August 9, 2022

Trouble us that we may not sleep the sleep of death 29-10

Trouble us that we may not sleep the sleep of death.

1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 8; Matthew 22: 34 – 46.

It is possible to have eyes wide open yet sleep the sleep of death!

I came to my time with God at the start of my day with a restless spirit. I was in the midst of settling into our new home. There was so much to do and achieve. I turned to a devotional book to aid my morning conversation with God. The invitational sentences to worship struck me. The writer had brought two verses together from Psalms 13 and 119 respectively. The invitation to worship read like this:

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.  Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me.

These sentences spoke to me. They expressed such deep truths so simply. They formed a prayer request to live life and simultaneously provided a statement about how to live the Christian life.  They echoed my heart’s desire and how I have lived out the faith in praise guided by the commandments and principles of God.

Christian spirituality begins with the recognition that one belongs to God and it is God who gives life. The Christian life is the recognition that God gives light to our eyes, and if we don’t have the light of God in our lives we will sleep the sleep of death. I take the phrase; sleep the sleep of death, as a metaphor for the superficial life.   When we glide over things, pretend they are not there, hide from the horribleness of life, we invite a kind of death. When our conversations and relationships swim in shallow pools of small-talk and entertainment, life itself becomes thin.  When we live life without venturing into the deeper waters of honesty and frankness life itself becomes meaningless. Such life is death to the reality of life: a dying to both the deep joy and the deep pain of living. It is only in engagement with the depth of our joy and pain that we appreciate the love of others and of God. To pretend that all is well when it isn’t is a denial of life. To deny the deep joy of living is to negate the gift and the giver of that joy.

We may use different words to express these thoughts. Unless we see the way to go we will turn in the circles of the darkness.  Unless we see the direction to go we will wallow in the life that is undirected and purposeless.  When our lives are directionless we merely spend our time filling in time with meaningless things and entertainment. Boredom is present and worst still despair and despondency.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, says the psalmist of Psalm 13:3.  I think the test of whether we are alive to life is whether we can be still and alone with ourselves, and whether we can be quiet and listen to the pain of others.

The life that has direction is full of vitality, challenge and change. For many our work fills the emptiness of life with a daily task and a purpose. For some our professional lives are rewarding and they give meaning. I will not easily forget a brief conversation with a fellow sailor. He had recently retired. I asked him how it was going. He said he felt depressed. I was surprised. He said that his life now had little purpose. He had found his professional life meaningful. Now there was a void. We chatted a few times about this and he set himself some goals and is now involved in offering a service to the community.  He has seen a way forward and has a more meaningful life.

The psalmist speaks of a deeper sense of meaning. His words come out of a context of suffering, isolation and exile. In this little psalm the writer asks God, x times  ‘how long must they wait for God’s salvation’.  In the midst of the psalm the psalmist has this prayer; Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.  Wow! What a prayer and what insight.  Life is never easy. Suffering touches us all. Here is the recognition that our greatest need is not to escape the suffering, the difficulty or injustice, but that we can see a way forward today.  The psalmist prays to have godly sight so that he may live with hope rather than survive with despair.   Without godly sight we enter into a spiritual death that robs us of life. The dying of our spirit is the death of hope and meaning. We become despairing and we become cynical.

The next sentence taken from Psalm 119:175 simply states what the Christian life is about:  Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me.  The essence of living is praise and thankfulness, and a daily life guided by the commandments of God. When I think ‘commandments’ I think primarily of loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Let me live that I may praise you. It is not only our duty to praise God, but according to the Westminster Confession, it is our lifeblood. To praise God is life giving. We need God to show us what a wonderful world we live in and that leads us to praise. Praise – thankfulness – is a healthy practice. The Bible is full of praise. Our worship begins with praise. Praise helps us in a number of ways.

Praise helps us see the world. Many years ago when I was young I had to deal with a little darkness in my life. I said I suffered from time to time with melancholia. God’s Spirit taught me a lesson. My prayers were principally about a list of things I wanted for the Church or myself. My praying was mostly an act of bringing a shopping list to God.  All I was seeing were my needs and the needs of this world.  I realised that my spiritual life was like looking into a mirror where I saw only my life. Not surprisingly I experienced little contentment. I learnt from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: 17 & 18 the lesson that I should start giving thanks in all situations. I would look at a flower and say, ‘thank you, God’.  I would wake up in the morning and the first thought was, ‘thank you, God’.  When trouble came I would thank God for supporting me through the time. I began to give thanks to God in all situations. I found that my prayer life changed. Instead of my prayer life being like looking into a mirror it was like looking out the window and seeing God’s world. Praise and thankfulness changed the way I experienced life. Today I automatically just give thanks and enjoy the beauty of life.  Thanksgiving has lifted my spirit and enhanced my perception.

