ABOUT FAITH: Liv­ing in the Present

The Covington News - - Religion - Brian Dale Brian Dale is the pas­tor of Allen Me­mo­rial Methodist Church in Ox­ford.

The be­gin­ning of Jan­uary al­ways car­ries with it cer­tain rit­u­als for me. I clean out my files, both paper and elec­tronic, and re­place the bat­ter­ies in the smoke de­tec­tors. I re­view my in­surance poli­cies and start pre­par­ing my an­nual re­port to the IRS.

As dull as this may sound, these tasks help me re­flect on the past and pre­pare for the fu­ture. The new year is a tra­di­tional time for re­flec­tion and an­tic­i­pa­tion, but this should be un­der­taken with great care. Fo­cus on the past or the fu­ture can be haz­ardous de­par­tures from our true given state, the present. Worry and re­morse can steal our joy as surely as any catas­tro­phe. As Ful­ton Oursler ob­served, “ We cru­cify our­selves be­tween two thieves: re­gret for yes­ter­day and fear of to­mor­row.”

Many of the teach­ings of Je­sus can be stud­ied through the lens of liv­ing in the moment. His min­istry be­gan with a 40-day fast, dur­ing which he re­flected on his call­ing. Matthew’s ac­count tells us that Je­sus con­fronted the Tempter, who of­fered him bread, wealth and power. His re­sponse was to con­sider the present moment in light of fu­ture events re­vealed to him. “ I am not sus­tained by bread, but by God’s word. I am not made pow­er­ful or rich by things of this world.”

In these de­lib­er­a­tions, he was not bound by his car­pen­try past nor frozen with fear for his tur­bu­lent fu­ture. But ev­ery­thing he would do from that moment on was clar­i­fied by his un­der­stand­ing of who he was in that moment. And in that moment he was fresh from the wa­ters of his bap­tism, God’s beloved son, with whom God was pleased.

Je­sus met many peo­ple along the way who were bound to the past to their detri­ment. The lib­er­at­ing news of the king­dom was that they were now free from what held them be­fore. Matthew could walk away from the tax booth. The Sa­mar­i­tan woman at the well could no longer be de­fined by the hus­bands of her past, but by the liv­ing wa­ter she drank. Mary Mag­da­lene could say good­bye to the demons who had tor­mented her. Simon the fish­er­man could be­come Peter the fisher-of-men. When the Pharisees asked Je­sus when the king­dom was com­ing, he replied “ The king­dom of God is not com­ing with things that can be ob­served … in fact, the king­dom of God is among you.” ( Luke 17: 20-21). All who ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion could live in the moment. At least, that is the in­vi­ta­tion.

The prob­lem is, we cling to the past like a mean old friend. We con­tinue to drink the bit­ter wa­ter. We not only hold fast to our demons, but in­vite them in for tea and crum­pets. It is a very un-king­dom-like thing to do. When Je­sus told the would-be dis­ci­ple “ Let the dead bury the dead”, he was not in­struct­ing us to be in­dif­fer­ent or cruel to our par­ents. He was urg­ing us to let go of the past and live in the present moment, with all its pos­si­bil­i­ties and de­mands. “ For no one who puts his hand to the plow ( present) and looks back ( past) is fit for the king­dom of heaven ( Luke 9: 5762).”

As for the fu­ture, Je­sus taught us to be mind­ful of what lies ahead, but not be con­sumed by it at the ex­pense of the present. He warned us to con­sider the cost be­fore any un­der­tak­ing, like a king pre­par­ing for war, or a man build­ing a tower ( Luke 14: 28-32). But he also warned us against fu­tile worry that does noth­ing to im­prove the present or pre­pare us for the fu­ture. “ Do not worry about to­mor­row, for to­mor­row will bring wor­ries of its own ( Matthew 6: 25-34).” So the present moment is well spent in prepa­ra­tion for the fu­ture, but only if our ac­tions and at­ti­tudes leave the fu­ture in God’s hands.

I will con­tinue to clean out my files and re­place my bat­ter­ies. But it is a tightrope I walk, with nostal­gia and worry my pit­falls. God’s gift to me is the present, and that is enough for me.

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