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The Rev. Dr. Margaret Neill The Rev. Dr. Margaret Neill

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Neill is retired Episcopal priest living in North Carolina.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

St. John's Episcopal Church, Wilmington, NC


Living in the Moment

Eccl. 10:(7-11)12-18; Psalm 112; Heb. 13:1-8; Luke 14:1, 7-14

August 30, 1998

The good news of God in Jesus Christ is often seen and perceived by the content of Jesus' words and actions as well as when, where and how he chooses to respond to the very circumstances in his life.

Today we are given such an event. In Luke 14:1-14 we have a description of a variety of activities. Jesus is invited to a meal in the home of the leader of the Pharisees where several things occur. First Jesus heals a man with dropsy on a Sabbath when he was being closely watched by those who were trying to determine who and what he was. He acted unexpectedly and according to some of the guests erroneously.

Second, Jesus assuming the role of authority among the guests gives a teaching about humility, right behavior when invited to a meal. A teaching about exaltation, true hospitality and social exchange.

In the third section of this chapter the scenario is of a parable about the great dinner--the banquet of the Kingdom and those who are invited, those who come and those who do not.

The fourth part of the chapter describes the cost of Discipleship and challenges the hearers to respond.

I invite you today to attend to the second segment of this story; Jesus' teaching about where one should sit at the table as an invited guest, and then, who should be invited as guests to the banquet. Let's look at him as a teacher A good teacher recognizes and uses what educators call, "The teachable moment." Effective leaders appear to have an uncanny sense of the right moment for action. The best military strategists seem to know exactly when and where to deploy their troops to do two things; to achieve the objective and to maximize the number of lives saved. Some mothers and fathers appear to know intuitively about their children. We can make a long list of examples of people who live and act in the moment with great effectiveness. Jesus was a powerful and effective teacher using anything and everything at his disposal to share the Good News of God's presence and reign on earth.

I understand this teaching and action of his to be a guide for us, a source of wisdom for our lives. We are not all recognized as major teachers, theologians, healers or preachers or executives or leaders of any kind. All of us who are Christians, baptized by water and the Spirit are called to a vocation and ministry, a way to be in relation with God and to carry out Christ's mission in the world. This means we are personally invited, urged, enticed to "imitate" Christ in the best sense. And that is to do at least these two things: to develop, through prayer, personal and corporate, scripture reading, meditation, retreats, a variety of methods and techniques; a very, very deep and meaningful relationship with God.

The second part would be to seek to discern our vocation and ministry as clearly as we can, knowing that we discover our work both in reflection on our past and on being given a vision of the future. Sometimes even in the present when others say to us, this is wonderful, surely you are gifted of God to do this.

It is in our relationship with God and the clarity of our vocations which I think allows us to recognize the moments when we may speak, and act decisively with wisdom, authority and great spiritual maturity. Living in the moment invites us to live closer and closer to God; to be led more and more by the Holy Spirit and to live more humbly with our friends, neighbors, colleagues and companions on the way in the Christian community.

Living in the moment requires great trust in God's love and care for us. Great courage in letting go of our own need to control events, to structure them and have them go our way, and let God have the way of the spirit in us.

There is more. Jesus taught using the behavior of the people present at this meal. He risked positive and negative judgment by this. He challenged the people present, including the host, even in the moment, catching them up short, getting their attention, calling them to take heed of their actions and the implications and consequences of the same.

To do this, Jesus would need to have a vision of the most desirable way to behave or an idea and vision of life in the Kingdom of God! And surely he had that.

We need to be engaged in work and worship with a lively Christian community for us to be able to follow this path of one who speaks with authority, heals all manner of illnesses and diseases and forgives sins. This is not something that we are called to do alone. One of my favorite radio programs when I was a child stated, we are not lone rangers out here by ourselves to conquer and change the world. There are some places we cannot go and should not go without community. Some gifts are given to persons for the building up of the community, but some gifts are best used through a corporate body--a church. Some community of faith where we share beliefs, where we share our burdens, where we give our time and our energy. In these places with others we can do so much more.

So here we are today, wanting the wisdom of faithful Christians, needing the wisdom to live as close to being the loving, whole people that we are called to be, and hoping to act in the world so that we carry on the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, our risen Lord according to his commission. This life needs support to be that risky, odd advocate to bring truth into each moment, to be decisive in our actions. We need a little bit of spiritual maturity, and perhaps more than a little. We need a corporate leadership. We need corporate administrative order and institutional health if we are to engage in this work; if we are to be enabled to recognize the moments in which we are to take action. And if we are to recognize the work of God in the world, we need hope.

I have said nothing so far that we cannot do or don't already know as Christians. We are called to be disciples and I have simply outlined some of the work, personal and corporate, of disciples, but it doesn't come easily. There are ways to get confused, distracted.

Two stories come to mind that might exemplify this. I learned this first one from a colleague. There was a young boy, about 7 or 8, preparing for his first communion, bright and eager to do it well. Now part of his preparation was to go to confession, using the Ten Commandments to identify his sins at least to help guide him. He found the one adultery, and understanding that communion was an important part of becoming an adult in the church, he was able to identify several areas where he needed improvement. He was ready for the priest. Entering the Confessional with great confidence, he reported sadly, "Father I have committed adultery five times." When the Priest stopped laughing, he is reported to have said, as a part of his penance, "and be sure to tell your father."

Sometimes we are really confused about what we need to do and how to go about it, and where we are on our journey and we need a lot of help.

Another story puts us in a different vein. A busy young executive, doing all the right things, making all the right moves, all the good decisions and in this process moved from smoking a half pack of cigarettes a day to two and a half packs a day. And discovered that he could not quit. He tried for more than a year. His health began to deteriorate. His family was worried. He was also worried. No matter what he did he could not stop. Finally, he prayed, "Lord help me please to stop smoking. I can't do it myself. I put it in your hands." And you know the end of that story. He stopped smoking that day, about twenty years or so ago. That was the beginning of wisdom for him.

This week I invite you to pay attention to your day, to the people, the places, the times, what's happening, who's saying what to whom, and listen to that coaching you get about responding to your circumstances in the moment from that inner quiet voice within you. When you hear the truth, I encourage you to let that be one of your moments of discipleship where you will act decisively and vigorously for God's sake!


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