Change for Good: Say No More Often
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
September 11, 2016
Luke 15:1-10 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
Some are too young or weren’t born, but many of us remember 9/11 with clarity. I know I do. I was serving a church in Europe and on 9/11 was very excited because the children and I had been “batching” it. Mom was in the states on business and was flying back to Europe that very day. A church member called and told me of the first plane going into the first tower. Initially, we thought it was just an awful accident. And then the second plane hit and it soon become apparent the the US was being attacked. Of course, when I heard that, one thing and one thing only rose to the top of my life list: was my wife, Lauralee, safe? We were able to make connection by phone and found out she was among the many whose flight was cancelled when all flights were grounded. It took quite a few days before she was able to get back to us and those days were a whirlwind of prayer, worship, comforting families and flight crews grounded in The Netherlands and mourning. It was a tragic day for us all; our own day of infamy. It strikes me that one of the results for many of us, though, was a focus on what’s really important, of all the little things we were expecting to spend our time on that day, it really boiled down to basics: family, nation, comforting one another, and pulling together. Maybe you had that same experience on 9/11. Maybe there have been other occasions in your life where an event – a dire illness, an accident, a relationship ending or a job loss – like a lens, brought the blur of life into sharp focus on what’s really important.
What if we could focus on what’s really important in our lives without a catastrophe having to occur first? And many of us do live lives that are overwhelmingly busy! The siren song of life is “add more,” do more…hurry, hurry, hurry, busy, busy busy! Why, it’s almost as if we’ve bought into some sort of value system that ties our worth into how busy we are! From our work life, school life, community life and even the church, comes the call to do more and often our lives wind up being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” We wind up burned out, tired and knowing something is missing.
There are a lot of reasons for us buying into this “haze of hurry.” Some of us are just hard-wired to be helpers, fixers and reformers. And that’s ok if we don’t let it get the best of us. Some of us are very duty-oriented and have easily pushed “guilt buttons.” People, even church leaders, push our guilt buttons and we say “yes” but soon find the joy of service robbed by resentment or burnout. Some of us feel we have to “do something” to be valued or to maintain social status.
And before we know it, the currency of our “life-time” is being spent in all the wrong places. Sometimes we awake to the fact deep inside that we aren’t living the life God desires but often don’t know what to do about it.
Today is the second in a sermon series entitled, “Change for Good.” This series aims to help us in the “back to school” rush of life to live lives that God wants us to live; quality living, if you will. Last week we looked at ridding ourselves of excess possessions. Next week, we’ll look at how the “little things” matter, for better or for worse, in our relationships. This week, we want to consider the importance of saying “no” to the less-than-the-best in our calendars so, conversely, we can say “yes” to the truly important.
Our Bible lesson has some “big picture” guidance for us in this regard. Now, the thrust of our stories is that God’s love in Jesus is like the woman diligently seeking the one coin or the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep. Jesus teaches that there is rejoicing in heaven over one lost sinner being found.
Years ago, Biblical scholars taught that each parable has one point and one point only. Nowadays, most scholars appreciate the fact that the parables have many perspectives and lessons to teach us. In that vein, what if we thought about the 9 coins the woman kept and the 99 sheep left behind as where the world calls us to typically focus? The world’s value says guard the 9 coins you have ever more diligently; focus on the 99 sheep and keep them together – don’t risk the 9 coins and the 99 sheep by focusing on the lost one. They are materially more valuable!
What if, instead of considering the 9 remaining coins and the 99 remaining sheep as material wealth we thought of them in terms of our time; our calendars – all the events, appointments, activities we engage in? And, what if we thought of the lost coin and lost sheep as the missing element of quality time in our lives? Granted, that wouldn’t pass muster in a New Testament class at Duke! But, it can give us something to ponder and some guidance in “changing for good.”
So, how about your life? Is your calendar filled with a flock of things? Deep inside, do you feel something is missing or lost? Here are some suggestions which might prove helpful.
First, all of the “change for good” sermons and suggestions (“for good” meaning both in the goodness of life as God wants us to have and “for good” as in lasting) are rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit. By human will power alone, we can bring about some level of improvement in our lives, for some length of time. But human will power alone has its limits; we hit a ceiling, we weaken, slip and slide. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, can do far more with us and in us than we ever imagined! And, we do have a role to play! Specifically, openness to the Spirit and engaging in the spiritual disciplines of the Word: prayer, contemplation, Scripture reading, fasting, generosity, worship and humble service. One or more, or some combination of these, for you, practiced with regularity will open your life to the Spirit and shape your life after Jesus.
But you do have to practice them. I did something new this past week. I joined a gym! Here’s the little key tag that gets me in. But if it stays just a little key fob, if I never use the membership and exercise, well the huge corporation that owns the place will take my money to the bank – and that’s probably part of their business model. Why, if everyone they sold memberships to showed up all the time, they couldn’t accommodate them! But they don’t know me! I’m one of those people who has to avoid all you can eat buffets because I go in determined to eat into their profit. Well, the limitless Holy Spirit can accommodate us all! There’s plenty for all, if we’ll do our role and show up the Spirit will form us after Jesus.
So, with much prayer, asking for God’s help, here’s a suggestion; do a calendar inventory! Lay all of your plans, events, appointments, activities before God and ask, “what’s really important here?” “What’s life giving here?” “What’s here from guilt?” “What’s here that’s robbing the joyful, abundant life God wants for me?” What you’ll be doing, with the Spirit’s help, is looking at your values, what’s truly important to you and God. Every preacher is the world has said, “show me your check book and I’ll tell you what’s really important to you!” The same could be said about our calendars, couldn’t it? Does your calendar reflect what’s really important to you, or do you need to make some changes?
If you’re like most of us, you know you need to make a “change for good” with your calendar so, start making some Spirit-guided, but perhaps, challenging choices. Now, this is extremely hard for some, but begin saying “no” to some of the things you’re already doing and some that may come your way. Maybe, you’ll want to start by tithing back to God, to yourself and your family some of your calendar clutter. A tithe is 10 percent. So, this would mean simplifying your life by saying “no” to ten percent of the “stuff” on your calendar or that which may come your way.
The question remains though, how should I treat that new found 10 percent of time? What should I do with that found coin, that found sheep of time?
Again, I’d suggest that you put that to God in prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide you in your discernment. The missing coin, the missing sheep “of time” in all of our lives will be different. For some that time might mean a true Sabbath, a day of rest from labor, activities, cell phones and every other distraction. Perhaps others will be led to use their “tithe of time” to open themselves to experiencing God’s closeness through prayer, meditation, Scripture study and contemplation. Others may choose to spend more time just “being” with their loved ones as opposed to always “doing” with them. (As a pastor, by the way, I’ve never heard anyone on their death bed regret not spending more time at work, they all wish they had spent more time with their loved ones.) Some may need to play! You’d be surprised at how many people I’ve counseled who’ve lost the element of play in their lives! It’s so important! Think of what happens with the word recreation if we put a dash between the “e” and the “c”; we get re-recreation. True re-creation creates us anew!
Whatever you are led toward, keep this as the basis: what does God want for and in my life? My belief is, if you really take this seriously, God will guide you, the Spirit will bring about a change for good in your life and as you focus on that which is truly important to God and you, all heaven will rejoice with and for you!
Discussion Guide for September 11: Say No More Often
- Share how you try to set priorities in your life.
- Share something to which you need to say “no” in your life.
- Share what you’d like to be able to say “yes” to more often.
- Share how you plan to change for good by resetting your priorities.