This is a transcript from the February 2, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
The scripture of the day this morning is found in your bulletin. It's a longer passage, Ephesians. Ephesians is by no means an easy book, it doesn't just lay itself out, it has all kinds of complicated sentence structure and all. We're going to focus mostly on the first couple sentences. If you'd like to read along with me again, it's in your bulletin or you may just have your own Bible or just close your eyes and listen. It's Paul talking to a church in Ephesus and he is saying,
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places."
There we go. "Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that he lavished on us.
And with all the wisdom and insight he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things, things in heaven, and things on Earth. In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance having been destined according to the purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will, so that we who were the first to set our hope on Christ might live for the praise of His glory."
You know what day it is? Yes. It's the first Sunday of February and so it's Super Bowl Sunday, you may have heard that. It is the Sunday we come before the table, but it's another day and it's also the first Sunday of February which is one month away from that Sunday in January when we are all making resolutions for the new year of how this year was going to be different. You may have made those resolutions, you may have written them down, or you may have just said to yourself you're going to do that. One month out, how is that going?
Yes, because there are those things that we want and hope for, for ourselves but somehow year after year we stumble and trip up. That's why I've been focusing on this, what I'm calling the tool kit for 2021. Not a typo, 2021 is, what do we want to be able to say is true about ourselves a year from now? Because of the changes that are required to make that happen aren't the small kind, they aren't just the kind you can just make with a resolution, sort of hope that it happens, there's some work that needs to happen and the person we want to be a year from now will be determined by the work that we do now. We have been going through some of the various tools to help us do that.
The premise is this, just check out the premise with yourself to see if this makes sense to you, that if you had these tools, if you had these things working, or to the degree that you had a sense of purpose a year from now more than you did now. A year from now you had the sense of, "I know why I'm here, I know the purpose of my life, I know the why of my life, I have a group of people who are committed to my growth just as I'm committed to them, to the degree that I understand my profile, I understand the gifts, the talents, the experiences and the passions that I bring to the party. I know what that unique blend is, and I have practices that will sustain all that, to the degree those things would be operable, would those things not make a deep and lasting change?" So we call them tools for transformation.
These are not just surface kinds of things, these are deep kinds of changes. I want to finish this part today with one last thing, which is also a place. That I have a place that I have identified, where I get to pour myself into, that I make a difference out of the sense of purpose. With my gifts and my talents and the people around me to sustain me and my practices help, that there is a place of focus. If there's no real place, then it's just a theory, it's just concepts, and who in the world needs more concepts? We've used that old Proverb, that truth is just a rumor until it lives in the bones, it's just an idea. We don't need just a rumor, we need something of our life that's actually where we get in and get our hands dirty and something begins to happen. Do we have a place?
Now, there's one level that we would take and the most obvious, and it's not wrong but it would just be saying, "What are those places? If we could identify some of the places in our life where we need those kinds of things and we could say, "Boy, we need some people to help us in the tech booth," and we do! We need some people to help us in the nursery and we do, and that's a place. We could say that the road trucks who have been working on our landscaping pretty much on their own for years are handing not the baton but the trowel often saying, "We need somebody else to pick this up so we need a place there."
We could identify the places and there are places where great work would take place, but as I was getting ready for that this morning, it struck me that there's one other place that I really want to highlight.
I think it's the most important place and ironically it's also the least popular place. I'm not talking about teaching Sunday school with junior highers. Although we could probably use them. The least popular place is the present moment, it is the place that we avoid somehow at all costs. I don't know if this is true for you, it's certainly true for me that I'm always somewhere else, so many times I am somewhere else, I'm in a room and I'm in a class, I'm in church, I'm in a meeting never at church though, and I'm somewhere else I'm thinking about what's still yet to happen or I've got to figure this one out or I'm still rehearsing a conversation I had or I'm fussing over a question over here but I'm never or rarely just here, I'm always somewhere else.
If I'm never here and I'm always trying to be in the future, I'm always in the past or I'm always having a conversation somewhere else, I don't really get to live, because the only moment that we actually get to do anything in is this moment. I'm not talking about planning, planning is one thing, I'm talking about the fussing, I'm talking about the dwelling and I'm talking about the rehearsing, the rehearsing of terrible things that could happen, and we call that anxiety, or I'm talking about the multitasking that we sometimes do where we're trying to be in three or four different places and we know that we're never anywhere when we do that. I'm talking about the places Jesus would talk about when he says, "Why do you trouble yourself about this, this, this, and this and this? Today has troubles enough for itself." In other words, pay attention to here. Even now as I'm talking some of you are thinking, "What time is this going to get over? I know somebody who really needs to hear this." We're still not here when we're doing that, are we?
