2018 July 22- SAVED BY GRACE

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Does your faith enslave you, or does it set you free? Does what we believe and trust liberate and empower us, or do we end up feeling restricted and diminished as a result of its effect on our lives? When we hear Jesus saying "I have come that they might have life- life in all its fullness, is this something you can celebrate, or are you still wondering where that fullness is to be found?

Think, for example about those sects and cults that enforce rigid rules on their adherents, trapping them in a psychologically abusive way of life. If someone tries to leave the group, they are shunned and denied access to their families. Or worse, they are psychologically or physically enslaved in order to serve the cult leadership. Margaret Attwoods story "A Handmaids Tale is admittedly an extreme version of this sort of abuse, but nothing of the horrors she describes have not actually happened somewhere, at some time.

Most if not all of us are fortunate enough to not be caught up in this sort of abusive system. A risk remains, however that we can still get trapped in self-inflicted tyranny; where we bring suffering upon ourselves by accepting unreasonable expectations or unattainable goals.

So how do we know when this unwelcome or self-inflicted tyranny is actually happening to us?

One way is to be alert to the abuse that can creep up on us unexpectedly in the form of that dangerous little word, "should.

Now there is nothing wrong with the word itself or its general usage. Consider though, this primary dictionary definition: "Should is used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticising someones action, e.g. You should have been more careful

Some people use it a lot. One person I know uses it about every third sentence; usually referring to what other people "should be doing. In this way they seek to impose their will on others in order to control their behaviour. We can also use "should a lot referring to ourselves, "I should do this or "I should have done that. But where it is most subversive is when we just think it, or use it in our inner self-talk. Then it goes deeper, becoming a sub-conscious attitude that can affect our mood or our behaviour when we do not even realise what is happening. "Should can eat away at us from the inside.

The power of "should is in its negativity. When I say to myself, for example, "I should go and visit in hospital, it usually means that I have not done so, probably will not, and I feel guilty about it. Again, when we say "I should have done such and such it means I did not do it and I feel guilty about it. The impact of "should, past or future, lies in the fact that we feel we have failed, or are being reminded of our falling short.

The gist of the exchange between King David and the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7 is that David is feeling guilty, because he sees how well God is looking after him, but David has not provided a temple for God to live in (i.e. for the Ark of the Covenant to be housed). David is saying, in effect I SHOULD have, or I "should build God a fine house to live in. Along with the guilt we might also detect an arrogance that assumes that David is capable of making God comfortable. David wants to be the one in control. Instead, the message of the prophet is this- accept what God has provided for you out of the riches of Gods grace.

I wonder if anyone noticed the semi-scolding use of the dreaded "should word in the WLTW commentary on the Mark 6 reading. The crowds flock to Jesus and his disciples as they seek a quiet place by themselves. Jesus ministers to the crowd in word and deed. The commentator, in what I detect as a kind of a "good Christian kneejerk reaction says "These passages provide a model for our own ministries as followers of Christ. Those who are all around us SHOULD incite our compassion. We SHOULD care for them as Jesus did. And we SHOULD be committed to their healing, their wholeness. Are you feeling guilty yet? If not, you SHOULD be!

I find these to be somewhat arrogant expectations, though knowing the commentator personally, I am sure they were not meant that way. Not only that; they set us up to fail; and failure probably will bring guilt. For example, should we care for people as Jesus did? I do not know if I could? I certainly cannot on any regular basis or at anything like the depth and power that he did. Is Jesus setting us up to fail? Or are we doing that to ourselves?

There is something else we need to understand about the trap of SHOULD. When we succumb to its lures, it leads us down a one way, dead end track to another ugly emotion- RESENTMENT. When I perceive another person making me feel guilty by putting a lot of unrealistic expectations on me, I blame them for bad feelings themselves. When I do that, I resent them for making me feel bad, even if that was not their intention. I can also end up feeling resentful when I do the guilt thing to myself. So nobody ends up happy, and energy that could have gone into positive action is squandered.

I was once in a difficult situation where I was trying to make a critical decision that would radically effect the lives of valued others. A friend took it upon themselves to tell me what I should do. My response to them was; "If in five years your advice is proven to be disastrous, will you be willing to take responsibility for what eventuated? Of course, they could not do that. We need to be careful about how and when we try to impose our will on others. The advice was truly well-meaning, and probably sound. Just, not helpful. (By the way, a good rule of thumb is, "Advice is best served on request)

There is another word that might be much more productive here- very like should, but not quite? The word COULD. So, instead of saying to someone "You should do this or that You might rather say "Could you do it this way? When one uses could rather than "should it tends to put the power to decide, where it belongs- in the other persons hands.

For example, we might say to one another "When strangers come into a church service or into Bills Place for a coffee or a look round, we SHOULD make them feel welcome. Or we could say, "When strangers come among us, how COULD we make them feel welcome? Do you sense the different energy of COULD, the open-endedness of it, the search for solutions, the avoidance of putting guilt trips on one another and ourselves.

Could invites us to explore options. How COULD we go about trying to care for those around us as Jesus did? Well, we know we will not be quite up to his standards, but what might be possible?

I would now like to explore the gospel passage a bit further, and ask about the motivation of Jesus and his disciples in choosing the course of action they did.

In a gospel context, it is grace that saves us from the tyranny of "should. By deciding to take time out from the pressures of their ministry by leading his disciples to a quiet place, Jesus is honouring his own need and the needs of his followers. They all need rest and solitude. They also need time to come to terms with the death of their mentor, John the Baptist. Any inner voice that said "We should keep going while the crowds need us had to be noticed and overridden. I can imagine Jesus thinking "We could keep going, but it is more important now that we all take a break.

The fact is that they did not get the break they needed, because, as they arrived at the so-called "deserted place, the crowd had got there first. What we especially need to notice there is Jesus motivation, tired as he was, for giving them his full attention. It was not "We should do something for them. The text says "As he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. Not guilt. Compassion. He did what he could with what he had. In the second part of the reading, when they came to Gennesaret, he set about doing what he could to heal those who were brought to him in great numbers.

These are acts of grace. This is what happens when ones heart goes out to those in need. Its not a matter of "should. The power flows from the heart of love to the life in need. The gospel invites us to respond, not from compulsion, but freely. As the song says Freely freely, you have received. Freely, freely give.

We will of course sometimes feel compelled to do the right thing even when we do not feel like it. A sense of duty or obligation is not wrong, especially when it is based on what we believe to be right. Sometimes the action required of us can go against our inclination and desires. We choose to respond out of a moral and ethical imperative. That is part of compassion. It is not just about how we feel, but what we KNOW is right. My message today is about the awareness of the insidious negativity of SHOULD, which comes into play when we will not act, or did not act, and only makes us feel worse.

Finally, think about the teaching of Jesus, and ask yourself when he ever tried to use guilt manipulation to get people to do things they did not want to do? In the beatitudes, does he say "You should be humble, you should be peacemakers, you should do the right thing? He says rather, Blessed are Blessed are Blessed are In those words he draws us into the space of compassionate action, rather than push us where we do not want to go. The commandments he recites are "Love the Lord your God "Love your neighbour. Love your enemies. He then tells stories of how this kind of love is actually achieved. And he does it himself, to better show us the way.

Instead of saying YOU SHOULD, he simply says "This is the way, and invites us to follow him. For it is by grace that we are saved, not by any righteousness of our own, and it is by grace that we are equipped and empowered to serve him for the common good.

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