The Story of Stories

Story of Stories

It’s getting late and so I need to tell you a story before bedtime. Actually this is a story about a story. It’s about a story that God has so inscribed onto the soul of man that even when it is told in different ways by different people, the story remains the same.

The story begins with everyday people going about their everyday lives. Because they are so engaged in these activities that they don’t really see what is going on around them until something happens that opens their eyes. They go through a wardrobe into Narnia or they find a ring or they go down the rabbit hole or they wake up in OZ or they take the red pill. What they discover is not good. They discover that life is not what it seems. They find that the world is in a perpetual state of winter, that sinister forces are seeking to take the ring and gain ultimate power, that down is up and up is down, that the Wicked Witch is paralyzing everyone with fear, that humanity has been imprisoned by a race of machines that control human minds into believing in a false reality.

In the story of stories people are made to face reality through the proclamations of the Prophets. The Prophets tell them that they are so blind that they cannot see. They confront them that they are dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death. The last and great Prophet wakes them from their sleep with a call to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. The light begins to dawn.

In his book, Simply Christian, Bishop NT Wright calls this knowledge that things are not as they should be “echoes.” He says that these echoes show up principally in four areas.

First is justice. We long for wrongs to be made right but we know they are not. When I wake up late at night and try to find something boring enough on TV to turn off my brain, I can’t watch those commercials about kids in poverty around the world. It is so wrong and it so upsetting that if I watch it I know that I will never get back to sleep. So I refuse to take the red pill and I change the channel.

Things are wrong. Things are very wrong. Americans spent $61 Billion on our pets last year while we still have kids going to bed hungry in our own land. With three dogs and being a channel changer, I am as guilty as anyone. I try to help by being a regular supporter of Food for the Poor the Anglican Relief and Development Fund but that does not begin to address the injustices of this world.

I say that because it’s not just about kids going hungry. There is racial injustice, economic injustice, political injustice, legal injustice….the list goes on and on. Even the groups that some would write off as tree hugging, granola eating, Birkenstock wearing, whale saving, dreadlock sporting, climate changing wingnuts are at least partially right because they too are simply responding to the echoes in their hearts that something is terribly wrong and these injustice need to be made right.

The second echo has to do with relationships. We just don’t seem to be able to get them right beginning with Cain and Abel. On a grand scale human history is the story of nations going to war with nations and tens of millions paying the price for war with their lives. America has enemies around the world who consider it their calling to figure out new ways to kill us. We hear the great bear of Russia starting to roar again and along with the rest of the world, we worry. The insanity is that everyone agrees that war is hell but for whatever reason humanity chooses to continue to live in hell.

On a less grand scale we can’t seem to make individual relationships work either. Who can forget the video of the football player cold cocking his fiancée in an elevator? Did you know that a woman is beaten every 9 seconds in America? Between 2001 and 2012 almost twice the number of women were killed by domestic violence here in the US than troops were killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq during that same period.

We want to make it better. We just don’t know how. We have even invented something called social media to bring us all together but we are quickly learning that that dog don’t hunt.

A few weeks ago I flew to Dallas. As I walked through the airport and observed the people sitting at their gates all I saw was the tops of their heads while people stared into the glow of their phones and pads while swiping the screen with their index fingers. When we got off the plane and the bus filled with folks who were being taken to rental cars and I did not hear one conversation nor did I observe one person looking out of the window. All were staring and swiping, staring and swiping. I realized then why “The Walking Dead” is the number one TV show in America. It’s because these devices have turned us all into zombies! I fear we will end up like the cartoon of the funeral that had three people in attendance with the widow saying to the priest, “But he had 500 friends on Facebook!?” Our relationships are broken and they need to be made right and we want them to be made right but we don’t know how to do it.

The third echo has to do with beauty. Beauty is such an intangible, and it may be in the eye of the beholder, nevertheless it is sustenance for the soul. We long for it, we celebrate it and we are diminished without it. And yet beauty is under attack. We find a woman with the face of Helen of Troy to place on the cover of our magazine but first we must airbrush her picture. We have gone from Pachelbel’s Canon in D to rap songs with titles that cannot be repeated in mixed company. The beauty and art of architecture is defaced with graffiti in every city. I was shocked when I witnessed one of the worst places for it is in pristine Switzerland.

