Listen to the sermon from Sunday, August 7, 2016 titled “Habits” by Rev. Stephanie Cooper.
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Excellence is not a single act, but a habit that we create. And some habits are fairly to get into. Making the bed for instance. Or grabbing that piece of candy off of the desk before you leave each day.
Other habits, however, aren’t so easy to get into. Regular exercise. Not checking that email, instagram, or facebook right before bed every night.
And there are certain habits that we uphold as really good habits. Like holding the door for people… Daily reflection, meditation or prayer.
And others not so much: smoking and tailing other drivers down MoPac.
Habits. We’ve all got ‘em. Some are habits that came with us from our upbringing- good or bad—the ways that our families of origin functioned, and so, we are in the habit of doing things a certain way. Some are things that we’ve chosen because we see the good in them and others are ones in which we wish we could break.
Experts say that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to create a new habit, depending on what you are trying to make an automatic response. Running 30 minutes before dinner is going to be a lot more difficult than making the bed every day.
But generally, most people fell closer into the 66 day range.
Habits shape us. Whether or not we say it with our words, those grooves of our lives that we fall into speak volumes about who we are as people and about what is important to us.
What do your habits say about you?
Our gospel passage today is one of those passages that, for us progressives, we rather not deal with. So much of modern American Christianity is shaped by passages like this one.
Whole book series like Tim LeHaye’s Left Behind thrive on this stuff. I mean, just yesterday watching the Olympics, I saw a sign in the crowd that said “Will you be ready when Jesus returns?”
Keep watch, for you do not know when the Son of Man will come. Be dressed for action, for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour. You don’t want to be the one whose not ready. You don’t want to be the one who is left behind.
Unfortunately, a lot Christians have used the scare tactic with passages like this. They build Christianity to be this set of norms and rules to follow so that when you die, you don’t have to go to hell.
It’s an economy of fear.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of Todd Snider- folk singer who used to live on a couch in Austin when he was a lot younger. But he writes these sort of social commentary types of songs and he has a song called Tension.
And for our younger listeners, I will paraphrase a little bit because he has …. Flowery language.
The third verse goes like this:
When rock and roll first came around it seems like preachers all went crazy
But soon that wasn’t enough to bring people in the door
So now they jump on any scandal that they can to try and save me
‘Cause they know I don’t buy that [stuff] about the Devil’s music anymore
Gay people getting married
That’s what scares people these days that don’t have [anything else] to be scared of.
An economy of fear. And I think Todd Snider is right: too much of religion these days is built on trying to scare people into church. And too much of the political discourse that I’m hearing in the new cycles uses these same tactics. And it’s from both sides.
Because fear is a powerful tool. When we are afraid, we are capable of atrocious things.
we get protective: of our friends, family, friends, and homes.
we lash out.
we separate ourselves from anything that is unfamiliar.
We throw up walls and fences. Figurative ones and literal ones
It becomes easy to demonize.
And to justify
Fear. It is powerful. But it’s also cheap. And it doesn’t last. It is like building your treasure where moths eat and rust destroys.
It’s sort of like a façade. It’s like the end of the Wizard of Oz when what we see is this overwhelming powerful force, but in reality its just a fidgety old man behind a curtain.
It’s like the backside of the set of a play. Or a lifeless puppet when no one is pulling the strings.
And this fear façade is not what Christianity is about. It’s not.
And those that have used passages like this to scare people into believing that God’s out to get them… have twisted this message of Jesus.
I mean just listen to the very first line of this passage: “do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. God’s desire is to give you the kingdom of heaven.
Constantly throughout the Bible, we hear this refrain from God “Do not be afraid.”
Psalm 23 “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil”
In Mark 6 when Jesus walks towards his disciples on the water he immediately says to them “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
When father Abram gets his divine instructions to set out to make a great nation, God says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I go before you like a shield.”
When Hagar is alone in the dessert with her starving child, God says, “Hagar, what is wrong? Do not be afraid.”
And when the women go to embalm Jesus’ body at the tomb and his body is no where to be found, an angel of the Lord says to them, “Do not be afraid.”
And when the risen Jesus comes through the walls erected around the distraught disciples. Their leader has just been crucified. Jesus appears among them and says “Do not be afraid.”
Too often, it becomes easy to resort to fear to get people to behave a certain way or to believe certain things… but throughout the Bible, when we see walls of fear erected the people of God are simply instructed do not be afraid.
And our passage today begins with Jesus saying do not be afraid– God wants to give you the kingdom of heaven. Where no thief comes and no moth destroys.
This passage that heeds warnings like “keep watch” and “no one knows when the Son of Man will come” has an interesting place in the larger context of the gospel of Luke.
Chapter 12 goes like this: Jesus says that even though 5 sparrows can be sold for 2 pennies, God’s eye is on each of those sparrows. And God’s care is for them.
And then Jesus tells the parable of the rich man who has so much to store that he tears down his barns to build bigger barns so that he can store all of his crop, only to die in the night. And Jesus warns, do not place your treasure in earthly things.
And then Jesus asks his disciples to consider the ravens. They do not have a place to store their goods, but are they not fed? And are the lilies of the field not in God’s care?
And says, do not worry about what you will eat or drink- God knows you need them. But rather, turn your eye towards seeing the kingdom of God.
A lot of scholars title Luke 12 as the warnings and encouragements chapter. And good and well- that is what it is. But the simplicity implied by such a title misses the invitation that lies beneath these layers.
Perhaps Jesus’ warning to keep watch and be ready isn’t meant to scare people into believing certain things, but perhaps it is an invitation to live into the kingdom displayed by the lilies and the birds.
“Little flock,” Jesus says, “do not be afraid. God wants to give you the kingdom of heaven.” God wants to give you the kingdom.
And what is this kingdom that Jesus is describing? Well- here are some of the ways that he describes it:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who has lost a coin but searches and searches for it until it is found.
The kingdom of heaven belongs to the likes of children, the poor, and the peacemakers.
And it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. All of those possessions sure can cloud vision.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The tiniest of all of the seeds, but full of great potential.
And when asked how do I enter the kingdom, Jesus replies “Love God by Loving your neighbor as yourself.”
While it is easier to think about the kingdom of heaven of being something somewhere out there, perhaps the kingdom Jesus is inviting us to see and to find is right here among us.
It is like that lily in the field who know not why she is so beautiful. But lives into each day praising her creator with her face turned towards the sun.
It’s here. Can you see it?
It is in making your treasures things that can’t be destroyed by moths or stolen by thieves. But let your treasures be in the harmony that exists with the beauty of the sunset and the warm hug of a friend, a table and cup that overflows shared with family. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. That, my friends, is the kingdom of God that is all around us.
So Jesus’ words are not a warning of fear, but an invitation to make habits of seeing the kingdom and living into the more.
So, sisters and brothers, I urge you to be in the habit of seeing the kingdom.
Make a habit of seeing, so that you might lean into that kingdom.
And I urge you, sisters and brothers, to be active participants of that kingdom. To live into the economy of love and forgiveness and grace and peace making.
The kingdom is all around you. Will you see it?