Thursday, January 27, 2011

7 Step Strategy for Spiritual Growth

A 7 Step Strategy for a Happy New Year!
Rev. Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin
Sunshine Cathedral Sermon for Jan. 2, 2011
Sirach 24.1-12; John 1.14

This is for us Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany recalls the story of the Magi traveling from Persia, following the guidance of their astrological arts, and discovering the Christ on their own journey. And then, they returned home by a different route the scriptures say. They were still Magi, still Persian, still astrologers, but they also knew they could do something new, something different. They could be themselves and still grow, still learn, still change. They followed the light of a star, discovered the light of a child, and returned home with their own Inward Light trying a new route. This is not only a new year, it is a new season and with the newness comes a reminder that our past need not determine our future and that unlimited possibilities exist for us.

If we believe that God is near us, within us, expressing through us, then we naturally expect that good things are possible for us.

St. Paul said to the Philippian Church, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" (Phil. 4.13). I can do all things through the Divine Idea, the holy Wisdom, the anointing of God's presence...that Christ Principle that I see in Jesus which is also in me, I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!

An epiphany is a realization or intuitive discovery and that is actually what we see in our readings this morning.
Sirach is a book that is found in Catholic bibles but that may not be well-known by many Protestants. Still, it is part of the wisdom tradition and it was part of the Septuagint, the bible that Jesus and the early church knew. And in the reading from that ancient text, we see the Wisdom of God covering the earth like a mist. She is universally accessible. She is everywhere and can be discovered by anyone.

We find this same message in the passage that we heard from John's gospel. John doesn't use the word wisdom, but rather the Greek word "logos" which is translated as "Word" in the passage, but logos is more than a word. Logos is what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus called the Reason or the Order of the universe; the Law of life. Centuries after Heraclitus proposed his Logos philosophy, the early church adopted it and applied it to their understanding of Christ. The divine Idea, the wisdom of God, the Christ Principle, the Law through which God operates is what they are calling Logos and they are seeing Jesus as the example of this Logos Principle. In Jesus, we see God at work in human life. In Jesus we see God expressing through human experience, and we learn that God is in us, expressing through us. Divine Wisdom covers the earth like a mist; She dwells among us and within us and so we are full of grace and truth, as was Jesus who demonstrated this truth to us.

The readings, while very brief, are very affirming that God is accessible. Wherever we are, God is! And if God is All Good, and God is the All-in-all, then whatever Good we can imagine is somehow, in some measure, within our reach.

Today is the first Sunday in a new year.
We have a blank canvass on which to paint. God is with us, dwelling among and within us, covering our lives like a gentle mist, and with the power of this universal, divine presence we can do amazing things. What is the picture that we will create for ourselves in 2011?

Are you ready for a time of spiritual renewal? Are you ready to grow more than you ever have? Are you ready to stretch your faith, express your gratitude, increase your hope, and embrace your joy? We can; this beginning of a brand new year is the perfect time to begin.

I am proposing a 7 Step Strategy for us that will help us grow spiritually, will help us experience more hope and more joy, and will help us live into the blessed life that God wants for all us.

Step 1: Let's complain less. I wish I had all my energy back that I have wasted complaining about things over the years. You can't complain and be happy at the same time; so it stands to reason that the more we complain, the more unhappy we'll tend to be. Rarely ever does complaining lead to anything constructive. Constant complaining is just a habit and its one that I intend to avoid this year. Will you join me? Will you help me? Will you let me help you? Can we remind ourselves throughout the year that we can break the bonds of negativity and practice goodwill, direct dealing, creative sharing, and honest integrity? Let's celebrate what is good more than we obsess about what isn't to our liking. Let's be grateful for possibilities rather than depressed about failures. Let's look for reasons to be happy rather than for opportunities to perpetuate the habit of complaining. In all areas of our lives, let's just choose to complain less.

