09/01/13 Sermon (September 1, 2013) (Spiritual Disciplines Introduction)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 11:44 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Sep 25, 2013, 12:02 PM ]

09/01/13 Sermon (September 1, 2013)

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (Liturgist)

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?"
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Sermon: Spiritual Disciplines

For the last few weeks, we’ve been reading from the book of Hebrews. We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, and we’re not really sure of the congregation or community to which it was written, other than that they were, well, Hebrews.

Many scholars have referred to the author of Hebrews as, ‘The Preacher.’ And that makes some sense. The bulk of the letter is really a sermon on the meaning of, the faith in, and the response to Jesus Christ. The letter pulls together both old and new testament understandings of God, and holds up Christ as the complete and fullest expression of God’s love for God’s people. \

In other words, Hebrews is a pretty thorough treatment of Christian Theology. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try to preach all of Hebrews in one sitting. Some of you might already think that I preach too long on Sundays as it is.  

But in today’s scripture, the Author of Hebrews, the Preacher, we might say, is finally winding up his sermon.  The Preacher is finishing up the details, going through the final parts of tying together the various strands of what he has been trying to say for the whole book.

And like any preacher, he’s trying to find ways to put the theological things he’s been saying about Christ into the concrete actions of Christ’s followers.

‘Love one another’, he says. ‘Live for each other. Keep your lives pure. Don’t trust in your money, rather entrust your  life to God. Pay attention to your spiritual leaders. Worship the Lord. Confess your sins. Study those who have lived their lives for Christ. Share what you have with others.’

In short, in this brief closing portion of the book of Hebrews, the Preaching is lining out a list of behaviors, of ways of living, that establish the patterns of a Christian life.

Now, it’s important to notice that he’s not saying that you have to do these things in order to be Christian. Rather, he’s saying that this is what Christianity looks like, when it is lived out in the world. He’s not saying that you have to do these things to be saved, or to be loved, or to in any way experience the grace of God.

But he is saying that there are, by their very nature, graceful ways of life. There are ways of living that reflect the things that Jesus did, when he walked with us, that honor his memory, and continue his work.

And perhaps its not a mystery that the spiritual habits mentioned in these few short verses have become the foundation for spiritual discipline for the last 2000 years. Disciples of Christ has found these habits to be helpful guides on the journey of life, as we look for ways to put into daily practice the words of our Lord and Savior.

Now, we don’t, as a culture, do spiritual discipline very well. And maybe that’s because they are by their very nature, other worldly. They work against the natural order of society, they are difficult, and they require a dedication to a higher goal than our own ambition or reward.

Because the reality is, developing a habit of spiritual discipline is not the way to riches and glory. Just ask the Apostle Paul. Or Peter, or any of the twelve disciples. Or, ask Jesus if his own spiritual discipleship gained him any advantage when it came to making a whole lot of money, or purchasing a foothold in the political power structure of his time.

No matter what our friends in the prosperity Gospel business tell us, the point of living a spiritually disciplined life is not to get things from God. The point behind living a spiritually disciplined life is that it brings us to a better understanding of who we are with God and with each other. Spiritual discipline is about relationships rather than riches. It’s about aligning ourselves with the work of God, rather than indulging in our ambition.  

And it’s exactly because spiritual discipline has nothing to do with attaining worldly success,  that the very idea of spiritual discipline is a foreign to our way of life.

We live in a time of great self fulfillment. Our advertising promotes hedonism, our economic system rewards greed, our political system encourages corruption. There is literally nothing in our ordinary, day to day life that compels us to slow down, trust, give, wait, pray, and abstain. On the contrary we are encouraged on all sides to drink, play, spend, cheat, claim, take, indulge.

It’s hard to ignore the examples of how not to live a Christ-like life all around us. In fact, when we think of spiritual disciplines, we think maybe of hermits in the desert, or monks flagellating themselves with whips. We think of folks who have separated themselves from society altogether, leading lonely joyless lives, that seem more like a life-long visit to the dentist’s office than the exuberantly full life that is promised to us in Jesus Christ. It seems impossible for us to live spiritually disciplinef lives that are faithful to the call of God, while remaining in the world.

As I was reading this scripture passage, and looking at the scripture passages coming up for the next several weeks, I realized that I had never really thought too much about the classic spiritual disciplines, and how they might be applied to my everyday life. And so I thought that we might take some time during this season of Didache, this season of teaching, to learn what has been taught throughout the centuries about following the patterns of Christian living.

For the next several weeks we will be examining eight spiritual disciplines that Christians have historically found helpful. My hope is to relate them to the scripture of the day, and to find ways that we might put them into practice in our lives, as best we can.

