2001 William Meisheid (preached at St. Timothy's Church 8-19-01)
Reflecting on the scriptures appointed
for today, I was taken back to a topic we examined last March, when we
explored the basics of discipleship. You may remember that we looked at four
aspects of that journey, that purposeful walk down the path of Christian
Newness of life - In which every disciple
experiences the passing of the old and the beginning of the new.
Brokenness of heart - Where every disciple is
broken. Where their old nature is broken down, so that their new nature can
take permanent hold of their life.
Struggling toward the goal - Which
demonstrates that every disciple must labor, and labor diligently, for
discipleship is hard work.
Praise - as disciples we enter into praise,
since in all that we do we should offer our praises to God.
Today our readings focus on two
aspects of what we covered in March, brokenness of
heart and struggling toward the goal.
This morning, between Scott Saulsbury, Keith Valentine, and myself, we hope
to take you along the next step on the road of discipleship. As we deal with
our brokenness and our struggles in the faith, we hope to show you that that
all of this effort is necessary, that we have a truly wise God, a God who is
not making a mistake.
Elizabeth Elliot, in her book
Let Me Be a Woman, tells the story of Gladys
Aylward. Now Gladys had a problem. She was disappointed with God, because
she felt he had been unfair to her. She thought the looks God had given her
were a major mistake. As she was growing up she felt God had given her two
great sorrows to bear. The first was that while all her friends had
beautiful golden hair, and hers was a dark raven black. The second was that
while all her friends were still growing, she had stopped, and four feet ten
inches was as tall as she would ever get. She was
different and she stood out from
everyone else. Despite these disappointments that clouded her view of God,
Gladys went on to become a missionary to China. At last, after a long
journey, she reached this far country to which God had called her to his
service. When she got off the boat, she stood alone on the wharf in Shanghai
and looked around at the people to whom God had called her. Suddenly, a
revelation of understanding surged through Gladys. Every single one of the
Chinese going about their business on the wharf had raven black hair. And,
almost every one of them appeared to have stopped growing exactly when she
did. With a new acceptance of God's providence, of his provision for her
life, she was able to turn her heart's focus to her Lord and exclaim, "Lord
God, You know what you're doing!"
We need to know, using Gladys as an
example, that in order to accomplish what we discussed last week, keeping
our focus on God, and
to pursue the course of discipleship we will
discuss today, we need to believe that God
knows what he is doing. We need to
believe that every
rending that breaks our heart, every struggle
that we labor through toward the goal that God has given us, in of our
upward calling in Christ Jesus, is necessary,
that God knows what he is doing.
Gladys Aylward spent too many years of
her life believing God had made a mistake. It took her actually seeing the
Chinese people standing in front of her to turn around her understanding of
God's purpose, for her to see that God actually had a plan for her life,
that he actually knew what he was doing.
Last week we defined faith as being
sure of what we hope for in God and certain
of what we do not see God doing. This morning
I want to say to you that faith is integral
to discipleship. Unless you can move forward through the brokenness and
struggle trusting God, trusting in the
sureness of hope and the
certainty of sight in the darkness, your
discipleship will lose its momentum. It will flounder and you will lose
ground and slip back.
The world, and our enemy the devil,
will gladly tell us that something is seriously wrong with us, if we believe
that we have to go through all of this difficulty in order to grow in God's
grace. They will challenge how Tracy Meyer's debilitating health can be part
of the wisdom of God? How my wife's 3 months of unemployment and
discouraging struggle to find work can be part of God's plan? The world and
the devil will argue that maybe God doesn't know what he is doing, or maybe
he just doesn't care about us any more. After all, where are the miracles?
During my research for this sermon I
came across the entry for the Gospel of Mark in The Columbia Encyclopedia,
Sixth Edition. 2001. It says,
"…Mark teaches that true discipleship
comes from an appreciation not so much of Christ’s miracles as of the
service and suffering that characterize his ministry and messiahship. Jesus
is presented as reluctant to disclose his true nature to those who lack the
understanding that comes from insight into his suffering."
It is interesting to see a secular
publication get it so right. Suffering and the appreciation of its purpose
in our lives bring us to one of our two foci for this morning.
Brokenness of Heart
Let me start out by saying that it is
natural for us to want to avoid brokenness of heart.
