Sunday, 7 August 2016

Be Watchful- Luke 12

One day I was going through a box full of things from my childhood. I came across a picture I drew and as soon as I saw it a memory flooded my mind that I hadn’t thought about for years. I think I was about 8 years old and it was a picture on me reaching for a yellow belt. It brought to mind a belt test I attended as a part of my Karate class. I didn’t pass the test. I remember feeling crushed by that experience (which was the inspiration for the picture I drew). But, I received numerous belts since that time and I studied martial arts for quite a few years, so when I look back on that picture it’s actually quite embarrassing to see how worried I was by that experience. I felt that embarrassment numerous times going through that box of memories. It didn’t get any better when I found my journal from when I was a teenager. I look back on those fears and worries that haunted my mind and they seem fairly trivial now, even to the point that they embarrass me to remember them.

I wonder if we will feel the same way looking back on our lives from our deathbed? … or from the point of view of eternity with God? Will we look back at our present fears and worries and feel embarrassed that we spent so much energy on them?

What if you could write yourself a letter from the afterlife? What do you think that letter would say? What advice would you give yourself? What would you tell yourself to do? What would you say to yourself about your present worries from that eternal perspective?

Jesus is wanting us to be our eternal selves right now. He wants us to live our lives now from the perspective of eternity right this moment.

Throughout Luke 12 Jesus is calling us to reexamine out priorities. He brings to mind many things that we could be worried about and then shows God’s perspective. Are we afraid of dying? Jesus reminds us that God does not forget even a sparrow who dies, God will take care of us even in death. He values us so much that He has every hair on our head numbered (Luke 12:4-7). Are we so afraid of our uncertain future that we disregard the needs of others in order to accumulate possessions? As we saw in Jesus’ parable last week, the rich man who had so much wealth he tore down his barns and built new barns could not take his wealth with him when he suddenly died (12:13-21). Are we worried about food or clothing- starvation or nakedness? Or, are we consumed by specialty coffees, designer clothes, fancy cars, and other signs of success and comfort? Jesus reminds us to not let these worries distract us from what is most important- Life is more than food and clothing. What is most important is striving for the kingdom of God (12:22-31). Place your attention on eternal things, not temporal things. God is taking care of you. God cares even for sparrows. God even desires to give us His kingdom. God is for you, he is not against you. You don’t have to worry.

The kingdom is not something God is trying to keep away from you, and it is not something we earn by being “good enough”. God wants to give us the kingdom. But, there is a way to live as children of the kingdom. He wants us to live with a broader kingdom perspective. Don’t just think about next week, or next month … think about eternity. There is a line from Amazing Grace, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun”. That is the perspective Jesus wants us to live with- Live today with eternity in mind. Jesus is teaching us that the fears and worries we have evaporate when we look at them through the eyes of eternity.

In terms of finances, don’t think about your earthly bank account as much as your heavenly bank account. Use your resources to build up your heavenly bank account. “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:33-34). God wants us to be rich in a heavenly way.

Jesus is also calling us to be in a state of watchfulness so we don’t miss out on the blessing we might receive. What does he mean by that? I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is coming…. Look busy”. Surely we’re not to just fill our lives with frantic activity. … What does it mean to be ready and watchful? Surely action is part of it. We should be constantly ready to do good. We should be ready and waiting for opportunities to show God’s love to people.

Early Christians believed this watchfulness went deeper than actions- even though actions were very important. Jesus spoke a lot about the roots of our actions. He says to be careful about anger because it is the root of murder. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement (Matt 5:21-22)

He speaks about lust as the root of adultery. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28).

Jesus also speaks about those who give but who do so to impress others rather than to help others. Jesus says that people who give trying to show off have received their reward and shouldn’t expect a reward from God. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1). We see this kind of thing happening in our reading from Isaiah. They are offering sacrifices and worship, but their hearts aren’t right. Their lives don’t match their worship. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. … Trample my courts no more; When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is 1:11-12, 15-16). How we live our lives has an effect on our worship. The people in Isaiah were worshipping, but not living according to how God directed them, which made their worship pointless.
Our actions, good or bad, have their origin in our thoughts and attitudes. We should pay close attention to our thoughts and motivations. Our sin begins there, and our thoughts and motivations can undo the good we wish to do. The early Christians understood this and were careful to monitor their minds and hearts.

