Sunday, October 5, 2014

Six Spokes of the Wheel - what it takes to live the Christian life

The focus of our church life at the moment is to build up our faith and to strengthen our discipleship.  in the weeks leading up to Advent we are going to have a look at six aspects of the Christian life and explore some very practical ways in which we can strengthen each one of them.

We began by taking a look at all six aspects of the Christian life and seeing that each of them is at the heart of the experience of Jesus himself.

What does it take to live the Christian life?

I guess that’s a big question that all of us know some kind of answer to, and all of us would like to be clearer about.

I think it’s worth remembering how the followers of Jesus first came to be called Christian.  It was actually used as a nickname by the crowds in Antioch who were disparaging about these people who aspired to be like Jesus to be Jesus – ian.  Or put that another way to be Christ – ian.

Paul it was who was brought by Barnabas to Antioch to spend a year helping to shape those first followers of Jesus.  Maybe the nickname stuck!  Throughout his ministry he came back to the centrality of Christ and urged those who followed in the footsteps of Jesus to be 'Christlike'.

It was when writing to the church in Philippi that he was most explicit ... Lorna read the first five verses and then the congregation read together what may already have been in Paul's time a statement of faith about Jesus Christ ...

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own. 5The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
6He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
7Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
and appeared in human likeness.
8He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death —
his death on the cross.
9For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
10And so, in honour of the name of Jesus
all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below
will fall on their knees,
11and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

As Christians we are called to be Christ-ian, Christlike.

But what is Christ like?

Think of all the names there are for Jesus in the New Testament.  Which of them is your favourite?  Why does it mean so much to you.

Here are seven.

He is the Saviour who forgives and sets us free,
The Teacher who teaches wisdom and guides into truth,
The Lord who lives at the centre of our lives,
and the Friend who understands and comforts us.

He is the Prophet, challenging the powers that be with a whole new way of looking at the world,
The Priest who brings us into the very heart of God and brings God into us,
and the King as he opens up a new way of making society work – God’s way.

That gives us a good impression of who this Jesus is, of what Christ is like.

Interestingly, however, read through the Gospel story and it’s possible to go a bit further.  You can see what makes Jesus tick, what keeps him going, what shaped what he does.

Jesus is sustained and driven by prayer; that comes particularly to the fore in Luke’s Gospel when at every key moment in Jesus life Jesus is to be seen at prayer, often through the night.  So big a part does prayer play in the life of Jesus that his followers want him to teach them to pray in the way he prays.

Jesus is very human.  I wish I could go but I can’t.  Simon Callow’s presentation of Jesus looks a wonderful evening at the theatre.  Having been to an evening on Dickens with Simon Callow I have a feeling this is going to be very moving indeed.

He unashamedly is going to tell the story of Jesus the human.  And that I think is a wonderful enterprise to do.

For Jesus is supremely human.

And he experiences what we experience – joys and sadness, grief and tears, temptation too.  The first three gospels start their account of the ministry of Jesus with the temptations he faces.  In a sense temptation haunts him through his ministry – until on the cross according to Matthew he faces three last temptations – if you are the son of God come down from the cross and save yourself.

What is interesting is that when we dig into the Gospels we can see what Jesus did to resist temptation.  We can see the way he resists temptation and holds to the good with Godly thoughts and Godly living.

There is much for us to draw on there from Christ.

From that moment when he is baptised through the moments of temptation to the agony in the garden and the agony on the cross Jesus draws on the strength of God in the Holy Spirit.  At the last this is what he leaves with his followers when he recognises they will feel as if they are on their own – another comforter to be with them for ever, even the Spirit of God.

Jesus does all in the strength of God, relying on the Spirit.

Jesus comes not just with a message but to usher something new in – the kingdom of God.  He has a whole new way of seeing the world, God’s rule making a difference in the world

He is passionate about sharing God’s love with others – wherever he goes he offers a way of life to follow, he brings healing into hurting people’s lives and it is something to share.

And something happens in his presence - and he makes real the presence of God in people’s lives, living out the faith everyday.

If we want to be Christ like – to build up our Christian lives those are the things we need to draw on too …

  1. Prayer
  2. Godly thoughts and Godly living
  3. Reliance on the Spirit
  4. Making a difference in the world
  5. Sharing God’s love
  6. Living out the faith every day

Those are the things we are going to focus as we move towards Advent.

And now there's a practical exercise to do.  Take a look at the diagram on the service sheet.  It's adapted from a book that has been an inspiration to Karen, our Discipleship Ministry Leader:  James Bryan Smith and Lynda Graybeal, A Spiritual Formation Workbook, A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal (Harper SanFrancisco, 1999)

Take a look at the wheel.  It's got six spokes.  For the wheel of our Christian lives to turn smoothly each one of those spokes needs to be functioning.  We are each of us different and from one week to the next things will be different - but by taking a look at ourselves in each of these six areas and giving an honest account of where we are at the moment, then we shall be able to draw on specific things to help us strengthen each area of our Christian lives.

