January 10, 2016 / BALANCE: OUR THREE GREAT LOVES / Sara Wolbrecht / Micah 6:6, 8
(Due to a technical error, no audio is available)
Well, friends, again – it is nice to be back with you after missing last week due to food poisoning. That was not the diet plan I had hoped for to kick off 2016. And I was bummed to miss last Sunday and the chance to kick off our series on Balance – but thankfully Pastor Katy was here with a powerful word about Jesus come to us in the flesh and what that says about our own flesh. Good stuff. And that makes today the day we’ll start a new journey together on Balance.
Prior to food poisoning, in our house, the previous two weeks have been winter vacation for our Kindergartner, June, which meant we had a very different rhythm to our lives – no school. And I imagine your life over the holidays had a bit of different rhythm to it – with many holiday celebrations, Christmas dinners, connecting with friends from out of town, traveling, New Years. And eating, eating and more eating and drinking to last until March.
In the midst of these rare weeks we had, I began to notice a few things. I noticed how good it was to have our daughter out of school and to be able to experience the magic of Christmas through her eyes – on Christmas morning she climbed into our bed at 7:30am and whispered: “I went out to the living room to see if Santa came. And he did!” And what it was like to stay up late with my in-laws who were visiting from Montana, talking, drinking, processing life. Going to see Star Wars with 13 family members. Other late nights with family, a slumber party at our house with an old friend who I’ve known for 18 years. What I noticed, ultimately is how good it is to spend good holiday time with friends and family – did you have some good time with folks, too? Christmas, New Year’s – So good!
Yet I also noticed how good it was when everyone went home. Mmm Hmm. Do you know what I’m talking about? I could actually clean up all the stuff that was everywhere. When I could finally get out for a jog for the first time in a month. Not only for exercise – which was desperately needed after all the eggnog and desserts I’d consumed. But for me, running, being outside (especially on these gorgeous, cold, sunny days we had), is the time I use to listen to sermons, podcasts, stuff that draws me into prayer and into conversation with God. And I needed time for that, too. Especially after all the fun and hard work of pulling things together here at Salt House for Advent and Christmas Eve – I was pooped. I needed some connection to this Immanuel, this God with us, who we are celebrating.
Does this sound familiar to you? How good it is both to connect with others – with our people – and yet also that time to refuel, to pray, to eat something healthy, to be grounded in who we are and who God is?
We long for balance. It is how we’re wired. And there is a particular kind of balance we need: balance in our relationships. It goes back to how we are made in the image of God. For you see: nothing matters more to God than relationship. That is God’s fundamental DNA. To be in relationship with us. The incarnation, Jesus’ birth, Christmas, God becoming one of us, God living among us and in actual lived relationship with friends and those in need – this is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us, and also God’s primacy, centrality, necessity for life to be lived in relationship. God did not stay far off but came to be here in the flesh with us because: Nothing matters more to God than relationship.
And: we are made in that same image, in that same way! We have that same longing for relationship, connection, belonging. To be in relationship with God, and then to live out the love, grace, forgiveness, justice that we experience with God, in the relationships we have in the world.
So that goodness we feel with our people as we pass around the eggnog, the goodness we feel when we have room to breathe and listen and connect with God – those are two pieces of the balanced life we are made for. Two ways in which we are to love. And there’s a third piece, too.
We see these three things throughout the Bible as signs of this life, the three great loves we have. And possibly the most quotable, beautiful, “I want to cross stitch it for my wall,” comes from Micah 6:
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? (The question is being asked- how should I live? What can I do that honors God? And the response…)
...God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6,8
Are you familiar with this passage from the Old Testament, in the book of Micah? Micah is one of the prophets of the Old Testament, prophets were used by God to speak to Israel, to God’s people. And here, this mission statement for life is named: To act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
We’ve talked about this 3-way dynamic of relationship before at Salt House. This balance of our three great loves. We call them Up, In, and Out. And we see them here in Micah named as: walking humbly with God (that piece of living UP in relationship with God), Loving mercy (to be IN with the folks closest to us to encourage us and keep it real and help us grow), and acting justly (to live OUT in the world, in uncomfortable places where we engage with the messy needs of others).
And as we have also named before, that we need all three of these relationships. That this pattern of living, this holding in tension and balance (like the three equal sides of an equilateral triangle) the need to live in all three dimensions of relationship and love, that this is the pattern that Jesus lived.
When Jesus calls his disciples, he invites them to walk with him. He says: “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17). The indication is that Jesus is walking, and we are to walk with him. In this one verse from Micah, here we have, a summation of what is expected of us as we walk, as followers of Jesus. It is a lifestyle of balance in our relationships: Up, In and Out.
No one captures this life of calibrating our three great loves quite like Jesus. He lived this pattern. I have a colleague at Summit Church in Florida, who made a video about this Jesus Pattern – Up, In and Out. And I appreciate how he places this in a larger context of the life we are invited into. We call it following Jesus, we call it discipleship. We call it many things, and it is the pattern God invites us to follow. The video packs a lot into these four minutes, so listen closely to the Jesus Pattern.
VIDEO: The Jesus Pattern From Summit Church
The Jesus pattern. With the turning over of the year, from 2015 to 2016, it always taps us into the passage of time and remembering our finitude, that life is finite. There are only so many New Year’s Eves we will have in our lifetime. Which can drive us to be thankful for the life we’ve lived so far, that can stir up grief for how much life has past. But it also taps us into how each day matters and how we live matters. That we have the opportunity every day to live this one wild and precious life we have with purpose and intention. To continue to grow and become and change and flourish.