One monk said we need to have the watchfulness of a spider. Set your web and still your mind and you will catch even small flies. Small flies are like small thoughts that enter your mind. Those thoughts and feelings will result in words and actions and habits and character.

Others thought of our soul as a walled city. We should be careful to have diligent guards at the gates so we know who is going in.

There is a long tradition of practicing watchfulness in the church. In the Eastern Church they will have all night vigils. We have a remnant of this with our Christmas Eve service and Easter Eve services. Sometimes we call them vigils, but a vigil really is giving up sleep for the night. The church did this in memory of the night Jesus was arrested and the disciples were asleep instead of praying. The vigil is a very literal way of being watchful.

But, I don’t think Jesus means for us to never sleep again, so how do we do this? In our Gospel reading Jesus says, "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (12:35-36). How do we do this? We have to sleep sometime. So he can’t mean that we just shouldn’t sleep. How do we remain watchful?

First, it is important to have regular times of stillness. Rush and hurry will work against this kind of watchfulness. In the stillness notice your thoughts. Notice where your mind is drawn. Notice patterns of thought. Notice positive thoughts and negative thoughts. As we bring an inner stillness to the rest of our lives we will be more able to notice our thoughts and deal with them. …

When you are standing in line at the grocery store notice the thoughts that come into your mind- are you annoyed by having to wait? Are you having judgmental thoughts about the other people in line, or the cashier? Once we are still enough to be aware of our thoughts, then we can begin dealing with them. You can replace a judgmental thoughts with a prayer for the person reminding yourself that this person is made in the image of God and someone for whom Christ died.

Have regular times of prayer and Bible study, but don’t break the stillness while praying and studying. Regular times of prayer will keep God in your mind and heart, more than if you don’t have regular times of prayer. Studying the Bible will help you to learn the mind of God and that will help you compare your thoughts with God’s thoughts. Which will help you shape your thought life.

St. Ignatius in the 16th century taught his people to do an “Examination of Conscience” at least every day. To do this you begin with reminding yourself of the gifts of God’s love throughout the day. Then we ask for the Spirit for discernment and we watch for what the Spirit brings to our attention as we think and pray about our day. In the Examen we review our day and see how faithfully we lived that day. When were we present to God and when did we feel far from God. We confess any sin and then we make practical choices to live more faithfully to God the next day. It might not sound very fun, but the alternative is going through your life in a kind of spiritual sleep.

Above all we can’t do this on our own, so we need God’s help. Invocation of God should be constantly in our mind and heart. An ancient prayer Christians have used for almost 2000 years is the Jesus Prayer. It goes, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. It is repeated over and over. My sense when I pray it is that I’m not so much repeating it as trying to say it, with my full consciousness, once. It is a way of praying that brings your mind to Jesus constantly. As it is recited over and over it begins to live inside you. Your heart begins to beat with it. You begin to breathe it. In that way Christ is always a thought in your heart and on your lips.

We might be tempted to say to Jesus, “well those are beautiful words, but I live in the real world. What you’re saying just isn’t realistic.” … But, if Jesus really is who he said he is, then he knows the real world better than we do. The people Jesus originally spoke to probably had much more to worry about than we do. It might seem daunting to transform our minds and hearts this way, but we can start small. When we learn to think with an eternal perspective in little everyday things, then we will eventually be able to deal with bigger worries this way.

Jesus’ goal in these teachings is that we will not be enslaved to the worries of this life. He wants us to see a greater horizon than the one we often use. When we are able to see with this greater, eternal perspective we will find that our fears and worries evaporate. Then our attention is free and we are fully available to receive what God wants to offer us. And we will be ready when he comes. Amen

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