Praise lifts our spirits. When we see the world with a thankful heart then we become positive and thankful people.  Thankfulness is a gift that we can cultivate. Just start saying thank you God for the things about you and the things that happen.  It is easy to thank God for the beautiful spring colours and the wonderful gardeners who have nurtured their gardens. It is harder to be thankful when adversity comes but then I praise God.  I know that through adversity and trouble I grow stronger so I praise God.  When trouble comes it may be part of God’s plan. Remember God sees much more than we can see.  Has it occurred to you that to get sicker may be better for you than to quickly progress to wellness? The Hebrew people learnt so much for their adversity. Their trouble has become our blessing as it has enriched our living and understanding of God.

Praise helps us to become positive people.  You have surely noticed that positive people are attractive. They give us their energy.  They make us smile. Praise welcomes others into our lives.  Our friendship circle grows. Praise is the older sibling of thankfulness. Thankfulness welcomes life and shares self with the world.

Praise is a witness to God. The thankful, vital, positive, perceptive and welcoming person is a witness to God. Our first act of mission is our worship each Sunday.

C.M. Hanson said; “Praise is like a plot set to go deep into the soil of the believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.”

The third aspect of our text this morning is that God’s ordinances – God’s commands and principles – are there to help us. God’s laws are not meant to bind us but to free us. The two commands that sum up the whole law of God are that we love God and our neighbour as we love ourselves. God’s law is simple, yet profound.  Love is God’s law. As the Epistle of John reminds us – God is love. To love truly and fully is to be bound up with God. Knowing God’s law is really knowing the mind of God.  So in our daily lives the teachings of the Bible are there to inform our decision making. To sum up we can say that to love God is to see God and God’s whole Creation. To love our neighbour is to enjoy community.

The significance of these two sentences from the psalms is that they sum up the spiritual life of the Christian. The Christian life is not meant to be all calm and peace. It is meant to be calm and peace in the midst of the turbulence of life. Both our readings speak of the joy of the Gospel in the midst of the conflict and contention of the environment. Jesus announces the good news in the context of opposition from the authorities both religious and political. Paul proclaims Christ Jesus in the context of opposition from the authorities and religious people. But both exhibit calmness and peace.  We behave as if the opposite were true.  We need to let God open our hearts to see, to praise God in all situations and let God’s commandments guide our daily action. Then we shall grow into the abundant life Jesus spoke of.

*******

Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  29/10/2017

pcwhitaker@icloud.com

/ www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org.au

What are you looking forward to? 8-10-2017

Sunday, 8 October 2107

Today the lectionary subject would be about the parable of the vineyard owner looking forward to receiving a harvest however; I have chosen to share with you some treasures gleaned from just one book drawn out of a treasure store of books which Brenda monitors for fundraising purposes.

Dr Gordon Livingston did service as a surgeon in the Vietnam War but later became a Psychiatrist.[2a] He listened to people talk about their lives, what works, what doesn’t, and the limitless ways to be unhappy. He has had tragedy in his own family, losing his eldest son to suicide and his youngest to leukaemia. 

He nominates thirty bedrock truths in his book: “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart”. Today I will share maybe half a dozen with you, to underscore the adage that we are what we do and that we have the faith, and the capacity to face loss, misfortune, and regret -to move beyond them. It is not too late. My hope is that somewhere, somehow, you will find in this session, solace, guidance and hope. Later, I will invite you to have a short chat with your friend/s sitting alongside, to discuss “What are you looking forward to?”

Being a psychiatrist, Gordon’s clients are in the main, people who are trying to choose or keep a mate. He says that the fact that upward of half of all marriages end in divorce indicates we are collectively not very good at this task. We fail to understand that the qualities which we value- kindness, tolerance and perseverance and, like common sense are not all that common. He puts kindness, a willingness to give of oneself to another as the most desirable of all virtues. Maybe hard to define but when we are in its presence, we feel it.

