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Sunday 7 August 2022: Trinity 8, Nineteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 14

Jesus says: be ready!

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12: 32-40

By Richard Peers

Anglican, Sub Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and Spiritual Director

Context: Eucharist involving a varied congregation, with a mixture of ages - in a university city

Aim: to see mindfulness as very much a part of the Christian tradition.

We hear a lot about mindfulness in our culture and the bookshops are full of books about it. It appeals to the ‘spiritual not religious.’ But do we dismiss this too easily? If we take our culture seriously and listen carefully to it perhaps, we can be reminded about our own tradition of being awake and present in every moment.

CONTEXT

Jesus is really challenging his listeners. Sell everything! But most importantly he asks us what is really important to us, what is valuable to us. If we have a spiritual guide, or a mentor, the temptation is to talk about our prayer lives, but perhaps the most important thing we could do is show them our bank statement. What do we value? What do we spend our money on?

DON’T FALL ASLEEP

Jesus is at his most straightforward in this passage. The sentences and phrases are short and fall over each other. Be dressed! Ready for Service! Keep your lamps burning! There is an energy in this passage that is quite exciting. The images are great: weddings and thieves, images not usually found together. There is expectation. Something is going to happen. There is also a certain sharpness: ‘But understand this.’ Jesus challenges us not to be faint-hearted. What he is suggesting is not easy.

Jesus tells us that what we wear, the story of our lives, what we carry with us, is significant. To dress to be ready for action is to dress lightly. We need to let go of our baggage, not to clench things tightly to us but to let them go. We won’t be ready for whatever is going to happen if we are stuffing things into a suitcase. But he is also telling us that stuff always happens. It’s not like we are standing around twiddling our thumbs. When we are ready, when we are dressed appropriately, we will notice that things are happening.

WHERE IS THE DOOR?

This image of a door is interesting. Most of us when we go to sleep, check the doors. Are they locked? We don’t want anyone coming into the house unexpectedly. There are many doors into our lives. The doors by which we perceive the world are our senses: looking, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling. We could probably add thinking to those. We live in an over-stimulated world. The internet, texts, apps, are available 24/7. These are gross stimuli. They demand our attention. But we ignore so many of the subtle stimuli that our senses are receiving all the time. We filter out so many sounds, tastes, so much touch. It can feel like the senses are doors wide open when in fact we have them jammed nearly shut. It helps us sleep.

STOP EXPECTING HIM

Jesus tells us that he (the Son of Man, or, better, the Human One) isn’t like a bus. There is no timetable. We don’t know when he will come. If we think about it, that is quite liberating. If we know something is going to happen at a certain time, we wind ourselves up in expectation. We can’t do that with Jesus. People often spend their prayer time as if they are waiting at a bus stop but don’t have a timetable. Looking at their watches every few moments and worried that they have, or will, miss the bus. If we do that in our spiritual lives, we will completely miss the point.

To be with Jesus is to be dressed at all times and to expect nothing. This is a remarkable paradox. A very strange thing. It’s a bit like trying to make friends. The harder we try the less likely it is to happen. Jesus calls us to be awake, to be dressed and ready for action: not at certain times but always. He is saying that this is the normal state of life. How we should be always, in every moment.

When we are awake, we notice all sorts of things that we don’t normally notice. Not grand things, not great events but all the things we normally filter out. That’s what mindfulness is. Noticing stuff. Not the big stuff. Not even the beautiful stuff. But just stuff. Reality. Have you ever noticed the sound of a toilet flushing? It’s a beautiful thing. The rush of water. The cleansing action!

The Human One will come at an hour when we do not expect him. Perhaps he will come in ways we don’t expect him too.

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