Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sawdust, Planks, and Triangulation

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/22/2012

Let’s begin again by looking at Matthew 7.

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

[recap of last week, first things first, responsible for self, responsible to others / downside of over-responsibility (being responsible for others instead of for self) creates destructive stress, a violation of God-given self, makes us fail our true responsibilities / how this is central to faithfully pursuing our mission…1) Follow 2) Create Breathing Room ]

Today we talk about our responsibility for our own planks. Next week we’ll talk about how we help with sawdust.

And for the moment, let’s not define planks as simply sin (i.e., something bad) but rather more generally as something that we must attend to in order to be able to see and serve more effectively. We might even paraphrase Matthew 7 this way, as members of a centered set church:

Why do you look at someone else’s next step of discipleship and pay no attention to your own? How can you say “Let me help you move forward with your step of discipleship,” when all the time, you are stuck in reverse? You who are playing at being responsible for somebody else, first get your feet moving forward on your own path of discipleship, and then you will be able to come alongside somebody else and help them move forward in discipleship too.

Isn’t understanding and obeying this command critical for fulfilling the great commission? Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”

How can we make disciples if we aren’t first and foremost disciples ourselves? How can we teach others to obey what we’ve been commanded if we ourselves aren’t first learning to obey?

After all, the most effective form of teaching is modeling. Every one of us learned more from what our parents modeled than from anything they said to us. And when there was a discrepancy between what they said and what they did, what they did won, didn’t it?

And the greatest impediment to our own discipleship – the greatest impediment to being faithful to our responsibilities for ourselves – is taking on an over-responsibility for the discipleship of others. The thing most likely to make us overlook our planks is looking over at other’s sawdust.

[my team loses the big game, and I’m upset. Do I take it out on the coach, the ref, a player, the whole system, who knows!?... Or do I recognize in my pain a plank of discipleship I need to walk…? Because I’ll never be in the posture of a servant until I deal with my plank, will I? I’ll just be a judge over everyone else…]

Consider some other examples.

[share personal example…]

Someone insults you, does or says something disrespectful behind your back. You hear about it from someone who’s pretty reliable.

You feel hurt, a little angry, confused, maybe even a little embarrassed.

Do you…

A) Let yourself be offended, try to figure out whether or not you need to confront this person, address it, fume about the injustice of it all, think about how consistent with this person’s character this kind of attack is, try to decide if you even want to be in relationship with them anymore?

B) Remember that you are first and foremost responsible for yourself and your discipleship to Jesus. Say to Jesus, Jesus, I’m having a hard time remembering that this is just gossip, it’s second hand info, and therefore it’s dangerous, like an open can of gasoline near a flame. Help me recognize it for what it is and not receive it. Teach me what you want to teach me about myself through the way I’m reacting emotionally to it. Teach me to have my security in you and what you say about me to my face. I’m your disciple – what’s my next step in discipleship to you? And then, help me learn how to guard my heart toward this fellow image-bearer so I can love and serve him/her with grace so that I can be faithful to my responsibilities toward him/her.

Why is it the case that so often our answer is closer to A than B?

Because of our instinct for triangulation.

Relationships between two people have an inherent instability in them. Sort of like a two legged stool – it takes a lot of effort to balance them, especially when some kind of tension or unresolved conflict enters the picture. And so we are always looking for some third person or issue to focus on instead of dealing directly with the tension that exists between us and the original person.

[use stuffed animals as props…] The classic example is a husband and wife who have some trouble in their relationship – as all relationships do – and then a child comes along. The child can become like a stabilizing influence in the relationship, because the mother and father triangulate – begin to focus their attentions – on the child. On the challenges, the joys, whatever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the focus moves from the unresolved things in the relationship between the husband and wife onto the third person, the child.

Now triangulation isn’t in and of itself a negative thing, and all relationships have some triangulation going on in them all the time. Think about how much of any relationship you have with anyone close to you is spent talking about other people, or ideas, or situations. It’s completely natural, and in many ways, healthy.