This is not about just trying to be more efficient by trying to do more things at the same time, we try and do that, but it never works. This has to do with I think the essence of our existence, because when we don't do that we miss our life, we miss what our purpose and our profile, people, and the practice are intended to do, we can't be in that place. I want to hold up a modern-day parable, if you will, it's another word for the movie where we tell stories and say, "Do you know what today is?" Yes, it's Super Bowl Sunday and yes it's the Sunday we gather around the communion table and yes, it's also Groundhog Day.
If you don't remember this movie, it came out in early 90s. Bill Murray, Phil Connors is his name in the movie, is a weatherman and he is the poster child for the least present person in the world, in that he would rather be anywhere else than having to talk about the Groundhog Day. He would rather be anywhere else and he's always trying to get out of there. He would rather be doing anything else than this and he'd rather be with anyone else than the people he has to be with. The whole first part is him just trying to take shortcuts and discounts, because he's just sure that when he gets on the other side of this event things are going to be better. He never gets on the other side of it because as you remember, what happens is, he wakes up every day and it's the exact same conversation and it's the exact same exchanges, the exact same problems and he never gets out of the loop, he's just absolutely stuck.
The reason this movie works beyond just the fact that it's a fun comedy is underneath the humor there's something that's very serious, and it works because we understand that. We understand what it's like to be stuck, to continually have the same problems, have the same conversation over and over again. We have the illusion that we're moving on into new days and new places, but have you ever been struck or felt like, "I've had this conversation before. I've had this argument before. We've dealt with this issue before. Things just don't ever seem to change." Phil Connors has the luxury, if you will, of having stripped away the illusion that anything's changing. He is just stuck there.
At first, it surprises him, and then he's just being the same old narcissistic guy who's hustling. So then he uses this newfound knowledge to start to hustle the town around him, and that doesn't give them any satisfaction. He gets crazy and then he gets self-destructive and then he starts to despair. We get that. That's why this movie works. Because we get those times that feel, "I don't know if it makes any difference. I make the same resolutions every year."
Then something happens when he actually begins to live well in that day, and pay attention to that day, and really pay attention to the people. Yes, it's a romantic comedy, so we already know how it's going to end. We knew that in the first 10 minutes, but underneath that is this sense of, he realizes he's not there just to report on whether a Groundhog saw its own shadow, but it is dealing with his own shadows. Is he going to deal with his own stuff? It's not until that happens, it's not till he's fully present in that day that anything truly changes.
I'm just going to tell on myself. If this applies to you, great, if not, just hang in there. There is this mirage of there. That if I get there, if I get from here to there, then everything will be different. If I graduate, then I'll be happy or fulfilled, or when I get the job, or when I get the promotion at that job, or when I get a different job. It's that mirage that once I get there, then I'll be happy, then I'll find peace, then I'll feel fulfilled. It's the mirage of, "If I get to be with this person, or if we get married, then it'll be different, or get divorced, then it'll be different, or get married again, then it'll be different. Or if I go on vacation, when I go on vacation, or I get there, then everything's going to be different." Then I get there and I go, "Man, I can't wait to get home because then it's going to be different." Do you catch a pattern here? We are never here. We're always mentally there, or trying to figure out how to get there, and we're never paying attention to the here-ness, the presence of what is here, and we never get anywhere.
Richard Rohr tells this wonderful story on himself. Richard Rohr is a writer and just wonderful. He tells this funny story, and it's so common. He talked about, he's trying to get something to the post office, and he's in his car. There's this particular intersection where he works and he tries to get through it because if you don't get through, it's a long intersection. He races the car, and he doesn't make it and he's just-- Where he wants to go to is the post office, and it's just over there.
He finds himself fuming, "Gosh, I could miss the light, and then we got this and got this." This nudging, he says, from the spirit came and says, "Richard, if you can't have joy and peace here, what makes you think you're going to have it on the other side of that light? It's still the same distracted person. What makes you think you're going to be any different just because you're 100 feet away?" Isn't that what we do, and isn't that the illusion of there? That somehow if I can just not be here and be there, then everything will be different, and it is a mirage.
You don't have to raise your hand on this, but I'm wondering how many people made this resolution, that this year, this year, I am going to do more multitasking, and I'm going to be more distracted, and I'm going to be stretched even thinner than ever, and I'm going to be less available, and I'm going to be more reactive and more triggered than ever before. How many of us have actually lived in ways, however, that make that true? Because that's the strategy we have assumed, and it's killing us, and we're missing why we're here.
This passage, I'm going to go back to that now, and the first couple of verses. Again, Ephesians is not the easiest book. It's a wonderful book, but you'd have to take in small chunks. In this particular chunk at the beginning says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before Him in love."