We chop down majestic forests to pour more concrete. The beauty of language has been disfigured by constant streams of vulgarity and classic books and movies have been replaced with reality shows and pornography. We are not sure that we even know what beauty is any more but still our souls long for it.

The fourth echo is spirituality. You may call it an inner sense but man has always believed that we are not alone. Some explain that sense by pointing to aliens from other planets or to the spirits of the departed. But others, many many others throughout the ages have looked to a Divine Being who loves us and wants us to know and respond to that love.

But at the same time we look around and see how far we have fallen from that vision. In the name of religion people show up at the funeral of a soldier with a “God hates fags” sign. In the name of religion 7 armed men climb over the wall of a school in Pakistan and kill scores of children and their teachers. In the name of religion girls in Africa are kidnapped and sold into slavery. In the name of religion fanatics in Ireland set bombs to kill their own countrymen. This has led some to suggest that religion is really a part of the problem. They say that the very thing that should give us justice and relationships and beauty has been deformed into a Medusa that turns to stone the heart of everyone who looks upon it.

With these echoes so strong inside of us, knowing that there is so much that is wrong and that needs to be made right, our story of stories continues. Thank the Lord that it does because that would be a terrible ending.

The next thing that happens in our story is that we discover that our hero is not the one that anyone would have chosen. The prophet asks Jesse if he has any other sons and Jesse says yes but he is just a ruddy face lad who watches over sheep. Morpheus discerns that the one who will save the world from the machines is a simple computer hacker (and nobody can play simple like Keanu Reeves). In spite of all the warriors visiting the Shire, fate choses a gentle hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. After many might men have failed, it is young Arthur that will draw the sword from the stone and it is children that will pass through the wardrobe into Narnia.

As for the true unexpected hero of the greatest story ever told, “A virgin will conceive and bear a child.” “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The Almighty is going to defeat the ancient evil forces of the universe with a baby! The justice we long for will come through the hand of a Child! The prophets tell us that swords will be beaten into plowshares, that war will end and all the inequities will be made right and all this will come from a babe in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger! No one could have seen that coming.

The next part of the story involves collecting a band of brothers that come together to address the wrongs. This answers the echo of relationships needing to be made right. We see the brothers and sisters entering Narnia together or Bilbo joining the Dwarfs on their journey. We see Dorothy joining forces with the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man or Neo uniting forces with Morpheus and Trinity and Cypher. We see Arthur gather the Knights of the Round Table and in the ultimate story it is Jesus choosing and training the Twelve.

Just as Mary will give birth to her Son, so her Son will give birth to the Church and He will give His Church a New Commandment that we love one another. Through His Church He creates a new society and He tells us that we are to let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. By His Spirit, we are baptized into one Body as He tears down the walls that divide us. The Prince of Peace comes to bring peace among men. Thus part of the Good News that He brings to us is that we do not have to walk this journey alone. This infant will make us into the family of God.

But all good stories have a tragic twist that takes the journey in a whole new direction. Arthur is betrayed by Lancelot, Gollum betrays Bilbo, Edmund betrays his siblings to the White Witch, Dozier is killed by the traitor Cypher. In the story of stories Judas betrays Jesus. It sets the tone of what looks like a crushing defeat for our hero.

But at this point in the story, when it seems that all is lost, this is when the echo of spirituality surfaces. A power has chosen our heroes which gives them a sense of destiny and it is in fulfilling their destiny that all will be made right. Luke trusts the Force to defeat the Death Star. Arthur calls on the power of Excalibur to defend Camelot. Dorothy discovers she had the power all along to go home. Neo, through a device in his head taps into the power of the machines to defeat them.

In the greatest story Jesus’ power comes by humbling Himself and fulfilling the will of His Father. He accepts His destiny by drinking from the cup that the Father has given Him. He uses His divine power to take on the sins of the world and to lay down His life for the world. What looks like the ultimate triumph of evil is turned into its very defeat. On a cool Sunday morning, Life will walk out of a garden tomb and death will be swallowed up. The Child born this night is born under the shadow of the cross but the cross does not have the final word. The final word is Life.

