Welcome to the Church
Call to Worship: responsive based on Psalm 46
God is our refuge and our strength.
God is the one we can turn to when we
need to hide away from the stresses of everyday life;
God is always ready to help.
Even when the world around us changes
and things are not what they used to be;
We will not be afraid.
In our darkest moments, when our fears
and concerns overwhelm us,
God is still with us.
As we come to worship today
we hear the Holy One call out to us,
“Be still and know that I am God.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of ages is our refuge.
And our strength.
Hymn Tis 703 As the deer pants for the water
Prayer of Adoration
Gracious God, Creator of all life,
You are our refuge and our strength,
Yet you are also mystery.
You know our inner most thoughts
And you understand us more completely than any other being.
In your great love for us you became human,
and in that incarnation, in the one we call Master, Friend and Saviour
you reveal your heart to us, your nature, and your mission.
We praise you and fear you,
Not because you are a mind- boggling mystery,
Nor because we fear for your judgement.
Not because you demand to be worshipped.
We praise you and fear you
for you are the only thing that can make us feel whole.
You made us for yourself, and our heart are restless
until we find you.
Be gentle with us when we forget to call on your name.
Be merciful to us when we rely on our own strength and seek false refuge.
In this moment of stillness we open our souls to you,
Surround us with the power and shield of your Holy Spirit.
Search us and speak your word of grace to us.
(Guided meditative prayer, breath and listen to your breathe, feel your chest expand and contract as you inhale and exhale, feel your feet planted gently yet firmly on the floor, sit comfortably, and relax. Continue to watch your breath, and then notice how many thoughts keep popping into your mind, allow them to linger briefly and then let them pass, listen for God, listen for word, if your thoughts keep interrupting repeat your word over and over, gently and in time with your breath.)
Sister and Brothers in Christ,
Those who are in Christ are a new creation,
Everything old has passed away:
See, the new has come!
All this is from God,
Who reconciled us to himself through Christ.
Hear then, Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven’
Thanks be to God.
Hymn Tis 685 The power of your love
Bible Readings: Matthew 11: 20-30 and Colossians 1:3-14
Sermon: Spiritual Growth
What is spiritual growth and how would you define spirituality?
In a moment we will consider spiritual growth and spirituality as a relationship with God, with each other and with the world. But first I would like you to have a look at the image on the screen. Do you all know what that piece of timber is across the neck of the oxen is called? Most of you have probably heard Jesus describe our call to follow him as an easy yoke and a light load. But when I look at that piece of timber keeping the oxen together and under control I think it looks quite heavy and uncomfortable and it make me wonder what Jesus means.
However, I am looking at it the yoke as a human, and I am forgetting that God has given the ox incredible strength and huge muscles. Compared to their weight, which could easily be over 500 hundred kilos the yoke probably feels like a matchstick! If the owner of the oxen takes good care of them, feeds them well and gives them plenty of rest perhaps being yoked isn’t too bad at after all.
An ox who is used to being yoked and that has had plenty of practice will know what its master wants it to do probably doesn’t even feel the weight of the yoke at all. A well trained and content ox is not ging to want to pull away and feel the irritation of the yoke.
As someone who has been involved in nearly aspect of church life I have always loved this passage because I have often felt like I have been carrying quite a load. In my first year of ministry training in 2019 I also felt like the burdens being placed on me were way too great and I spent the year in a state of high stress and at times even despair. During that year we were told to make sure we took time out, to have some downtime and to maintain and create boundaries for our own wellbeing. We were also told that a third of new ministers drop out of ministry all together within the first five years.
Yet at the same time we were being pressured to get our reports in on time and to only have a day off when it was an emergency, so to be absent felt like the eighth deadly sin. Fortunately, the Dean of the College realised that we needed a lighter yoke so to speak, the hours we were expected to put in were reduced and we were encouraged to spend more time simply ‘being’ instead of constantly ‘doing.’ Being still and knowing God. The following year I learnt what that actually meant. The day we went into lock down at the end of March 2020 I commenced chemotherapy for Early-stage breast cancer and although there were tough days I also enjoyed for the first time in my adult life the joy of doing absolutely nothing.
