Well I don’t know about you but I just can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person.
I even prayed about it in 2013 – Dear God, my prayer for 2013 is a fat bank account and a thin body.
Somehow the 2 got mixed up.
It’s that time of the year where we find ourselves in equal measure optimistic about the possibilities of the freshness of a New Year and yet we are also jaded with what we sometimes see as the failures of the year just passed.
Mark Twain captured the cynical spirit of New Year when he said:
New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
But there is something about the freshness of a New Year that draws us to resolve one more time to be different – even if there is a sameness about so many of our goals – Time magazine published a list of the top 10 resolutions that people make:
- Lose Weight and Get Fit
- Quit Smoking
- Learn Something New
- Eat Healthier and Diet
- Get Out of Debt and Save Money
- Spend More Time with Family
- Travel to New Places
- Be Less Stressed
- Drink Less
Maybe there a few there that you have already made and broken. The truth is we are drawn to the possibility that it doesn’t have to be the same – sometimes that leads us to make resolutions, or pick a word for the year, or establish goals…other times that leads us to resist making the resolution, just so that we might avoid the pain of inevitable failure.
One of my favourite writers says this:
The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (GK Chesterton)
This year we wanted to capture the possibility that life can be different, that we can live healthier lives, be more wholer and holier (if there’s a difference), start again, be born again, accept the strange assumption that we have never existed before and ask God to recreate us…and so to do this we invented a new word “Resolvelution”…it can mean whatever you want it to mean because no dictionary exists to contradict you…today is the day you get to start to write your own Resolvelution Manifesto…and maybe as we dig into some of the earliest accounts of the life of Jesus in the gospel of Luke we might find there the possibility of a resolvelution.
- 1. Doing Our Part
We start in chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel – if you were journeying with us over Advent in the weeks leading to Christmas, you’ll recall the progress so far – much of the early part of Luke’s gospel is setting the scene for the arrival of Jesus through the experiences of his family – his mother Mary, her betrothed Joseph and her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. And the story so far has been one of God’s favour being extended to these people and through them to Israel and the whole of humanity.
And now Jesus is born and among his people and his story begins – although it’s still a little second hand as these early parts are his family acting for him, doing their part in his upbringing and there are some early steps that they take:
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.
With great favour, comes great responsibility and this family have been highly favoured – their response is to take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as their firstborn child.
Many of you who are parents have lived out a similar act of presentation in bringing your children for dedication – presenting them to the Lord. It’s a way of saying to God – here is this child who is yours before he was ever ours…we entrust them to you even as you have entrusted them to us.
This is quite a journey to take with a new born – it’s a 3 or 4 day journey on foot – but its what they must do on behalf of their child as part of saying to the Lord – here he is, he is yours – as they present him or another word that the passage uses is “consecrate” him.
Consecration is their part – their act on behalf of their child – to present and set apart this child to God. It’s an act of worship, a setting part, a resolution to live life according to a sacred purpose.
Which is perhaps our challenge with resolutions? They are not acts of consecration for us.
What if there was to be a revolution within our resolutions? What if they were to become acts of consecration? Acts of worship? The setting apart of who we are to a sacred purpose?
I wonder if the content of our resolutions would change? I wonder if the priority of our resolutions would change?
If our resolutions became acts of consecration, might we find ourselves caught up in a resolvelution of the spirit?
Consecration is us doing our part – presenting ourselves to God. But if we just present these resolutions to ourselves, or our social media peer accountability network…or if they never emerge from anxious longing and become a sacred covenant – should we ever really be surprised that they become just like any other piece of heavy lifting that we’ve decided to do in our own strength?
What does doing your part? Presenting yourself to God? Consecrating yourself look like in your Resolvelution Manifesto?
2. Doing Right Things
Jesus family not only did their part, they did right things.
We might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus would be some sort of rebel without a cause figure who would destroy the status quo just for the sake of it. We might have expected that the early parts of his life would prepare him for this with a wholesale rejection of Judaism and Jewish practices.