So, take a look at the Six Spokes of the Wheel.

Now think back quite specifically over the last seven days.  After all, at church on a Sunday we are meeting at the weekend and so can look back over the last seven days and take stock.  It is also the first day of a new week and so taking stock in that way we can look to what lies ahead wanting to strengthen what we do.

Try the exercise.

How do you score?

We are all of us different.

We will be stronger in some than in others.

Give it a try – thinking of the last seven days put a mark on the spoke for Prayer – if you haven't found much time for prayer this last week put your mark nearer the 1: if you feel prayer has played a strong role in your life this las week then put your mark nearer 10.

No one is going to mark the sheet!  Or even look at it apart from you!  So be honest.

All of us will find we are stronger in some areas than in others.  If anyone finds they are putting a 10 for everything, then have a think again!!!!   That would be perfection itself!  And I'm pretty sure we all fall short in some way or other!

What about temptations ?  We all face them – how do you score – this last week have you faced those kind of temptations that niggle away at you, that get you down.  No one else knows what they are but you do.  This last week have they get the better of you then put your mark, nearer the 1.  Or have you managed to resist those temptations ... in which case put your mark nearer the 10.

How much have you found yourself in this last week relying on the Spirit?  We all of us need to draw on that strength from God that is beyond ourselves, on the Holy Spirit.  But thinking of these last few days, how far have you found yourself drawing on that strength - not much?  Or has it been a lot?  The mark goes on the spoke from 1 to 10.

And making a difference in the world – what have you done in this last week to make the world a better place, to work for social justice, to make God's kingdom come, God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven?  How much have you done to work for a better world that's in keeping with God’s rule of justice and love for neighbour and enemy too – 1 if this hasn't figured large in the last seven days, 10 if it has.

What about sharing God’s love?   Have you spoken about your faith and shared the Good news of God's love at the heart of our faith in some way with someone this last week?  How much have you consciously shared God's love?    again, make your mark on the spoke of the wheel between 1 and 10.

And what about living out our faith everyday?  As James the brother of Jesus said, Faith without actions is dead.  All that counts, says Paul, is faith active in love.    How do you feel about your life looking back this last week?   Mark that spoke as well between 1 and 10.

If you join up all your marks and go round in a circle what kind of line would you draw?

Is it a smooth wheel ... or is it a bit buckled?   Is it a strong one or at the weaker end?

This act of taking stock as the week turns is an age-old custom.  One our forebears stressed a lot, not least in approaching communion.  One that is at the heart of the whole Methodist movement with the class meetings at which people would be honest with each other and so seek to strengthen their lives together.

We will be drawn to some things more than others.  Think now where your strengths and where your weaknesses are.

We want our services leading up to be Advent to have a practical feel to them …

Between now and Advent let’s aim to build up each dimension of our Christian lives.  Strengthen all the spokes and the wheel of our Christian lives turns more effectively!

Each week we will think about a particular spoke, reflect on where we are at that week's end, and share some practical ideas about the way in which we can strengthen that aspect of our Christian life.

Spending time with God in Prayer and meditation is the key starting place.

Godly thoughts and Godly living can make a real difference in countering the temptations that sometimes get the better of us.

Then there are ways in which we can draw on that strength from beyond ourselves that involves relying on the Spirit.

We are going to look at practical ways of making a difference in the world so that love for neighbour and social justice really do matter.

There’s a wonderful good news to our Christian faith that means we need to share God’s love with others and work out how best we can do that.

The last spoke in the wheel has to do with the whole of our lives.  How can we ensure that we live out our faith everyday?

Underpinning all that we seek to do we are going to offer each week a particular prayer or a way of praying that can be helpful.

Celtic art is full of circles – wonderful patterns.

Celtic dance is often done in a circle – a slow, rhythmic beat as the circle moves round

Celtic prayer often makes use of the circle.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Prayer attributed to St Patrick, known as St Patrick’s Breastplate.

The prayer invites us to see Christ encircling us above and beneath, around and beside, without and within.

A wonderful prayer.

We are going to share in a song to take us into a time of quiet prayer.  I will slowly read the prayer through – and as we do that let’s sense the presence of Christ encircling us.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,

Christ behind me,
Christ before me,

Christ to seek me,
Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort
And restore me

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,

Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,

Christ sustaining
All who love me,

Christ uniting
friend and stranger.

We finished our service by singing together a wonderful hymn of John Newton's.  One-time captain of a slave-trading ship he ended up in Olney as Parish Priest where week by week he would meet with a good friend who suffered from awful depression, William Cowper, between them they would write a hymn to accompany the preaching on the subsequent Sunday.

This is a hymn that reflects on the many names of Jesus and finds great strength in those very names:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer's ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
and calms the troubled breast;
'tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary rest.

Dear name! the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding-place,
my never-failing treasury filled
with boundless stores of grace.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
and cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you as you are,
I'll praise you as I ought.

Till then I would your love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of your name
refresh my soul in death.

John Newton (1725-1807)

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