"Christianity is a religion of attention."
This is the claim made by Nathan Schneider, in his article published in the periodical, America: The Jesuit Review.
The matters of our attention are critical, for where we direct our attention, we also direct our resources. We have the power to choose where we place our attention, and that choice has lasting consequences.
"Christianity is a religion of attention. Attention matters maybe even more than faith, more than works," Nathan Schneider claims. "Attention binds [faith and works] together. Whom does one notice, the beggar or the Pharisee?" If we focus our attention on the Pharisee, the powerful religious leader who loves to make bold pronouncements in public, then our focus and our energy will go toward him. But if our attention is on the beggar, the person in need, our focus and our energy and our resources will flow toward that person in need.
To put this differently, we can ask "Which stories do we accept as true?" We are bombarded with stories, with narratives that seek to define who we are and what we are to be in this world. Do we direct our attention to the stories that say that we are made to accumulate all that we are able, to store up and preserve and to never give of our hard-earned bounty to those who are in need? Or do we direct our attention to the stories that say that all people are created in the image of God, which means that the person in need is my brother or my sister, and that I am called to be gracious and generous.
"Christianity is a religion of attention." Or, as Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." For "where we pay our attention, we lend our power," Nathan Schneider says. To put it differently, those things to which we give our attention, they have the potential to influence us. The books we read. The music we listen to. The public personalities we follow. The crowds we join.
It is not easy to intentionally direct our attention, for there are so many competing voices that call out to us like the enchanting songs of the sirens who lured nearby sailors with their voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. It is not easy to intentionally direct our attention, but it is possible.
To be clear, this is not a call to isolate ourselves within the walls of the church, though some argue that this is the solution. At one point in my life, I took this route. I was led to believe that a Christian should only listen to Christian music, so as not to let secular music hold undue influence in one's life. And so, I donated or sold all my secular CD's. Yes, this was way back in the days of CDs, before MP3 players and iTunes and the like. So I boxed up my Paul Simon CDs, my Tom Petty CDs, my Dave Matthews CDs, my Big Head Todd and the Monsters CDs and the like--boxed them up and sold them or donated them. The only real result of this was that years later, I had to repurchase many of these songs.
The answer is not to seclude ourselves and wall ourselves off. For, as author Eugene Peterson notes: "Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace: in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, in a court room. Jesus occasionally shows up in a synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace... [In fact], God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker [creating and building the world and all that is in it]. Once we identify God in [the] workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God. Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God." And the reverse: God doesn't take us away from the secular world, but pushes us out into the world and community around us.
In other words, if we are to follow Christ, he will lead us out from this place and into our community, into the places where we live and work and play. In those places, we will find God calling us and leading us. The church is, of course, a place where we gather and worship God, a place where we are reminded of who we are and who we are called to be. We gain strength for our work in the world, we are blessed in that work, and then we are sent again to that work.
We are, in a way, God's anointed. We are the ones to whom God has entrusted the responsibility of sharing the Good News.
We will, in a few moments time, ordain and install two new officers for this church: one elder and one deacon. In so doing, we are affirming our belief that God has called them and equipped them to a particular type of service within the church. But foundational to our tradition is the belief in the priesthood of all believers, the claim that God calls all of us to special and unique service in God's name--some inside the church but most outside of the church. Two different callings, but two equally important callings.
We all are the Lord's anointed.
This may sound strange. Isn't Jesus the Lord's anointed? Aren't Salomon and David the Lord's anointed? Let's look closely at the story.
The reign of Saul is about to come to an end. God tells the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king. Samuel goes to Bethlehem, finds Jesse, and asks to see his sons. One by one they pass by. The first one, Eliab, is very impressive. He looks like a king. “Surely this is the one,” Samuel thinks. God says, “Don’t be so impressed with his size.” All seven sons pass by and Samuel asks Jesse, “Are there any others?” “No,” Jesse says. “Well, actually, yes. There’s one more, but he’s just a boy and he’s out tending the sheep.” So young David is summoned. God says to Samuel, “He’s the one. Anoint him.”
“Do not look on his appearance; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” This is a story about a God who knows what is within us; knows the potential that God implanted in each one of us. Pastor John Buchannan has reflected that "among the most important people in our lives were those who made us uncomfortable by expecting more of us than we were producing. I have come to the conclusion that our saints are those who saw more in us than we ever saw in ourselves, the ones who forced the issue of who we are and who we can be: the teacher, the coach, the parent, the mentor who called us out, who called out of us something we didn’t even know was in there. Old Samuel missed it, but God didn’t and God doesn’t. God saw the heart of a king in a little boy. God sees your heart and mine. God wants us to become and to be all that
This is not only a story about a boy who becomes king; it is primarily a story about God and the way God chooses unconventional ways and unexpected people to get things done in the world.
The Lord's anointed.
It was Abraham and Sara. It was Moses and Aaron and Miriam. It was David. It was Jesus. It was the disciples and the women at the tomb. It is us.
The LORD has anointed us; to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.