I did what I like when I liked, and no one expected anything from me and there were no demands on my time except for going to my medical appointments. During those six months I spent a lot of my time relearning how to meditate according to the ancient Christian spiritual practice and in reading books that spoke about the mystery and beauty of God and the depths of God’s love for us.
In one of those books I read the following phrase “God does not want what you do, God wants you”. I realised that over the years I was doing lots of churchy things and being incredibly busy because I thought that’s what Christians were meant to do and when I looked around everyone else seemed to think that too. And there is danger in that.
As I have been researching ‘words of hope to aging and declining congregations’ for my final college essay I stumbled across this warning:
“when survival becomes the primary motivation for change, the congregation will inevitably turn on itself and become so centred on its survival needs that it will be ineffective in responding to the real needs of real people in the world around it”
This quote is basically saying you will forget to be the church if you only focus on survival and although it points to a lack of missional focus it is equally true for our communal and individual spiritual growth. Here is a little story that illustrates that quite well. I am not sure where I first heard this story or where it comes from, but it goes like a bit like this; imagine you have died and gone to heaven, and when you first get there God takes you aside for a little chat. “Well, welcome to my kingdom” God says, “you made it,” he laughs, “Tell me, how did your life go?” “Well”, you answer, “it was full of ups and downs, and you owe me an answer for why there was so much suffering but apart from that God, you know I worked my guts out for you, I was on every church committee and went to every meeting, I volunteered for everything and even cleaned the toilets.”
“Well that is wonderful” God says. “I really appreciate everything you did.” God gives you a spiritual pat on the back. “ But you know” God adds, “while you were doing all that stuff I really missed you”.
The only time the yoke of Jesus becomes uncomfortable is when we neglect to be still and know God, in all the busyness our relationship with God can be pushed to the side or become mere lip service. God wants us, the real us, warts, and all, not who we think we should be or what we do.
So now back to the beginning, what is spirituality? Well, it can take many forms, it can be a spiritual practice such as meditative prayer, it can be an experience of either giving or receiving love or grace, it can be found in missional service and it can be found in simply enjoying your own hobbies, your creativity, or the beauty of nature. The foundation of spirituality however is the health of the relationship between each one of us and God and like all relationships this requires practice, and dedication and time. We will wander away at times because our spiritual growth, if we are honest, is not a straight line from being a spiritual infant to being spiritually mature, it goes in fact like this; up and down and back and forth and it’s more like a rollercoaster or a game of snakes and ladders than a smooth an easy ride to some distant and unachievable end goal.
In the passage form Colossians we heard earlier, Paul tells them that he and his helpers are constantly praying for them, that may filled with “spiritual wisdom and understanding”. This is a continual process that will not end to until end of our earthly days and possibly even beyond in the life to come. Like the ox gifted with great muscular strength, Paul also reminds them that they too are made strong through the glorious power of God.
I said earlier on that our relationship with God resembles our relationships with friends and loved ones, and that is true except for one huge and glorious fact. If we ignore our friends or loved ones and fail to spend time with them, or they with us, eventually the relationship will break down, not so with God. God’s grace and love are so abundant that God will always be there waiting for us to wander back into the spiritual embrace no matter how wild or rocky our journey becomes, no matter the twists and turns or the ups and downs. Our God is a patient God who does not anyone to be lost, (2 Peter 3:9) our God waits with a yearning, yet patient heart for us to make the journey back again.
Hymn: For you Deep Stillness (Julie Perrin and Robin Mann)
Prayers of Intercession
We bring our gifts to you, Lord God,
in gratitude and hope.
In dedicating them, we dedicate ourselves again
to be your people in the world,
in the strength and enabling power
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn: Tis 607 Make me a channel of your peace.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding
Keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
And of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the blessing of God almighty,
The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Be upon you and remain with you always.