How to Wreck Your Life Series
Live in the Past . . . Or in the Future
Luke 4:14-21 with Isaiah 43:16-21
Guest Preacher at Idylwood Presbyterian Church, Falls Church, VA
When your pastor, MaryAnn asked me several weeks ago to share this time of worship with you this morning, I was delighted for the opportunity knowing that it would be the first time I was asked to preach outside of the tenure I just completed as pastor at a Baptist church very similar to Idylwood just down the road in Reston. And, as she told me more about your winter worship series, “How to Wreck Your Life”—your focused time of study about the ways in which we all contribute to our own life failures, MaryAnn asked if I’d be interested in preaching along these lines, being a part of the series.
Of course, I said. I love series preaching and did such at my former congregation regularly. And was often on the other end of things asking guest preachers I invited into join in series I’d planned too. So, it seemed right that your pastor would ask the same of me (karma of course). And so our conversation together today on the topic of “Live in the Past . . . Or in the Future” began.
At first I thought, I had it easy (Thanks, MaryAnn)—I knew exactly what the direction of this particular mistake would be in this sermon. It’s simple. We all have our heads too stuck in the past and need to move on to the future! God tells us God is doing a NEW thing.
But the more I pondered it, the more I realized “Live in the Past . . . or in the Future” was much more complex than it seemed at first look. Such a way we wreck our lives is not just about the error of looking behind too much—you know, the behavior of being stuck in a rut, unwilling to move on toward the new. But, it’s ALSO about being so consumed with the future that we deign our past exist. You’ve all heard the famous George Santayana quote, “Those go cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We’ve all had times in our lives when we just don’t want to deal with our past failures seeking to hit the fast forward button in our hearts as quickly as possible.
And, so I believe these two things are true: we have trouble with being stuck in the past. We have trouble being stuck in the future.
Therefore, I think today’s theme truly speaks to our human struggle of not being able to tune our brain to the present. We go and go and do at such a pace that we’re never really in the moment. In any given week, more often than not, our spirit gets lost in never-never land while our body keeps going through the rote motions on earth.
One of my favorite spiritual teachers is Anthony De Mello though he’s been deceased since 1987. De Mello, a Jesuit priest born in India, lectured all over the world about the importance of waking up to life and seeing it just as it truly is. His most famous text, Awareness: the Perils and Opportunities of Reality is a book I’ve recently picked up and read very slowly. It’s a rich text in which he writes, “The most difficult thing in the world is to listen, to see. We don’t want to see . . . We don’t want to look.” (28).
He goes on to talk about how our lack of awareness in the here and now costs us peace and contentment, but most of all blessings that we already have and just can’t see! We wreck our life by deigning ourselves engagement with relationships, joy and hope we currently have.
In the gospel lesson for this morning, taken from Luke 4, we find Jesus in a situation full of memories from the past and foreshadowing what was to come—but ultimately a situation that asked him to stay present in the moment, fully engaged.
And this is the story: Jesus visited his hometown synagogue in Nazareth after being away in the desert for 40 days of temptation. It probably felt good for him to be “home” back in his normal routine. Clues in the text such as the phrase “as was his custom” help us know that going to temple was a commonplace activity for Jesus; he was no high holy holiday kind of Jew.
And it just so happened that on this day it was his turn to read the scripture before those gathered, just like Debbie did for us a few moments ago. And as the scroll was handed to him he read the words from the prophet Isaiah that scholars believe are a combination of two particular passages: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
These were powerful words of promise of course—words that the listeners in the congregation most certainly would have thought were a part of a Messianic prophecy—a divine deliverance of the nation of Israel, a year of jubilee, a righteous mission given by God for the people to carry out together with the chosen one.
And after Jesus finished, he could have sat down and gone about his business of thinking about what he was going to have for lunch later on (which I know none of you are thinking about as I speak right now).
Jesus could have thought about all the times he’d heard this particular lection read as a child—what he’d heard taught by former teachers on the Isaiah prophecy.
Jesus most certainly could have sat down patted his dad on the leg, looked over at his mom, been thinking about what kind of wine was going to be served at the next Sabbath meal at his place.
Most of all, Jesus could have easily allowed this to be just one more day in the life. He could have easily and speedily moved on to naming this as a lovely to above average day of spending time at home again with family and friends.
Or, he could be present. He could be aware. He could live into this moment, the practice of seeing and hearing. He could abide in this unique opportunity to live into mission for his life.