Contrary to what the Columbia Encyclopedia says, most of us really do not
want any "insight into his suffering". We ask, "Do we actually have to deal
with all that unpleasantness?" These things are getting a little too close
Our Hebrews reading this morning,
chapter 12 addresses this concern. It says,
5-6. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that
addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord
disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as
Some of these words are difficult, to
say the least. And it is normal to want to get away from this discipline.
The first part of verse 11 says,
11. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
So… it is not surprising that we
attempt to escape God's efforts to bring brokenness into our life.
However, in Jeremiah 23 God says,
23-24. "Am I only a God nearby," declares Yahweh, "and not a
God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?"
declares Yahweh. "Do not I fill heaven and earth?"
In the end, there is no place to hide.
There is nowhere to get away to.
In addition, in the beginning of our
reading from Hebrews 12 it says,
1. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
Not only is it impossible to we hide
from God, but there is also a vast audience, both heavenly and earthly,
watching our every move. Scott Saulsbury has something to share with us
about this insight.
Summary of Brokenness of Heart
True discipleship does not consist in
mere imitation, which is outward and superficial, but in a fundamental
change of our hearts, a breaking of the old, replacing our old direction
with a new direction that encompasses new thoughts, new concerns, new
actions, in effect a whole new life. The success or failure of our
discipleship comes out when we think no one is looking. Scott gave evidence
of the reality of his discipleship by how he acted when the moment of
testing came. He isn't an imitation; he is the real thing.
when something happens that threatens to break us our natural inclination is
to resist, to argue that we shouldn't have to go through this, we should be
able to take a different path. However, Paul reminds us in Romans 9:20-21a
"But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed
say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the
potter have power over the clay…"
pointed out in our first look at discipleship in March, this type of
argument is very difficult for us as 21st century Christians to submit to.
We need to remember that we are citizens of heaven, not really of this 21st
century culture in which we now find ourselves, and one of the tasks of our
discipleship is to bring ourselves into submission to the will of God. That
effort will require us to continue struggling toward the goal, as Paul
describes it in Philippians 3:14, of our heavenward calling in Christ Jesus.
Struggling toward the goal
As we said
in March, it would also be unfair not to admit that discipleship is a
struggle, a real battle, both with the fallen world around us, as well as
with our flesh, our fallen nature. However, one thing that makes this
struggle so difficult is our inability to be sure of what lies ahead and how
far we have left to go. So we often get weary and discouraged. Let me give
you an example.
On July 4, 1952, on a fog-shrouded
morning, one of the world's great swimmers, a young woman named Florence
Chadwick, waded into the waters off Catalina Island. Her goal was to swim
the across the 22 mile wide channel separating the island of Catalina from
the California coast at Los Angeles. Long-distance swimming was nothing new
to her; she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both
directions. You would be right in saying that she was a very disciplined
It was a very
difficult swim. The water was numbing
cold. The fog was so thick she could hardly
even see the safety boats escorting her.
Several times during the morning her supporters had to drive away sharks
with rifle fire. She had been swimming for over 15
hours when, tired and
discouraged, she asked to be
taken out of the water. Her trainer
encouraged her to continue swimming on, since
he was sure that they were so close to the
goal. However, when Florence looked ahead, all she could see…was
fog. Instead, tired, exhausted, and allowing fear of failure to sap
her hope, she quit. After a swim of over
21 miles, she quit less than
one-mile from her goal.
Later, when interviewed, Florence
said, "I'm not excusing myself, but if I could have
seen the land I might have made it."
In the end, it wasn't the
cold or fear
or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick
to fail. It was the fog, her inability
see ahead and then to
trust her trainer when he told her "only a little further."
Sometimes as Christians, the fog of
the struggle makes it difficult for us to see the road ahead, to see how far
we have left to go, to have the information that we so earnestly need so
that we can make a sound decision, based on clearly understood alternatives.
As I said last week, we naturally want
certainty. Instead, we are encouraged to trust God, to accept his
discipline. Like Job, we are told we don't need
to know; we just need to trust, to keep our
focus on God.
We also talked last week about getting
tired, about being bone weary, and losing heart. Sometimes it appears the
struggle is just too much for us. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 12, verse
3, speaking of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, says,
3. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Yes, life is
hard, and discipleship is harder still, but
God, through the writer of Hebrews has encouraged us not give up.
