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Nov 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 31, 2010

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Matthew 13:13 (Read 10-17)

INTRO: Of the two main candidates in this week’s elections, are you absolutely certain which one would make the best governor?

There are too many unknowns to reach absolute certainty, and we’ve had too many disappointments to be optimistic
– we have to do our research and then make our best guess

Isn’t that the way it is with a lot of things in life? Many choices we make are experimental
– for example, “Let’s try this restaurant and if we don’t like it we won’t go back”

Some Christians think it’s possible to reach absolute certainty regarding the things of God
– the Bible isn’t about bringing us to absolute certainty (intellectually), but to faith
– it does provide us with lots of information, only not to satisfy our intellect but to win our hearts

The disciples wanted to know why Jesus used storytelling, why he taught through analogies and illustrations
– his answer reveals something wonderful about him
– he accommodates himself to the level of our ability to learn
Jesus’ teaching is designed to work around our learning disabilities

The big idea: Jesus wants to wake us up

In the Bible, sleep occurs most frequently as a gift from God (e.g., Ps. 127:2)
– while we sleep, he stands guard (Ps. 121:4)

But where sleep is used as a negative metaphor it can signify something else

  • laziness, “A little sleep, a little slumber . . .”Pr. 6:10
  • an escape (or attempt to escape), Jonah 1:5-6
  • leaders not watching out for the welfare of God’s people, Is. 56:10
  • an act of judgment–i.e., the cutting off of revelation, Is. 29:10
  • an inability to be attentive at a critical moment or to an important message, Mt. 26:40

It is not an exaggeration to say that most people sleep through life

Sometimes when jogging on the beach I’ll see dolphins and stop to watch them
– I also enjoy pointing them out to others
– it amazes me how people can be there to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the ocean and miss the dolphins
But we always have our heads down or
– so many mental distractions we can’t see
– so much inner noise we can’t hear
Jesus is telling us to pay attention to simple things, common things
– seed, soil, and growth
– flour, dough and yeast
– finding treasure and fishing with nets
The kingdom of heaven is not a gated-community for saints on the other side of the universe
– it is nearby in the ordinariness of the experience of each moment

I posted something on Facebook that stirred up a little storm

One person wanted to qualify and correct my post
– he made the sort of comment that would begin, “Let us not forget . . .”
– basically he made an issue out of something the rest of us had already assumed

The truth is, such contrariness in normal conversation is completely unnecessary except for the person who enjoys getting into arguments

It frequently happens that Christians will stress a truth from a particular point of view
– the purpose is to really appreciate and absorb one aspect of that truth
– when looked at from another point of view, a different aspect of the truth appears and it must be acknowledged too

For example, this week I came across the word “habit” in two different books by Christian authors:

Madam Jean Guyon, who counsels us that when we are in prayer and our thoughts wander, we can respond by turning away from the external distractions to the Lord who lives within us and continue to do this until it becomes a continuous consciousness. “But what will you do until then? . . . simply keep returning to Him each time you have wandered away. When something is repeated over and over, it becomes a habit. This is true even of your soul. After much practice your soul forms the habit of turning to God.”

and in a different context

Soren Kierkegaard, “Alas, perhaps of all enemies force of habit is the most crafty, and above all it is crafty enough never to let itself be seen, for one who sees the habit is saved from the habit. . . . the struggle is really with one’s self in getting to see it.”
(he suggests using the thunder of a hundred cannons three times a day as a reminder to not be lost in our habits or, like a Persian emperor, to keep a hundred slaves to remind us. But then,)
“watch yourself lest this too becomes a habit! For you can become accustomed to the thunder of a hundred cannon . . . And you can become accustomed to having a hundred slaves remind you every day, so that you no longer listen, because through habit you have developed an ear wherewith you hear and yet do not hear.”

This is the point that I want to emphasize

A repetitive action changes your brain–i.e., neural networks and the way specific structures function

How much attention do you give to

  • brushing your teeth?
  • putting on a pair of jeans?
  • tying your shoes?

We only pay attention if something out of ordinary happens–like a snap falls off, a shoestring breaks, or we are trying to do these things with a sprained wrist
– if you drive the same route to work every day, you stop seeing anything along the streets you use

Abraham Maslow warned that the unconscious force of habit can affect what happens in our worship–in the rituals we perform again and again or in the words we recite over and over until they become “thoughtless, reflex-like, automatic responses”

“Familiarization and repetition produces a lowering of the intensity and richness of consciousness, even though it also produces preference, security, comfort, etc. Familiarization, in a word, makes it unnecessary to attend, to think, to feel, to live fully, to experience richly.”

This can diminish our consciousness of God in worship and spill into a similar lack of awareness in our daily lives

A major problem that plagued God’s people in the Scriptures was the “hardened heart”
– here, in verse 15, the Greek word translated “dull” means “to make thick” or calloused
– how do we develop callouses? Through repetitive use and friction
Calloused skin is less sensitive than a normal patch of skin
– and a hardened heart is less sensitive to God or the impulses of his Spirit

What Jesus gives us is a new way of seeing

Once we begin to see in this new way, we start living in a new way
– “eyes that see” what he wants us to see enables us to make different choices and move in new directions
– and this new way of living is one in which we find greater peace and joy

We can begin here and now
We can also bring mindfulness to common, ordinary things
– to “chores” and monotonous or routine activities
– and it is up to us, especially, to bring mindfulness to worship (and not depend on our pastors or worship leaders to do this for us)

Anthony de Mello, “What you are aware of you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you. You are always a slave to what you are not aware of.”

We sometimes run from awareness if we perceive it to be potentially painful or embarrassing
– we also dull mindfulness with sensory overload
– most of us keep ourselves over-stimulated
But the solution isn’t necessarily stepping out of the commotion; it can come by stepping into something else; namely, into the present moment
– for example, I can always use my breath to snap me back into the here and now
– which is precisely where I find Jesus waiting for me

There are so many ordinary moments in our lives–standing in line, sitting in traffic, waiting in an office
– and each one can be an opportunity for us to surrender, to become receptive

CONC: There’s a short story in Mark’s gospel that I love to read and picture in my mind

Jesus came into Jericho and a blind man started yelling at him until finally the Lord stopped and told some others to bring the blind man to him
– so I picture the blind man groping his way through the crowd until he comes to Jesus and perhaps places his hands on Jesus’ chest, as if to satisfy himself that it really is Jesus
– when he reached Jesus, the Lord asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Crazy! (“Well, let me think about it. You’re Jesus and I’m blind, so . . .”)
– but Jesus was giving him the opportunity to exercise his free will, the opportunity to choose
– if at that moment, in front of those people, his faith had given out, he could always back off and say, “Uh, got any spare change?”

What he said was, “Teacher, to recover my sight”–exactly what Jesus wanted to do for him . . . and for us!

Jesus told the disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, because they see” (v. 16)
– what did their eyes see?
In the story that follows, “When Jesus had finished these parables,” he went home to Nazareth
– there he was recognized by his former neighbors
– they were convinced that they knew Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary . . .?”
Everything they said about Jesus was true – but it was not the whole truth
– they missed the most important truths about Jesus

The goal of having eyes that see is not to notice more and so have a richer experience of life
– it’s not to take more control of our circumstances, or even break bad habits and addictions
The goal is to see Jesus–and to see him for who he is
– to discover him in each moment and in all the ordinary activities that keep us busy
– to come to the point where “whatever” we do, in word or deed, we “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17)
The goal is to find Jesus in each moment–and especially in the hard moments–and finding him, to put our faith and trust in him

That is why we ask him for eyes to see

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