20th Sunday after Pentecost/St. John the Baptist, North Sydney/27 October 2019/10:30 AM
Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Collect of the Day: Lord God, our redeemer who heard the cry of your people and sent your servant Moses to lead them out of slavery, free us from the tyranny of sin and death, and by the leading of your Spirit bring us to your promised land; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the name of God: +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It seems that the call to live more simply is all around us. Have you seen the latest issue of Real Simple magazine at the checkout counter? I am told that it’s one of the top ten selling magazines these days. This month’s issue of Real Simple is chock full of advice for “simplifying” your life. There are recipes: “15 Decadent Desserts to Make Using Leftover Halloween Candy.” There is advice on selecting wine: “The Perfect Wines to Pair With Your Favorite Halloween Candy.” And, there are “31 Simple, Last-Minute Halloween Costumes That Don’t Require a Trip to the Costume Store.”
It occurred to me when I saw this issue at the checkout the other day, that the simplest thing that I could do was not purchase this particular issue when I simply went to the store to pick-up eggs and milk. And, so I went home with the eggs and milk and I left the magazine behind.
It got me thinking, though, about how we’re bombarded with advice to simplify our lives. We hear about it on TV, it’s all the buzz on the internet, there are numerous groups on Facebook devoted to simplifying this or that.
Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t think about simplifying our lives, getting back to basics and that sort of thing. For example, I think it’s really important that we declutter and bring some of the good stuff that we no longer use to church for this Saturday’s Bazaar, Silent Auction and Turkey Burger sale.
Simplifying isn’t a bad things, per se. It frees some time for us to find things faster. Our closets and cabinets are less cluttered. Simplicity reminds us to be mindful of considering our needs as opposed to our wants. It may help us to give thanks for the blessings that we enjoy. Buying less stuff is better for the environment. We might think about recycling or repairing something, rather than buying something new. That’s better for God’s world. It addresses our concerns for the environment.
For example, just last week, Parish Council moved to eliminate the use of Styrofoam products from the church and to make use of our dishes and brand new dishwasher (thanks to the generosity of all of you for making that possible). And, when it is deemed not feasible to use the dishware, we moved to use more environmentally friendly products that are compostable.
I say all of this to you today because our Gospel has something to say about simplicity. In it, I hear a question about our motivations when we do this or that. It raises for us the question I was confronted with the other day at the store: What would be the motivation for finding “The Perfect Wines to Pair With…Favorite Halloween Candy.” That is amusing to think about. It might even be fun, but how does it simplify my life?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I see those Facebook posts, or read the article on-line, or read the cover of Real Simple at the checkout or what have you…it can sometimes feel like there is an attitude that comes along with those things that says, as the Pharisee says: God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income… Just look at me and all that I do. If only everyone were like me…
As social media takes up more and more of our lives, we need to be careful. If we are not careful, it can lead to anxiety and depression; cyberbullying; a fear of missing out or of feeling less than, feeling not-good-enough; it can lead to unrealistic expectations; it can become addictive; it can cause unhealthy sleep patterns and so on.
What I am naming before you today are, I hope, are reminder, that if we are not careful, we are all capable of becoming like the Pharisees. They follow after the ways of the world. And, we’re bombarded these days by the ways of the world.
It’s like what we hear in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus tells this parable to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt…those who said, I thank you God that I am not like those other people.Doesn’t this sound a lot like the ways of the world?
In the midst of the world’s mixed message, can you hear Jesus’ message as if he is speaking directly to you? If it were not for the grace and mercy of God…here we’re reminded of that statement, “There but by the grace of God go I…” (BTW, The person who first said this was likely John Bradford, who was burned at the stake in 1555 for holding firm in his faith.)
This is like the tax-collector who prayed to God for mercy, knowing that without God, there is no hope for anyone. He is an example of one who humbles himself. Jesus says that those who do, God will exalt.
The themes of our direct relationships with God…and, of how humbling it is to acknowledge that we live in God’s presence…such themes have come up in some of the discussion around Soup and Soul on Thursday nights.
Sometimes we might feel like we’re not good enough to approach God in conversation; sometimes we might feel like what we have to say to God doesn’t matter, doesn’t God know it all anyway? Often times we feel the pressures of the day and simply don’t feel like we have time for daily prayer. Those are valid concerns. And, sometime someone will say, “Well, we’ll just leave that up to the prayer warriors…and, well, that’s just not my gift.” But, it is everyone’s gift. That’s the gift of our relationship with God…it’s for everyone, not just a few certain choice people. That’s what the Pharisees thought, too. But, as we hear, it is not true.
We’re discovering this in our time together on Thursday nights here at St. John’s. It’s so important that I share it with all of you this morning. Prayer is what happens when you or I are aware of the presence of God. Let’s think about what this means. It means that when you are aware of God’s presence, there is a place of connection to God. That is prayer. And, it is equally available to all of us. It is a practice of opening our hearts, our minds…all of our lives, to the presence of God and communicating with God in each moment of our lives. It happens when we talk to God, it happens when we listen to God, is happens in every moment of our lives. If we don’t talk to God, if we don’t focus some of our energy on God, a growing relationship with God is difficult. When we practice God’s presence we grow in relationship, like we do with any friendship, but in this case the friendship is with God. When we do this, we are praying. Our ongoing habits and patterns of prayer shape us and the world to grow. If we allow ourselves to be open to God, who is already working in our hearts, we will find our relationship may grow to a point where we experience God as the best of friends. And, we discover that God is already present in all of our lives in deeper ways. Prayer is an action on our part that connects us to God’s presence. It is a direct line to God who is already working in our hearts. Praying this way is as natural as breathing air, or sipping a refreshing cup of water. Prayer is an act that reminds us that we are connected to the God who makes us and redeems us. It is an action that recognizes, as the Prophet Joel says, that acknowledges that God deals wondrously with us, that we will never be put to shame, when we recognize that the Lord is our God and not another.
Today, I pray that you will continue to fight the good fight and finish the race that God calls you to finish. Keep the faith…every day and every minute of your lives.