November 18, 2018 Sermon
Tenacity for Such a Time as This
Joshua 24:15 NIV, Romans 6:17
Commitment Sunday is the traditional time to preach about giving generously to the church. In a time of transition—the level of giving we commit to is especially important for the future of the church. Our commitment can be complicated because of unknowns about the future direction of the church. What are our priorities for our money and our time? In this morning’s scripture lesson, Joshua bluntly summed up the choices:
“If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” The Apostle Paul was elated that the Roman Christians were “obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” Christian commitment welled up from the depths of their hearts. On what basis do we decide our priorities and commitments?
Rather than being teachy-preachy, George and I would like to tell a story: The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson:
Once there was a boy. . . . Who became friends with an old man and he began to learn about The Precious Present.
George: It is a present because it is a gift. And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.
BOY: "Wow! I hope someone gives me the Precious Present. Maybe I'll get it for Christmas." The boy knew about presents. Like the bicycle he got for his birthday and gifts on Christmas. But he also knew that the joy of toys never lasts forever. He wondered, "What is the Precious Present?--What could possibly make me happy forever?" So he asked: “Is the Present a magic ring that might make all my wishes come true?"
George: No. The precious present has nothing to do with wishing.
BOY: "Is the Precious Present a flying carpet that could take me any place that I like?"
George: No. When you have the precious present, you will be content where you are.
The boy grew into a young man, but he was not achieving what he wanted. So he visited the old man again.
George: Such richness is rare, and the wealth of the Present comes only from itself.
YOUNG MAN: "You told me that anyone who receives such a present would be happy forever. I never got such a gift."
George: You don't understand. You already know what the Precious Present is. And you already know it can make you happy. You knew it best when you were a small child. You have forgotten.
YOUNG MAN: "If you want me to be happy, why don't you tell me what the Precious Present is?"
George: "I would like to. But I do not have such power. Only you have the power to discover this gift. Only you. [be seated]
The young man was confused, but determined. He resolved to find the Precious Present. He read the latest books.
And The Wall Street Journal. He looked into the mirror. And into the faces of other people. But it was to no avail. He packed his bags to look for the Precious Present. After traveling many frustrating years, the man grew tired of looking for the Precious Present. His stressful search exhausted him. He often became ill.
The man returned wearily to the old man. The old man was happy to see him. The young man felt happy in his presence. He guessed it was because the old man felt happy. It wasn't that the old man's life was trouble-free. He didn't appear to have a lot of money. He seemed to be alone most of the time. There was no apparent reason why he was happier and healthier than most people. Those who spent time with him were happier, too.
"Why does it feel so good to be with him?" the young man left wondering.
After many years, the once-young man was sickly and miserable. He needed to talk with the old man. But the old man had grown very old and he spoke no more. He was saddened by the loss of his old friend. And he feared that he would never learn to be content. The unhappy man tried to understand:
SOMEONE ELSE CANNOT GIVE YOU THE PRESENT. . .
THE PRESENT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WISHING. . .
WHEN YOU HAVE THE PRESENT YOU WILL BE CONTENT. . .
The discouraged man grew so tired that he stopped trying. Then, he realized that the Precious Present was just that: THE PRESENT! He was joyous--for one moment.
But then, he let the joy of the present moment evaporate. He was uptight again--"Why didn't I see the obvious? Why did I miss so many precious moments? Why has it taken me so long to live in the present?" As the man remembered his fruitless search for the Precious Present, he began to realize how much he had lost. He had not fully experienced each unique time and place.
Then he realized that he was trapping himself in nostalgia about the past and resentment about what he missed while always searching for more.
He returned to the present moment. And he was happy.
But then the man began to worry about the future:
"Will I feel the joy of the Precious Present tomorrow?" Then he laughed at himself as it finally made sense: "It is wise to learn from the past, but it is not wise to be limited by the past. It is wise to prepare for the future, but it is not wise to be obsessed with the future. I lose what is precious by yearning for something in the future."
He also discovered that it is not so simple to live in the moment: He’d had to learn to be in the present over and over again, until it became part of him.
That re-learning helped make life an adventure. He had enjoyed being with the old man because his friend was not thinking about something else or wishing he was somewhere else. He was fully present. It felt good to be with him. He smiled, in the same was the old man smiled as he thought, “I can be happy now. When I feel nostalgia or guilt about the past, or anxiety about the future, I experience pain. I literally make myself ill. The precious present is living fully, just the way I am, right now.” He realized that some people choose to receive the Precious Present when they are young, others in middle age, and some when they are old. Sadly some people, never discover the Precious Present.
He felt fortunate and at peace. He savored each moment…
Decades later, the man had grown into a happy, prosperous and healthy old man. A little girl often visited him because she enjoyed being with him. There was something special about "the old man," as she called him. She wondered, "How could someone so old, be so happy?" She asked; and the old man told her. The little girl squealed with delight! As the girl ran off to play, the old man smiled as he heard her say, "Wow! I hope someday someone gives me the Precious Present!"
The MOST precious present is God with us every moment.
As individuals and as a whole congregation, we can find or lose sight of the precious present. In times of church transitions, members tend to focus on looking back or looking forward regarding the church. We can learn lessons and gain inspiration and learning from the past. Analysis of what might lie ahead is crucial to meaningful growth--especially during rapid cultural change. In order to make good use of the past and lay strong foundations for the future, the whole New Testament tells us: Live according to God’s vision —here and now. Live in the fullness that God wants for us—For such a time as this. NOW!