Mind Full or Mindful. [Advent 1 ~ Hope]
Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16; Luke 21: 25 – 36; 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13
I sat in the chiropractic surgery the other day pondering the texts for this Sunday. The wall in front of me was filled with ‘inspirational’ quotes. Some amused me, some were banal, but this one caught my imagination, “Mind full or Mindful”. In a way Jesus was saying something about this when he said, ‘Be on guard! Don’t let yourselves become occupied with too much feasting and drinking and with the worries of this life, that Day may suddenly catch you like a trap.’ He was speaking about his Second Coming. Jesus was reminding his disciples to be watchful.
Clearly Jesus understood that we get our minds so full of things: the things we hope for, the things we want to do, the things that disturb us, the things we should be doing, the things that worry us and the things that distract us. It is a fact that our minds are full of stuff – distractions, dreams, diversions and disturbances. Reflect a little on our lives and how full they are. That is not wrong in itself. There is blessing in having things to do. There is blessing in being able to contribute. But the workload can be a curse. We all need time to stop and reflect. Why on earth do we have on the very first page of Holy Scripture the notion that the Seventh Day is a Day of Rest? That Day of Rest is not simply about worshipping God, it is being mindful of who and whose we are. It is the opportunity to set aside the mind fullness of life – the life full of things – and be mindful of God, self and others. Is it not a model to apply to our lives? For every six things we do we should pause and reflect on the seventh. Have you ever found yourself to be so busy that you have either missed something or made a bad decision?
We talk about the wisdom of hindsight. It is so much easier to see what should have happened after the event. But surely the point is that if we want to act wisely we need to stop and reflect. To put it another way, if you want wisdom you need to listen. Wisdom is not about filling one’s life with knowledge, it is about pausing to listen to life, what others say, and what the Spirit says to you.
Mindfulness is almost a cottage industry now. People write books and run seminars on the subject. They are good and useful. But friends, the Scripture is full of examples of mindfulness: of men and women who heard the call to greater things. The actors in the drama of the birth of Christ are examples of mindfulness. Scripture tells us that the Sabbath Rest is important. We have a rule about it. Sadly we think the rule is about controlling us and robbing us of independence. What fools we are! We think that psychology has something to offer us when so much truth lies in the Scriptures that we ignore. The Sabbath Rest is the time to pause and to look back to God and look forward to the future – mindful of the deeper things of life.
Now I have used some of these ‘mindful’ programmes and read and practised ‘mindfulness’, but I am mindful in the first instance of what Scripture teaches us about prayer, meditation and worship. Our texts today are about being mindful of what is going on and how it all fits into God’s grand scheme. Mindfulness results in increased peacefulness, health and alertness.
Let’s start with Jeremiah. This prophet lived in a period some 600 years before the birth of Jesus. He lived in a time where there was reason for despair. Their enemies surrounded the people of God and the city was under siege. There was every reason to believe that God was either too weak to protect them or so angry with them that he was punishing them. All seemed lost. And to cap it all Jeremiah was imprisoned by the leaders of his city for prophesying that the city and temple would fall. He was right and the city did fall. But Jeremiah could also see the day when God would forgive and restore the people to their land, city and temple. He completes this section with the words; the Lord is our righteousness [33: 16]. What power lies in these words for they contain a great truth. When we become mindful of God we start to enjoy the strength, beauty and love of God. God is our righteousness.
Jesus said something similar. His words are apt for today. When we see strange weather patterns, people confused and frightened by the power of the seas and winds then the Son of Man will appear. I quote the Luke 21: 25. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” I am not going to pretend to know when Christ Jesus will return. And I am certainly not implying that the extreme weather conditions in Queensland and NSW this week, the dramatic melting of the north and south poles in the past few decades and the disastrous destabilization in nations around the world, resulting in millions of displaced and homeless people, are signs that the end is coming. But I am saying that such times as these, are times for reflection, not simply action. We need to empty our minds of prejudices, fears and the desire to keep things as they are and become mindful of what is happening and could happen. Jesus’ charge to his disciples remains true for us today. ‘Be on guard! Heed Jesus’ advice to ‘look, listen and reflect on what you see and hear’. In short be mindful. Avoid filling your minds with so much that there’s not time to be mindful. Beware of being entrapped by the suddenness of disasters, for there are early warning signs [Lk 21: 35].
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church also helps us. Paul, and his associates, like Timothy and the Thessalonians, were certainly mindful of each other. When in prison they prayed that the Thessalonians would keep the faith and grow in it. The Thessalonian church remembered to pray for Paul’s ministry and expressed a yearning to see him again [1 Thess 3:6ff]. In all the stress of persecution and imprisonment two things remain constant. All are mindful of each other and practised love. They were charged to keep practising the faith and to grow in holiness while they waited for the coming of Christ Jesus.
The Christian life is a life of anticipation. It anticipates God’s future. It is a life of love and preparation. It is a life of devotion and goodness. It is not a life of repetitive ritual and merely turning in circles. It is a life of growth in love and holiness.
Hope is so important for us. There is a story of a leper colony in days gone by when medicine and our knowledge of leprosy was limited. The lepers were herded into a high walled compound and separated from family and society. They were lonely and abandoned men who could only prowl around their yard. Yet one of these men kept a gleam in his eye. He could smile, and if you offered him something, he could still say, thank you. The Sister in charge was keen to know the reason for this miracle. What kept him alive? She observed him. She noticed that each day he would go to a spot along the high wall and a face would appear. The face of small woman, full of smiles. Then the face would disappear. The man was always there to receive his smile. He would smile back. This was the food of his spirit. Then when the face would disappear he would turn to wait another twenty-four hours to begin afresh.
One day the Sister took them by surprise. He simply said, She is my wife. And after a pause he went on. Before I came here, she hid me and looked after me. A native doctor gave her an ointment for my face. She would cover my face but always left one spot for her lips. But it couldn’t last. They picked me up. She followed me here and when she comes to see me every day, I know that it is because of her that I can still go on living. [C Arcodia, Stories for Sharing 1991, p.75]
The Gospel reminds us of the people who were mindful of the times and of their hope in the coming of the Lord. Mary and Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wisemen all longed for God to act. God’s past prophecies and the actions gave them hope for the future. Hope fueled their faith and prepared them to see the Christ-child. ‘What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of life.’ [Emil Brunner]
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 02/12/2018