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Finding God in Our Busyness

 
Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon Sunday June 26, 2016 on Luke 9:51-62.
 
 

He was a man on a mission and he would not be denied despite the curse. For 52 years, so close so many times only to have it taken away again and again. The 1988 AFC Championship game, the Browns ahead 20-13, 5:14 left on the clock, the Broncos at their own 2 yard line. Elway drives 98 yards to tie the game. The Broncos win in overtime with a field goal. Or the 2007 American League Conference Series, the Indians up 3 games – 1, Boston sweeps the next three game to win the championship and go on to win the World Series. The list went on and on for Cleveland fans.

And this year looked no different. The NBA Finals, the Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, the 2015 champions, who had beaten them the year before, the winningest season in NBA history, a 3 game – 1 deficit, no team in NBA history had come back when down 3 – 1 to win the finals. But he would not be denied. LeBron James was a man on a mission. He was determined to win the championship. He battle backed and carried the team with him. "I promised when I came back two years ago I had one mission from a basketball standpoint," James said at a rally in Akron. "I had one mission and my one mission was to bring a championship back to Ohio, back to Cleveland and back to Akron and look up there, it's right there!”

Everyone knows that LeBron James is a talented basketball player, but what they might not know is that he has a tremendous work ethic. “Laser-like focus,” Cavs General Manager Dave Griffin said, “He doesn’t know anything other than grind. He doesn’t know anything other than sacrifice for this.”

Today we are concluding the sermon series started at the end of April about reasons people do not go to church. I know. You’re thinking to yourself. “Didn’t that series end a long time ago?” We have had a number of special services, recently, but there is one more topic to discuss, a topic that affects all of us. Remember this series was designed to help us reach out to people who do not attend church and to help us better be the people God wants us to be. Perhaps, it is the most difficult of the entire series. It is simply that people are so busy. Today’s Gospel addresses this issue. Jesus calls on us to make a commitment, to let go of the things that are distracting us, and to take the next step, whatever that step might be for us, so that Jesus is more at the center of our lives.

Today’s Gospel lesson is an important turning point in Luke’s Gospel. In this chapter Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem. The text says he sets his face toward Jerusalem. The expression to set your face to something is a Hebraic expression which simply means he had made up his mind. In other words, when it says that Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, it simply means that he has made up his mind and nothing is going to stop him. The passage is a series of roadblocks or reasons against Jesus, against following Jesus. These roadblocks are as real today as they were in the time of Jesus.

While all of these relate to us, Jesus hits the nail on the head for us today in these last two. This person responds to Jesus’ call to follow him by saying that he to bury his father. We do not know the back story here. This person’s father might have been healthy. His answer might have been putting Jesus off. Jesus answers that proclaiming the kingdom of God is more important than even family obligations such as burying one’s father, which today obviously is important but which in the ancient world were sacrosanct. If that person possibly had an urgent reason to go back home, the next one simply says “I got to go say goodbye.” Jesus answers with a common saying in the ancient world. A person who did not tend closely to the plow would either cut a too shallow and the plants would die or cut a crooked furrow that would crowd out plants. In other words, Jesus is saying you need to tend to what is most important.

While in Mark’s Gospel people immediately drop everything to follow Jesus, they don’t in Luke’s. They hesitate. They have other things that they need to do. They are like us. They are busy people. Biblical scholar Brian Incigneri wonders if there was “a problem in the Lukan community with people being too distracted by their business affairs to listen to the word of God.” This is a theme that we see other places in Luke’s Gospel. The story of Mary and Martha. It is Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, who has chosen the better part rather than stressed out Martha who is running around with her many household duties. In many ways, of course, we are stressed out Martha today with all of our many duties. Another example is Peter who works all night without any result whatsoever for his fishing. He only finds the biggest result when he listens to Jesus who tells him to go out into the deep water and then put his net down.

