This sermon was preached by Rev Caroline on Wednesday 31 January, and was based on these texts:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?
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.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching.
As a young girl, still in primary school, my parents felt that is was time for me to learn the piano. They found a teacher who had an excellent reputation and my lessons began. I had imagined that I would, within a couple of weeks, be playing the magnificent pieces that I used to hear my grandmother play. Instead there was a lot of hard practice learning scales and arpeggios before the creative fun would begin.
I came to fear each lesson as my quite scary teacher instilled the excellence that her pupils achieved partly through fear. Once false note on my practiced scales and a hovering ruler would be slapped down on the back of my hand. Fear of that awful stinging pain had the desired effect. I practiced until perfect then once perfect, I would be allowed to play what I had learned on her beautiful grand piano as a reward.
The word “discipline” is used 4 times in our passage from Hebrews this morning. It is an important word that the author wants us to engage with. He wants us to know that God lovingly disciplines us to become spiritual champions….not with punishments and hardships if we get it wrong but with loving nurturing and shaping into who he calls us to be.
A novice once asked Michelangelo how he sculptured such beautiful angels out of stone. The great sculptor pointed to one of his angels and said ‘I see the angel within the marble and chip away until I set it free’.
My piano teacher created technical perfection out of fear but my playing was wrapped in anxiety over getting it wrong rather that creativity flowing from the heart. God is more like Michelangelo…envisioning our best possible selves and gently forming and shaping us into that beautiful potential that he sees in us. Discipline is about having the bits that are incongruous with his vision for us chipped delicately and lovingly away.
Today we commemorate John Bosco, the founder of 1859 the ‘Pious Society of St Francis de Sales’, commonly known as the Salesians, in 1859. He spent his early years as a shepherd then was later ordained in 1841. God has given him a particular heart for working amongst the boys and young men in the slums of cities like Turin. He was gifted in this ministry. He offered Church services, taught them and even provided a boarding house (assisted by his mother). They were all drawn by a kindness that they had never experienced before. Within 4 years, his oratory grew from 20 young men to 400. The Salesians were a congregation stated to sustain this work.
It is said that Bosco had a vision as a child in which God told him ‘Not with blows, but with charity and gentleness must you draw these friends to the path of virtue’. This remained with him throughout his life. He worked hard to make learning fun and an attractive proposition.
He was also far ahead of his time in relation to punishment: ‘As far as possible avoid punishing…try to gain love before inspiring fear’. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial it might be, to pass unappreciated. The teacher should be father, adviser and friend.
At the time of his death in Turin in 1888 there were 250 houses of the Salesian Society in all parts of the world, containing 130,000 children. By that date also the Salesians had provided the Roman Catholic Church with over 6,000 priests from among the boys they had cared for and educated.
Bosco treated these young men with the fatherly nurturing love that reflected the personal relationship that God, our Heavenly Father has with us as he lovingly disciplines us into fulfilling all the potential that he gave us.
Discipline is rarely a painless process but the harvest of joy and righteousness is the fruit of that process. We need not fear how God chooses to shape us through his perfect love and discipline. As we hear in the first letter of John :
“Perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment” (1John 4:14).
The challenges and hardships of life are often times when, like Michelangelo’s statue, we are formed into something more beautiful. These defining moments shape our lives and can often be looked back to as turning points. We have a choice how we respond to these moments:
- We can react with bitterness and anger – however, the risk with this is that it can transform us to sourness rather than sweeten our character.
- We can grudgingly accept it muttering about how we are sure God has a plan and that we will learn something from this – but fail to see why we need to learn it in this way. Instead of asking ‘Why?’ we could ask “What are you teaching me, Lord?” This can allow the chisel to gently form us rather glance off a particularly awkward bit of stone and mould us into an unintended shape.
We can willingly embrace God’s discipline understanding that what God is doing with us will bring us life. That is why St Paul said “So I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles. All these things are for Christ. And I am happy, because when I am weak, then I am truly strong.” (2 Cor 12:10). When we submit to God’s discipline we become more like his Son and this is the goal that we strive towards as his children.
Let us pause for a moment and bring to mind anything that has arisen for us today and talk to God about how he might have been or be sculpting who we are.
Merciful Father, we thank you for the healing and shaping that you bring into our lives. Help us to be open to what you would sculpt us to be that we may be more like Jesus.