Sermon: The Butterfly Effect

Yesterday was our first Sunday in our new parish. Initially it was a bit awkward fitting into an unfamiliar pulpit with an unfamiliar form of service – but it was good once I turned my attention away from the format and began to listen, hear and see what the Lord was doing in the service. However He seems not too bothered with time so we went on a bit at Merredin and had to rush off to Bruce Rock.

Much easier at Bruce Rock. Only a few minutes late but it was a great service with Margie leading the music and some great singing from a relatively small congregation. God is good!

Here’s the sermon … The Butterfly Effect!

Texts: Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6:24-35

The Letter to the Church in Ephesus is clearly a letter which Paul dictated to a scribe, rather than putting his own pen to parchment. He is distracted by his racing thoughts and the slow hand of the writer.

At the beginning of Chapter 3 Paul begins “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.”
And then he is distracted. He shoots off at a tangent to explain that He is a prisoner because and for the work that Jesus is trying to accomplish in the Gentiles. And then he bursts out into a prayer for the church – that they would know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” It is because Paul has come to understand something of this love that he is now a prisoner

–     he has seen the glory.

–     He has had a glimpse of the immeasurableness of God; the One who is able to do “exceedingly abundantly more than all we could ask or imagine…”

God has changed his life. His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was a turning point.

By Chapter 4, Paul is on track with his thought about imprisonment again, “As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you ….”


His imprisonment, his encounter has consequences for his readers.

Discipleship is not isolated, it has a knock-on effect.

Modern philosophy has discovered this in the so-called “chaos theory” or “butterfly effect” which became more generally known through a cult movie of the same name – a butterfly flaps its wings in New York and causes a tornado in Arkansas.

When we enter the realm of faith; of beginning to trust God with all our heart and mind and spirit, it has consequences. Not just for ourselves but for the others who are around us, whether they are connected to us or not. And it happens through the way in which we choose to express or live that faith.

The newsletter at South Mandurah Uniting Church where we worshipped last week quoted an article by Bill McNabb in which he says that “God has never had much trouble with his enemies – its his friends who give him fits.”

It went on to quote theologian Karl Rahner who said, “The number one cause of atheism is Christians.”

Our faith and our expression of it has consequences: mostly good, but sometimes not so good.

And so Paul’s challenge, his urging, arising out of his imprisonment, is for the congregation at Ephesus “to live a life worthy of the calling they have received.”

1.         Be humble and gentle

2.         Be patient

3.         Bear with one another in love

4.         Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit

5.         Speak the truth in love

And ultimately to grow up to be the people whom God wants them to be.

I have a calling, says Paul, and you are part of it. This is what my calling says and this is what is expected of you as a result.

I have no doubt about God’s Call on my own life, and specifically in the call to serve Him here in the Eastern Wheatbelt but what I have struggled with is the detail. Why and what for? Why wrench us from one place to place us in another? What strange and cosmic purpose does God have in all of this? God has the answer.

In these last few years my eyes have been opened to a whole different understanding of God – one which is much more serious than that presented by the hellfire and brimstone brigade, and one which is far more relaxed than the pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die squad.

In a way this goes to back to another pair of butterflies. I was greatly influenced by the approach of John Wimber and David Watson early in my walk with Christ. I met John at a Conference in Johannesburg, and my mentor into the ministry had served with David as his curate in London. However I only realized these influences fairly recently when I was simultaneously reading Karl Barth’s Commentary on Romans, Eugene Peterson’s Devotional Book called “Living the Message” and the biography of John Wimber entitled “The Quest for the Radical Middle”.

Putting these together I have seen my ministry as living radically in the middle of life. And this has implications then also for you, because God has decided to put us together in this ministry.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is intimately and inexorably involved in the affairs of men. We cannot shut Him out and we cannot hold Him in. We can fit into His will but we cannot dictate His plan. He is the Lord of heaven and earth and all that is contained therein. When we choose to follow Jesus, it means that we are allowing Him to lead us; that we are submitting to His direction for our life – after all, that’s what it means to follow. When we do anything else, we are not following.

Two things have highlighted this for me again this week. One was in the newsletter of the South Mandurah Uniting Church which I have already mentioned. It went on to say: “Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable.” It also said, “You defend God like you defend a lion – you get out of the way. The best defence of God would be to just keep our mouths shut and live like He told us.”

Be humble and gentle, patient and unselfish. Love one each other, keep the unity of the Spirit and speak the truth in love.

The other highlight was in a self-published biography of an Australian ‘larrikin’. He professed to be totally unimpressed with Christianity because “ministers were simply men espousing their life choice, not necessarily believing that it was the right choice.”

Both of these comments suggest to me how easy it is for us to believe that we are doing the right thing but at the same time to be confusing the world about what exactly the right thing is.

And this is much more than our “words” simply being congruent with our “behaviour” – it is whether we believe what we say we believe, with all our heart, and mind and spirit. It is not so much about words said or behaviour demonstrated but about the attitude which exists deep down in our heart.

Do we really believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus and me is the One who called all creation into being,

who made us in His image,

who directed a solution for the separation from Him which comes by sin,

who spoke of this through the prophets,

who came in Christ Jesus and remedied our situation through His death on the Cross?

This kind of faith lives in the promise of resurrection and the hope of the eternal Kingdom has thus a totally different outlook on life.

It is serious about lost souls and yet it is relaxed and confident about God’s ability to reach every single one.

It is a faith which looks to God for direction believing that His is the better way.

It is the faith which says that “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

It is the faith which makes a life, “completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love. Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. speaking the truth in love, (so that) we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

It is the life which builds a community so that “from him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

This ultimately is God’s strange and cosmic purpose. It was so back in Howick before God placed me there and it will be so here in Merredin long after I have gone.

It was for me before I came to know God 31 years ago and it will be after Jesus has returned.

Our amazing God has a grand intention – it is to win every single one back into the relationship with Him which existed before the Fall.

I am not sure exactly how this is all going to happen, but I am content to know that God’s plan will succeed. All I ask is that I might see and hear clearly enough to know which part I am to play in this grand scheme. And it is my prayer that you too, will look and listen for when your part is called onto the stage. And to be ready for the consequence of some distant butterfly flapping its wings.

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