The truth is Jesus came to challenge the status quo for sure – the habits and practices that had tainted they way Israel related to God but there was also a sense in which he came to fulfil the status quo – not to replace it but to complete it. Jesus wasn’t plan B. He was plan A come to restore God’s people to him, even the Jews.
And so we see his family play out these very traditional practices, these foundational practices for Jewish spiritual life. And within it, the central conviction that God is at the centre of their living. It’s not exactly how we might go about it, but the heart of this observance is so close to what God is calling us to:
- They name the child Jesus as they angel asked them to
- They proceed to have Jesus circumcised on the 8th day in accordance with the scriptures
- In fact the only odd thing they do is wait 8 days to name him…and yet there is something about performing the act of circumcision as a confirmation of the covenant God has with the people of Israel to be their God and the naming of the child with a name that means “God saves” – maybe that’s why they waited…
- They then wait another month before they head to Jerusalem again in accordance with the scriptures
- Once there the child is presented and a sacrifice is made at the Temple again in accordance with the scriptures
This family is living out its framework of foundational practices which serve to underline their resolve to live with God at the centre of their lives – circumcision, presentation, consecration, sacrifice – God is at the centre of this family’s life, at the centre of this child’s life.
The resolvelution starts with a commitment to a framework of foundational practices that state and restate – God is at the centre of my life.
In 2013 our thematic goal was that we would be:
Living as a community of God’s people, pursuing and offering health & wholeness to others
Our conviction was that we could only offer to others the health and wholeness that we were prepared to pursue for ourselves and that it needed to be something we did together, with one another, for one another. And as the year went by we saw some truly wondrous things happen for people, our community as a whole. We are healthier. We are more whole. Many people have established a whole new framework for their lives that encompasses healthy family life, exercise and nutrition, mental and emotional health and a renewed relationship with God.
We want to do it again. We have sometimes made it a badge of honour to do things differently. As if the resolvelution is just achieved by being different. Sometimes its about doing the right things well. Again and again. And so our thematic goal for 2014 is:
Living as a community of God’s people, pursuing and offering health & wholeness to others
But we’ve changed up the how of achieving this. And in coming weeks we’ll be sharing what that looks like. In fact, in February I want to ask you to make one of your “right things” being with us on Sunday evenings for that whole month as we walk through what this will mean for us. Will you pray for us this Saturday as we meet as a leadership team to finalise much of this?
It’s great to have goals, themes, words, resolutions but unless we also have foundation practices – doing the right things – we will find ourselves treading water or worse sinking.
What are some of the right things for you? The foundational practices? What do the right things look like in your Resolvelution Manifesto?
3. Doing What We Can
A final insight into the resolvelution from this passage. The sacrifice was not at the top end. Everything else was on the money. The timing, the long trip, the various rituals. But the sacrifice was low end. It was acceptable – it wasn’t out of line with scriptural guidelines – in fact there was a specific low end sacrifice for people with limited means. What’s interesting is that its mentioned. It didn’t need to be. It just could have said – the proper sacrifice was made. But its pointed out that the low end option was taken up by this family.
Do you think Luke was trying to single them out and shame them – or is there something else being pointed out here.
Certainly it’s clear they were of limited means – reinforcing the fact that this Jesus was for all people not just those with wealth or position.
It’s also part of the story that they made the sacrifices in accordance with the scriptures – they were doing their part and doing the right things.
But they were also doing what they could – they were poor – but they were giving from what they had…their poverty did not prevent them from sacrifice.
I wonder whether sometimes we forget to give from what we have rather than from what we don’t have. Sometimes we focus on the resources we lack for the journey rather than those we have been given. Our focus is drawn away from what God has given us in terms of people, family, experiences, resources, opportunities – so much that we have to give from.
The resolvelution will be about giving from what we have, from what we have been given. Finding ways to sacrifice, to live generously for others.
So often our resolutions are about what we might change in ourselves – but sometimes the best way to change ourselves is to lose ourselves in changing the world.
What will your manifesto offer to others? To the world? To the community? To your church community? To family and friends and workplaces?