Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sermon May 8, 2016

We are created in God’s image.  Of course, we are not God or even gods (small g) but we are God’s i.e. we belong to God and are God’ people.  God gives each of us gifts and God’s intention for us is that we use these gifts as God intends.  Fortunately, humanity was encouraged to leave our paradise in the Garden of Eden to go into the world to use these gifts.    Unfortunately we human beings often do not use our gifts the way God intends.  That is one way of describing sin—we miss the mark and believe that we know better than God about how we should behave in the world.  We put ourselves ahead of others; we do not love our neighbours as ourselves.

The scripture passage from Acts gives us a great example of how things can go off the tracks and get completely away from what God intends.  Paul and Silas encounter a slave-girl.  That is the first indication of how badly things can get derailed in life.  People believe that they have the right to own others; enslave them and use them for their own purposes.  We know that slavery was common in biblical times.  Indeed the Greek word for slave, doulos also means servant; slaves served their masters.   In the case of this slave-girl her gift is being used by her owners.  She has the gift of prophecy and that gift is being used by her owners for their profit. 
Paul sees that this gift, this spirit is being misused and casts the spirit out of the slave-girl.  Now this is not a case of the girl being possessed by an evil spirit as is often in the situations that are reported in the Gospels. 

Rather, Paul recognizes that the gift is being misused and the slave-girl needs to be freed from the misuse of it. She needs Paul’s help to free her from this sin.  Now you may think that this is perhaps not fair to the girl to think of this as sin.  However, we have to understand that sin should not be equated with morality or ethics.   It certainly can involve morality and ethical behaviour on our part.  However, more generally we need to think of sin as those things where we are not living as God intends.  The slave-girl was not doing anything of her own volition that caused the sin.  She was being used by others in a sinful way.  Paul frees her from this sin and set her free—if not from her owners, at least from the sin that the owners are using her for.

We are all sinners.  As it says in the baptismal covenant, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord”?  It is “whenever” not “if” we fall into sin.  It is part of the human condition that we will fall into sin.  In the understanding of sin as missing the mark and not using our gifts as God intends, it is understandable that this is going to happen to each of us. 

One way of considering how we use our gifts that I have found helpful is the perspective of personality type indicators such as the Enneagram.  There are many that are in use today such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator which you may be more familiar with.  It uses pairs of categories such as introvert and extrovert, feeling and thinking, sensing and intuition, and judging and perceiving.  Myers Briggs is helpful in understanding yourself and how you and others perceive and behave in the world.  I am an introverted, intuitive feeling, and judging type. 
I find that this context has helped me understand myself and why I am the way I am.  This is how God made me and knowing this I can work with it. 

I am an strongly introverted person—as are many clergy—and it helps me to understand how I can best work with that characteristic and the other characteristics as a priest.  We had an introduction to Myers Briggs in seminary.   The Enneagram provides a similar perspective on what makes you, you and why you are the way you are.  It is particularly helpful because for each of the personality types it provides a perspective of how the characteristics or gifts of that type can be used or misused; how they can be sinful or redeemed.   

Because we perceive the world in different ways we will, as a matter of course, be limited in how we relate to others and the world.  Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic priest, discusses this:
It is hard work to open up our entire being--heart, mind, and body--to Love. From childhood, we're trained to protect ourselves by closing off one or more of these channels. Perhaps this was a necessary coping mechanism. But to develop a mature, holistic faith, we must learn to embrace and listen to each part in the safety of God's presence. We each depend on certain areas more than others. It will take some "exercise" to develop the neglected muscle of body, heart, or mind. Below are some suggested practices to nurture each area of being.

Heart: loving-kindness meditation, deep listening, community, journaling
Mind: lectio divina (sacred reading), writing, dialectic argument, study
Body: ecstatic dance, yoga, meditative walking, chant, tai chi
As we see, each of us will depend on certain aspects of ourselves more than other aspects and we will not usually engage the world as fully as possible without help; we will not love God and God’s creation with our whole being as it says in the Shema, the Hear o Israel:
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
And love your neighbour as yourself.
There are nine types in the Enneagram; each with its own characteristics.  For example, as Richard Rohr describes, the Three type:
began with the primal knowledge that everything is unstable and passing and that only God endures and gives us the endurance to withstand the passing nature of all things. But, at some point, an experience of wounding convinced THREEs that they are separate from God and Wholeness.
The Enneagram is particularly helpful because, as Rohr notes, the characteristics can be used in sinful ways or in redeemed ways. 
The pressure to succeed leads to the root sin of the THREE, which is deceit. While they don't generally go around telling lies, they do embellish the truth and put the best face on everything… THREEs find the way to their gift of integrity only when they take the painful path of self-knowledge and look their life-lies, big and little, in the face, refusing to gloss over them anymore.
I am only touching on a little of what the Enneagram involves.  However, I hope that this helps you to appreciate that we all, as Christians, have the responsibility to use the gifts that God has given us in the ways that God intends.   It is not easy even with our best intentions.  We will inevitably fail and fall into sin.  However, we have the assurance of God’s forgiveness.  As it asks in the Baptismal Covenant:
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

We know that we have the assurance of the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ or Lord and saviour.  Thanks be to God.  

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