And this Life, whose birth we celebrate tonight, will come again for the healing of the Nations. He will create a new heaven and a new earth that is so beautiful that it can only be described as streets of gold and gates of pearl but even these images fail to describe what it will truly be like. The Bible says that no eye has seen nor ear heard nor has it even entered the heart of man all that the Lord has in store for us.

The story usually ends in the hero receiving his reward. Often he is given a title or a medal or made a knight or a king. This certainly happened to Jesus. He ascended to the right hand of the Father and was given a Name that is above every Name that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

But there is a reward that Jesus received that I don’t want you to miss tonight. That reward is you! He did what He did for us that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. The Babe we celebrate tonight is for you. For unto us a child is born and unto us a Son is given. You are the treasure He came to win and that is why we come tonight to offer Him our worship. And thanks to the story of stories, we know and believe that all who believe in Him will live happily ever after. The end. Sleep tight.

Rejoice and Repent


3 Advent B

Lessons – Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 126; I Thess 5:12-28; St. John 3:23-30

Today is Gaudete Sunday, that word Gaudete, is taken from the Latin for “rejoice”. It gets the name from the introit for this day which begins “rejoice” and from our New Testament lesson which commands us to “rejoice.” The color for today is different and lets be clear it is rose and NOT pink. It is to call our attention to the fact that that the end of this penitential season is near and that our King draweth neigh.

We also discover today that we are still with John the Baptist as we were last week. Apparently he still has something to say to us. I believe that he does indeed have something left to say to us in this season and that it comes from his overall theme which was Jesus’ theme also at the beginning of his ministry. That theme is “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”. In this season of waiting and patience we are not to be passive. We are to be busy in our preparation and part of that preparation includes repentance.

I will be the first to admit that repentance is not an easy word to hear, especially if you come from a tradition or background that abused or misused it. One of parishioners was telling me that he came from a tradition where you stood up in front of the whole church and confessed your sins to everyone! How well do you think it would work for us if during the general confession we asked you say your specific sins out loud? You’d probably be more careful who you sat next to and I imagine that it would be pretty easy to find a parking space, don’t you?
Thank the Lord, that is not the kind of repentance that we are talking about. Others come from traditions that so downplayed the idea of the fall that they thought that the point of a sermon was to raise self-esteem. Repentance was rarely if ever mentioned at all.

Let’s try to understand this word a little better so that we don’t make the mistake of misusing it or ignoring it. Let’s first understand to whom it was that John was talking to about repenting.

These were not felons and ax murderers. They were not even a group of godless pagans. The people that were coming out to hear him were common folk, even religious folk. So the first thing to keep in mind when we you are hearing a sermon on repentance is not “I sure wish so and so were hear to hear this.” Rather we each should be saying the words of the old spiritual “It’s me, its me, its me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” The call to repentance is a call to us all.

Next we need to understand that repentance has several components to it that are each very important. If you leave one or more out it would be like ruining a recipe by leaving out key ingredients. The first element is contrition or what is called called “godly sorrow”. When you read the Psalms you can hear and how broken hearted the Psalmist is for having grieved the Holy Spirit. If you are a parent you have likely developed an ear for godly sorrow. When you correct your children and tell them to say that they are sorry, what are you listening for? You are listening for genuine sorrow and not just for them to mouth the words. That is why if they say “Sorry” with an attitude, then according to the universal handbook on parenting you are supposed to say what? “That’s not good enough, say it like you mean it.”

Our heavenly Father is looking for the same thing. We need to have sorrow about what we have done and not just mouth the words or go through the motions. It is one reason that we are having a longer silence after we call for the general confession, so that we can say it from our hearts and not just from the book.

What makes contrition godly sorrow and not just another form of self-pity is because it takes into consideration what our sin has done to God, rather than just mourning the fact that we got caught. There is a beautiful prayer of contrition in the Roman Catholic Church that captures this idea well. “O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell but most of all because they offend thee, my God who are all good and deserving of all my love.” Some may want to debate the idea of a Christian facing the loss of heaven but don’t miss the point of the prayer that the penitent is sorry mostly because of having offended God who is all good and deserving of all our love. That is godly sorrow.

