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Jesus had a unique way of teaching and using his surroundings to illustrate his point. He could then bring those who were listening more in line with his teachings. In this passage that I read today, if you use your imagination you can see that it is spring time in the Galilee. Jesus had no rows of chairs to set up or a podium from which to preach. So he walks among the crowd as they sat on the ground and listened. His eye contact would seek out the people's faces. He would lift up some seemingly unimportant illustration and from the locale and expound on it.
We know it is spring because only in the spring time is the grass green. Only in the spring time do the wildflowers burst up as though they were a display of colors in a carpet of green, the pale pink, purple, and white anemones bloom in proliferation. The red poppies are stunning and regal as they protrude from the landscape bringing a display that is utterly vibrant. Walking among the grass and looking down, he sees the flowers, they stand out, and it is from them he draws an illustration. He can see the flowers, he can hear the birds, and they provide him with the food for thought.
He goes on to talk about worry amidst all of these things that he sees and they see and they're talking about.
We worry about the things in our lives we cannot see; and yet faith, according to St. Augustine, "is believing what you cannot see, and the reward of faith is seeing what you have believed." "Worry" is the optimum word. Worry and anxiety are synonymous, and anxiety is the curse of the 21st Century. We worry about things we cannot control, and some times we worry about not being able to just be in control. Many times we worry just for the sake of worrying.
To bring our thoughts into perspective, Jesus uses his listeners and looks around. As he looks on the ground, he sees those little flowers, and he hears the birds. The birds can't reap or sow, but God provides for them. They still have to work for their food, but it is there. If they seek it, then they find it.
The flowers of the field, the lilies--not those little Lilies of the Valley that we sometimes think of--but the flowers, the wild flowers, especially the red poppies brilliantly colorful. They're the color of King Solomon's robes--radiant and stunning.
We worry about our food and our clothes. We worry about our houses and how we fit into society. But we're forgetting God's role in our lives and our role in depending on God.
Getting our thinking right is what is important in life. After all, both John the Baptist and Jesus began their preaching ministries with the word "repent." What does it mean to repent, but to develop a new way of thinking--to turn from your old way of thinking and devote yourself to kingdom thinking.
The answer lies first in striving for the Kingdom of God--a kingdom not of power, not of might, but a kingdom of mercy, justice, and grace. It is a kingdom of forgiveness and love, where prejudice is unheard of, and pride and conceit, they just plain do not exist. It is a kingdom where greed is absent.
We find ourselves striving to prepare for the future, for tomorrow, without really living in the present. Yet the present determines how we plan for our future and how we profit from the mistakes of the past.
There's a wonderful illustration found in Dr. Spencer Johnson's little book The Present. The Present is a story of a little boy and an old man in a mentoring relationship. The little boy is riding his bicycle, the old man is sitting in a swing on a front porch, and his very countenance attracts the little boy's attention.
The little boy sees the old man, and he turns his bicycle around after two or three days of the old man smiling and greeting him. He says, "Old man, why are you so happy?"
And the old man smiles and says, "It's because I have the present."
"Wow!" said the little boy. "I love presents. Christmas presents. Birthday presents. All kinds of presents. Any time. How can I get this present?"
"Well, you really already have it."
"I already have it?" said the little boy. "I don't have any presents."
"Yes, you already have it. But once you can the presents, everything else falls into perspective."
And the little boy grows to be a teenager; and as a teenager, the old man and the little boy have becomes friends. He's watched him play baseball. He's watched him on his football team. And as a teenager, the young man asks this: "Old man, what about this present you have always talked about?"
"The present is the greatest gift you can ever have."
"But I want this present. I want you to give me this present."
"I can't give you the present. You have the present all by yourself, and once you have the present, everything else falls into perspective."
"Well, is it like a magic wand where you wave your hand, and everything just comes out magic, special?"
"No, it's not like a magic wand. The present is magical though, because once you get it everything else falls into perspective."
"Well, is it like a magic carpet that you ride on and you can get anywhere you want to go and do anything you want to do?"
"No, it's not like that at all. But once you have the present, you're content to be right where you are."
And the young man becomes a working man, graduating from college, and goes back to that old man with the--present.
"I think I finally got it. The present is right now, right? It's not a gift or anything."
And this man said, "Yes, you're right. It's right now. It's enjoying the moment now. It's being real now. It's authentic now. It's being in the present."
"Well, now I can go back to my job, because things really weren't working out well."
And he returned to his work. He came back a few years later and said, "You know, I'm just at a plateau. Nothing is happening, and I'm doing the present. I'm living the present."
The old man said, "Yes, but you have forgotten to profit from your mistakes of the past. Only when you do that can you really live the present at its best."
So he went back and practiced, and he remembered his mistakes, and he lived in this present, and after a few more years--he was married, he had children--he came back, he said, "I can't even get a promotion. I'm doing great work. They recognize it, but I can't get a promotion."
The old man said, "You're doing everything right. You have the present. You're enjoying the present. You're even profiting from the mistakes of your past, but you don't have a plan for your future. You need a purpose and a meaning. Write it down, think about it, and work everyday to make your plan come true."
So the man went back to work, and all of a sudden, his whole future changed, because he had a purpose and a meaning. And as would happen, the old man died, and now the middle-aged man returned to the funeral to discover that from the wealthiest to the poorest, everyone was in attendance at the funeral. The old man had befriended lots of people along the way. He had shared the successes of his life, which had been very successful in business, with how to live and how other people ought to live, boys and girls, children, old people, even the mayor of the town.
And after the funeral, the man went back to the old man's house, which now was vacant, the swing still sitting where it sat, and he sat in the swing and began to swing back and forth, and thought, "Wow, that man's life was so purposeful; it was so meaningful."
Down the street, the neighborhood had changed, but a new family had moved in with a little six-year old girl, and she was on her tricycle, and she was riding by. And as she road by, she looked up at the man sitting in the swing, and she said, "Wow! Old man."
He turned and looked and said, "Yes?"
She said, "You look so happy! Why are you so happy?"
And he said, "Oh golly, it's because I have the present."
"Wow!" she said. "I love presents. Christmas presents and birthday presents and all kinds of presents. Can you help me get that present?"
And the truth of the matter is for all of us, it is the present well-lived, profiting from the mistakes of our past and with a purposeful future that we're able to strive for the kingdom of God. God knows our needs before we ever ask him. God hears our wants. When our wants are shaped into God's will, then we begin to think about our future in the kingdom.
How much time do we spend worrying about things that never happen? How much energy do we spend correcting our children so that their behavior will be noticed and affirmed by others?
In a world where children are abused and deserted, does it really matter what name brand of clothes we wear? In a world many times where people don't even know the people next door or down the street, is it important what those think about the vehicles that we drive? In a world where hurt is real and not being accepted by one's peer group poisons our children's self image, does it really matter if we are exhibiting the newest trends? In a world where other people influence our children more than we do, shouldn't we strengthen our family by being a part of the kingdom of God? Maybe we need to notice the world right outside our door, or inside our house, and not try to imitate the actions of the world. After all, Jesus reminds us, "Strive first his Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you."
Not to worry then about tomorrow for tomorrow will always bring worries of its own. Today's struggle is enough for today and today well-lived is what God wants us all to do.
Let us pray. Great God, I thank you for today, for this moment, for this present that we have. The present is a gift from you that each of us in our lives must use to its very best. Help us to seek first your kingdom right now, in the present, and to fill our lives with kingdom thoughts so that every today and every tomorrow is better because our today has been lived well. In Jesus' name. Amen.
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