Hillside DNA - Week 1 sermon - 15th January 2017

Hillside's DNA Who we are and what we are about
Week 1: Questioning and Lifestyle
15th January 2017 – by Rev' Brian Hutton


Reading: Luke 7:18 John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (I love it, love it, love it-the audacity, the bravery!)
20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor".

One of the books we got as a family for Christmas is this book:
It can't be true (2) 2016 Dorling Kinderslet. Star F (ed)
It is where I got some of my DNA facts for today. It is a great book, which provides weird it can't be true facts about the earth, and the human body. The kids have been loving it. It can't be true facts like:

  • All the electricity powering the internet weighs the same as an average apricot.
  • That one lightning bolt could toast 100 000 slices of bread
  • That scorpions can be found using ultra-violet light. Good news for your sleeping bag camping trips
  • Body data: Your skin is the largest heaviest organ of your body, average adult has enough skin to cover a doorway. That skin would weigh more than four household bricks. We lose 47kg of skin in our lifetime. You and I produce in one single year, last year, 15cm of hair, 100 liters of tears (That one depends I suppose), 270 liters of sweat, and 600 liters of urine and 160 kg of poo.

At this point you thinking, great start to the New Year Brian, we all back from our holidays and 5 minutes in you have already grossed us out. But it is all DNA you know.
The book also asks and answers questions that have plagued my thinking brain (We will get to my thinking brain more later) for years:

  • How high can you jump in space? How much salt is in the sea? How heavy is a cloud?
  • How big is a hippo's mouth? How heavy is the heart of a blue whale's heart? Also how much saliva do you produce in one day? How much sugar is in our food? Highest? (Tomato sauce).

It is this book that told me the following facts about our DNA: (ON SCREEN)

  • We as human beings share 98 percent of DNA with chimps.
  • 50 percent of our DNA with bananas.

Deoxyribonucleic acid. (DNA).
DNA, simply defined, is material that governs each person's inheritance of eye color, hair color, stature, bone density along with many other human traits.
A single strand of DNA contains a sample or complement of DNA identical to that of every other cell within a given person. It is who you are, your make up.
Now this morning and for the next few weeks we are going to ask the question, and it is a question a lot of churches are asking, what is our church's DNA? Hillside's DNA?
What makes Hillside, Hillside? Who we uniquely are as a community.
I and the leaders have discussed this for quite a bit of last year and we came up with eight strands that we think make up Hillside DNA as a church. We will discuss these in the next few weeks on Sunday mornings. (Try not to miss any if you see yourself as an important member of Hillside)

15th January 2017- DNA strand 1, and 2: Questioning and Lifestyle

22nd January 2017- DNA strand 3, and 4: Family and Diversity

29th January 2017- DNA strand 5, and 6: Connection and Spirit filled

5th February 2017-DNA strand 7, and 8: Generosity and Making a Difference

Now you might ask, well why do go to all that trouble to find out one's DNA. Because for a few reasons:

  • How can you really know your strengths and weaknesses if you don't know who you are, Who are you, who who, who who?

Healthy churches have a clear sense of identity. They know their code. And they don't try be someone else. Our DNA code is what gives a church a sense of collective personality and uniqueness.

  • Secondly a church can then operate and work within its unique code and strengths. We offer ministry in line with our unique culture. You and I can know what to expect and tell others what to expect when you invite them to Hillside.

Unfortunately, I think, too many churches fall prey to formulaic approaches, we become McFranchises of some other church.

If a spiritual Quarter Pounder, with fries, and a Coke taste good in JHB, what makes us think that a church in Cape Town or Roodepoort, or Edenvale should be as successful?
Sometimes, we as a churches grab onto the next BIG THING but that next BIG THING might never fit into our context. The natural tendency is to import church models and styles in an attempt to reach the same results as a church across the country, BUT sometimes that model can contrast with God's desire for each church to embody the gospel in its own cultural context.

Discovering why we are here at Hillside, and what we offer that is different.

People are drawn to Hillside for different reasons. Some like our lifestyle down to earth preaching (get to that later), others love the friendly environment, some prefer our pastoral care ministry, or the fun kids ministry, and or our worship music. Some might come because we are Methodist, and some might come because we are not. These features are all a part of our church.