The next aspect of repentance is confession. Until you name something it has power over you. If a child is afraid of the dark because there might be a monster under his bed, then tell him to name the monster Irving because its pretty difficult to be afraid of a monster called Irving. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus would ask the demons name before He cast it out? It will have power over you until you name it so in confession we call it what it is.
The other thing that naming it does is that it pulls the sin out of darkness into the light. I had a family member of mine who had a secret addiction until he confessed it to his wife, his mother, his pastor and I think just about anyone who would listen. Actually I think he confessed to too many people but I will get to that in a moment. The point here is that his addiction was broken when he brought it into the light and he has been free from its power.

To whom do you confess? In general we would say that we make our confession to Almighty God. That is what the general confession during the Mass is all about, as well as the confession in Morning and Evening Prayer Compline. But it does not always end there. If you have sinned against someone directly, then after making your confession to God, you will most likely be directed by the Holy Spirit to go to them and make a confession and ask their forgiveness. It is not an easy thing to do but there is so much power in it.

Not long after I graduated from college I was painting an apartment that I was about to move into. Whiled doing this I was so angry with a guy who had wronged me that I found myself consumed with rage towards him. The more I painted the angrier I got and the angrier I got the stronger the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I was to go to him and repent of my anger. I first thought. “Heck with that, he was the one who wronged me” but as you can imagine I lost that debate. Finally when I could not take the Spirit’s conviction any longer I dropped my paintbrush and went to him and confessed that I had anger, even hate towards him. Then I asked his forgiveness. He threw his arms around me and forgave me and the offense that I was carrying fell off me like a backpack loaded with rocks. I didn’t realize until later that he never asked my forgiveness but by that time it did not matter. It was all in the past.

We do need to be guided by wisdom and love when we go to others to make a confession. What we don’t want to do is to take the burden off of ourselves and place it upon others.

I have also seen in traditions that do not have a sacramental confession that there is a tendency for confessions to go on and on to anyone and everyone, like the family member that I just spoke about. That does not seem healthy to me. So our tradition also offers what is called auricular confession, meaning “to the ear.” You sit down in private with a priest, make your confession and then using the power Christ has given to the Church he releases you from your sins. You don’t have to stand up in front of the Church or share them with anyone and everyone. You don’t have to keep making the same confession. You get it done and move on.

The third component of repentance is penance. That word makes many Protestants nervous but it is a good word when properly understood. Penance is, as John the Baptist said in another place, “producing fruit in keeping with repentance.” Penance is taking a step after you say that you are sorry and making things right. Penance is taking a step beyond being forgiven because involves amendment of life. I so much prefer the 1928 call to confession because it includes this idea as well. “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, are in love and charity with your neighbor and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways…”

It may be returning something that you have stolen, it may involve mending some fences that you have broken, it may be as simple as remembering to offer thanks for the forgiveness that God has given you, but penance it is a very important part of the recipe of repentance. People who want to be forgiven but don’t want to amend their lives are looking for cheap grace and God’s grace is free but it’s not cheap. There is a great line in Ben Hur, “Repentance must be something more than mere remorse for sins; it comprehends a change of nature befitting heaven.”

The last component of repentance is absolution. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, His first order was for them to take off Lazarus’ grave clothes. What a great image that is. If we do the first three parts of repentance but then do not walk in the freedom and new life that absolution gives us, then we are like Lazarus walking around in our grave clothes. The world has seen far too many of those type of Christians walking around in it.

Rather being constantly reminded of our wretchedness and living in condemnation we need to be more like the lame man that Jesus healed that took off running and leaping and praising God. In the lesson from Isaiah, God speaks of a time when he will create everything new for us so that the former things will not be remembered and we can rejoice and be glad forever. That is God’s way. He forgives so completely that He makes all things new.

Listen to these words from another section of Isaiah “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Is 43:25). Or how about this from the Psalms, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:11,12). So in terms of absolution, God’s response to our contrition, confession and penance is to clean the slate and make us new. What a gift we rob ourselves of if our remorse keeps us from accepting such grace.

Lasty I want to mention the purpose of repentance. In last week’s sermon Fr. Chris said that it literally means to change direction. Repentance turns us from going our own way, turns us around and then points us, like John the Baptist, to Jesus. Repentance when done properly gives us a whole new future and that is what this season of Advent is preparing us to embrace. None of us need only a form of godliness, we need the power to be godly and repentance opens the door to that power. So just as the people welcomed the ministry of John the Baptist to set them right, we should welcome this season of Advent and look for the new beginnings that it offers us. As this rose candle remind us, it is time to rejoice. Amen.

