of Christian caregiving (until we reach Advent). I’m hoping this will be helpful for everyone, and that for a few, you might feel called to be particularly focused in the area of Christian caregiving.

Sometimes we can feel really overwhelmed when it comes to helping someone who is hurting. We live in a world full of “experts” and so we worry that we don’t have the training to help someone. We also live in a world full of “quick fixes”. So if we aren’t an expert and we don’t have the quick fix, then we can feel really frozen. I think it’s important to say that there is a place for the experts- like the psychologists and the psychiatrists- but that there is a place for us as individuals and as a community as well. The community should be the normal place of healing. God wants the church to be a healing community. My hope is that we can learn to be a more healing community. A community of people who are free to help and who don’t feel frozen because we aren’t experts and don’t have the quick fix. Sometimes people don’t need the experts- they need someone who cares. And sometimes there is no quick fix to their problem- sometimes they just need someone to listen and to be in the mess with them.

As we begin to look at this it’s important to ask, “What is a healthy human being?” Some forms of care are very pathology-centered. They focuses on the disease- “What is the problem?” They idea is that if we fix the problem, then we will be healthy. I want to suggest that isn’t always the best way to approach Christian caregiving. If you only focus on pulling the weeds you won’t have a garden, you’ll have a patch of dirt. So instead of asking, “what is the problem?” we are going to ask, “What is a healthy human being?” We are going to try to be health-centered, rather than disease-centered.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series and numerous other profound books, once stated, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (The Weight of Glory). According to Lewis, the people you are sitting next to in the pew are immortals. These are people granted eternal life through the work of Jesus Christ. These are people called to grow into the likeness of Christ and who are empowered to do his loving work in the world.

It can be hard to think of ourselves this way, but that is what we are called to be. No doubt many who encountered Christ just saw merely the son of Joseph, the carpenter, and Mary (Mark 6:3). Jesus was that, but he was so much more. Likewise, for those filled with the life of Christ, we might look like ordinary mortals, but we are called to be saints. We are called to be a holy people (1 Cor 1:2).

The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the term “Theosis” to describe a human being who has been fully healed- It is a life filled with the life of Christ. The Western Church has sometimes called this “Sanctification”. As Christians we are to be in a perpetual process of being shaped into the image of Jesus and reflecting his character into the world.

The process by which this happens is sometimes called “Spiritual Formation”. It is the process by which the central part of who we are is transformed. We are all being formed, whether we are aware of it or not. The question is “formed into what?” There are numerous forces that act on us. What we read, who we spend time with, and programs we watch on television all shape us. These forces effect our desires, our sensitivities, and give us assumptions about the way the world works.

As Christians, what we want to happen is for the central part of who we are to begin to take on more of the character of Jesus Christ. Another way of saying this is that we become people who come under the Lordship of Christ. We become people of God’s Kingdom. To accept Christ as your Lord means that you trust him when it comes to decisions about how to live your life. In our baptism we say that we accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour; that we put our trust in his grace and love; and we promise to obey him as our Lord. To keep this promise it is important to carefully consider what Jesus and his early disciples taught about how to live, which is why Bible study is so important.

In Genesis 1:27 we read, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. And one way to understand what it means to be created in God’s image is to look at Colossians 1:15, which says, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God”. If we want to know what a human being was meant to be, we look to Jesus. This doesn’t mean we all become exactly alike. Rather, our lives take on a certain kind of Jesus-ness.

When we are talking about Christian caring, this is the end goal we keep in mind. Paul said it this way, “I am … in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal 4:19). To be a Christian caregiver is to, in some way, assist God in a continuous birthing process whereby people are being formed into the likeness of Christ. That shaping will produce a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23; see also 1 Cor 13). Paul also says, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). This is the end goal. This is the end of the birthing process- a life not enslaved by our bodily desires, but filled with the Spirit and overflowing with the goodness of God.