We’re on the edge of our seat with Jesus here about what will come next. We know how it feels. It takes courage to listen to that voice deep within that says, “This is my way, walk in it” that we as Christians name as the Holy Spirit. It takes a lot of bravery to abandon the could-a, should-a and woulds-a’s in our head when we get that nudge to live with freedom. It takes guts we know to live in this boldness.
We see Jesus modeling for us this brave new way as he speaks when all of the eyes of the synagogue were on him. In verse 21 he stands up (and I can just hear a gasp going through the crowd) and says this bold confession of faith, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Or in other words, “I am this Messiah. This is my mission. God has sent me to proclaim the good news.”
Whoa! For these would be the words that would ruin this perfectly tame Sabbath day, that would sent a riot through the crowd, that would run Jesus out of town (almost killing him in the process), and would forever shape the intensity of what Jesus’ future would look like.
I guess you could say by some standards of what it means to “wreck one’s life,” Jesus certainly messed up big time here!
No longer uncover as just Joseph’s boy.
No longer able to come back home without fear and hang out with his brothers and sisters like everything was alright.
No longer able to fly below the radar as if that “You are my son in whom I’m well pleased” event at the Jordan River baptism was somehow a fluke.
And most of all no longer able to deign that this ministry he was undertaking with bold confessions like this would one day get him killed one day sooner than later.
But, Jesus, you see, in awareness knew he needed to speak. He needed to teach. He needed to provide discernment to a group of people lost in the messes of their own making. He needed to be that voice that brought God’s hope to a weary worn crowd. In these 9 words, Jesus gives an inaugural address like none other. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus, I believe showed us how to not wreck our lives by living in the present. Something that staying in his head about the past or consumed with plotting the future could never do. He proclaimed good news.
This week, while preparing for this Sunday I read on your church website: “Idylwood Presbyterian Church is a welcoming Christian congregation. Thankful for God’s grace and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we aspire to demonstrate the inclusive and expansive love of Jesus Christ to neighbors near and far.”
It’s a beautifully written statement about some of the best things that church life is all about—welcome, God’s grace and the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And though your statement doesn’t use these specific words, I know that ultimately it is the gospel message of Jesus Christ that each of you as individuals and as a congregation are trying to live out together.
(Otherwise you wouldn’t be here this morning. There are of course there are thousand lovely thing that you could be doing with your time on a Sunday morning that don’t include getting out of your house in these frigid temperatures we’ve been living through all week . . . )
And, so if it is true that gospel is at the heart as to why you are here, and why you are seeking to live in community with one another, and why you are most of all seeking to frame your life’s values as about something most assuredly greater than yourself, then, I believe the word of God before us today, the word of being present in our life is something that we all need to consider more often.
Again, it is here that De Mello asks us all some good questions, “You want to hope for something better than you have right now, don’t you? Why not concentrate on the now instead of hoping for better times in the future? Why not understand the now instead of hoping for better times in the future? . . . . Isn’t the future just another trap?” (35).
All of us so regularly self-sabotage our lives when we choose to live in moments of our life that either do not exist anymore or are yet to exist at all. The consequence is that we don’t really see those in our direct circle of influence. We don’t see how the gospel can be good news where smack dab where we are!
And this is what I most want you to know: we can so easily miss God as we ignore the opportunities that the day-to-day encounters of our lives offer us, especially when we feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit to slow down, see, act and simply be.
Times when we run into a homeless woman asking for money outside the door of CVS even though we only have $2 in our pocket . . . .
Times when our child snuggles up to us, really wanting to have a conversation about how the school day went even though we know there’s laundry to fold. . . .
Times when a co-worker invites us into a more personal than usual conversation at the lunch table even though we really need to rush off to a meeting . . . .
Times when our body says stop and enjoy Sabbath though the rest of our life says go as it may even though we don’t think we have time to pause. . . .
Times when we just know we can no longer be silent about a justice issue making the headlines when our family member asks our opinion even though we know we might not get invited back to Christmas next year. . . .
Moments, being present in moments are truly what living and being the gospel is all about.
The Old Testament lesson today is one of my favorite verses of scripture that has always prodded me to greater levels of awareness, Isaiah exhorts the people by saying: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
God is at work in the world. God is at work in your life and in mine. Do we want our lives to go forth in ways of great worth in the kingdom of God? Do we want to see the new thing that God is springing forth today?
Then, our hope comes as we abide in God’s gift of now. Not in how our lives used to be. Not how we wished they were going to be one day. But our lives just as they are! For such is where vision is found, vision to truly see God. And, not wreck our lives, but find them abundantly blessed.