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What are you excited about today? Are you excited about the growth that is taking place in your life? Are you excited about the opportunities for service and good deeds that exist all around you? Are you excited about the variety of possibilities that the future holds for you? What gives your life energy and enthusiasm?
The unfortunate fact is that a great many people are not excited about much of anything. In fact, many people are living lives that are crippled by cynicism, despair and depression.
Dr. Bertram Brown, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has cited depression as the number one problem in this country today. "Depression costs the United States of America five billion dollars a year in direct hospital and drug costs. We have no way of knowing how many multiplied billions of dollars it costs in indirect costs such as broken families, alcoholism, drug addiction and welfare payments to people who have become emotional cripples."
You would not believe me if I said there is nothing in the world to be depressed about today. There is much that can seriously undercut your enthusiasm and dampen the joy of living.
Take the front page of yesterday's paper for instance. Much of it was taken up with the activities of terrorists who kidnap, destroy and murder. We hear about the work of people thought to be solid American citizens but who turn out to be spies. The forces of nature inflict crushing damage to thousands of people in Bangladesh, in Ethiopia and throughout Africa. There is much in the world to be troubled about.
But it is not just the international scene that can lead to despair about life and self.
An illness that you thought was minor turns out to be life threatening. A parent that you thought was in good health is suddenly struck with a serious illness. A good friend dies in the prime of life while uncaring, mean people all seem to live to be 100. A letter comes in the mail or you receive a phone call that brings news that disrupts your whole life. You come to church looking for people who are excited about the life of faith and find instead people who seem bored with nearly everything. You reach out to those around you and not one reaches back, and you feel alone and disconnected. You do what you can to help others, and the very people you seek to help turn on you with judgment and rejection.
It is not hard to find a lot of evidence to justify being cynical, bitter and depressed about life. In fact if you start looking for all the things that you can find to justify a negative view about the world, about self, about others, then you will soon have more data than you will know what to do with.
About ten years ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on consultation. It was designed for people who were working with organizations to help these organizations discover their strengths and potential. At the beginning of the workshop, the leader asked us to finish this sentence: "The thing that is wrong with most organizations is..." Then he said, "The answer that you have just given to this sentence is what you will be looking for before you begin to work with a group. That is your perceptual screen. If you are not careful, you will simply spend your time looking for evidence to justify the conclusion that you have already reached about most organizations."
That was an important lesson for me. Not only are we likely to find what we are looking for in organizations, but we are also likely to find what we are looking for in life. If I believe that people are "no damn good", I can find ample evidence for that. If I believe that nobody should be trusted, I can find lots of data to justify that position.
And it is true, some people are "no damn good." There are people in the world who cannot be trusted. The future will contain some surprises that are not good.
But if you believe that this is all there is, then that perspective becomes a prison that limits your energy and restrains your enthusiasm for the future. It is a perspective that leads to cynicism, bitterness and depression. lt is a perspective that cuts the nerve of energy and joy in your life and keeps you from achieving your God-given potential.
Jesus lived His life with a perspective that was markedly different from most of the folk with whom He came in contact. The thrust of His gospel was an invitation to view self, others and the world in the light of God's love, power and justice.
One of the things that characterized the ministry of Jesus was His ability to see beyond the appearance to the possibility. He viewed others, not so much in terms of what they were, but in terms of what they would become as a result of the liberating power of God's love. An ordinary fisherman became the rock on which the church would be built. A dishonest tax collector becomes a trusted friend and disciple. Outsiders are invited to be leaders. The unclean are restored to fellowship. The hopelessly ill are made well again. An angry Pharisee who is a persecutor of the church becomes the apostle to the gentiles.
People who heard and believed the good news of the gospel were liberated from the prison of a negative perspective and given instead a perspective of possibility through the transforming power and liberating love of God. Good things are possible not because of our own efforts, but because of the redemptive power of God.
When Jesus tells His listeners that the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which is the smallest seed on earth but which becomes the greatest of all shrubs, He is inviting men and women to look at the world with new eyes.
In this very brief parable Jesus is saying, "This is the way God does things. God is like a sower who scatters seeds. The seeds may be tiny and invisible to the naked eye. Yet when the seed is planted, it grows into a shrub that provides shelter for the creatures of this world. The Kingdom of God is like this. The initial evidence may be infinitessimal, but the ultimate results are great."
If you believe that this is how God does things, then what will you do? You will begin to look for the mustard seeds. You will look for the first signs of this kingdom with faith and optimism. You will not be too quick to dismiss the small and insignificant. You will not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world just because you see many signs of sin and brokenness. Rather, you will believe in God's possibilities even if the evidence is as tiny as a mustard seed.
To believe this is to receive the gift of a new perspective on yourself. Your Faith may be no larger than a grain of mustard seed, but if you take it seriously and use it then you can move mountains. You can do great things for God if you are willing to offer yourself to one who has planted in you the tiny seeds of love, generosity, mercy, justice and kindness.
It is possible to become so hardened in our living, that these seeds find no good ground in our lives. Thomas Merton reminds us of an important fact when he writes, "The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and supernatural desire...how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and an opposite desire?"
When you became a member of the church through baptism, God recognized and blessed you. That sacrament should remind you that you are somebody. You are special. You are a child of God. It is a denial of this basic fact to live as if you and others are nobodies. It is a rejection of God's will to live as if there is no hope for the future. If you have become trapped in that kind of negative thinking, then the Lord Jesus Christ calls you to repent of that point of view.
The invitation to repent is an invitation to let go of the old perspective and be open to receive the gift of new vision.
This is not only a new vision of your self, but also a new vision of the future.
To believe that you are a child of God will lead you to believe what Paul did when he wrote to the Philippian Christians and said, "I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."
When Paul became a disciple of Jesus Christ, he lost his old vision and received the gift of a new perspective.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began her orphanage with such a vision. She told her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream From God to build an orphanage."
A dream and three pennies represented resources as small as a mustard seed.
"Mother Teresa," her superiors chided gently, "you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies...with three pennies you can't do anything."
"I know," she said, smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything."
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that God's beginnings may be small, but His results are great.
The task of the church is to look for the signs of the kingdom which may be no larger than a mustard seed; to live and love with a new perspective; and to offer that perspective in the name of God to men and women caught in the bondage of disappointment about life and in prisons of negative thinking.
Jesus Christ has called you to be His disciple. No matter what your situation or condition, He has something important for you to do. Believe that and it will change how you think and how you live in the world. Believe that and you will receive a new enthusiasm and excitement about life. Believe that and you and the world will be different.
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