When we have been shaped in this way, we get "saltier". Jesus says we are the salt of the Earth (Matt 5:13). In a world that is decaying we become the preservative. In a tasteless world we become the salt that brings out the flavor. As we are being transformed we also become the light of the world (Matt 5:14). We shine through the dark and expose firm footing. We shine the light of God which helps the world see reality as it is. This is a tall order. Jesus says, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). And that sounds impossible and overwhelming. When CS Lewis comments on this passage he says, “I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’” This is the activity of the Holy Spirit in us. … I believe the Biblical goal for human beings is for them to enter into a process (called “discipleship”, or we might say “apprenticeship”) under the lordship of Christ whereby we are shaped into the character of Christ.

So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince you of this idea, why is this so important when it comes to Christian caregiving? It matters because the care we give needs to be in line with what God is doing in a person’s life. This might be a difficult statement, but please try to understand that God cares more about your character than your comfort. God cares more about the kind of person you are becoming, than the fact that you are uncomfortable. Please don’t misunderstand, God does care about your pain, so much so that he came to die on a cross for you. God came to feel our pain and to weep as we weep. God cares... deeply. And I do not believe that God causes our suffering. … But If God has the choice of immediate release from discomfort and a greater formation into the image of Jesus, I believe God will choose to have us shaped into the image of Jesus rather than grant us some immediate comfort. A surgeon may allow a certain level of discomfort in order to gain a greater healing. Similarly, God may allow us to deal with an annoying neighbour if it means that we will develop the virtue of patience. … God can transform the human torture of crucifixion into resurrection and salvation. And so certain kinds of suffering (not all kinds) can be used in this transformative way.

There are many times that Jesus healed people and I believe that God still heals people, but I also believe that God desires a greater healing- an eternal healing- rather than a temporary bodily healing. St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That is God’s goal for us. Christian caregiving is to have this goal in mind as well. We are to help people see where the next step is in their journey towards being “fully alive”. We don’t have to explain all this to the people we are helping, but we should have this vision in our minds as we care for people.

This greater vision also matters because it means that this is God’s job. It’s not all up to you to make a person better. Your job as a caregiver is to compassionately walk with a person as you both seek after what God is doing in their life. You are there to try to help them along the path, but it’s not all up to you. Whatever healing is needed comes from God, not you, so you can let go of the pressure to be “fix” the person’s problem.

This vision also allows you to not have to be an expert. If a fully alive and healed person looks like Jesus, then the caregiver is probably in need of God’s gracious healing just as much as the person being cared for. You don’t have to be the expert. You are allowed to be a broken sinner in need of grace because it is ultimately God’s healing. You are a companion on the way. You are with them in their journey recognizing they are at a particular part of the path, but you are both heading to the same destination and neither of you have arrived yet.



As we care for people it is important to remember God’s bigger picture. God wants our lives to take on a Jesus-ness. He wants our lives filled with the Spirit. He wants our character shaped through following Jesus as our Lord. We are companions to each other on the road towards this ultimate healing. If our caregiving is to be “Christian” caregiving then it is important to remember this. AMEN.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Luke 14- humility and hospitality