His next chapter states “we are what we do”. Not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. We are what we do. So in others, we need pay attention to not what they promise but how they behave. Past behaviour is the most reliable predictor of future behaviour.  He says that the three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Of course true love requires of us the courage to become totally vulnerable to another. Risk and trust are involved.

In times of trouble or stress, it is usually up to ourselves to work out what needs to be done. Dr L. says his technique is to listen to people’s problems then guide them to come up with their own solutions. He states that we are responsible for most of what happens to us. We of course have endured events and losses about which we had no choice. The first of three quotes from the “Friendship book 2017”,[ Jan and I read each day at Breakfast time]{Aug 23]He tries to instil hope for a better future which of course requires the client to let go of the past. {Let go and let God said Rev Gordon Powell].

People wait till they can feel better. For some it is a long wait. A capacity to laugh is necessary. Some of us come along each Friday to the morning drop in, for our dose of laughs and exchange mutual ignorance’s about such characters as “Murphy” and “Pam”.

Change is needed, to try new things, but in taking a risk we may fail.[Aug. 11] Some-one who is  an alcoholic has a choice like joining Alcoholics Anonymous. It may not help but it very well could too. A determination to overcome fear and discouragement constitutes an effective antidote to a sense of powerlessness over unwanted feelings. Behaviour has to be altered to yield greater control over our life. Confession may be good for the soul but it is only altered behaviour, in other words action taken to change something for the better.

As we age, less and less notice is taken of us by the ‘young’, have you noticed? The aged care industry is enormous and growing as is the cosmetic industry which fuels our desire to remain young looking. God appears to have said, “I will give you dominion over all other forms of life. But you will be the only species able to contemplate your death”.  We cop a lot of reminders of our mortality along life’s path which can make us angry. We, the olds have to wear the diminished sexual attractiveness and enthusiasm, declining health, the loss of long-time friends and the decline of mental acuity.  We appear to also have to put up with the disdain that society reserves for those of us with grey hair and wrinkles, without much power or any gainful employment.

 We senior citizens appear to exist in order to annoy everyone else with our slowness and physical complaints. Many of us olds are preoccupied with self-centred complaints. When depressed, people tend to be self-absorbed, irritable, and unpleasant to be around. Adequate treatment is sometimes denied the elderly with the attitude:” I’d be depressed too, if I were that old.” We have to take care that, when asked, how are we, that a litany of aches, pains and bowel difficulties does not get a mention. Grace and determination is needed to avoid inflicting their discomforts on those who love them. “Getting old is not for sissies” is an accurate predicament faced by the old in a youth obsessed society. Possibly the greatest gifts we parents can pass on to our children and grandchildren are a sense of optimism and a conviction that we can achieve happiness. The values we want to bravely pass on include honesty, commitment, empathy, respect; hard-work as well as hope is taught by example. If we can retain our good humour and interest in others we will fulfil our final obligation to our children and will have expressed our gratitude for the gift of life that we, undeserving, have been given and that we have enjoyed for so long.

Let me digress and relate one story from Les Twentyman who recently wrote: ”The Mouth that Roared”

Our Psychiatrist frequently asks his clients: “What are you looking forward to?” 

Congregation DISCUSSION

Clients overwhelmed by anxiety or depression often have no answer

The truly hopeless, of course, think about ending their lives, and we are noting a fair bit about assisted death lately in the media, emanating from our state government. Dr L believes it reasonable to confront would be suicides with the selfishness and anger implied in any act of self-destruction.{Sep 10]

Pause: 

Everything I need to learn from life, I learned from Noah’s Ark.

Geoff Serpell

 

The Which Way Signpost

We are used to signposts for connection to journeys and places. Also signposts which warn us of dangers. Sometimes in wartime signposts were altered to confuse the enemy.  Only those who live there know the way.

On a recent Saturday, in the Melbourne Age, there was a thoughtful cartoon. Michael Leunig often makes us think. There were the usual characters , symbols. colours and backdrop. A faint moon in the sky above, the wonderful ever present duck, and of course the  indefatigable Mr Curly . In the middle was a signpost of direction, On the left a sign which pointed to THE MAD WORLD, and on the right. the sign pointed to CURLY FLAT. And a determined Mr Curly was setting out to his own special place, Curly Flat , away from THE MAD WORLD.

 

Sometimes you and I often wish we could just get away from THE MAD WORLD . So much noise, so much traffic. Terrible news on the TV. The newspapers full of headlines indicating violence across the world. We long to hear the calm and authoritative voice of the master, in and above the discordance of THE MAD WORLD, saying PEACE BE STILL. We, the Church, must be at the WHICH WAY SIGN-POST. pointing to the one who is the WAY. And we can be assured he will go with us all the way.