Keep Alert

Keep Alert

1 Advent Mark 13:24-37
I saw a movie recently on TV called Now You See Me . It was about an FBI and an Interpol Agent who were given the task of tracking down a team of illusionists who pulled heists during their performances. As their performances grew in popularity so did the size of their heists and it was impossible to figure out how they were doing it. Like all good movies it had a nice twist in the end. He had been dead all along! No wait, that was another movie.

My point in bringing it up was that their powerful illusions were based upon misdirection. As you are watching the magician show you that nothing was up his sleeve, the beautiful assistant was performing the real trick or as you are looking at the beautiful assistant the magician does his thing. It’s all about misdirection.

This came to mind as I was reading our Gospel Lesson and thinking about Jesus command to “Watch” or “Keep Awake” or as other translations put it to “Keep Alert.” You will notice that this is no mild suggestion. He even gives the command by saying “Beware” and then twice He orders us to “Keep Alert.”

It occurred to me that we need to be reminded in this manner because our lives are filled with misdirection by a team of illusionists. These illustionists are called the World, the Flesh and the Devil and if we are not wise to their misdirections, then we will not be doing what we are supposed to be doing when the master of the house comes in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.

We just witnessed the misdirection by the Flesh this last week. When a holiday is called “Thanksgiving” you would think that people would be flooding into churches to give thanks to the One who gave them their life and all that is. But what did we see? We saw people lining up in front of stores for hours and the police having to pry people apart as they fought over electronics or the latest top selling toys.

I saw a lady on the news who began camping out one week before the stores opened on Thanksgiving night and she was not alone. Other pitched their tents the next day and the line of campers grew throughout the week. And I’m not talking about camping in Miami. She was bundled up in a huge Parka like she was at the North Pole. She said they did a lot of coffee runs and mostly sat in their tents and played cards all week.

Now do the math with me. Let’s be generous and say that she was going to save $1,000 on a large screen TV. If that were paid to her as a wage for the time she was putting in, it would come to $5.90 per hour. And there is no telling how many others around the country who were equally foolish stewards of their time.

That of course is an extreme example but it highlights how easily consumerism misdirects our lives so that we are not keeping alert to the things that really matter. Jesus tells us directly how to keep alert when it comes to consumerism. He says “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6

This is not to say that it is wrong provide for your family or to have nice things or even to look for a great deal on a large screen TV. But we must not allow the tinsel of this life to redirect our attention so that we are not seeking the true riches of heaven as the first priority of our lives. Just as Jesus set His face like a flint to Jerusalem to accomplish what His Father had sent Him to do, so we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and trust Him as our Shepherd to provide and not be misdirected by the riches of this world.

We also saw last week a major misdirection by the World. From my perspective the first tragedy in Ferguson has been blown up into a greater tragedy all through misdirection. By the first tragedy I mean the death of Michael Brown. It is a shame that an 18 year old, with the rest of his life before him, had to die. But the report of the officer, which was corroborated by a half a dozen eye-witnesses, more than one autopsy and forensic evidence, showed that it was a matter of self defense on the part of the officer. The evidence proved that Michael attacked the officer while the officer was in his car. Michael made some dumb choices by robbing a store, assaulting a clerk and then trying to take a gun from a policeman and he paid for those dumb choices with his life. That should have been the end of it.

But the media and race baiters, in constant need of ratings and money, turned it into a racial issue and fanned the flames. I can’t count how many times I heard in the news that the officer was white and the victim was an unarmed black teen when the actual incident was not about race. Then the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church dragged the Church into the fray by stating that Michael’s death has the potential to be a “sacrificial offering” if it is used to heal racial divides.

Not only is it close to blasphemy to try to make Michael some kind of Christ figure but it fans the flame of racism to make everything about race. This fanning of the flames led to businesses being burned and looted, the majority of which were owned by minorities and people who had absolutely nothing to do with the shooting, much less with any kind of racial injustice. As a consequence racial tensions and injustice increase.

