Sermon texts Phil 4:4-9, and James 4:13-15
Time, Talents, Treasure series at Hamblen Park PC
“Your attention, please.” That’s what God wants: our attention. A spiritual life needs attention. Today’s texts invite us to be attentive to living in the present.
You know who the experts are at living in the present? Kids. To them life is a joy ride. Being present to the wonder of each day can be fun. In order for the rest of us to engage fully in this topic I invite you to watch this video called Joy Ride.
Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride. Rejoice in the LORD always – enjoy the ride. Let your gentleness be known to all – enjoy the ride. The LORD is near. Do not worry – be all in. Do not fret – be alive to God’s presence each day.
How? Look at verse 6, “in everything by prayer and petition with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God. Shalom. The peace and presence of God which passes all understanding. We want that peace in our everyday lives. Do we not? So what keeps us from it?
James chapter 4 tells us that when we compartmentalize our lives we get in trouble. To divide life into what is sacred and what is not is to ignore the truth that God cares about every aspect of lives – 24/7. Even the more mundane things like where we plan to live, how we plan to make money, and what we plan to do with it. The problem in this short passage is not planning per se, but rather leaving God out of the plans. In order to live an integrated life in which every square inch of it is sacred – we must learn to be discerning people.
HPPC is in a season of discernment. Andrea told us about this last week. She is leading a team of folks who are adept at listening to all of you describe what it is like to part of this church. In these interviews people talk about what is special to them about their church – where they have seen God work in the past and what God is doing here presently. From this Appreciative Inquiry process leaders of this church will prayerfully discern about the future and together decide who your next pastor will be.
This works best when the people of the church live lives attentive to God’s Spirit. To live attentive integrated lives takes practice. For centuries the Christian church has taught the importance of a daily ritual of Thanksgiving. This practice is called the ”Examen” (Latin for examination). The Examen offers a way to pray the experiences of our everyday lives; the result being an integrated life. Basically this involves reflecting on our lives in prayerful attentiveness. The Examen helps us notice God at work. It helps us practice our passage from Philippians:
4 Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[b] 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved,[c] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[d] these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Let’s get practical:
The Examen has 5 steps (in going this in a small group setting take time to do each step in a leisurely fashion)
- First, settle into a comfortable place. Your pew will do nicely. Take a deep breath and find something to focus on ~ beautiful banner, flowers, a candle flame. Take your time.
- Reflect on recent events – a video of images may roll through your mind. Concentrate on the subtle aspects of your experiences, not so much what happened but what emotions you felt, or insights you gained, what did you enjoy, feel energized by, find frustrating, or disappointing?
- Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are grateful! Savor what comes to mind. Draw life or energy from it once more. God is near. God was with then and God is with you now. Rest in that moment/memory.
- Ask God now to bring to your heart an awareness of 1 or 2 experiences for which you are NOT grateful. Emotions such as anger, sadness, or guilt may surface. Perhaps you felt drained of energy, unable to love or receive love. What was it that made that experience so difficult? Do not judge or be critical. God is near. God was with you then and God is with you now. Rest.
- Give thanks to God for what you experienced.
It’s that simple. You might choose practice this attentive form of prayer in the morning coffee, or in the evening just before dozing off to sleep. Those of you who practice this or something similar know its value. You can do this alone or in groups; daily or episodically. Some find it helpful to do at major life junctions – like the first of day something BIG – perhaps a new job, or move, or promotion. You might think of it akin to notches in a doorframe measuring children’s physical growth. The Examen helps us ‘notice’ our growth and spiritual development.
Perhaps your family has a ritual for sharing daily insights around the dinner table – in my brother’s house they call this “Today’s Highs, Lows, and Betcha Didn’t You Know”. The ‘highs’ might include passing a test, sitting by a cute boy on the bus, or running their fastest mile yet. The ‘lows’ could be a friend moving away, the death of a goldfish died. You get the picture. A recent favorite ‘betcha didn’t know ‘– I have a girlfriend! These are early steps in discernment.
Pausing, being attentive to daily life helps us live in the present. Reminds us God is near. Over time patterns begin to emerge connecting various activities and choices helping us discern which are life giving (when we feel alive and energized) and what is life draining (burdensome, alienating from God, self, others).
Such attentiveness helps us discover vocational insights that bring us joy and draw us into a deeper relationship with God. Sports, camping, gardening, reading to bedtime stories to our kids or grandchildren can be rich sources of such joy. There are millions of others too.
Being aware of what is genuinely life giving helps us live in the present. Each of us lives in sacred time and space. May we grow in our attentiveness and celebrate that great mystery – God is near.
Interim Ministry Note: Andrea mentioned here is the chair of the Mission Study Team.