Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 10 December 2017

Notes from the sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald on Sunday 10 December 2017

Psalm 23
Matthew 11:28-30

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you O God. How true are these words in YOUR life??

God is the source of life and love for our souls. So said Jesus (‘I am the vine, you are the branches – remain in me if you want to bear fruit’) and so say the Psalms again and again and again:

Psalm 63 our souls thirst for God
Psalm 42 our souls thirst for God as the deer pants for water
Psalm 143 our souls thirst for God like parched land thirsts for water
Psalm 33 our souls wait for God
Psalm 25 our souls lift themselves up to God
Psalm 103 our souls bless God
Psalm 63 our souls cling to God
Psalm 62 our souls wait in silence for God

Clearly the Psalmists think that at a very deep level of our being, God is good for us! We need to be doing things that connect us to God’s grace and energy and joy. What are those things for you?? It might be walking or cycling around Yorkshire, going to the beach, climbing a mountain, listening to some heavenly music, spending time with friends – you’ll know what the things are that restore your soul.

Sometimes connecting to God’s grace energy and joy means doing NOTHING! Our souls are made for rest – but we usually have to work hard for this rest. Both against a prevailing culture that throws endless distractions and noise at us; and against our selves as we so easily become addicted to noise and distraction. This temptation is perhaps in part because stillness means facing up to inner realities which scare us- things like fear, anger, loneliness, failure…

But stillness gives God space to restore our souls. And so sometimes God ‘makes us’ rest. Makes us lie down in green pastures and beside still waters:

Reading – Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

We need to make space in our lives for God’s grace energy and joy, or we will end up with what John Ortberg (in his book Soul Keeping) calls ‘soul fatigue’. This ailment, he says, goes beyond mere physical tiredness- what the world of psychology describes as ego depletion. Apparently this condition literally slows down the part of the brain which enables self-control (anterior cingulate cortex!)

Meaning that indicators of soul fatigue are things like:

  • Constant tiredness and negative emotions- little things bothering you more than they should
  • It’s hard to make up your mind about even simple decisions
  • It’s extra hard to resist temptation to eat or drink or spend or crave
  • It’s extra extra hard to tackle difficult assignments or tasks. So you are more likely to take short-cuts and choose short-term gains- in ways that leave you with long-term high costs

God wants to restore our souls. Through the many ‘ego-depleted’ situations experienced by God’s people, the constant refrain of the prophets (as we’re in week 2 of Advent) is ‘Return to God!’ Zechariah, for example: “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.

All through the scriptures, but especially in the New Testament, God doesn’t just sit around waiting for us to return. God comes looking for us! Adam and Eve in the garden, Moses in the burning bush, Elijah in storm and silence, God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple – and most of all in Jesus. Jesus tells parables about lost coins and sheep and sons- these are about God going looking for God’s lost children. And they find the fullness of their meaning in Jesus’ own life: in the Incarnation – in this Christmas miracle/mystery – God takes on human flesh and is born in a manger to come find us. To offer us the life and love of God.

That life and love was the source of Jesus’ own ministry. At his baptism, God’s Spirit rested on him and assured him of God’s love and acceptance: You are my beloved child’. And that’s exactly what God offers us too: the life and love and acceptance of heaven, to sustain and empower our lives and activity. We are loved! You are loved! I am loved! We are loved to the core of our being! As we grow to understand this deep truth, we gradually grow in our ability to be still and allow God to find us and refresh our souls. Silence becomes less scary, because we realise that this perfect love trumps fear and anger and loneliness and failure. In the words of Brennan Manning: ‘Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is illusion.’

Jesus must have had something similar in mind when he said:

Reading- Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus isn’t promising an easy life! He says this in the middle of a tough ministry which demanded all of his energy and time – and ultimately his very life. But he is promising that with him (‘connected to the vine’) our souls can be sustained for a life of demanding ministry and activism.

We just have to let God find us. Which means, like Jesus, consciously arranging our lives to make room for God’s support and sustenance:

  • Jesus worshipped regularly in the synagogue.
  • Jesus had a circle of close friends who shared his life.
  • Jesus soaked himself in the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Jesus prayed. A lot.
  • Jesus enjoyed God’s creation and went for long walks.
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed little children.
  • Jesus enjoyed partying with non-religious types!
  • Jesus did NOTHING from time to time.

God did amazing ordinary and extraordinary things through Jesus’ life. And God wants to do amazing ordinary and extraordinary things through our lives. For that, like Jesus, we need our souls to be sustained and restored by God…

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