Step 2: Let's take better care of ourselves. If you haven't had a physical in over a year, get a check up as soon as possible. If you haven't been to a dentist in a year or two, make an appointment. If you haven't had an HIV test lately, isn't it time? And I'm not just talking to men; and I'm not just talking to gay men.
Get more rest. Get more exercise. Do something fun. Drink more water. Drink less alcohol. Consider smoking less, or try quitting. Let's love our bodies by taking care of them and let's be grateful for the ways they take care of us.

Step 3: Let's pray daily. Not just when things are tough. Not just rote prayers that we learned as children. But take time every day to sit in silence, commune with spirit, access the light within and listen for the still small voice. Affirm blessings, give thanks for all that you have and for all that you are, and think of your loved ones and wish them well. Bless those on the Sunshine Cathedral prayer list. Use the Spirit & Truth reflections. Just commit to praying every day.

Step 4: Let's practice forgiveness. Yes, you may have messed up. Make amends if you can. Do better from now on. But stop beating yourself up over what can't be undone. Yes, someone may have hurt your feelings; maybe intentionally, maybe not. You can stew about it and plot your revenge and be miserable, or you can say, "thank God that is behind me; I'm ready to move forward now and embrace happiness again." I know it's easier said than done sometimes; I know we all struggle with it now and again. And I know if I want to experience God's best, I'll have to stop holding onto what is unlike God's best. That means we have to release the past to the past. We have to forgive and move forward with hope and goodwill. And we can, we all can, through the Christ which strengthens us. We pray every Sunday, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Now, let's mean it. Let's live it. Let's move forward into the Epiphany light.

Step 5: Let's worship regularly. Come to church. Sing the songs of praise. Come to the altar for prayer and stand with those who are also seeking guidance, comfort, wisdom and strength. There is no magic in the oil, no secret power in the words, but there are miracles in the sharing of love together. Be open to new insights and inspiration. Lovingly give an offering. Participate in Communion at whatever level you feel comfortable. Be renewed by the frequent experience of communal worship.

Step 6: Let's trust God with our giving. Stewardship isn't fundraising (in fact, when we get stewardship right, we won't have any need for fundraising). Stewardship isn't a tip we give for good service, or that we withhold to show disapproval. Stewardship isn't a way to buy God's favor. It isn't bartering, it isn't gambling, and it isn't is simply the joy of being consistently generous. Stewardship is the awareness that we are blessed and we want to express gratitude for our blessings by contributing to our faith community where we are challenged when we are comfortable and comforted when we face challenges. Stewardship is saying, God has given me so much, and through me, I want God to bless others; and so as an act of worship I will give faithfully, generously, and joyfully. I'm going on record right now to say that my commitment to myself, to the God of my understanding, and to you is to give 10% of my income to this church in 2011 because I believe in what it stands for and in what we are trying to do and because I believe what Jesus said, "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also." By giving our best as an act of worship, we grow and begin to express our highest potential in life.

Step 7: Let's be more optimistic. Hope is a beautiful gift and we really ought to use it more. Believe in yourself. Believe the best about others. Believe in your church. Believe we can reach more people than ever before with a message that is progressive, positive, and practical. Believe in the future. Believe that you can achieve more this year than you did last year. Believe you have something to offer the world. Believe in your sacred value that no situation or circumstance can take away. We are responsible for our own happiness and for our own spiritual growth. No one can do it for us. We have to do it for ourselves, and for us to be able to do it for ourselves, we have to believe we can. We're here to encourage one another, but we each must do our own work, and to even try we need to have hope. We must have hope that we can grow, heal, and achieve. Hope for the best and give the best a chance to manifest in your experience. Amazing blessings are possible, so let's dare to hope for them in 2011.

If we will give up the habit of complaining, take good care of ourselves, pray daily, forgive ourselves and others for mistakes and misdeeds, worship weekly, give generously, and practice being optimistic all the time, then we can be assured of a happy 2011 and together, we will experience miracles and we'll share those miracles with our world. This is a wonderful opportunity for us and this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011

It's a new year with new opportunities.
I release the past to the past.
I am free to expect and experience the very best.
I take responsibility for my joy.
And I declare 2011 to be a year of miracles.

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate." Oprah Winfrey

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