Sunday, October 10, 2010

We Are Here (At the Chapel)

The Chapel of the Incarnation, Gainesville FL
October 10, 2010

Year C: Proper 23 – The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

We are Here

Anyone ever have trouble paying attention? Like, say, when you’re trying to study and yet it’s so tempting to check facebook or to text a friend or to just daydream about the weekend.

It’s not always easy to pay attention, yet, most, if not all, religious traditions emphasize the importance of paying attention, the importance of being mindful of how God might be at work right here and now in this present moment.

In the gospels, at the end of a parable or a teaching, Jesus is often quoted as saying, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
In other words, pay attention! Be mindful!

Mindfulness is especially valued in Buddhism. The great Buddhist spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written:
“The miracle of mindfulness is, first of all, you are here. Being truly here is very important – being here for yourself, and for the one you love. How can you love if you are not here? A fundamental condition for love is your own presence. In order to love, you must be here. That is certain. Fortunately, being here is not a difficult thing to accomplish.”

I’m not so sure about that last line. At least for me, it’s not so easy to pay attention, to be mindful. It’s easy to take people, places and things for granted. It’s easy to forget how miraculous it is that we are right here, right now.

How many of us really paid attention when we walked, or biked, or drove to the chapel this evening?

How many of us really pay attention to our friends and families? How many of us have had the experience of having a phone conversation in which we half – or even less than half – listen to what the other person is saying. And sometimes we get caught, right?

“Tom? I just asked you a question! Were you even listening to me?”

Even worse, sometimes we do the same thing when we’re with people in person. And if we get caught then – man, that’s even more embarrassing! You know how it happens, the other person notices our eyes glaze over or notices that we are looking off in the distance and not paying any attention to the here and now.

It’s not easy to pay attention to what’s going on around us.

It’s easy for us to forget, “we are here.”

As we get older, sometimes we forget “we are here” because we are so focused on the past. The glow of the glory days or the anguish of an old pain, can distract us from being mindful of the present. The past can get in the way of us remembering, “we are here.”

I bet many of you are more likely to forget “we are here” because you’re so busy looking ahead to the future. People say these are the best years of your life. But how much of that time is spent thinking about – or worrying about – the future?

A change in scenery can sometimes be very helpful to mindfulness. These days I have to pay close attention when I’m driving because usually I’m not really sure where I’m going.

Over the past month and a half or so there have been quite a few times that Sue and I have thought, “Isn’t it amazing that we are here?”

Sometimes we’ll be walking down West University Avenue or driving around Gainesville and one of us will turn to the other and ask something like, “Can you believe that we live here?”

To be honest, these are ambiguous thoughts and questions.

I’m mindful of living in Gainesville – this Gator-crazy, football-mad town where an RV was already parked on the chapel lawn when I unlocked the gates at 7:30 on Friday morning – in position for last night’s game.

I’m mindful of living in Gainesville, driving on its confusing streets as helmet-free students whiz by on scooters as they talk on cell phones or even text. It’s amazing to be living in Gainesville with its threats of Koran-burning and senseless murders.

I’m mindful of living in Gainesville, so far from our family and friends. Last week was my father’s birthday and the best I could do was give him a call in the evening. I am sad that we won’t be seeing each other anytime soon.

We are here.

Sometimes my homesickness and my focus on the past can blind me to all the blessings that are being poured out, that are all around me, right here and now.

We are here.

It’s amazing to be living in Gainesville – this interesting and cool town, filled with great restaurants and unusual shops, humming with the energy of so many young people and the intellectual and artistic firepower of a first-class faculty.

It’s amazing to be living in Gainesville, so beautiful with its towering palm trees and gently hanging moss, so beautiful with its lush gardens and surrounded by vast stretches of wild nature.

It’s amazing to be in Gainesville, to live “above the store” to come downstairs and sit in our beautiful garden, to hang out with many of you, to pray together, to support one another in tough times and to celebrate in good times.

We are here.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as an exile. But, I guess because Sue and I do find ourselves living in a new and unfamiliar place, today’s reading from the Prophet Jeremiah really spoke to me.

A little background: Jeremiah is writing during the Babylonian exile in the 6th Century BC when the Jewish kingdoms had been defeated and a sizable portion of the Jewish people were living in exile in Babylon.

For the exiles, this was kind of an ambiguous situation because Jerusalem had not been destroyed and many Jews were still living back in the homeland, although under foreign rule.

For the exiles, this ambiguous situation left them unsettled. They looked to the past and yearned for home. They looked to the future with anxiety. How long would their exile last? How long would they be under Babylonian rule?

The prophets weren’t much help. The prophets were not in agreement about the exile and so gave a mixed message. Some said with confidence that the exile would be ending soon – that God was about to take action to liberate his people. Those prophecies led to Jewish revolts both in Jerusalem and in Babylon.

But, Jeremiah offered a very different prophecy. Jeremiah believed that God was at work here and now. Jeremiah believed that God was making use of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. Jeremiah believed that God was making use of the exile itself.

And so through the Prophet Jeremiah, essentially God says to the people of Israel: “You are there.” God says to the people of Israel, “And I am right there with you.”

Through Jeremiah, God says: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”

In other words, “You are there. And I am right there with you.”

You and I, we’re not exiles. But, we face the same challenge of being really present in the here and now. We face the same challenge of focusing on – and being open to – the blessings that are being poured out all around us.

We face the same challenge of keeping our eyes and ears open to God at work all around us. We face the same challenge of remembering how good it is just to breathe. How good it is just to feel the warmth of the sun. How good it is just to hang out with friends. How good it is to have the opportunity to study and learn. How good it is to laugh. How good it is to eat and drink.

And here in our beautiful chapel, how good it is to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. How good it is to unite with Christ and with one another, to be the Body of Christ here in the beautiful place, right here and now.

And when we’re paying attention to all that we receive, right here and now, then we’re likely to feel deep love. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “In order to love you must be here.”

And when we’re mindful of all that we receive right here and now, then we’re likely to also feel profound gratitude. We’re likely to be like that one healed leper who paid attention, who returned to Jesus and said thank you.

We are here.