Title: Passion – Fidelity
Date: Night Church. 8th August, 2021
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Philippians 2:1-24
What does it mean for us to be there for each other and for God? In the next sermon in our series on Passion we will be exploring the idea of fidelity – the powerful promise of God to always be there for us, and in response we are called to be there for others. But what does this look like in practice. What would it mean to express fidelity in a genuine and real way? Another powerful time of worship and learning.
For the past two weeks we have been talking about passion – about the things, the people, the causes, the issues or the parts of life that connect with us in a deep and impacting way. Last week in the panel we shared that these things that we are passionate about can be big things or small things … and how it is so important to not only name our passions – to put them out there – but for all of us to encourage and empower people’s passions.
Two weeks ago I introduced some of the writings of Kenda Creasy Dean, especially her book “Practicing Passion” where Kenda’s goal was to help people – especially young people – to work out what it means to find themselves in Christ and to live their lives and faith with passion. Her starting point was to explore what people most long for and link that up with God or faith.
Do you remember the three things Kenda came up with 3 things …
- We long for stability, especially stability in relationships. We long to be accepted and for those who are close to us to “be there” for us. And we can find this reflected in God’s fidelity.
- We long for something extraordinary – to be part of something great. We want to be moved, to be blown away. And we can find this reflected in God’s transcendence.
- We long for intimacy – a close group of mates where we talk about anything and go through experiences together. We want to be being known and this is reflected in in communing with God – or communion.
Tonight – I am looking at the first of the three – Fidelity – this idea of being there for each other and how God is always there for us. On the surface, this is almost self-explanatory – certainly the idea that God is there for us. The bible is full of passages of God promising to be with us … from God’s promise to Joshua “Be strong and Courageous … for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” … to God speaking through Isaiah, “fear not for I am with you” … to Jesus’ great commission “An lo, I am with you always” … to the name for Jesus “Emmanuel” which literally means God is with us … the bible is consistent with the promise that God is always there for us.
Yet our experience in life is that there most things are not that certain. Modern day life comes with a distinct lack of stability.
- A person moves house on average 12 times in their lifetime.
- On average adult will change jobs 7 times in your life
- One in 4 kids experience the divorce of their parents
- On average people have 6 significant long-term romantic relationships in their life
It seems in today’s world, nothing lasts forever. There is very little stability. So it is not surprising that people, and young people in particular, long for it.
When it comes to being there for each other … we long for the Philippians 2:2-3 sort of model in our bible reading “having the same love, being one in the spirit, valuing others above ourselves” but more often or not what we get is the Philippians 2:21 model, “Everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ”. And sometimes, when we find ourselves being pressured into “being there” for others we take on the Philippians 2:14 model – we grumble and complain.
We don’t just want to know stability, we want to experience it. Most kids in Australia still grow up with both their birth parents yet on average a teenager spends 3 hours alone each day (not including sleeping). This means that for some kids, although they may seem to have a stable family life … they hardly see their parents and feel that their parents are not there for them.
And when someone shows young people a sense of stability or shows that they are there for them – they lack onto it with both hands.
This was really brought home to me in a story which is in Kenda’s book about a inner-city pastor having a conversation with a drug-dealer (how that conversation took place is a story in itself but I don’t have time to tell that one).
The drug dealer said to the pastor, “Look, I’ll explain to you Christians why you are losing an entire generation. It is all about being there. You see, when Johnny goes to school in the morning, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny goes home in the afternoon, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny goes out for a loaf of bread for grandma for dinner, I’m there, you’re not. I win, you lose!”
That just hits me on so many levels. As a parent it speaks to me of the importance of being there for my kids. As a pastor it speaks to me of the importance of us as a church being here for others – and this role is not the responsibility of me but all of us. One of the real dangers of people who work for the church is “being there” burnout. To “be there” sometimes is a hard thing – getting phonecalls at all hours of the night, to make sacrifices, to go the extra mile. And if we expect one or two people to be the people who are going to be there for everyone, they will soon burn out. This is something that we all have to do. We need to as a community of faith work out what it means to show each other that we are here for each other … and not just in words or intentions but in practice.
As people of faith, we talk about how we follow in the way of Jesus. That the characteristics of God that we love and admire, we wish to reflect in our own life. So if we understand that
God is always there for us; our response should be that we are here for God and here for others.
We love because God first loved us.
We are there for others because God was first there for us.
But how do we do this practically? The list of how to be there for others is huge, but Kenda in her book gives us some simple ways in which we can be there for others. In the last 5 mins I wants to quickly look at these:
Firstly, Kenda raises an early church traditional called didache (dee-dake). It refers to the way that the leaders of the early church taught new disciples. The best word to describe this style of teaching is “modelling”. Rather than give sermons or sessions on how a follower of Jesus should live, they would invite the new believers to spend time with them as they modelled what this “living for Jesus” meant in practice. Kenda in her book suggests that we need to rediscover the didache.
It is a challenging idea. How do we teach our young people about faith? We run a Sunday School where they sit around a table while a teacher tells them bible stories and explains what a Christian life means. Or in Turrazone or SquareOne we run a talk where we try to slip in some biblical truth or Christian concept. If we took seriously this idea of didache then maybe we would have less “lessons” and more time when we would spend time with the young people, sharing life with them, being there for them and modelling what it means for us to believe in Jesus.
Being a little like a coach in a football team rather than a teacher in a classroom. I’m not suggesting that we dump Sunday School, but it is a challenging idea. Which model do you think makes the biggest impact?
The next idea that Kenda puts forward is one of exhortation. I love the word exhort. Do you know what it means? It simply means to urge or encourage and implies concern for another’s well-being. If I am there for you, that means not only being here when I need you but also to encourage you, to exhort you, to be the best you can be.
Did you get that because that is important … If I am there for you, that means not only being here when I need you but also to encourage you, to exhort you, to be the best you can be.
Kenda suggests that this can happen on a large group level and in a smaller group level or one on one. In the Middle Ages one of the big Christian movements was the monastic movements. This is when people of faith would live together and daily encourage each other in their Christian walk. That is a serious way of being there for each other. We don’t need to go to that extreme, but the very nature that we gather weekly for worship is a way that we as a faith community can be here for each other and encourage each other in our faith journeys. This can also happen on a smaller level in small groups or can happen when we meet one-on-one with each other.
Who here has someone or a group of people which they can share openly and honestly about their life, their issues, their faith with – and is open to that other person “exhorting” them about particular aspects of their life. I think it is important that we all have atleast one other person that can happen with.
The other really powerful point that Kenda makes in her book about “being there” is that we need to understand that this is a long-term commitment. It is not good to say someone that you will be there for them and put in a huge effort to fade out after a month or two. In terms of being there that is very unhelpful.
Being there for others is for the long-haul. Sure life circumstances change and there will be periods where you will be there for particular people and that will change over time … but being there involves commitment. Kenda talks about Christians who parachute into people’s lives, deal with the immediate issue and then catch the next plane out. Whether it is helping the kid at youthgroup or helping the poor in Africa … the greatest impact comes when they see you will be there for them long term.
Has this been helpful?
In my mind, I keep coming back to the story about the drug dealer saying that they win because they are always there for the young people of today. Jesus has promised that he is here for me until the end of the age. In response, I want to show others that I am here for them – whether it is the modelling of faith like the didache, the exhorting and encouraging of others as they journey … I want to be here for you. I don’t want the drug deals to win … I want people to know that Jesus is there for them.
So, I encourage you … no, I exhort you to be there – be there for Jesus and be there for others in Jesus name. Amen.