Monday, January 3, 2011

Where's Your Focus? Sermon delivered 01/02/2011

It’s been a nice week since Christmas. I finished taking my vacation days and stayed home with my wife and kids. Believe it or not, during that entire week, I never heard the words, "I am bored." That’s quite an accomplishment in my house.

Perhaps it has something to do with the boat load of presents and toys they received over Christmas. Believe it or not, Santa only brought each of my kids two toys along with a couple of together gifts. But, you know how grandparents are. Apparently, they believe Santa is short changing the kids, and by the time everything was said and done, it looked like Toys R Us blew up in the parsonage living room. There was so much stuff, those kids of mine were almost paralyzed. They didn’t know what to play with first. Before too long, that paralysis ceased, and they dove into those toys like nobody’s business. They are still playing, and it’s a good thing from the perspective of us parents because they are not constantly asking us to entertain them.

I know a couple of the older folks might be rolling their eyes at this time, and believe me, I appreciate where you are coming from. There have been a couple of times when my kids came to me and said, "I’m bored," that I hit them with what my parents hit me with–and perhaps some of your parents as well. I looked them straight in the eye and said, "Well, go outside, get a hoe and start chopping in the garden." Believe me, when I made that statement, they found something else pretty quick.

And you would think that my kids would have absolutely no problem finding something to do. I mean, when I walk into their playroom, they have more toys than you can shake a stick at. They have video games and computer games to play. They have numerous movies to watch. In a real way, it’s overwhelming how much stuff they have, and it’s a far different cry from how many folks were and are raised now a days.

I mean, I’ve read more than a few memoirs and heard more than a few stories about folks who grew up during the depression. I know what kind of toys they had to play with, and it wasn’t much compared to our standards. If girls were lucky, they had one doll to play with, and they didn’t have store bought clothes. Moms and grandmothers would make outfits for that doll out of scrap materials–some of it out of feedbags purchased at the feed store. Guys might have a ball to throw around and an old glove, but there just wasn’t much. And in that day, you didn’t dare say that you were bored. There was a cotton patch and a cotton hoe waiting for you. You learned to use your imagination with playing really fast because there simply wasn’t "stuff" to occupy your time.

Sometimes, I truly wonder if my kids realize how blessed they are. I wonder if they truly realize how they have so much when others around the world and in the past had so little. I wonder if they will come to understand such things as they grow older and mature. Will they come to know just how fortunate they are?
I honestly believe this isn’t just a question for me to ask of my children, but I also think it’s appropriate for us to ask each other as we move from Christmas into the New Year. Many of us spent this time moving from party to party, celebrating with family and friends, eating ourselves silly, and exchanging gifts. Many of us truly enjoyed this time, and some of us felt like it was an escape from the ordinary, daily rut that most of our lives are in. Many of us really enjoyed this as we do every year.

But, now we are getting ready to head back to reality. If we haven’t gone back to work already, we will soon be in that rut once more. Our lives will head back to that familiar pattern. We will once again start hearing the news about those affected by the great recession, about increasing gas prices, about an increasing national debt and threats to national security. Before long, the Christmas bills will begin showing up in our mail boxes, and Uncle Sam will demand his share from self-employed people on January 15th. We’ll begin complaining again. We’ll be mad at the government, mad at the president, mad at ourselves, and mad at anyone who disagrees with us. We’ll want someone to pity us and tell us we are right. And we will begin feeling like the fates are against us. And we will fail to realize just how blessed we truly are.

John opens his Gospel with words that talk about the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh who came to dwell among us. John writes, "12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth...16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
Did you catch that line? "From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace."

I would like you to stop and think about that statement for a moment. I mean really stop and think about it. Don’t just hear it. Don’t just hear me repeat it. Let it sink in–deep within your heart. Let it penetrate the far reaches of your mind. "From his fullness, we have received grace upon grace."

Think about all the ways you have experienced God’s grace in your life. Think about all the ways God has made himself known to you. Think about who you are, the things you have overcome when you couldn’t see a way out, the things that you have. Think about how God has called you His child. Think about in a world of billions of people, you are special to Him and He knows you by name. Think about all the things He has promised you–an unconditional love that overcomes even your worst failings and frailties, His Spirit of truth which leads you and guides you in the midst of life, the promise of a place for you after your earthly journey is over, the promise of life after death so that you have nothing to fear from crossing that threshold, the promise of a family here on earth to nurture you and help you grow in faith, especially when times are tough, and I’m just getting started. You know, I could go on and on and on. I could continue listing grace upon grace upon grace. I preach for the next 30 minutes listing all the blessings of grace God has bestowed upon you and me.

But the question is: will that do any good? Will such a revelation impact the way we see things? Will we be able to see the blessings that we have in our life–blessings that far outweigh the negative things we come across in our lives?

I’m reminded of a story I once read about an old man who owned a little gas station right outside a little town. This was during the day of people moving throughout the country to find a place to live. Many times, folks stopped at this old man’s gas station to inquire about the town. On one occasion, a car pulled in. The gentleman driving got out of the car began filling it with gas, and asked the old man, "What are folks like in town?"

The old man replied, "What are folks like where you came from?"

The gentleman said, "They were a lousy bunch of folks. They lied, cheated, gossiped and generally made life miserable for us. That’s why we’re moving."

The old man replied, "Well, I hate to tell you this, but folks in that town are pretty much like the one you left."

With that, the gentleman said "Thank you", jumped back in the car and drove off.

Not two minutes later, another car packed to the gills, pulled into the station. The gentleman got out of the car, began filling it with gas, and asked the old man, "Sir, what are folks like in town?"

The old man replied, "What are folks like where you came from?"

The gentleman said, "Well, they are a pretty good lot. Folks would help one another out, were often generous, and kind to each other."

The old man replied, "Well, just to let you know, folks in that town are pretty much like the one you left."
You get the picture, right? That old man was a student of human nature. He knew that oftentimes our focus will be drawn to the things we want to see. Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for all of us is to resolve to focus on the blessings, the graces that God has given us. Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution is to promise to recognize God’s hand in our midst and keep everything else in that perspective. Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution is to resolve to help one another focus on such graces so that our spirits are uplifted instead of dragged down into the darkness of depression and hopelessness. After all, Jesus is the light of the world, and the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness cannot overcome it. Amen.

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