Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Monday, May 20, 2013
Mike Turgeon Momentum for Life: “What’s new?” 1/1/12
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied,“No, there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.
Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13
Momentum for Life: “What’s new?”
The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Everyone was invited to a New Year’s Eve party.
Some of the people came with their party hats and noisemakers and a potluck dish. But some of the people came to the party without anything, didn’t put much thought into it, just showed up. And the TV was turned on at 9 pm. to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but nobody on the west coast got too excited ‘cause it was only 9 o’clock, still three hours to go.
A few minutes before midnight the shouting began because the New Year was approaching and it was time to celebrate. Those who showed up empty-handed were asking around for favors or a champagne glass to make a toast, or they were looking for someone to kiss, but the revelers who had come prepared were not able to oblige them.
And so the New Year was ushered in in fine style by those with the proper accoutrements.
And about 12:45 am. those who went looking for party favors came back to celebrate also but the party host said, “It’s too late,” the moment has passed.
Now, some of us might say, well that’s not fair, they could have shared. And some would say, you know, New Year’s does come at the same time every year, you could have thought ahead. And what about the bridesmaids, how much oil did they really need?
Momentum for Life
New Year’s Day is the perfect time to consider what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven is remaining awake, recognizing that you are in God’s presence, both now and in eternity. Since the birth of Jesus, which was in the news again recently, the kingdom of heaven was brought to earth in human form. In and with Jesus Christ, we are always in God’s presence. How often do you pay attention to this fact? All the time? Once a day. Once a week? Hardly ever?
New Year’s Day is the perfect day to begin practicing the presence of God. The nearness of God is a wedding banquet and New Year’s Eve party rolled into one and infinitely multiplied.
I must confess that I tend to come off as a spoil sport on New Year’s Day. Any of you who have heard me preach this time of year might remember my caution regarding New Year’s resolutions. Don’t make them! You’re setting yourself up. If you insist on making them, you are likely setting up the diet and health club industries for a tidy profit.
If you are open to any advice or counsel this New Year’s Day, wait until about September to get your resolution going. That way you can practice your new discipline, test drive it, get some momentum going before you lock in a whole new way of eating or exercising, or handling your finances; start all that on New Year’s Day 2013. It’s much too late to start a project like that today.
However, there is one project you can begin right now, and it is the best thing you could do--put all your eggs in a spiritual basket, and then consider making life-altering decisions. Doesn’t matter if you are in your 80s or your 20s or anywhere in between. In order to get this party started, you only need to recognize God’s presence all around you. You can start any time and then you will have to practice.
Practicing the presence of God
Practicing the presence of God is not a mysterious thing, but this practice is a wholly necessary thing in order to attain this joy we hear about in the wedding banquet.
We are not merely human beings looking for a spiritual experience. That is a mis-perception. With this gift of Christ, which we receive again today in Holy Communion, we are reminded that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Now, can we have it both ways? I believe we can if we choose wisely. You must see through the eyes of spirit, and you must practice.
Perhaps the best practicer of the presence of God was Brother Lawrence over 300 years ago.
What makes Lawrence’s story so powerful was not what he did but how he did it. Brother Lawrence spent most of his life in a French monastery in Paris. In his journal, he speaks of sensing God’s power and presence at the young age of 18. He was poverty-stricken, so he signed up to fight as a soldier in the Thirty Year’s War. He lasted six years.
After that, he entered the monastery at the age of 24 and spent the next 53 years until his death inside the walls of the priory.
Lawrence was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. He writes: "Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices and resolutions to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into God's presence. Yet, it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"
For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, was a way to receive God’s love and be re-fueled by it. The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than the motivation behind it.
"It is not necessary that we have great things to do, we can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I pray with thanks to Christ who gives me the grace to work. Whether I stir the soup or sweep the floor, I do it in response to the love God gives me.”
Are you, am I, are we, still able to choose a proper heart concerning the details of this life? Lawrence practiced the presence of God, one task, one prayer at a time. Each meal he cooked, each errand he ran, each pot he scrubbed became a motion of devotion.
The world has and will continue to scorn a life of the spirit such as this. Brother Lawrence was certainly aware of this. The monastery walls did not protect him from the daily pressure of his superiors to get the job done, be efficient, produce work. By practicing the presence, Lawrence recognized what was all around him, constant holiness. The eyes of the spirit do see differently than human eyes.
Is it surprising that Brother Lawrence is still being lifted up after 300 years? It is surprising when you learn that he never boasted or loudly proclaimed his approach to the spiritual life; it was his fellow monks who observed his actions, his attention to holiness. They were the ones who brought his private writings to light after his death. Lawrence’s Godly practice and preparation led other ordinary persons to spread the word of God’s constant nearness.
But Pastor Mike, Brother Lawrence lived 300 years ago, he didn’t have to deal with our seductions. Perhaps not. But there is one thing that we and Brother Lawrence have that is the same--the free will to choose our path. By deciding to practice the presence of God in Christ, it is like filling the oil flask for your lamp.
Waiting for the wedding party to begin, you will walk through much darkness, that will not change. Practice makes perfect, as they say; but practice also creates momentum. Momentum is life’s vital ingredient that sustains motivation. Spiritual momentum is not much different from the physical kind. Attaining it is one thing, retaining it is another.
Among athletes, golfers and basketball players seem to speak most eloquently about momentum. They call it the zone, the place where they are really ‘locked’ or ‘tuned’ in. To a golfer in the zone, the cup may look as big as a 5 gallon bucket; to a basketball player, the basket seems 3 feet wide. They also speak about coming in and out of the zone, generally a complete mystery as to when it is going to happen.
The only element that is common to both the physical and the spiritual athlete is practicing the art of preparation, the act of making sure your flask is full for when the time comes, so that your flame will continue to burn and offer the light of Christ no matter how dark the path.