Live Like You’re Dying sermon series – #2: Be There

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 6:25-34 – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Live Like You’re Dying sermon series
#2 – Be There
March 16, 2014

            Are you here? I mean, I can see you, so I know you are here physically. But are you really here? Maybe you’re thinking about how you wish you’d had that second cup of coffee this morning before you left the house. Or maybe you’re replaying a troubling conversation you had yesterday. Or maybe you’re thinking about what you have planned for the rest of the day. You’re here, I’m here, but are we really here?

            In our Lenten sermon series, we’re seeing what lessons we can learn from those whose days are numbered. As Hospice patients approach the end of their lives, what do they say they would have done differently? What would they change to make their lives more fulfilling and meaningful? Today, the lesson is about presence, about being here.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? To be present, all you have to do is…be present! Not much else too it, is there? But we know differently. Stacey Padrick, who wrote an article about attentiveness, defines “paying attention” as “being mentally, spiritually, and emotionally present with whomever we are physically present.” It involves making sure that our focus is fully on the other person instead of giving into all the distractions around us.

That’s hard to do, isn’t it? I find it so easy to let my mind wander away when talking with someone – formulating what I’m going to say next, daydreaming about an experience I had, adding things to my mental to-do list. My family makes fun of me because I do this all the time. “Dad, guess what happened at school today?” “What?” “Well, I was eating a banana…” “Ooo! I have to call my Nana.” This mental multi-tasking stuff is hard! And it keeps us from being fully present with the person right in front of us.

That’s one of the things the Hospice patients said they would change. Rather than dwelling in the past, rather than worrying about the future, they would have spent more time in the present, savoring the moment, enjoying the day God had given them. Because each day we have is a gift from God, and if we don’t acknowledge it as such, we are missing out on something beautiful.

I had a friend who visited the Grand Canyon with his family. I couldn’t wait for him to get back so I could hear all about the trip. When we sat down to lunch, I asked him, “So what was it like to be right there on the rim of the Grand Canyon?” He said, “Here let me show you the pictures,” and he pulled out an album full of snapshots. I looked through them and then asked him, “But how did it feel?” He paused and said, “Hmm. I don’t really know. I was too busy taking pictures.” Do we spend so much time trying to preserve a moment that we don’t stop and enjoy it? Our days are a gift to be enjoyed, not preserved.

In the very, very beginning of the Bible, the story tells us that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Then God separated the light from the darkness, creating day and night. By doing this, God gave us a way to tell time. Before God made light, there was no way of knowing what time it was and existence must have just gone on and on and on, like the “Lord of the Rings” movies. But God created light and gave us the concept of a day, as a separate entity from the night. That was our first gift from God.

The psalmists understood that this creation of the day was an amazing thing to be celebrated. Psalm 84 says to God, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” Psalm 90 asks, “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And then there is the familiar passage from Psalm 119: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I wish this verse read a bit differently, because not every day is easy to rejoice in. As Exhibit A, I give you Monday. Doesn’t matter which one, pick just about any Monday. But as Christian author Max Lucado points out, this verse says, “Let us rejoice and be glad IN it,” not “after it” or “in spite of it.” That would make life a lot easier. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad when it’s over.” But no, says Lucado. This verse means rejoice in every day. Divorce days, final-exam days, surgery days, tax days. Every day is worthy of our joy and our attention. And so is every person.

You know, I don’t get the impression Jesus had this problem. I have a feeling that he enjoyed every day. The people speaking to Jesus had his full attention, and they felt it. The woman at the well, the Pharisees offering a challenge, the disciples yearning for guidance – Jesus stopped, he listened, he spent time with them, he gave them his full attention. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said. Easy for him to say, he didn’t even own a smart phone with a calendar app on it. Has he seen our tomorrows? Does he know what we went through during our yesterdays? How can we be fully present with others when our pasts and our futures take up so much of our attention? But if God has given us these gifts to enjoy, maybe the question really is: How can we NOT?

Mitch Albom, in his book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” wrote about the relationship he had with Morrie, his former professor who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Albom spend a lot of time in Morrie’s presence, learning from the dying man about the true meaning of life. Listen to what Albom wrote about Morrie, and imagine you were on the receiving end of Morrie’s attention.

“I came to love the way Morrie lit up when I entered the room. He did this for many people, I know, but it was his special talent to make each visitor feel that the smile was unique. And it didn’t stop with the greeting. When Morrie was with you, he was really with you. He looked you straight in the eye, and he listened to you as if you were the only person in the world. How much better would people get along if their first encounter of each day were like this – instead of a grumble from a waitress or bus driver or boss?

“‘I believe in being fully present,’ Morrie said. ‘That means you should be with the person you are with. When I’m talking to you now, Mitch, I try to keep focused only on what is going on between us. I am not thinking about something we said last week. I’m not thinking about what’s coming up this Friday. I am talking to you. I am thinking about you.’”

Albom writes, “I remembered how he used to teach this idea in the Group Process class back at Brandeis. I had scoffed back then, thinking this was hardly the lesson plan for a university course. Learning to pay attention? How important could that be? Now I know it is more important than almost everything they taught us in college.”

Paying attention to one another is one of the greatest gifts we have to give. It means seeing the other person for who they are, not for what they can do for us. I know I struggle with this sometimes. When life gets busy, we slip into relating to those around us in a utilitarian mode. I start valuing others based on what they can offer or do for me instead of for who they are. My relationships become purely functional.

Paul writes in Galatians 5, “Serve one another in love.” He writes in Philippians 2, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” In Romans 12 he writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” The Bible makes it clear that our relationships are not there to serve us, but that we are in them to serve each other. Paying attention to one another is a form of service; it’s an act of love.

And what a gift it is – putting down our device and turning toward our spouse or children when they ask a question, minimizing the computer screen when a friend calls, tuning out the distractions around us and focusing on the person in front of us. There is so much need around us, but I believe the greatest need people have is a need to be heard, a need to be acknowledged and accepted and validated as a valuable human being

I was counseling a person recently who was dealing with a lot of loneliness, and at one point she looked at me and said, “I feel invisible.” And my heart just broke for her. I can tell her God sees her until my face turns blue, but until someone actually takes time to pay attention to her, she has no reason to believe me. Are there people in our lives that we see, but don’t really see? Is there someone around us whose very existence is dependent upon us paying attention to them?

Julie Richardson Brown, who wrote our Lenten devotional, puts it this way: “What matters is that we pay attention. What really matters is that we have someone close by to grab hold of as we watch and listen for a glimpse of Christ among us. What matters is that we take off the blinders of the rat race and really see this world we live in. What matters is that we learn to be fully present in whatever moment we find ourselves, realizing that, if we don’t, all too soon we will have missed so much.”

We have only been given a certain number of days in this life. I’m on number 15,776. I wonder how many of them I’ve frittered away dwelling on yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. What have we missed that was right in front of us because we were too busy, too distracted, too worried to be present? We don’t know how many days we have. I hope it’s a lot more for all of us. But those days are limited. When I was much younger, I wished to be older – out of high school, old enough to drive, out on my own. Now that I’m older, I wish to be younger, to reclaim the time I’ve lost. But we don’t have yesterday anymore. And we have no guarantee of tomorrow. We simply have today, this day, the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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