A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sermon (March 17) - "Unbinding Your Soul: First Steps"

Once, there was a son who was more than ready to get out from under his parents’ roof. He wanted to throw off the rules and expectations of the family. He wanted to do life his way, without any interference from mom and dad.

So one day he took everything that belonged to him, told his parents off, and headed out on his own. He traveled the world. He traveled through several romantic relationships. He traveled through all his money.

The son had to get a job working at a pig farm just to feed himself. One day, when he was out slopping the pigs, he hit rock bottom. This was not at all the life he had envisioned. He was broke, alone, in a disgusting, dirty, dead-end job, hungry, and everything he’d dreamed of for himself had disappeared.

Now what?

Do you know a guy or woman like this? Maybe it’s you.

Jesus told this story. It’s known as the story, or parable, of the prodigal son. Some really religious people were giving Jesus a hard time about having dinner with “sinners.”

So Jesus told this story to people who thought they were God’s favorites. Jesus wanted religious people to understand more about how God operates. He wanted us to know how to grow closer to God.

The rest of the story goes like this:

“Now what?” the son thought. There was no hope for the son where he was. The pigs were poor company. So the son decided to head back home. He knew he would need to apologize. And he knew his family had the right not to invite him back in. But he decided to try his luck anyway. That took some pretty amazing courage. The son started walking home.

But something even more amazing happened. That dad, the one the son had told off? He ran out to meet the son. Listen to that part of the story again. It’s in verse 20:

“When the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; the father ran to him and put his arms around him and kissed him.” When the son was still far off, the father ran! The man ran.

This, Jesus wants us to understand, is what God is like! God sees us taking one small step towards God, God sees us headed towards healing in the tiniest of ways, and God is full-speed ahead, running towards us.

God is not waiting on us to make the whole faith journey on our own. God is not testing our willpower to see if we’ll be hardy enough to make it to spiritual maturity.

God is looking for the slightest inkling that we want to reconnect with God, and then God is pumping legs to get to us and sweep us up in divine embrace. All God needs is to see us taking that first tiny step.

If we are going to develop a real, powerful, delightful relationship with God, all we have to do is step toward God every day. And we will discover that God has already moved toward us far more than we can ask or imagine.

How do we step toward God everyday?

We pray everyday. We read a little bit of Scripture everyday. And we ask God to use us to help somebody else everyday. These are our spiritual exercises. They don’t have to be heroic. They don’t have to be pretty. They just have to be done.

Pray, read a little of the bible, and ask God to use us. Everyday. Doing these spiritual exercises are the tiny indication to God that we are moving toward God. They let God know we are moving toward healing, toward reconciliation, toward freedom, toward life. We pray. It’s our step. God does the rest.

Now, there are a couple of things that are really going to increase your chances of stepping toward God everyday.

One is, to have a buddy. We step towards God both alone and with others. We have to make the steps ourselves. But we are much more likely to pray and read a little of the Bible everyday if we have a partner doing this with us.

Many of us have been meeting in Unbinding Your Soul small groups during this season of Lent.  Small groups can serve as a buddy system so that we can help each other to continue to take steps toward a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

This week marks the fourth and final week of our small group study. Your small group may want to continue to meet after this final week.  If you do, the Unbinding Your Soul books that we have been using contain another four week study if you choose to continue. 

I invite you to pray about this in your small group this week to see if your group would like to meet for another four weeks after this week.  You might want to take a short break over Easter and resume sometime in April or maybe it will work out to not take any time off. 

So, the buddy system and your small group can increase our chances of stepping toward God everyday. 

Here’s a second way to help you to take steps toward God.  And that’s by stepping toward God at the same time everyday. Step toward God at the same time everyday.  Give God the fifteen minutes before you go to work, or the fifteen minutes before you go to bed, or on your lunch hour, or whenever it is, every day.

If you set a specific time to step toward God, you’ll get in the habit of stepping toward God everyday. Sure, give God other times too. Spontaneous times are great! Just be sure you give God the planned time.

Recently, we interviewed one of our church members to hear how she is taking steps toward God everyday.

Imagine God waiting on the front porch, looking out to see if you’re heading God’s way at the time you said you’d be there. Now, sometimes, maybe most of the time, we won’t do this very well.

Martha Grace Reese, the author of Unbinding Your Soul, writes, “Our best efforts usually have a ‘sorta, kinda, oh wow, I forgot’ quality to them.The good news is that if we’ll even try to show up, God can work with us. God can work miracles with that. Our part in this divine-human conversation is pretty humble.”

Romans 8:26 tells us that “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray like we ought.”  If we show up, and try to step toward God, God is already running full-tilt to meet us and help us. One step toward God. Every day.

Derek Redmond was a world-class runner who made it to the finals of the 1992 Olympics.3 He started out strong in the 400 meter. Everyone was cheering him on.

But all of a sudden, heartbreak. His hamstring muscle popped. Derek was immediately on the ground in a heap. What now?

This was the Olympics. Derek Redmond wasn’t about to be carted off in a stretcher as his final moment on the world stage. His training kicked in. He had run this race nearly
everyday of his life. He got up. Barely. And he started hobbling towards the finish line. The crowd went wild. Then Derek stopped, grimacing in pain. He wasn’t sure he could make it.

Suddenly, someone else came on the scene. Pushing past the guards was a determined, older man. No one and nothing was going to stop Derek Redmond’s father from getting to his son.

Derek’s dad got to him down on the track. Derek’s dad wrapped him in his arms. He took on Derek’s weight. Together, with tender determination, father and son headed towards the finish line. Derek Redmond finished that race.

Derek just kept on stepping. His dad did the rest.

No comments: