Reading: Romans 5:12-21, 6:23
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Phil continues our “Gifts of God” program by going back to basics and focusing on God’s amazing gift to us; and we will tie it all together by sharing together in communion. And yes, there will be buckets and we will use them as a symbol of the wonderful, generous and excessive way that God blesses us. We will also be reflecting on the reality that sometimes it feels that there is a hole in our bucket and how we might go about refilling our spiritual bucket.
I don’t know if you realise this but preaching here at TUC can be a tough gig. It is not because you are unresponsive or not encouraging – you are a great at giving feedback. No, it has got to do with the fact that you are a congregation who, if I can generalise a little bit, are highly intelligent, well educated, biblically literate, well churched and deep thinkers. You already know or have heard about the major aspects of our faith and understanding of God. We actually have to work really hard to find insights that might surprise you or new teaching that you haven’t already heard or read about before. And on top of that, you don’t accept the easy answers – you like to explore the depths of a passage or issue.
I am not saying this to be critical – it is one of the things that I love about this church. I love it because it makes Kevin and I work harder at our teaching and preaching. You force us to go further, to read more, to think broader and to tackle the tough stuff. It is a good thing. But if there is one drawback – sometimes we don’t cover the basics very well. We sometimes assume that we already know it all, so we skim over the basics and get to the more in-depth stuff. But sometimes it is good to go over the basics and that is where I would like to start this morning – because that is what our bible reading was all about.
Romans chapter 5 is one of those classic chapters of the bible.
In this letter Paul was teaching the church in Rome about the importance of being saved through faith in Jesus. This is Paul’s gospel message – if we trying to be made right with God through following the law, it is a lost cause, because no one is perfect and the law does not have the power to save.
The law is only there to show us that we have fallen short of the standards that God has set. Romans Chapter 5 declares that the only way we can be made right with God is through faith in Jesus. None of us can earn our righteousness – none of us can earn God’s grace … but that ok because God has already gifted it to us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Our bible reading uses the pattern of holding up Adam (representing all of us) and Jesus. We brought sin into the world but Jesus brought grace into the world. Our act of rebellion leads death but Jesus’ righteous act on the cross brings life to many. It is simple yet profound…
But I know you want more – you are a highly intelligent, biblically literate congregation of deep thinkers … so here is more. What do you make of verse 13 and 14? Sin was in the world before the law was given to Moses – but sin was not charged to anyone’s account from Adam to Moses? What? Didn’t the people in Noah’s time die because of their sins? And what does it mean when it says that death reigned over those who did not sin? What does that even mean?
I think what Paul is trying to say is that sin is not just about whether we break a commandment or not … it is about our relationship with God. The people who lived before Moses (who did not break the law, because there was no law to break), could still be judged on the content of their hearts and on their relationship with God. Isn’t that what Jesus was being critical of the Pharisees about. They kept the letter of the law but forgot about the spirit of the law, they forgot about their relationship with God.
But this is the good news of God’s grace – we can find acceptance and forgiveness and reconciliation of our relationship with God through the saving work of Jesus; through God’s grace. All of this is beautifully summed up in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Did you like that? Did you notice the phrase “The gift of God”. This is the phrase that we have been focusing. Exploring how we can use the Gifts of God that we have received to serve others. But when it comes to this amazing Gift of God – this gift of love, forgiveness and grace through the cross … it seems like our side of the deal is so much better than God. God seems to offer us everything and all God asks in return is for us to love God and love others. What a deal. What an amazing gift.
It is a bit like those Oprah shows when they give away stuff, but only more excessive. God says … you want some love … here is a bucket full of love. But wait there’s more. We have buckets full of life and guidance and peace and hope and forgiveness – everything in abundance, everything in excess. You need some grace. You get some grace; you get some grace … we all get some grace.
But God goes further and continues to bless us with other buckets full of things. We are blessed with time (may not feel like it but we are). We are blessed with skills and abilities and education and intellect and reason. We are blessed with opportunities and freedom and technology. We might not like to talk about this in church too much but we are blessed with money and resources (although some people’s buckets might vary, in comparison to the majority of the world, our buckets are huge).
And we are blessed with buckets of family and friends and community connections. We are blessed with passion and energy and focus. And we are bless with our faith, our prayers and spirituality … am I making the point?
Our God is a generous God. And God just doesn’t give us a bucket .. God continues to fill it up. No wonder Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” Paul – who is always so verbose and overflowing with words – is speechless before God’s generosity. He literally cannot find the words to describe God’s gift to us.
Are you getting this? We have a huge cross up the front of church here not to remind us that Jesus died, but to remind us of God’s gift to us. When Jesus said he has come to give us life … he made sure he added the words, and life in all its fullness, abundant life.
The Gifts of God to us – God’s love and grace and all those things I talked about earlier – The Gift of God is so generous, so excessive, so complete, so overwhelming that even after 50 years of trying to get our minds around how great it is we will still be like Paul and declare, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” As I said, it is an amazing gift … God offers us everything – and does not ask much in return. Simply to respond in love. To love God and love others.
I think part of the response to this indescribable Gift of God is reflected in our key verse for this program… let me remind you again of 1 Peter 4:10… Each of you should use the Gifts of God you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s Grace in its various forms.
If God has given us buckets full of blessings, how do we use this buckets full of blessings to serve others? How can we be faithful stewards of all this blessings? Of God’s grace?
That is the challenge – and this is what we are asking all of us to reflect upon during this Gifts of God program. How are we using this overwhelming and generous and continual blessings that we receive from God to serve others.
I could finish the sermon here because that is message … but it is a little more complicated than that. Because while we would all agree that God is gracious and continues to pour generously into our many buckets of blessings … but at the same time, we have a lot of things in our lives that call upon these buckets as well. Our work demands our time and passion and energy. Our families need our love and focus. Our household responsibilities require time … I could go on. Lots of things, people, groups and circumstances are all asking for our energy, our time, our love, our money, our passion … and now we have God saying we need to use some of this blessing to serve others and we are not sure how to fit that in. But isn’t that the challenge we got in the first week from the God Pie video. It is not easy to work out the right balance of how we prioritise these buckets of blessings across all aspects of our lives.
Take this bucket of time as an example. Every day it gets refilled with 1440 minutes – but after work and travel and family commitments and sleep and maybe some me time … how much is left to Peter’s challenge to serve others? We can’t add more time to our bucket – but we can be more discerning on how we prioritise our time.
And there is another complication that we should mention too. I have had several conversations with people who over the past six months have been really struggling – struggling with low energy, low motivation, low spirituality, low everything but particularly low enjoyment of life and work … it is almost like there are holes in our buckets and now the buckets are barely got anything in it – and haven’t had much in there for a while.
Can anyone relate to this? I can. I don’t like talking about this too much but a couple of months ago, I was not in a good place. For me it was like the last few years have asked a lot of me -physically, emotionally, spiritually – and I had got to a point where buckets were running dry. I just felt like I had nothing left to give and what was scaring me a little is that I was not enjoying ministry (which is usually something I love) and I was not feeling very hopeful for the future (which is not like me either). I wouldn’t say that I had burnout, but my doctor and professional supervisor said that I was. They both said, “If you want to go on caring for others, you need to care for yourself.” My professional supervisor strongly recommended that I should immediately take some extended leave – at least a month – to get me back into a good place and allow me to continue to give of myself into my ministry. I argued that I couldn’t because we had the Gifts of God coming up – we compromised and after consulting with Kevin and Church Council, I am taking a month off in 2 weeks’ time. I don’t like admitting that I am not coping, but I have been doing ok since the decision has been made. If you are also in a dark place like me, I encourage you to work out what you need to do to get you back in a more balanced place too. I just keep hearing the words of my supervisor and doctor – if we want to keep giving of ourselves and serving others, we also need to care for ourselves.
During the week I found a helpful twitter thread that I will try and share the link with you all that gave some practical advice if we are feeling like our buckets have holes in them or if we are feeling spiritually or physically drained. It included hints such as:
- Making sure we get good physical rest each night (7+ hours)
- Take moments during the day to break whatever we are doing by stretching or mediating or going for a walk
- Intentionally build on those friendships which give you energy or where you can be authentic, be yourself
- Give yourself some sensory rest from social media, or zooms. Turn of notifications for a while.
- Appreciate creativity or beauty by going for a walk in nature, or visit an art gallery, or read a book or simply stop and look at a flower.
And the last one was really interesting, especially in the light of our 1 Peter 4:10 verse. The article suggested to:
- Volunteer, do something that you feel is making a difference or participate in a faith-based activity … basically, take some time to serve others!
You see, I think we can hold these two ideas together. Peter is saying that we need to use our Buckets full of Blessings, the gifts of God, to serve others … but I am also saying that we need to be careful that we are not running our buckets dry or burning ourselves out and in doing so, not having anything left in the bucket to share. It is all about discerning the right balance, or a good spread of how we prioritise the blessings we have these buckets.
And that includes making sure our work or our major commitments aren’t grabbing everything and that we are making sure we are allocating some of our blessings to keeping us spiritually and emotionally ok, and that we make sure that as an act of our faith and discipleship, we are using some of our blessings to serve and help others – and that includes (as I talk about in the dessert events) – how we resource the mission of God through the church.
But to finish, let me loop back to the beginning because today was about reminding ourselves of the amazing truth of the gospel – of God’s overwhelming generous love and grace shown through the Jesus. We might have the challenge of how we prioritise where we allocate the buckets full of blessings in a way which is helpful to our work, our family, ourselves and our goal of serving others … but lets never lose sight of where these bucket full of blessings come from in the first place … these are the Gifts of God – and we give thanks to God for them.
So as we come to the sacrament of communion, where we hear the story again, where we remember and give thanks for all that God has done for us, all that God has given to us, and all that God continues to offer us – may me also strive to live faithfully to the call to use these gifts of God to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in all its various forms. Amen.