“Discipline and Abiding Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 107
John 3:16-17
Hebrews 12:5-13

Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.
When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Hebrews 12:5-13

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

For far too long, Christianity has been presented to so many as a life insurance policy.

“Escape the wrath to come!” we have been warned.

“There will be unquenchable fire and brimstone!”

Come to think of it, I don’t even know what a brimstone it, but I gather it is NOT good.

For many generations and in many faith traditions, the primary means of evangelism is a good scare tactic:  scare people into conversion.

These traditions know the truth about our behaviors:  indeed, we are more motivated to act by fear than by hope or desire or even love itself. Fear is a very powerful and primal instinct.  So if you scare someone enough, you can pretty much lead that one to do almost anything.

How have we been led into fear?
Is it possible many of our actions spring out of fear as well?
Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they are responding completely irrationally?
Have you ever wondered why?
Sometimes fear is behind it.

Many a “successful” person or business has learned how to capitalize on fear.  Literally, whole industries are built around making money off our fears.

When we are continually being bombarded with fear-based messages, it is natural to get into cycles of reaction.  Rather than calmly responding to situations using that higher functioning portion of our brains, we are stuck in the most basic places of our brains, fighting or running away.  And if we stay in these places of fight or flight too long, these patterns become deep, well-worn pathways in our brains.  It actually becomes difficult to get our brains out of the rut they are in!

It is important to be aware of fear-based messaging.
It is important because our reactions and responses matter.
If we are stuck being reactive, we may never get to that whole and grounded place of responding…with God’s love.

In the Psalm we read today, we read of a God who takes away good things from those who walk in wicked ways and who brings abundant and miraculous provision for those who walk in God’s ways.

This message has been a hard one for some of us to stomach.

It isn’t that we don’t want fairness and justice so much as that many of us are fed up with fear-based messaging.  It’s been verses such as these that have been used like a weapon or a prod to coerce others into conversion and good works.

But we have to exercise care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Though messages such as these have been used to coerce and manipulate, when we step away from all that, these same verses have truth and wisdom for us.

God does in fact hate evil. God does in fact oppose all that is wicked, all that takes life, all that destroys and oppresses life.  And we could not serve a God who was any other way. We need a God who doesn’t simply hurt with us and feel our pain.  We need a God who enacts justice, and works to make wrongs right, so that peace and freedom and love and joy might cover the earth. This is the God we serve!

So as we read passages that talk of the discipline of God, it is important to remember the absolute beauty and love behind such passages.

Just like a loving parent, disciplining her child…  Just like a wise teacher disciplining his student…  Just like grandparents who allows natural consequences to play out and be the teacher to their young grandchild…

So God disciplines us.

Is it to break us?
Is it to condemn us?
Is it to disapprove of us?
Is it to shun and reject us?

No.

Absolutely not.

It is BECAUSE we are loved and cherished that God disciplines us.

In fact, we should be concerned if we are not experiencing the discipline of God because one way God shows Gods love is through discipline.

In discipline, we simultaneously reaffirm the relationship and the hope for that person while drawing a line and saying “No more” to harmful and harming behaviors and actions.

Now this is not necessarily how we’ve experienced discipline in our lifetimes.  Some of us have felt persons in authority “disciplining us” purely out of their own emotional reactiveness.  Some of us have experienced the harm of retaliation and revenge, cloaked in the name of “discipline.”

But true discipline is for the sake of the very person receiving the discipline!

It is for the LIFE of the very person being disciplined!
True discipline is redemptive.
True discipline is loving, even while it is firm.

Throughout this season of Lent, I have been inviting us to quiet ourselves before God.  In quieting ourselves before God, we open our hearts and minds to the Spirit of God.

And speaking from experience, this can be both a balm and a fire to our lives.  God heals us.  So where something is out of joint, where we are out of balance, where our habits are bringing harm to us and to others – rather than good – God is working out healing in us.  This can be painful.  It is also relieving!  Because God works to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.  Christ is at work ushering in that fullness of life, that wholeness to our lives, that quality of life, that abundant life that we are made for. And usually for us to RECEIVE this healing and wholeness, we must let go of all that is opposed to our healing: our bad habits, toxic relationships, patterns of reactiveness and fear, etc.

To allow God to work LIFE in us, is a risky thing.

But it is EVERYTHING.

It is freedom.
It is wholeness.
It is peace.
It is joy.
It is meaning.
It is LIFE.

I often find it more convenient to avoid God.  Sometimes I don’t want to feel what I am feeling.  Sometimes I don’t want to see and face what is out of joint in me.  It is easy to fear that if we go with God to the deep dark places of our hearts and minds, we may never emerge whole again.

My encouragement to you is that our God is trustworthy.
Our God brings water to deserts.
Our God can heal, with only a word.

Will we meet with the God who is longing to meet with us?
Will we open the door and invite God into the depths and desert places of our hearts?
Will we ask God to speak into our confusion, our anger, our fears?
Will we invite God into our unkept selves, our wounded selves, the selves we do not show the rest of the world?

And will we allow our loving God to begin that healing work?
Will we submit to God’s direction?
Will we listen to that still small voice?
Will we obey when God speaks?

God’s discipline is not meant to condemn.  It is not a weapon for manipulating others.  It is not a rejection.  It is quite the opposite.  It is God claiming us a children and friends, and inviting us into wholeness and fullness of life!

The writer of Hebrews says it well:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

The Good Physician Christ is working still for our healing and wholeness and that of the whole world.  Thanks be to God!

May we allow Christ in,
allowing light into the dark places,
that what is out of joint may not become lame…but healed!

We are indeed children of the Almighty God!

Praise be to God for God’s discipline,
God’s healing,
and God’s abiding and steadfast love for us!

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