There is a story about a university professor who went to visit a Zen master to learn about Zen Buddhism. The master served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the tea overflow until he could no longer restrain himself, “It is full. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
The professor was full of himself. In a similar way, the Pharisees were full of themselves. In Zen Buddhism they teach that there is no such thing as the “self”. There is no soul. There is no person, ultimately. In Christianity, the teaching is self-forgetfulness. There is a self, but the self is not the focus. The focus is to be other-focused- towards God and neighbour.  The Pharisees were self-focused.   
Jesus saw the Pharisees choosing their places at the table according to how important they thought they were and he says,
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;  and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.” (14:8-10)
On one level Jesus is just speaking about good manners in a society that was constantly ranking one another. In the first century, there was this constant sort of social ranking.  For example, there was a religious sect at Qumran (who are believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls). They were known to annually rank each member of the community according to the worthiness of each person.[1] … Imagine each year you are given a number that ranks your worthiness as a member of this church. “You’re 1, well done. And, you’re number 50, you better start trying a bit harder, you’re at the bottom of the pile. You’re 10. You’re 5.” “Oh, you moved up 3 ranks this year, keep up the good work”.  …  
You might remember in Luke 9 and again in chapter 22 the Disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest. It seems childish. But they were just doing out loud what we tend to do quietly in our heads. We have learned not to be so obvious (probably because of the effects of the teachings of Jesus on our culture). We sometimes rank on the basis of money, or how prestigious a job they have, how beautiful they are, maybe what family they come from, religion, volunteer work, gender, ethnicity, education, etc. We might not even realize we are doing it. … We might see how strong this instinct is in us by how much time we are willing to give to listen to a person, or how willing we are to be interrupted when we are in conversation with this person. Maybe even how willing we are to correct a person, or offend a person. Our tone of voice can change. Our eye contact will change. Have you ever met someone at an event and they were constantly looking over your shoulder for someone more important than you they can go talk to? Compare the way you might treat a person asking you for spare change, to a family member, then to meeting one of your heroes. How willing are you to be interrupted when you are being asked for change compared to talking with a hero. We do this ranking very subtly- we don’t even realize we are doing it.
So on one level, Jesus is teaching good manners in a society where people were overtly and constantly ranking each other. Don’t think of yourself as more important than you ought. And when in doubt, take the less important position.  Actually Jesus is really just restating Proverbs 25:6-7 which says, “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”    
On another level I think he is talking about something like what the Zen master was talking about. If you are full of yourself no more tea can go in. If you are full of your self God is less able to teach you or use you for His Kingdom. This was the main problem with the Pharisees. They thought they knew all the answers. They wanted Jesus to behave and fit into their understanding of how the world worked. They wanted him to fit into their box. They weren’t willing to humble themselves to be able to see truly what Jesus was teaching and how he turned everything upside down.
 You might remember the story Jesus told about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18 (v10-14)- “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” … In a sense, the tax collector standing before God knew he brought nothing. He was emptied of himself. He knew God owed him nothing and so he stood before God with empty hands. God was able to fill his empty hands with forgiveness and mercy. … The Pharisee’s hands were full of his own accomplishments. Hands that are full cannot be filled.  Jesus’ way of saying this is, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11).
Jesus pushes this a bit further. In the ancient world towns were smaller and people tended to stay in the same town for generations, and so everyone sort of knew everyone. You knew who the important people in town were and you knew who the not so important people in town were. When you had a dinner party you usually invited people about as important as you, or if you were honoured, those who were more important than you might grace you with their presence. Jesus says, “do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:12-13). He’s not saying never have your friends or family over. He’s again pointing to this instinct to rank each other. He’s noticing the tendency to leave out those who were considered less important. When Jesus spoke about the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, those who were listening all had faces and names come to mind. Jesus even says a greater reward comes from inviting those the world thinks of as less important because they often can’t pay you back by inviting you for dinner. Instead, your reward will come from heaven.   
Jesus is not necessarily wanting us to just grit out teeth and have dinner parties with people we would rather not be around. Jesus is wanting us to break our pride that ranks people into these different categories in comparison to ourselves. To Jesus there is just one category- a person made in the image of God, a sinner. Those who are invited to the heavenly banquet are people made in the image of God, who are also sinners. That is the category he is inviting us to use as we encounter people.
The sin we are talking about that has this tendency to rank people, and especially to try to think of ourselves as being more important than other people is good old fashioned pride. It has been called the root sin from which all other sin comes. We can have a life full of good deeds, but have that root firmly entrenched in our lives. That was the case with the Pharisees. The Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “If my own eternal salvation were conditioned upon saving the soul of one self-wise man who prided himself on his learning, or one hundred of the most morally corrupt men and women of the streets, I should choose the easier task of converting the hundred. Nothing in all the world is more difficult to conquer in all the world than intellectual pride. If battleships could be lined with it instead of with armor, no shell could ever pierce them.”[2]
Kenosis is a Greek word that means “emptiness”. It is used in Philippians 2 to talk about Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or exploited], but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:6-10).   Jesus humbled himself- he emptied himself in a way that we can’t even imagine. What does it mean for the Son of God to take on human flesh- to lay as a baby in an animal’s feeding trough, and to allow Himself to be killed on a cross? Jesus emptied himself so that he could be filled with grace and used to bring about salvation. He is our example. We humble ourselves- we empty ourselves- and by doing so God may exalt us.  We come to God with empty hands, hoping that God might fill them.    



[1] Larry Hurtado
[2] Sheen 41
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