But people getting along does not sell newspapers and peace does not fill the pockets of those who make a living out of being outraged. And yet seeking the end of division and praying for peace among all men is to be the work of the Church. We need to keep alert.

There is a beautiful prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that points us in this direction and shows us the work to be done. I would like to pray it right now for us and for Ferguson and all of the Fergusons around our nation. Let us pray. “O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

In his book, The Divine Conspiriacy, Dallas Willard argues that the number one thing we must work on in order to walk in the kingdom of God is to address our anger and our contempt for others. I think he is right because if we are looking for the coming of Christ we might miss Him if he comes to us in a neighbor that we despise. We keep alert by keeping our baptismal vow to seek and serve Christ in all people. Don’t be misdirected by the lies of the World.

Another misdirection can be seen to happen inside the Church and it plays right into the hand of the Devil. That is the spiritual pride that comes from thinking that you have arrived, that you have all of the answers. A Facebook friend last week launched into a diatribe about how his church is the one true church and that all others are heretical. I find this kind of thinking heartbreaking because Jesus prayed for us to be one. We obviously don’t have to agree with one another on every point of doctrine but we cannot write off millions of other Christians just because they don’t see it our way. I tried to have a discussion with him, but as I said of the media, I only ended up fanning the flames of the fire and making things worse.

Spiritual pride comes in many forms. It is seen in the guys who have the charts about the end times and even though Jesus didn’t know the hour of His coming, they have been able to figure it out. It is seen in the guys who act like they have a direct line to heaven with the Lord talking to them 24/7. I had a spiritual director tell a guy one time. “You know if the Lord spoke to you as much as you say that He does, He would be hoarse by now.”

Spiritual pride can be seen in those who try to out-humble the humble. Years ago this kind of “spirituality” was very sheek. I would go up to someone and tell them how nicely they sang a song in church and they would say, “Oh it wasn’t me, it was the Lord.” I would walk away thinking to myself, “I could have sworn it was her voice that I heard.” That kind of false humility is almost enough to make you want to stop encouraging one another as we have been commanded to do.

Spiritual pride is a difficult thing to address. The only way to be successful in addressing spiritual pride is to address it within ourselves, to keep alert to ways that it could be working its way into our lives. That is one reason why penitential seasons, like the one we begin today, are so important. They offer us a time to do some housecleaning.

The last misdirection to which I want to call our attention is not necessarily from the World, the Flesh and the Devil and it is not even really a sin. The most challenging misdirection comes from life in general. It is the pressures of going to school or getting a job or paying a mortgage or raising a family and juggling all of the things that we have to juggle to make life work.

Over the years I have seen so many couples, who are faithful in worship, start a family and then slowly become so overwhelmed with demands that when something has to go what they sacrifice are their spiritual lives. And they are not alone. Many of us go through times when we feel like our lives are right on the edge of total chaos and if we get one more bill or have to go to one more meeting or need to make one more commitment that we are going to pop like a balloon. Life can be such a challenge that Jesus needs to remind us, even command us to stay alert.

It’s not that these other demands of life are unimportant but rather we must keep in focus that there is something of greater importance going on at the same time. We must not put off life in the kingdom of God in order to attempt to make a good life for ourselves in this world. Remember how Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” In the same vein we might ask, “What does it profit us to make a wonderful life if we do not inherit eternal life?”

The answer for the vast majority of us is not to renounce this life and join a monastery or convent. We keep alert by folding this life into the kingdom of God so that whatever we do, we do it as unto the Lord. We are not to stop living rather we are to become living sacrifices acceptable to Him. We do this, as I said in a recent sermon, by living lives of conviction not of convenience.

The illustration that Jesus uses, in calling us to keep alert, is so perfect. The Master is away and the servants are expected to be found doing their respective jobs when He returns. This illustration does not require much insight. Of course Jesus is the Master and we are His servants and when He returns He expects to find us being about His business and not camping out for a week to get a deal on a flat screen TV or whatever else the World, the Flesh and the Devil would have us misdirected and doing. Let’s take advantage of this penitential season of Advent to seek the Lord’s wisdom. Let’s ask for eyes to see where we are being misdirected and then square up our lives to be in accord with His most loving will. Let’s use the Advent to keep alert. Amen.