Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wishing, Hoping, Thinking, Praying

Sermon preached November 11, 2012

Texts: Mark 12:38-44

Play a bit of Dusty Springfield, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (1964).
Does anyone know what movie from the 1990s helped that song make a comeback? “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997). I find it fun when an older song finds its way into a contemporary movie. Not long ago I watched the movie “Greenberg” and heard a song I’d not heard in years – Albert Hammond, Jr. “It Never Rains in California.”
Anyway, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” does not really give wishing and hoping a good name.

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'
Plannin' and dreamin' each night of his charms
That won't get you into his arms

The song suggests that action is necessary, not mere wishing and hoping and thinking and praying and planning and dreaming. But, I think that these are necessary elements in the spiritual life. Henri Nouwen: Those who think they have arrived, have lost their way. Those who think they have reached their goal, have missed it…. An important part of the spiritual life is to keep longing, waiting, hoping, expecting. (quoted in the Spiritual Formation Bible).
Jesus: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The religious community leaders Jesus is criticizing thought that had it made. They had spiritually arrived. They spiritual journey was ossified because they did not think it needed to go anywhere. They were spiritually and socially arrogant, and their spiritual arrogance led them to justify unjust actions.
In a brilliant rhetorical move, Jesus contrasts these scribes who in their spiritual arrogance devour widows’ houses, with a widow who gives her whole life, her whole self in trust to God. This woman seemingly has nothing over which she could be arrogant. She is poor. She is widowed, and in the time of Jesus those two things often went together for women had little economic standing. She gives what she has – wishing, hoping, thinking, praying, dreaming, longing, waiting, expecting. This isn’t just about money, and I am going to avoid the temptation to use this text in that way during our stewardship time. This is also a symbolic action, a giving of the whole self longing for the fullness of life God promises to those who seek it in God. This woman is willing to trust her life to God whose love nudges, lures, inspires, draws us forward.
The journey with Jesus is something that engages our whole selves, the whole of our lives, or is meant to. The journey with Jesus is dynamic and growing. It is movement and dance. If we think we have arrived, we are probably lost. If we think we have it all together, there is probably something missing. If we lose that sense of hoping, dreaming, longing, expecting, we are missing something. Joan Chittister, in one of her books, writes: “Unchanging commitment to non-change flies in the face of the Holy Spirit” (The Fire in These Ashes, 87)
This aspect of the spiritual life, the journey with Jesus is something we struggle with. It is something I struggle with. A few years ago, I took a Strengths Finder inventory. One of my top five strengths is “Achiever.” Your Achiever theme helps explain your drive. Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself…. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. (Buckingham and Clifton, Now Discover Your Strengths). I make checklists for myself, daily to do lists, and I like to see stuff get checked off. The spiritual life is not so much arriving at a goal as working toward something that is always out ahead. Life with Jesus is not so much a destination, instead it is a journey, an on-going dance. There are achievements along the way, but I need to see them as temporary landing places, not permanent homes. The journey with Jesus is not the arrogant achievement of the scribes, it is the seeking to offer ones whole self to God of the widow.
The spiritual life, the journey with Jesus is a creative-responsive dance with the Spirit in the midst of change. We change. The world changes. God’s Spirit nudges us to respond in love in the midst of change, and what love requires may change. Today is Veteran’s Day. We honor those who have served our country and the hopes and dreams it represents – liberty and justice. The day began as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I. The congressional resolution marking Armistice Day (1926): read, in part: the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations. It is thus a day to give thanks for service and a day to seek peace. We often lose that balance. Our deep gratitude for the brave and heroic service of men and women in the military should not be confused with an uncritical acceptance of every act of war. Balancing gratitude for service, critical thinking about war and actions to perpetuate peace is an on-going journey. When we think we have arrived, perhaps we have not.
The spiritual life, the journey with Jesus is a journey filled with hoping, dreaming, longing, expecting. It is living with a God who is both always with us, and always out on some horizon ahead, drawing us forward. Joan Chittister (Called To Question: a spiritual memoir, 222: Growth in the spiritual life is a slow, circuitous route to the God within. It winds through devotion and disaster, through fidelity and sin to the point of self-knowledge and need, self-sufficiency and an unending desire for “the More.”
Last Sunday’s newspaper – Parade – had a brief story about the actor Scott Baio, who played Chachi on Happy Days. He is now playing a television father and in real life is father to a five year old. When asked how he felt about being a tv dad he replied, “it’s very surreal. I forget that I’m 52. In my head, I’m still 23!” I remember when I was younger hearing people say that and frankly I thought it was silly. What do you mean? Can’t you see that you aren’t 23 anymore. Now that I am in my early 50s I understand something of this.
On the journey with Jesus we should all have that sense that there is still more up ahead, a sense of wishing, hoping, thinking, dreaming, longing, expecting. There should be in our lives a certain righteous restlessness as we seek to give our whole lives, our entire selves to God’s love, to God’s dream for the world, knowing that God is always with us, inside us, but also that God is out on the horizon too, and we are always changing. Amen.

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