The problem with triangulation is when we use it to avoid dealing with the real issues that are compromising true intimacy between two people. 2 dangerous things happen. One, the person in the triangulated position – the child in the example we used – absorbs all the stress that is being offloaded, often unintentionally, by the parents. And two, even more importantly for us – as we think about our relationships with God – is that the false sense of intimacy created by triangulation masks the true needs that the original relationship has, and those needs are never dealt with, and in fact grow more and more significant.

One more example, now that triangulation is in view, and then we’ll bring this home to our relationships with God and what Jesus is getting at as he talks about planks and sawdust.

Any of you watch the Bachelor?

[bachelor example…]

Triangulation – especially triangulating somebody out – is a way of gaining a false sense of togetherness. A way of masking or numbing unresolved tensions or discomfort in a relationship.

We can triangulate others out as a way of achieving a false sense of togetherness with God. A way of avoiding uncomfortable things God might be inviting us to engage with him.

Pharisees did this with sinners and tax collectors.

Jonah did this with Nineveh.

We even see Peter attempting to escape the intensity of intimacy with Jesus at the end of John’s gospel, when he struggles to respond to Jesus’ “follow me” invitation, and tries to put the focus on John…

15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

All the “do you love me?” stuff is heavy, intimate, emotionally charged stuff – especially given the context of Peter’s previous failure in that department. And perhaps even more especially given Peter’s man’s man kind of personality. And then Jesus drops the ‘how Peter’s going to die’ bombshell and says, “Follow me.” Peter’s looking for a way to triangulate somebody or something else into this relationship, ease the discomfort, buy himself some time and space. But Jesus won’t let him. “What is that to you?”

Jesus is the most self-differentiated human being in history, and he is fully capable, in the way that no one else is, of sustaining direct, intimate relationship with his disciples. It’s another topic for another time, but our relationship with God does not need triangulation to be stable. And Jesus is teaching us that if we want be his disciples, if we want to follow in his footsteps, then with respect to our relationships with him, we must let go of the supports and relief valves that focusing on others sometimes provides us, and in faith, deal with him face to face. And then we will be properly positioned to take the posture of a servant and not a judge towards every other image-bearer, and be a true help to one another in our discipleship with him. Once the love relationship between us and God is on solid footing, we can begin to fulfill our responsibilities to feed the other sheep.

More on that next week.

Practical Tips:

1. Do a little Bi-angulation. Think about your most important relationships. A friend. A spouse. A parent. A child. Think about how much of that relationship is actually focused on some third person or thing. A person you both are upset with or worried about or trying to help. Your kids. Television shows. Some idea or project. Your job. Think about whether any of that focus has become a way of avoiding or not dealing with something challenging or painful or tense or unresolved in the relationship. Ask for God’s help in giving you grace to take a step toward direct relationship and true intimacy instead of lingering too long in that false, easy intimacy that triangulation has given to you.

2. Walk the Plank. Let that situation teach you about ways you might be triangulating specks of sawdust in your relationship with God instead of working directly with him on the planks that are where real relationship with him happens. Those specks of sawdust might be other people – even people you are trying to help – they might be other people’s sin and problems and failings that have your attention instead of your own, they might be things you are trying to accomplish in life, projects you are giving great energy to. How much of your prayer and wrestling with God is about this person or that person or this situation or that situation instead of about your discipleship with him? Prayer for and about others is usually fine and holy – after all, we are to live outward focused lives, to be active in cooperating with God’s new creation purposes in the world, but if it is prayer birthed in frustration about them or about situations, instead of birthed in love, it can often be creating a false sense of intimacy with God, masking what he really wants to do in you.

3. Put Yourself in Peter’s Place. Relive the John 21 conversation as if Jesus is talking to you. Find a quiet place where you can pray, and read the passage out loud, imagining you are Peter. Put Peter’s words in your mouth to Jesus, and let Jesus’ words to Peter land on you as if he is speaking to you.

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