(Sermon to be accompanied by persons holding placards, inside the altar rail so that they can be seen by whole congregation) At the BOLD utterance of the words “Pay Attention” the placards are flipped to show the words, preferably from left to right. After being shown they are turned backside out again to wait for the next BOLD use of the phrase. A final card “PLEASE” is brought in from the congregation at the end of the sermon.)
To God alone be glory. Amen.
Sometimes sermons can get a bit complex, or at least mine can. But this one is simple because the lessons all point in the same direction, to a simple injunction.
I’ve even prepared a small visual suitable for the occasion:
NOTE: (placards go up as I say the syllables) PAY ATTENTION
Now “pay attention”, is a call to be alert, be aware, and all the readings this morning concern paying attention to what God calls us to be.
Pay Attention: That’s what Elisha did.
Its Elijah’s last day on earth. Elisha is not going to miss a thing. Elijah says he’s going to Bethel, and tells Elisha to stay behind. But Elisha, who is not going to miss a thing on this last day, says, “me too.”
Elijah says he’s going to Jericho, and Elisha says, “me too.”
Elisha is not going to leave Elijah, not for a moment. He only has him for a little while. So he is savoring every moment. He is paying attention.
Elijah parts the waters of the river Jordan… ho ho ho… who else could do such a thing? Only the chosen of the Most High God, that’s who. Only Moses could part the waters, and now Elijah. So Elisha says, “give me a double portion of your spirit.”
Elijah says (ready placards?) PAY ATTENTION.
And then there is good old Paul.
He tells it like it is: Christ has set us free.
But, says Paul, “pay attention.”
This freedom thing is not an opportunity to goof off, to lollygag about and have a good time, to take up a life of fast cars and cheap cigars. No.
Christ has set us free so that we can live by the Spirit and do freely what is needed - to love our neighbor as our selves. Now Paul recites a fine list of unpleasant possibilities (I particularly like carousing). But then he suggests another way, the way of the Spirit leading us. HE says that we are freed up so that we can spend our lives for one another, guided by the Spirit, which produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” There is, Paul says, no law against such things. Not only is there no law against such things, there is no law about such things, for they are things done in the freedom of the Spirit for the good of people. They are the true fruits of the freedom we have in Christ Jesus.
Now to the Gospel.
Jesus, writes Luke, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” That’s the focus now. He is about to be all He was meant to be. It will cost him his life, given for others.
It’s not time for distractions.
It turns out that after an unpleasant interchange with Samaritans his followers have an eye for retribution, “Let’s torch those unwelcoming Samaritans.” He says, roughly, “PAY ATTENTION… we are on our way to Jerusalem. Everything else is a distraction.”
Someone wants to follow him wherever he is going… really? No matter, He is going to Jerusalem. No time to do an interview about intentions.
He tells someone else to come along, come along to Jerusalem, and the hapless guy says, “first I’ve got to go bury my father.” No matter, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. No distractions. But at least, says Jesus, “proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
Someone else says, he has to say farewell to family. No matter, Jerusalem is calling. Looking back is not paying attention.
We have so many ways to become distracted. Some of them even look pretty good.
Freedom looks good indeed. Freedom to vote, freedom to marry, freedom to bear arms, freedom to cuss out your neighbor or slander someone on Facebook, freedom to say more or less what you please.
Freedom is a wonder, and is often wasted. Freedom is central to the good life and we must seek it for all people. Freedom, or Liberty, is a great desire, and along with life and the pursuit of happiness it is one of the big three hopes of the American dream we celebrate on Independence Day.
But here in the record of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Testimonial of the followers of Jesus, we have something more: here we have the freedom to live the dream of God.
We are free to live the dreams the prophets had, that the spirit of the Lord God would be with us, and that we could walk through the troubles of these days;
the dream of Paul that freedom would be freedom from every distraction from doing God’s work of healing and redemption and the love of others would be paramount for everyone,
the dream of Jesus as he set his face to Jerusalem, the freedom to be light and life in a world too much driven by obscurity and death.
But to answer the call we must PAY ATTENTION. Attention to God’s spirit working in us.
This week we will celebrate Independence Day. It is a major celebration of our freedom. And a good thing too!
And yet, there is always the nagging itch in the back of the brain to PAY ATTENTION:
Our real freedom, our real liberty, is the freedom to do those things that work for “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” And we must remember too that the liberty we cherish is always linked in the American dream, with justice. That is why at the end of the pledge of allegiance we say “liberty and justice for all.” The freedom is linked with justice for all. What a dream!
So paying attention to what God is calling us to do and be, is to do those things that work for freedom and justice both, for love of all. If we do pay attention we can become prophets, saints and the presence of Christ for others. If we do not, the freedom is wasted on what one young woman in Sussex County called “car thumping and cruising for burgers.”
Lets not get distracted: we have been given life – and we are called to live and die for others, we are given life and it is a life for the world, for others. We have the light, and it is light in a time of unknowing darkness.
Still, as I look at the placards, PAY AT TEN TION something is lacking.
Being Episcopalian, I wonder if perhaps the signage is a bit off putting, a bit raw… so a small modification seems in order.
So… (placards go up with and additional placard) PAY AT TEN TION PLEASE.
There, that’s it.