(sound of “Singing Bowl”)
Getting people’s attention is tough – there are so many distractions, so much going on. I suspect right now that many of you are thinking about other things that you have to do!
Distractions – while acknowledging the very real issue of attention deficit disorder –serve as a good description of our culture. We are attention deficit and hyperactive. It is hard to pay attention.
Thinking about the whole Christmas story – as we are today at the end of with Epiphany–we see that paying attention was vitally important:
• Mary – what if she had been too busy to pay attention to the angel? If she told him to “Get lost!” instead of “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
• Joseph – if he rolled over and didn’t pay attention to the messenger in the dream, he might have gone ahead and divorced Mary quietly.
• The Shepherds – on that night on the hillside – what if they are not paying attention. [I must admit the host of angels would have been hard to miss – but no one else saw them!]
• The Wise Men – what if they did not pay attention to the stars?
Sally Wile sent me a great little piece from David Neil who reported that the word “disaster” comes from two Greek words “dis” to be without, and “astron” a star. It would have been a disaster for the Magi to miss the star.
I think too often our disasters, big and small that we find ourselves in, are due to the lack of a star in our sky. We don’t look, we don’t pay attention, we don’t follow Jesus Christ as the main star of our constellation!
How tenuous the story of our salvation:
• What if Abraham hadn’t paid attention and stayed in Haran.
• What if he hadn’t paid attention to God’s voice saying: DON’T SACRIFICE ISAAC!
• What if Moses missed the burning bush and Elijah didn’t wait for the “still, small voice.”
• What if Jesus would have paid attention to the “other” voice, the voice of the tempter and turned the stone into bread, and threw himself off the temple to be saved by angels.
Thankfully the right people paid attention!
This is my agitation for you (and I claim it for myself) this new year – PAY ATTENTION – don’t be caught in a “dis” “aster” – without a star!
Pay attention to what is going on within – pay attention to diet, and habits – to the signs – to the cough, to the bump, to the addictions, to the patterns. We don’t pay enough attention to our guts and hearts – our bodies and their rhythms and so we pay with bad health, stress and anxiety.
Pay attention to the places of deep joy – contentment. For usually THIS is the place where God’s spirit beckons – Remember what Frederick Buechner says about vocation: “Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Pay attention to others – to your spouses and your children – we take for granted and just assume, we push our agenda and any cost – in our distraction we hurt others.
Harry Chapin Carpenter wrote a song a long time ago “Cat’s in the Cradle”, in which he sang “when you coming home Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then….” And the “then” never happens.
It was a long time ago, my first year here and I went home at the end of the day and Deanne had something to tell me and I wasn’t paying attention, until she said: “John, at least treat me like one of the church members!” I have never forgotten that.
Pay attention to who is missing. Who haven’t you seen in worship lately? Call them!
We need to pay attention to the world outside the church walls and our compounds: Where does God want us to pay attention in our communities and neighborhoods?
- There are too many poor people,
- too many homeless,
- too many without health care,
- too much violence…
- and even still, racism haunts and condemns.
Pay attention to where the Holy Spirit is moving within the walls. Our task is not to maintain or control, but to be open to God’s magnificent spirit – to follow it and its energy – what is bubbling up? We need leaders who pay attention and not just follow agendas!
If you want to pay deeper attention, deepen your prayer life. Get comfortable with silence and with a little bit of chaos. Pay attention to creation groaning and bringing forth.
You may need to get a friend or spiritual adviser who will help you pay attention. You need community to discern wisely. As it says in 1 John 4.1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
And now I call you to pay attention to the table – for upon it is the sign and the seal of our salvation – the bread and the cup, the body and the blood.
Pay attention, for God is in our midst – Emmanuel—equipping empowering, agitating. God is offering her very self, his very self to you – calling you to offer yourself to God and to each other.
PAY ATTENTION! The new year awaits.
(sound of Singing Bowl)