Measuring-up to Luke 11:32-40

Last Sunday, I got to use the new TED-style microphone headset, a result of a generous donation from one of our members – a practice I am keen to encourage through the formation of a Friends of Trinity Cathedral ministry. I first noticed this headset while watching the TED Talks. For those who are not familiar with these, go to Netflix on your TV, or to Ted Talks on your computer. Here are three links to talks I recently posted on Trinity’s FaceBook site. – .UeH2hA7PUFw.facebook

What fascinates me about the TED Talks is not only the content of the presentations, but the style of presentation. Presenters do vary in their presentation styles, yet the TED style is a masterful use of the immediacy of conversation, made possible by the combination of verbal and visual stimuli. This is achieved by the engagement of both our eyes and our ears as pictures, key words, and short phrases flash on the big screen behind the speaker’s head, pithily capturing the meaning of the words we are hearing. So when I said last week: now I have the headset, next comes the big screen above the pulpit, many anxiously snickered, hoping that I was making a joke, but sensing I was not!

The Episcopalian Brand features a strong emphasis on traditional worship. Yet, even Episcopalians are increasingly conditioned by the communications revolution, taking place all around us. As the world shifts from the communication style established by the invention of the printing press, we become less oriented to complex verbally based expression of ideas and argument, and more oriented towards a communication style that skillfully mixes the visual with verbal into the message. One picture speaks a thousand words as the old adage goes, captures the increasing return to the use of visual elements in mass communication, which in the digital age works on our minds and stimulates our imaginations through the skillful mixing of sight and sound. Through our ancient liturgy, a medium of sight, sound, and action, the Episcopal Church is already ahead in the game, so why not take further advantage of modern electronic media to further enhance our core communication modality.

One stumbling block to this is that those of us 40 and over have been shaped by a communication style that uses words to stimulate thoughts and ideas. What you said really made me think is a comment I often receive from parishioners following one of my sermons. Well, I am glad to know that, particularly as I am one who loves the interplay between words, thoughts and reflections. Yet, Jesus has a teaching style that does not aim to stimulate thoughtful reflective connections between words and ideas. Jesus teaching style is closer to that of the TED Talks, in that words are used conversationally to evoke powerful, usually contradictory images rather than thoughtful reflections. It is through his confrontative image based message that Jesus, who is not interested in sparking reflective debate, seeks to change lives. These images don’t flash on a big electronic screen behind Jesus, but on the internal screens of his listener’s individual minds. Jesus communication style uses words to evoke images that challenge us directly in ways that expository teaching and preaching cannot!

Unlike the Buddha, Jesus teaches very little about the internal spiritual life. As I said two weeks ago, even when he refers directly to prayer, he does so by provoking uncomfortable images that direct our attention to the quality of our engagement with the world of relationships around us. Recently in his teaching on prayer, known to us as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus presents an image of shamelessness driving our longing for God.   He provokes the image of the small child whispering daddy or mummy as the way we are to approach God. Note these are direct and controversial images, not complex metaphysical instructions.

Last week, Canon Rhodes shared his sense of relief that it was I, and not him, who had to deal with the Gospel for today. I have spent a week wrestling with this text from Luke. Like the Ted-Talks, Jesus uses words to provoke images that flash across our internal screens. If taken seriously, these images disturb me deeply because when I measure myself, my attitudes, and my actions against these images, I am uncomfortably aware of how far in my discipleship, I fall short.

In what ways do I fall short of being able to live the fullness of the life of a disciple?  To begin with, my alms are given from my surplus and not by selling my possessions. If my surplus decreases, it would seem eminently reasonable to me that the level of my giving should likewise follow.  Is my treasure where my heart can be found?  This is not a comforting image for me because it requires me to examine the question: what is it I treasure? My treasure is not monetary. Yet, it is personal to me. My heart is devoted to the pursuit of my own competence and self-sufficiency.

I have such a vivid picture of a purse that does not wear out and will contain the wherewithal necessary for life in heaven. If I had a big TED screen behind me now would be the time to flash pictures of moth eaten purses and rust corroded strongboxes, contrasted to a scene of living the good life floating about on clouds in heaven. Pictures of heavenly purses which I have been prudent enough to prepare for in advance remind me that this last week GEICO encouraged me to take advantage of my eligibility for an Umbrella Policy, which for a small increase in my premium will give me a million dollars coverage against evil third parties intent on suing me. Yet, what if heaven is not a future event to be prepared for? Jesus is more likely to be suggesting that heaven is here and now and the heavenly purse is one that is unfailingly useful in bringing about good in this world. Resources that are put to use now are less subject to the decay of moth and rust than if they are amassed and horded, left unused in preparation for some future, and largely imaginary state.

Am I dressed for action? Oh most certainly I am. Yet, a more pertinent question is: how am I dressed for action? My early life experience has given me a prodigious skill to anticipate and be ready for whatever trouble might lurk around the corner. Dressed in armor, I am ready for action. Yet, the action Jesus has us picture here is not that of battle, but of expectation and readiness to welcome with joy and celebration being in loving and trusting relationship. The servants are overjoyed at the return of their master. This is an image that looses its power for us until we remember that in Jesus’ world the relationship between master and servant was one of mutual dependency, trust, and protection.

Am I dressed for expectation? This does not mean being ready for the future before it happens. Jesus means that I should be ready in the present moment and in each successive present moment to celebrate because I trust God and am trusted by God. All that energy expended on anticipating the future is futile for none of us knows at what hour the imaginary threat we anticipate will present itself. Anxious anticipation results in our not being ready for what happens to us in the present. If I am ready now, I am always ready and I have no need to scare myself into a state of anxious anticipation of disaster, which never really arrives anyway. Jesus asks us to focus our attention on the only moment in which we are actually living – the present moment is the only moment in which we are actually alive.

How would my life change if I knew that I was going to die next Sunday. I suspect that the next week would be the most life filled experience of my life. Under the impetus of no time to lose I would turn my attention to what really matters for me. This would be the present celebration of love and friendship.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the reading, which precedes the Lucan passage with which I am inviting us all to struggle, we hear the greatest definition of the character of faith ever recorded. This anonymous writer tells us that: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The great American novelist Mark Twain puts a more idiomatic spin on the character of faith when he has Huck Finn proclaim: Faith is believin what you know ain’t so. 

I have a version of Huck’s comment which I tell people when they ask: how can I risk taking the leap of faith when I don’t know what I feel about God or even if there is a God?  I tell them to fake it till you make it. What I mean by this is that in longing for a trusting and loving relationship with God it’s important to live as if what you most long for is – already true!

So, what is it that we must live-out everyday as if it is true? Jesus begins this particular conversation with us with these words: Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Note that God addresses us as a little flock, i.e. as a community, not as individuals here. God is inviting us to trust and to relax, to be less preoccupied with getting so that we can respond to God’s giving and emulate God’s generosity in our giving. Jesus tells us it is only through being open to God’s initiative, God’s provision, in sum God’s reality that our deepest needs come to be met.

Is not our deepest need to make a difference through living life as an expression of gratitude and generosity? What we most long for is not only that our need is met, but that we live beyond the confines of our self-centeredness so that our life becomes a source of what makes a difference for good in the lives of others who share the world with us! Let this be our prayer today and everyday.




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