Yes for sure sometimes the culture or DNA of a church is defined by its leadership, but also can be defined by who you want to invite.

  • If you want mostly non churched religious people attending your church, you won't say the Lord's Prayer without it being on the screens to assist.
  • You won't use religious loaded language.
  • You welcome anyone who seeks to be baptized. Your DNA is partly then made up from the people you wish to invite.

Requests like: Now turn to the person next to and pass the peace, to visitors and new people these requests are scary. It is easier just to have regular church attending religious people because they all know the drill.

It is a little more difficult when you get a women who has come to church, and she has tattoos on her breasts and wild Tina Turner hair. Or a guy who naturally just swears for a living like your pastor does. It just kind of comes naturally.

Is part of our DNA: Come here and not be judged? We will chat about that when we get to week 2: Family and Diversity.

For example: Under week three DNA strand Connection and being Spirit filled you will discover what I think you already guessed or realized, that we try and put a lot of work into our worship leading, but continually say this is not a performance. We are here to lead people to connect with God. Not about a performance.

So let's get to our two unique DNA strands we are discussing this morning. One of our quite unique DNA strands of Hillside we think is our:


Jesus is asked 183 questions directly in the four Gospels. He only answered three of them forthrightly. Jesus himself asks 307 questions, which would seem to set a pattern for our imitation.
Just think about that. It is really rather astounding that the church over time has become known as the official answering machine for God and a very, very, self-assured program for 'sin management' and faith and yet it's founder didn't answer too many questions and asked a lot.

Jesus always asked questions. And didn't think himself to be the Great Answerer of all questions. Gave straight answers to 3 out of 183.
Jesus' only consistent and absolute as recorded in the Bible was his insistence upon the goodness and reliability of God. (http://cincodenada.tumblr.com/post/3376260386/jesus-is-asked-183-questions-directly-in-the-four)

Here are some of the ways Jesus communicated with people, note the absence of "telling".

  • Matthew 17:25 Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?"
  • Luke 9:18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?".... 20 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
  • Matthew 9:28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"
  • John 5:6 "Do you want to get well?"
  • Matthew 18:12 "What do you think?
  • Matthew 21:28 "What do you think?
  • Matthew 22:42 "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?"

See the pattern: What do you think? How do you interpret this? Your personal opinion is important. How many churches do you know that ask rather than tell? That inquire rather than inform?

You most certainly will easily find churches that will tell you what to believe, will certainly and most surely will tell you that they have all the answers, and happily give you all the answers. But that is not Hillside.
We will guide and lead you to more questions and some answers may come from the asking. We are the church that is the group of people in the passage I started with in Luke 7 who bravely, boldly, and with some trepidation approach Jesus and ask the questions everyone is thinking. Are you the One, or should we wait for another? Without that question, the group would never have got the beautiful answer that helps our faith. Let's look quickly to remind you of what happened.

Reading: Luke 7:20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us (JUST IN CASE YOU GET CROSS AND SEND US TO HELL, JOHN THE BAPTIST WANTS TO KNOW) to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "
I love Jesus answer...
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard:

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor".

There's your proof, things happen, Prayers are answered, people come to faith, people are set free. Those dead in their approach to life are given new life.
Sometimes like in the story above, our tendency DNA to question may look like we lack faith. Let me talk about that briefly.

I have discovered that some of the questions I ask from this space, other people are also asking and wondering and questioning.
And sometimes people are really only pretending to believe some of the things we teach at church because we somehow collectively all think there is no other way to engage the Bible unless literally. And that we think we will be rejected if we ask the questions we really feel or doubt some of the things that are traditionally taught.
All that combined with the threat and fear that comes from not believing some of these things, people feel a sense of relief when others also question them, especially young people.
But it is the risk we take, that people equate questioning with doubting and lack of faith. But when I question, is doesn't feel like lack of faith, it actually feels like deepening it.
But as a church, up here and in our home groups we like to wrestle, and prefer to ask the questions that people not in church might ask.