Reflection: Turn to and read the great hymn of mission. TIS 589. Maybe suggest it to the worship leader for next Sunday’s Praise?

 

by Bill Pugh.

 

Rebuttal Of Margaret Court

Margaret Court is wrong to claim marriage is “a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible”, as she did in her open letter to Qantas, or that a “biblical view” of marriage is between one man and one woman, as she did on Channel Ten’s The Project last week. She is even more wrong to suggest she is being persecuted for her views. Here is why.

Reading the Bible to determine the shape of contemporary marriage is not an easy task. It is an ancient collection of 66 books, written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic), and spanning over 1,000 years of human history. Much of the Bible was written 2,500 years ago, when family life was very different.

In the Hebrew scriptures, Abraham fathered children with his concubine as well as his wife, and Moses likely had two wives (one of whom is presented as problematic because she was a foreigner). Famous biblical kings, like David and Solomon, had entire palaces full of often dubiously acquired wives and concubines that served as symbols of their power and status.

The reality is families in the Bible reflect the patriarchal structures of their period. Women were considered commodities to be married off for political alliances, economic reasons, or to keep families connected. They had no autonomy to choose their partners.

Polygamy was common, as was the use of slaves as sexual concubines. I don’t hear anyone advocating a “biblical view” of marriage suggesting we return to those particular scenarios.

In the New Testament, Jesus said nothing about homosexual relationships or marriage, except that people should not divorce. This teaching is widely ignored by many Christian denominations today. Most likely, Jesus’ concern in speaking against divorce was for the vulnerable place in which it left women, given they could not usually earn their own money or inherit.

Marriage was allowed in the New Testament, but the most prolific writer, Paul, thinks celibacy is preferable for a Christian. When Paul writes “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), he presents an ideology profoundly disruptive of patriarchal family structures, gender roles and hierarchy.

This kind of Christian teaching led, if anything, to a breakdown of traditional marriage structures (in ancient terms). For example, the option to remain celibate and live in community (such as a nunnery or monastery) was a radical, attractive and liberating alternative to arranged marriage for women in earliest Christianity. Jesus’ own mother, who is an example of faith in the church’s tradition, appears to have left her husband and other children at home to follow her itinerant son.

Not all opinions are of equal weight. While Margaret Court remains one of the most phenomenal sportswomen in Australian history, this does not qualify her as a spokesperson for Christianity on marriage equality. Nor does being a self-appointed leader of a church she created.

Indeed, if Court applied the literalism with which she reads Genesis to the whole of the Bible, she’d find herself in hot water, since 1 Timothy 2:12 explicitly forbids women teaching or having any authority over men. This kind of culturally bound ideology is precisely why biblical scholars and mainstream Christian churches do not adhere to a literal interpretation of this ancient and diverse text.

To criticise and expect a higher level of discourse from a public figure is not bullying nor persecution. Court willingly put herself into the public space by writing an open letter to Qantas. She could have lodged her complaint privately with the company if she wished to remain free of public comment.

There is nothing inherently Christian about the so-called traditional arrangement of the nuclear family. You can find that model in the Bible if you look for it, but it is not the dominant view. Nor does the Bible condemn what we understand to be loving, mutual LGBTQI relationships today.

There is nothing like the contemporary concept of sexual orientation in the biblical text. Where the Bible does appear to condemn homosexual acts it condemns same-sex acts that are rape, adulterous or represent imbalanced power dynamics, such as an elite male with a youth. Interestingly, these same power dynamics are not critiqued when an elite male takes a young woman as a sexual concubine; a sobering reminder of the patriarchal worldview that lies behind the text and ancient fears about penetration and masculinity.

Concepts of family and marriage have evolved and changed throughout human history, including within the church. Modern Christian families can be made up of gay couples, straight couples, single people in community, childless adults, foster parents, step-parents, grandparents and biological parents. It is their faith that makes them Christian, not their family structure nor sexuality.

Many Christians are not represented by the views we’ve recently heard from Margaret Court, nor those espoused by the so-called Australian Christian Lobby. In fact, quite the opposite. Christian values of love, justice and inclusion found throughout the Bible are why so many Christians support marriage equality.

Rev Robyn Whitaker

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