I woke up out of sorts on Thursday morning. When my alarm went off, I was in the middle of an anxiety dream. It was the first day of school, and I couldn’t remember my locker number or its combination, nor did I remember my schedule. I went to the office to get help, and found that, apparently, I wasn’t the only one with first-day-of-school troubles because the line to get in the office was so long that they had set up a maze of ropes to organize the queue. But when I got to the front of the line, I made a wrong turn, which took me out of line, and made me start over. Oh, and did I mention that the line started outdoors? Just before my alarm went off, it had started to rain, soaking me and all of the books and notebooks and folders which I was clutching in my arms because I couldn’t find my locker. It’s amazing to me that, even 40+ years after leaving high school, I still have anxiety dreams about it. When I got up, I couldn’t shake the anxiety and fear from the dark recesses of my past. It kind of messed up my morning. The past can do that. It can steal our present. And it’s not just past anxieties that interfere with our ability to experience the fullness of the present moment. It’s also past regrets. Past mistakes. Missed opportunities. And grief over circumstances that no longer exist. The past can keep us from seeing the blessings of the present and the opportunities for sharing those blessings.
No less can the future interfere with our awareness of the world around us. We have visions and goals for the future. And visions and goals are good – unless we cannot be happy until every vision has been realized and every goal has been accomplished. If you want more details about that, ask me some time about how easily I become discouraged because of how long it seems to be taking to make our house into the home we know it can be. The future can also interfere with the present when fear dominates our thoughts. Have I saved enough to retire? Will my retirement account cover my needs? What if the stock market tanks? What if I am diagnosed with a catastrophic illness? What will we do if the furnace needs replacing? How are we going to help the kids with college? I’m not saying that these aren’t realities that need to be addressed. But addressing realities and letting fear of the future dominate our present reality are two different things. Both our future goals and also our anxiety about the future can keep us from being present in the present.
In the present seems to be where Jesus is encouraging his followers to be in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. “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.” Often these words of Jesus are interpreted as a threat – or at least a warning – that we’d better be ready when Jesus comes again. And I get that. I understand that interpretation. But what if this is not just a story about Jesus coming again, a final time, in judgment? What if it’s also about staying focused on the present moment, about being alert to the ways that Jesus comes among us now? In the present day? What if it’s about being present in the present moment? To notice when Jesus is knocking on our door to bless us today? “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus. Don’t worry, don’t be afraid of what’s in the past or what the future might hold. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And not just at the end of this life, in a heavenly realm, but now. What if the call to be alert is to notice, to be aware of, how God is blessing us right now?
And what if the call to be alert to the present reality is also a call is to be aware of how God might be using us to bless someone else right now? “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” says Jesus. So . . . “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Not to prove that you can. Not to show yourself worthy of the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms because the Father has promised you the kingdom and you need not fear sharing your blessings. Look around you. See the opportunities before you to bless someone else right now.
You know, we had an interesting conversation about the Holy Spirit at Brown Bag & Bible this week. I don’t remember how it started, but the gist of it was that we ought to give people more opportunities to share how the Spirit is at work in our lives right now, both in blessing us and also in calling us to serve one another. And so, I’m inviting you to do just that this morning. These half sheets that I’m distributing have a question on each side. On one side, the question is: How has God blessed me today? Or this week? Or recently? And on the other side, the question is: How has God used me to bless someone else today? Or this week? Or recently? I’m also handing out pens, but if any of you have writing instruments in your possession, please pull them out because I’m not sure I have enough. Please wait to write until after we pray together. And please do NOT write your name on this page. I’d like to compile your responses and share them anonymously. For those participating remotely, you may share your responses either by commenting on YouTube or by sending me an email. I will not include your name with your response. Again, for the people at home, the two questions are: How has God blessed me recently? And how has God used me to bless someone else recently?
Let us pray. Lord, it’s hard to stay in the present moment – not to linger in the past with nostalgia or regrets, nor to run ahead with hopes and fears. And while we know you were present in our past and you will be present in our future, we also know that you are present with us now, knocking at our doors. Help us to see you with us here and now, blessing us, and calling us to bless one another. May this sharing enrich our faith and build up our community. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Please take a couple of minutes to record your insights. You may place them in the plates at the offering. And if you would be so kind, please return your pens on the way out of church this morning.