In addition to the weariness of the
journey, our Gospel reading this morning adds some additional complications
to the mix. In Luke 12:52 Jesus says,
52. Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell
you, but division.
[Hold up your hands] Here we are,
struggling along as best we can, probably hoping to be bolstered in our hard
times by the solace of a supportive community. We look forward to family,
friends, and neighbors helping us along, lifting us up. However, in verse 49
of the same scripture Jesus says,
49. I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it
were already kindled!
He did bring fire, the fire of the
Holy Spirit, the fire of truth and the cleansing fire of God. And in verses
52 and 53 he says what this fire will do,
52-53. From now on there will be five in one family divided
against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be
divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter
and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Division. This does not mean that
division will mean that we will be alone, remember "two against three," but
it does mean that we cannot count on a large supportive group of family and
friends, adding their support to our needs.
So… Here we are, weary from the
struggle and now facing division and limited support.
Hold that thought while Keith
Valentine talks to us about struggling through this discouragement and
division, and how we are supposed to respond to it.
Summary of Struggling toward the goal
Thanks Keith. When times are tough,
bitterness and anger at God is always temptingly close at hand. Remember
what God said to Cain in Genesis 4,
6-7. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is
your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But
if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it
desires to have you, but you must master it."
After Cain failed to master sin and
God punished him for killing his brother Able, he lamented in verse 13,
13. Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can
We often think that about our
discipline, about God's corrective judgment on us. We often think, "This is
more than I can bear."
So… Where does that leave us? Is there
anything here that can give us a lift, buoy
our spirits, give us something to
encourage our hope?
Yes there is. Let's look at the end of our passage in Hebrews 12,
11-13. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen
your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so
that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
It appears in the midst of all of
this, God has given us a task. We are to strengthen
and make level. We are able to do this by
keeping our focus where it belongs, on God. Everything I said last week
comes into play here and now. As we think about this section of Hebrews, we
see it harkens back to Proverbs 4,
25-27. Let your
eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level
paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the
right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
Keep your eyes straight ahead; keep
your focus on God and where
he wants you to go. We remember what Paul
says in Philippians 3,
13. Brothers, I
do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I
do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what
is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for
which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
In joining with Paul and straining
forward, focusing on God and what he has called us to do, we take heart in
the last words from our reading this morning from Hebrews 12,
every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness
no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace
of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile
Remember the admonition and
encouragement Keith gave us. Do not let a bitter root grow in the fertile
soil of our tiredness and struggle. Be a good husbandman
of your soul. Do not miss the grace of God, keep your focus on him and be
prepared to receive all of the grace that he sends your way.
Let me give a closing story to
illustrate the importance of who we are as disciplined children of God.
Knowing who we really are should help us persevere through anything we
Dr. Fred Craddock, Professor of
Preaching and New Testament, Emeritus, at Emory University, tells this story
told to him by the former governor of Tennessee, Ben Hooper, who was an
illegitimate child and had an extremely hard life growing up.
“When I was about
12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late
and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I
got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in
church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my
shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.
“Who are you, son?
Whose boy are you?’
I felt the old
weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was
putting me down.
But as he looked
down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition.
“Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance.
You are a son of God.”
With that he
slapped me across the rump and said, “Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go
and claim it.”
Ben Hooper then
said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.”
As a Christian, we have a great
inheritance and our efforts at discipleship are how we actively claim it.
Before we hear from Keith and Cathy
Valentine, singing a beautiful song about what Jesus Christ did to save us,
and enable us to be true disciples and adopted children of God, let me tell
you that not long after her failure, Florence Chadwick
again attempted to swim the Catalina channel.
Once more a foggy veil obscured the
coastline and again she couldn't see the shore. But this time,
she succeeded. She made it all the way
because she kept reminding herself that land was there, even though she
couldn't see it. With that faith in things not seen, she bravely swam on and
achieved her goal. In fact, she broke the current men's record by 2 hours!
Now to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is
at work within us; who is able to keep us from falling and to present us
before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, may he grant
us the grace of perseverance, so that we might work out our salvation in
fear and trembling, allowing the discipline of God our father to finish its
work within us, so that we may be mature and complete, lacking no good
thing, to his honor and glory. Amen.