Saturday, December 03, 2011

Stop. Look and Listen. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Whatever we have managed to distill in our society to produce our constant state of hurry, we've refined it to the extra-purest form for the time we call "the holidays." Shopping, giving and going to parties, events, and a half-dozen other things invade our already-crammed schedules and make them that much worse. We'd recognize the irony of being almost too busy to notice Christmas -- the exact situation that greeted Jesus' birth -- if we only had the time to do so.

Our real problem comes from the corrosive effect busy-ness has on our lives and our attitudes. We are in a hurry, so we get irritated when people disrupt our hurrying. A slow waitress, a laggard grocery sacker, a pokey highway driver will all send us grumbling for the antacid when we get home because they committed the unpardonable crime of slowing us down when we were in a hurry. Even if, when we pause to think about it, we weren't really in that big of a hurry this time. We just thought we were, because we always are.

Of course we miss things left and right when we hurry like this. We don't see things because we're gazing off into the distance thinking about where we have to be next. We don't listen to people because we're trying to figure out how to end the conversation quickly so we can get to the meeting we're late for. We don't reflect and think about things because we're trying to keep up with the schedules in our heads. Example? A few weeks ago President Obama spoke at the dedication of the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. The news ran a picture of the president standing with the monument site curator and his oldest daughter, who's 13.

Had he not been killed, King could very likely have lived to see the election of the first black president -- something I don't know if he believed even his children would see. And there in front of his statue is that president. Whether you like him or not, he does represent a triumph of King's dream. How will this transformed America affect the lives of the president's daughter and children her age? Her own children, along with every American born after January 2009, will never live in an America that without a black president? How will that make our country's racial picture different? I don't know, and I'm not sure anyone does. I know we took no time to think about it, though, because we were busy with a Kardashian divorce or Michael Jackson's doctor's trial.

I heard a sermon preached on this that made a connection about our hurrying that I hadn't considered before. I'd figured it was just a bad feature of modern life, something that we knew we shouldn't do but which we just couldn't make ourselves quit. But this pastor said that this kind of life is more than just ill-advised. It's a sin.

We tend to think of sin in terms of evil deeds like robbery or murder. But its true character has more to do with "missing the mark" of the way God wants us to live life, to borrow the Greek word's root meaning. And God did not give us the ability to perceive things, to listen to one another and to reflect on the world around us just so we could sacrifice them on the altar of hurrying up.

In fact, God set up a rhythm of life that allows for time to rest and to recoup our energy and strength when he commanded the Sabbath to the Israelites. We can't escape the reality that hurried lives are a lot more likely to be shallow lives, and may even become next to meaningless. Because if we lack the time to rest, to really perceive creation around us and to consider the meaning of the lives we lead, we sure as heck lack the time to spend on our relationship with God.

And that's the ultimate loss in living the hurried life -- an attenuated, strained afterthought kind of relationship with God that isn't a source of strength but just another thing to do stuck in the schedule before we go to sleep or shop for groceries Sunday afternoon.

But a regular Sabbath -- weekly and then maybe even at other times when the batteries get low -- offers us time to connect with God, to listen to him and seek out his guidance and his nourishing spirit. It's as those nourished and rested spirits that we can do God's work more effectively, and we develop the habit of looking and listening for what God wants us to see, undistracted by busy-ness. Look at how Jesus handled the woman who touched his robe.

He's on his way to heal Jairus' daughter, who needs help now. But when the woman with the issue of blood touches his robe he stops and asks who has touched him. Her condition is gone -- Jesus could have simply kept going to Jairus' house and come back to find the woman later if needed and that wouldn't have changed. But he didn't. He stopped and noticed the woman, spoke to her and acknowledged her cure. I think her touch of Jesus' robe cured her, but Jesus' choice to stop and notice her healed her.

He did that because he would not hurry, not when hurrying meant ignoring someone. He modeled that for us, as well as the practice of a Sabbath of drawing apart to pray. If we want to develop our ability to notice people and to connect with them, we too need to develop the habit of the Sabbath, whether it's on Sunday only or other times as well. We need to develop the habit of making time to listen to God, to praise him and pray to him.

Maybe you do have to put that into your schedule, or maybe you can begin to re-think your scheduling practices so that such time is there when you want it. Advent is a good time to do that -- after all, Jesus said he came so that we might have life, an abundant life! Not a hurried one.

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