March 10, 2019, “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 6:19-2


Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘God will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

 Matthew 6:19-2

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Will you pray with me?

Holy God, you invite us to open ourselves to you -- to your spirit, to your love, to your power, to your grace, to your calling. Open my mouth this morning and put your words upon my lips. Open our ears that we may hear your good news. Open our minds that our thoughts would bring us closer to you. And open our hearts that we may receive your Spirit. Amen.

A couple of years ago, the deacons at a church I served decided to read Marie Kondo’s best-selling book: “The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up.” It is a small tidy book with tidy ideas about tidying up. I enjoyed our time reading the book and yes, I followed Marie Kondo’s advice and cleared out some of my things, though I must confess I did not follow her method to a T and kept some items that do not give me joy, which is the criteria she gives for keeping things -- they must give you joy. I must also confess that I still use her method of folding clothing. Instead of folding clothes flat, you fold them into a little rectangle that will stand up in your drawers so that you can see all of your t-shirts or pajamas or pants all at once.

Although I enjoyed reading her book and even put some it into practice, I never quite understood why we read this seemingly secular self-help book as spiritual leaders of a church. What did tidying up (life-changing or otherwise) have to do with God, Jesus, spirituality, and the life of our church?

This Lent, I am reading Joyce Rupp’s book “The Cup of Our Life” -- a book that guides me through daily meditations using a simple tea cup as an illustration for spiritual growth. And it is Rupp who has helped me understand more fully the value of Kondo’s invitation to tidy up. Rupp could be speaking for me instead of herself when she says:

“I don’t know about you, but it seems like I am forever trying to get rid of the physical clutter in my life. I just get my heaping basket of correspondence emptied, and it’s full again. I finally clear off the top of my desk, and the next week it’s messier than it ever was. I dust the house and put things away only to have to re-do it again soon afterward. It seems like there is always a stack of something waiting to be sorted and discarded.”

Yes, it does! And having a baby (and probably children of any age!) only multiplies the clutter.

But Rupp isn’t done. No. She invites us a step further. She calls us to look beyond the material clutter in our lives to the spiritual clutter beneath it. All that inner junk that we leave lying around: unfinished conflicts, anxiety and fear, harsh judgments, blame and shame, insecurity, self-pity, self-doubt and mistrust. This stuff can take up a lot of our inner space. We get so busy speaking and listening to the negative voices about ourselves, about our spouses and our kids, about our neighbors or co-workers, about perfect strangers and people who differ from ourselves, about how terrible and dangerous and frightening the world is. These negative voices and messages take up so much of our internal space that we miss the good things waiting for us. 

See, these negative messages are the glasses we wear, they are the lens through which we see the world. And the truth is, how we see the world quickly becomes how we experience it. When we see the world as hostile and out to get us, we experience it this way. When we see ourselves unworthy of love and respect, we allow others to treat us without love and respect. When we believe that we cannot make a difference, that we cannot change our situations, that we are not enough, we behave accordingly and often the result we expect follows. The lens through which we see the world becomes the reality into which we live.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Jesus is telling us that how we see the world matters! How we see ourselves matters. How we see others matters. How we see God matters. Will we see honestly? Will we let the light in? Or will we choose to see only darkness, to be filled only with darkness? How we see the world matters.

The struggle is to remove the lenses and see ourselves and the world for what we are, for what the world is -- neither more nor less. But that is usually the temptation -- to see ourselves as either more or less than we really are.

In Jesus’ encounter with the devil, again and again the devil tempts Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God. Turn stones into bread. Cast yourself off of this great height. In so doing, the devil questions Jesus’ identity, and attempts to sows seeds of doubt about Jesus’ true relationship to God. Prove it. The devil is saying. Prove that you are powerful. Prove that you’ve got God’s ear. Prove that you are who you say you are.

The devil knows full well that when we feel less than we are, we are tempted either to exert our power or to shrink from it. Indeed, people who act most arrogant and those who behave as bullies often do so because deep inside they are insecure, afraid that they are not good enough and so they make others feel small so that they can feel big. And there are those of us who refuse to step into our full power, who refute words that affirm our gifts or shrink from opportunities to let the light of our gifts shine forth. Yes, the devil knows full well that when we feel less than we are, when we let all the spiritual clutter, all those negative (or sometimes vain and egocentric) voices take over, we are easy targets for temptation.

But Jesus has cleared out all that clutter. Maybe that’s what he was working on those 40 days in the wilderness -- clearing out the clutter -- or perhaps he had done this work already. Jesus has wrestled with those voices of doubt, he has put away vanity and ego, for the devil’s tests hold no sway over him. Jesus does not need to prove to the devil who he is. He just needs to turn back to God and be himself.

And what about us?

As a congregation, as this particular congregation, I think that we are often tempted to see ourselves as not enough. Not enough for God. Not enough for our world. Not enough for each other. Not enough for the visitor who walks through our door. We are tempted, I think, to look backwards to a time when our pews were full, when our budgets were larger, when we had more members and did more things. We are tempted to want to go back to those days -- when shops were closed on Sundays and we did not have to compete with youth sporting activities or homework or ski trips. Or we are tempted to want to go forward to a time when we have more people in the pews and more money in the offering plates and more events on our calendar. And perhaps we will get to that place.

But what are we missing in the meantime? What are we missing about today?

See, I think if we are not careful, we will miss the gifts and graces we have right now. I keep being blown away by this congregation. By our generosity and energy. By our passion to be the church and our desire to love each other better. By the ways we seek to deepen our connection and service to our wider community.

After my installation service, my mentor Cynthia Lindner who preached that service, asked me: “Do your people know how good they are? Do they know how well they are being church together?”

Friends, let us let go of the spiritual clutter that says because we are not as many as we used to be, because we do not have as much money as we used to, because our calendar is not as full, we are somehow a lesser church. Let us let go of the spiritual clutter that tempts us to believe that we are somehow not enough for one another or for God.

Friends, I have a feeling that it is not only as a church that we have some spiritual clutter getting in our way? What spiritual clutter is getting in your way? What might you let go of to empty some space in your spirit and your life to let God’s light in? Do not think this work will be done overnight -- be patient, for it will take time. And the good news is that as we clear the clutter, the eyes of our hearts will be opened, and we will be filled with God’s light. Amen.