I listened to last week’s sermon and it sounded like at least some of y’all have taken on some “flesh” related resolutions for the new year? Yes? And as we are in the thick of New Year’s resolutions, we are aware that there are all kinds of diet plans, self-help strategies, personality inventories, goal-setting tools that can help us achieve our best possible self, right? Which are great and fabulous tools for us to use – I am a huge fan of inventories and better understanding myself.
But sometimes we forget that being a Jesus-follower, a Christian, that we have the ultimate “plan” to follow for our lives. And it is living the pattern of Jesus – not for the sake of being (what is sometimes called) a cookie-cutter Christian, so we all act and think and look the same way. No. As the video said: To be a disciple is becoming who Jesus would be if he were you. With your job, your home, your friends, your health, your income, your challenges, your passions. And what makes this pattern messy and risky is that it isn’t a step by step process. It isn’t just an inventory where we check boxes and get a printout of our type. It isn’t a prescription to follow. It is a relationship. A lifetime of evolving relationship – loving God, loving our friends and spiritual family, and loving the world. That sounds messy – because it is messy. Especially when we actually listen to what God speaks into our lives.
As we begin 2016: have you set any goals, any resolutions, any hopes for what this year might be for you? (Whether related to diet and exercise of something else). Whether you have or have not, we here at Salt House are all invited to make this the year of following Jesus’ pattern. Specifically, to find balance as we learn to callibrate our own three great loves: Up with God, In with our people, Out with those in need.
Again, we have brought this up before – Up, In and Out. We’ve heard about it – and yet when it comes to the life of God, it’s not just about information. It’s not just what you know, it’s not just about facts. It is about trying it out, putting it into practice, imitating the example we have to follow. And seeing how those practices will shape us. And this month is our first go at actually letting God’s relational DNA seep into us. To affect the way we look at our relationships and how we prioritize our time to seek balance. And living with it, trying it out, talking it out with one another, then, and only then does it become a pattern that we begin to follow.
Information is just information until we actually put it into practice. I first learned about living this way (balancing the three great loves) about nine years ago. And it continues to be something that I come back to, that challenges me. Whenever I feel off-balance, I stop and consider – ok, when have I had time with God, my UP? What about my IN, connecting with Jason, my good friends, people who pray with me? And what about my OUT – how am I engaging with those in need, outside of my bubble and comfort zone? Living with this tool, really living it this month, has the potential for each of us to be affected in a way that we can carry it with us as a way of life that we come back to for the rest of our lives. And in doing so, letting the life of Jesus become something more tangibly present in the way we live.
And it isn’t just for our own individual benefit. It isn’t just a – well, I’m going to be more balanced and that’s awesome. Though it is awesome. This season after Christmas in the church is called Epiphany. It is a season of Light, a season where we find ways to talk about and live into and embody that we believe that Jesus has been born into this world and that the light of Christ shines – in us, through us, into the world, into all the dark and hard places.
The video captured it beautifully at the end – how to follow the Jesus pattern actually is a way for the light of Christ to shine into the world. It speaks loudly to our friends and family, they start to notice when we start prioritizing our time to spend time in prayer, and with our people, and figuring out how to live beyond ourselves. God shines through that.
And as the video said, too, living this pattern individually actually becomes a communal expression of the gospel of Jesus. As we wrestle with how to balance our need for all three great loves in our lives, we can better wrestle with it together as a community, in the way we spend our time, the kinds of things we do at Salt House. We’ll begin to notice things, and hear things from one another like – hey, we can be better about out OUT and finding ways to engage with our neighborhood! (As you might be able to tell, I am kind of passionate about living this pattern of Jesus).
And so our month of balance begins now. And each week we’ll examine each of the three areas. And for Up, In, and Out, each week we’ll do a few things…We’ll see what this looks like in Jesus’s life – to know how he lived this (Up, In and Out) – we’ll study that pattern. We’ll also name WHY we need each of those relationships (Up, In and Out). And finally we’ll take time together to reflect on what it looks like for each of us – to make this month practical, helpful, and livable. What is your UP? In this particular season of your life? And IN? And how do you get OUT? And in that, we’ll have opportunities to try some practices together.
And we together, my friends, are invited to open ourselves up to see what God will do to bring balance in our relationships and set on fire the three great loves we have. Balance doesn’t happen on it’s own. And it only gets harder as we live through getting married, having kids – part of me just wants to laugh at the idea of balance – I’d settle for having five minutes to myself without my children in the bathroom, right? And yet, I do believe that Jesus shows us a pattern for our lives, and our great joy is to partner with God to figure out what that looks like in our lives now. Balancing our three great loves takes time. Intention. Choice. Priority. And we get to question it, try it out, talk about it, laugh about it together in the weeks to come.
And it all begins with our UP, our connection, our relationship with God – which is why that is where we’ll begin next week. It all flows from there. Love flows from God, our source of love, right?
So what do you say? Are you in? Will you make 2016 the year of balance?
As the band comes back up, let’s create some time for prayer, for talking with God, for asking God the two questions we always ask:
God, what are you saying to me? What am I going to do about it?
And as you hold these questions, I would also invite you to consider each of those areas – Up, In, Out. Now we haven’t gotten into all the details of what each of those are, but as we begin this month, what is your first impression on how you would rate your balance in each of those areas now? The video named how we are usually naturally good at one, ok at another, and fairly bad at the third. How would you rank these three areas in your life now? What’s thriving, what’s missing? How is God inviting you to nurture your loves in the weeks to come? Let’s pray…
God, at our most fundamental level, we long for love. We long for connection. We pray that you would meet us now, in the places and ways in which we feel off balance and longing for love. And we open ourselves up now, to hear you now, and to journey together through the next few weeks so that we may more fully receive your love for us, and courageously choose to live and be differently for the sake of your love for us and our love for the world. Let it be so, today and always. Amen.