You don't have to raise your hand, but I'm wondering how many people here grew up with the same understanding that I grew up with and that people told me about that what this passage is really pointing to is that someday, you've been blessed so that when you get to heaven, you'll be blessed. Isn't that what it means to be spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, that someday when you get to the heavenly places, you will be blessed? No doubt that will be true, but that is exactly the opposite of what this passage is talking about. It is disastrous to turn it that way because we can not only get it wrong but it can actually be harmful.
What it's holding out is this idea, is that because of what Christ has done, all the blessings that we were looking for when we get there are already here. You've been blessed so that you can live a life that is holy, it's for the here and now. That what Paul keeps talking about in Ephesians and throughout, is that because of what Christ has done, that there is this sort of intersection between the world as it is and the world that's yet to be. When Jesus is saying, "Listen, the kingdom of God is here. It's right in our midst," He's really talking about the same kind of thing. When the Psalmist says, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it," he's not saying, "Let's rejoice later on." No, it's this day. When Joshua said to the people, he says, "This day, I have laid before you life and death. This day, choose life." He's talking about right here, right now. This is the only day you get. This is the only time we get to do anything with it. It's right here.
As long as we keep living into the future, or being anxious about, or trying to resolve a past, we miss what we can do right here. Some of it is so bad, again, this is so disastrous in some ways, and you may have said this to yourself about other people, who they are so spiritually-minded that they are no earthly good. Have you heard that one? Has somebody said that about you? No matter. It is this idea that what I'm doing is I just keep focusing on, "When I get there, then I'll be happy. When I get there, then I'll be fulfilled. When I get there--" We negate the value of here.
It's disastrous because we have created an artificial division. We have said, "Here, no big deal, but there, that's sacred. That's spiritual. Here, it's secular. It's mundane." We remind ourselves by building places, and we say, "This space is sacred space. Go across the street, that's just secular." We create artificial divisions. "This music is just regular, mundane, secular. This is sacred music. It's better." There are certain people who are just mundane and they're just ordinary, but there are the people who are sacred.
We have groups and then this group is very special and this group isn't. Every time we do that, every time we do that, we diminish the value of this, this place, these people, this time.
The worst chapters of the church, the worst chapters of the church are always the time when we were able to make people less because they weren't in the right group, they didn't believe the right thing, and they weren't in the right-- It was like over here, and it's like we're all over here. We're huddling over here, and we're the special people who believe the right thing, and we don't have to worry about over there because that's just terrible and our faith keeps us safe over here. When we do, we look up and we go, "Well, it sucks to be you, but we're over here. If you want to be with us, that's one thing. We'll be safe and secure because that's what we call faith." Faith has been twisted so that now it insulates us from the world rather than engages us, because we have said, "This doesn't matter, and the only thing that matters is over there." It's disastrous.
This is the time we have, and this is the place, and this is the moment, and it's the only one we get. Do you know what day it is? It's Groundhog Day. It's a day that can either be a testimony to the endless loop of our life, where we think we're making progress, but nothing ever really changes. Or it could be an invitation to a different way of living. To take Jesus seriously when Jesus says, "I'm here." To take the Lord's Prayer seriously, when we say, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies are here now, and that this is the place where we meet God. This is the day that the Lord has made. This is the day that we love. This is the day we'll forgive. This is the day that we savor God's creation. This is the day that we serve. Not waiting till some other time, some other people, not waiting for the world to be the way we want it to be but taking it as it is, as that wonderful prayer goes, to be here, to be here.
Now, I know there's a question about, "How do I do that?" There's places for that. I had to balance, do I talk about all the hows of doing that? I thought, "No, I just want to make the case for today. I want to make the case for being present." We've got things like Oasis that help us be present in the moment. We've got a web page, blog called The New Hope Way, you can go there for things, but today I want to just make the case for today. That this is important, and you can have your purpose, and you can have people, and you can have your profile, and you can have practices, but if it never grounds itself in a here and now place, we've missed. We've missed.
But we do have a tool kit and it does have purpose, and it does have people, and it does have a profile and a practice, and when we combine that with a place, oh my goodness, do things start to get exciting, and it begins to make a difference. I can tell you just from my own life, that this is the one area, the five tools that are up there that has made the most difference in my life in the last 10 years, is learning how to be present now. I am not perfect at it by any means and I fight with it every day, but I'm better at it and has made a huge difference. More and more of my life has made sense when I begin to understand this simple statement from the same guy who was at that light, "We're already in the presence of God," Richard Rohr says, "What's absent is our awareness." In this day, in this time, God is already here and the question is, are we, will we, will we be in this time, will we be in this place?