  • Is Jesus God? Can God change? What does it mean to be saved?
  • Can God really heal me? Does God know the exact time when we will die?
  • Do people really go to hell?
  • If you look closely, even the sacred hallowed ground of salvation (WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SAVED) was different for different people when you read the Gospels. (An evening service topic I will tackle in weeks to come)

Questioning doesn't mean I don't believe, but it means we ask, we dare to ask. And to include those who are asking.
I think our DNA strand of Questioning also communicates to others, you are welcome, (not IF you believe this, then you are welcome) but you are welcome. To include the secure and insecure.
Some churches think in this order:

Believe, Belong, Become.
I think it is much rather, Belong, Become, Believe.

Lara Grade 1 teacher/wife asked her school children last year what they would rather be: a bird or a plane? A very large percentage said a bird, and their answer was because it was free. A plane is controlled by someone, directed and guided by someone, told by someone where to go. A bird is free.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Ephesians 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

At Hillside while I serve here, we will certainly guide, but mostly we hold a value that we will set you free to think for yourself, like Jesus did, and ask you to discover with our help your own answers.
God gave you brains to think, and so we will not tell you what you think or what you believe or the best way to spiritual maturity, we believe Jesus gave us the freedom to ask. Proverbs 4: 23 be careful how you think.
Now that doesn't mean I don't think or believe in absolute truths-I Do and hope you do too.
There is a place for answers and truth, but I believe following Jesus also means a call to honest self-knowledge and wrestling kind of religion, that is willing to dare to ask the questions.

One absolute for me when I read the Bible and understand Jesus:
The Goodness and reliability of God.

For some this Questioning strand may not be compatible with them. They desire a faith filled atmosphere where the pastor is the Answer-giver. If you prefer that, that's okay, because you get other strands that make up for this one. Not every person will be a perfect good fit for our churches. Grasping this can give you clarity and peace. (http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/01/25/the-four-dna-elements-you-must-understand-about-your-church)
So the summary of this unique strand of Hillside DNA is the following:


  1. QUESTIONING. We will always strive to be intellectually challenging in our preaching and our theology while holding onto some key theological truths and values. We give ourselves the freedom to question, to doubt, and to wrestle while placing God at the centre. We lean on John Wesley's quadrilateral that Scripture, Reasoning (Clear thinking), Experience (Life experience) and Tradition affect our theology. We will always apply the delicate balance of Faith, Life and the Bible. We are a church for those willing to question, doubt and wrestle. The kind of Jesus we believe in will affect the kind of Christianity we practice. The second strand links with this first one, and can be summarized as follows: Hillside DNA strand (2)


  2. LIFESTYLE. From this basis our preaching and teaching is mainly "lifestyle preaching" with a real slant towards life application in a real world with real needs and hurts. At times our sermons are counter cultural and challenging. We are not prescriptive to our teaching groups and Bible studies, and so allow and encourage wrestling and questioning within our small groups.

So the invitation here at Hillside is to express your faith by asking questions.
What has always troubled me is the dissonance between what I learn at university and what is taught in churches. It is almost like the sacred texts of Children's Church are not allowed to be questioned or wrestled with here within the local church.
We will also sometimes get political, because politics affect life, we will sometimes ask questions of faith and life, ask the difficult questions that few are asking (an example I would love to if I had time this morning to get into: does Matric pass rate ever really determine how healthy our education system is?
I don't think the Bible needs to be protected from anything, God can explain and stand up for His written Word. And we are all set free to think, and ponder and wonder and question. And there is life and growth and discovery in that. Amen.

Relentless Love by John van de Laar © 2010 Sacredise
Lord, though we run hot and cold, fickle and changing in our faith, your love remains certain and constant;
Though we grow tired and disillusioned, bored and distracted far too easily, your love stays true to the end;
Though we allow our grief and anger, to turn us away from grace and mercy, your love refuses to let go;
We praise and thank you, O God, for your relentless love, for its abundant availability, and for our freedom in Christ. Let us draw closer to you with our questions, let us not forget to apply our faith, and let our welcoming be genuine and open hearted we pray. Amen.