The reality is that today even people like us who attend church attend less frequently than fifty years ago. People are wealthier. They travel more not only for themselves but also for their children’s travel sports teams. They have more options not only for entertainment but also for spirituality. Blended families frequently mean children and young people cannot attend every Sunday because they are with the other parent. Single parents are often stretched so thin they are exhausted by the time Sunday morning gets here. Two parent households are frequently the same way. Both parents exhausted because they have worked all week long then they have gotten home to attend to all the chores and find some time with the children and, if by some miracle, spend some time together. That’s a novel concept isn’t it for parents with children at home. The reality is that the world in which you and I live today is incredibly busy and incredibly demanding. The question is what can we do to put God at the center of our lives to experience the fullness of lives with God, with Jesus. I can’t say that it’s an easy answer but I can say that it’s a simple answer.

Years ago when I served at St. Paul’s, Cary, I knew a young couple with Middle School age children. They were people of faith but they struggled to get themselves and their children to church on Sunday. The couple went on a Cursillo weekend that strengthened their faith and their commitment to Christ. When they came back, they told their Middle School aged children that from now on they were going to church every Sunday as a family. They said this was important to them and it was what they were going to do, end of discussion. The couple told me that after that they no longer struggled with the children. That’s what they said and what they were going to do. So, the first part is to make a commitment to God, to make a commitment to walk in the way of Christ.

The second part is to let of some of those things that are distracting us. This is something that my wife and I have been doing in our home. We have been doing this for about six months and what we have been doing is cleaning out. We live in a modest home. We don’t have a lot of things by American standards, but we still have way too much stuff. You would not believe how much stuff we have given away, sold and thrown away. But you know what? We haven’t missed it. Our lives have felt lighter, richer, because a lot of the stuff that was cluttering up our lives is gone. And that’s true for all of us. We have so much stuff cluttering up our lives. When we let go of some of it, we can find greater peace. We can find the presence of God.

This week what I would like you to do is an exercise. Take a sheet of paper. Do this by yourself so that it is completely private. And write down what is most important to you. Brainstorm. Then put them in order. Then put them in order. See where God is in that list. For some of you, I know, God is at the top. And for some of you God is somewhere in the middle. And if you are having trouble deciding what is most important to you, how do you spend your time? If you spend a half hour each morning praying to God and fifteen minutes watching TV, prayer and God are more important to you than TV. When you have done that, ask God that God would be more at the center of your life. And then take one step, take one small step, whatever that might be for you. If you don’t have a time of prayer every day, instead of looking at your phone, when you get up in the morning, and all the news stories, maybe look at your phone and read a small devotional with a passage from scripture. Whatever that step might be for you, take that first step.

When you make that commitment and let go of some of things that are distracting you, what you’ll find is Christ more in your life and you’ll find the richness, the peace and the abundance that comes from Christ, and maybe in some way, like the apostle Paul says, you will win that race and you will become a champion like LeBron James.


Footnotes:

  1. Dave McMenamin, “LeBron James dazzles hometown crowd in Akron title party,” ESPN, June 24, 2016, http://espn.go.com/nba/playoffs/2016/story/_/id/16463496/kid-akron-lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliers-celebrated-hometown-fete.
  2. Jeff Zillgit, “LeBron James fulfills promise to bring title to Cleveland,” USA Today, June 20, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/playoffs/2016/06/19/cavaliers-win-nba-championship/86123514/.
  3. Mikeal C. Parsons, “Commentary on Luke 9:51-62,” Working Preacher, June 26, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2911.
  4. Parsons.
  5. Brian Incigneri, “The Call of Peter in Luke’s Gospel: A Model for the Busy Businessperson?,” Catholic Charismatic Renewal, n.d., http://www.ccr.org.au/bible-study/the-call-of-peter-in-luke-s-gospel-a-model-for-the-busy-businessperson.html.
  6. Carey Nieuwhof, “10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often,” Carey Nieuwholf, February 16, 2015, http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/02/10-reasons-even-committed-church-attenders-attending-less-often/.
  7. “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one” (1 Corinthians 9:23-25 NRSV).