These eight spiritual disciplines will be:

First: Guidance. Our scripture this morning encourages us to seek out the wisdom of those who have gone before us in faith. This takes a certain amount of humility and trust.

2nd, Confession. Confession means much more than just telling God about your sins. Confession in it’s broadest sense is the act of saying what we believe to be true for us.
3rd Prayer/Meditation. We talked a little bit about this a couple of months ago when we explored the Lord’s Prayer. I know that for me, this may be the hardest thing, the simple act of becoming quiet, of letting God direct my thoughts and my stillness.

4th .Simplicity. We are surrounded by stuff. Stuff is in our closets, in our garages, in our bookcases, in our offices, in our cars, in our brains. We can let go of some of it.

5th.Service. Bearing each other’s burdens means that we get involved in their lives. We end up knowing more about them than we wanted. We find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, wishing that we had never started in the first place.

6th. Worship. Worship is the personal and communal expression of our thanks and praise for what God has done. We can worship through our actions, as well as with our words, and with our hearts.

7th Study. Study is the intentional remembering of what God’s people have said about God from the beginning of time, and the effort that it takes to make their confession part of our own. We won’t always agree on what God’s people have said, or what they meant, or how to apply it. But we are called to engage it.

8th .Fasting. Fasting is more than just refraining from food, although there is that. Each of us have something in our lives that fasting from it would be a spiritually healthy thing for us.

So those are the 8 classical spiritual disciplines that we will look at over the next few weeks. During this time, I will be making references to a very helpful book, written by Richard Foster, called “A Celebration of Discipline”, and I encourage you to read it along with me during this time.

As we go into this discussion of spiritual disciplines I thought that I might mention some things that we might watch out for, some distractions that might lead us away from the the whole point of the disciplines themselves Again, these observations are drawn from the experiences of folks who have walked this journey before us.

There might be a temptation to turn disciplines into law.If we feel like something is doing us good, we can’t help but feel the desire to make others do what we think might be good for them.

In this same way, we might have a tendency to view disciplines as virtuous in themselves. That the good that comes is from discipline, not from God.

We might find ourselves centering on discipline rather than on Christ. John Calvin, the father of the Reformed Faith tradition once called human beings idol factories. We can take anything, even good, God-given things, and turn them into icons of worship.      

We need to resist the tendency to isolate and elevate one Discipline to the exclusion or neglect of the others. During this time, one of these disciplines may really catch your attention. But the whole point of this is to examine different ways to live into the whole pattern of Christ’s life, not just one little tiny bit of it.

We need to remember that these 8 specific disciplines that we are going to discuss are not the complete expressions of God’s grace. There are many other ways to live a life that worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

And maybe the likeliest temptation for us will be to study the Disciplines without experiencing them.  I really encourage you to look for ways to put these disciplines into practice in your own lives, at least for a little while. I would especially love to hear about your experiences with them.

So, after all these warnings, and with all difficulties that I’ve already mentioned regarding spiritual discipline, it would be a natural question to ask, ‘why bother?’ Why take the time, do the work, bear the cost of working against the current of society’s river? There’s no material benefit to be gained, there’s no extra love from God, no increase in forgiveness or grace. God’s going to love us the same, whether we do this or not.

So, what’s the point?

It’s a valid question. And it’s a question I can’t answer for you. I can only answer it for myself. And for myself, this is how I think about it. I live, like most of us, with my feet in two different worlds. With one foot, I am anchored in a world that really could less about spiritual things, that doesn’t care about things like generosity, or compassion, or vulnerability, or trust. And that world is very real to me. When it cuts me, I bleed, when it beats me, I fall to the ground. But there is something broken with that world, and my only hope is that that world is not the only one that matters.

And so I live with my other foot in a different world, a world that Jesus describes as the kingdom of God. Now, I only see glimpses of this world, rare looks into a place where reconciliation is possible, where trust and mercy are the law, where I know that I am valued more for who I am than for what I can produce for other people’s benefit.

Now the reality is, this world is less real to me. It’s harder to see, harder to live in, harder to live according it’s ways. But there is something in that other world, that kingdom of heaven that is constantly breaking in on the kingdom of this world, that draws me to it, something for which I long, something in which I place all my hope.

And I want more than anything to find ways to make that kingdom more real for me, and for those around me. And it is my conviction that this is what all the great men and women of the faith are trying to tell us when they talks about these spiritual disciplines.

These disciplines are the signposts on our journey in this world that point to that other world. They are the foretaste of what it might be like to live in perfect communion with our friends, and with our enemies. They are an appetizer for the eternal banquet, the endless feast that awaits us at the table of the Lamb.

And that’s why I am looking forward to exploring these disciplines together with you. May our journey together be filled with inspiration and dedication to the eternal life that awaits us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.