Focus

Sometimes we’re asking the wrong questions. Jesus calls us to change our focus.

Read Luke 13:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8 here.

Listen here:

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with some people out in the fellowship hall and they were telling me about how many doctors they’d had to see in the past week.  So I told them how to fix that. How? Close your eyes.

Closing our eyes is one way to change how we experience what’s happening in any given moment.  We also change our experience by changing our focus.  In our reading for today from Luke 13, Jesus helps us to see how we need to change our focus. When we turn our heads, our eyes automatically do this for us.  Our minds don’t always follow suit, and we can get stuck on things.

While Jesus is teaching in the temple, the people ask him about two tragic events that have happened.  In one, Pilate’s soldiers have killed some people while they were worshipping in the temple and making their sacrifices.

The people ask Jesus, “Did this happen because those people were more sinful than other Galileans?” Jesus answers, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.” (13:1-3)

No but unless you repent“Ok, well then, Jesus,” they ask, “what about those eighteen people who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them?[1]  Were they more sinful then other people in Jerusalem?”  Jesus answers that question in exactly the same way, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.” (13:4-5)

If Jesus were standing here today, we might ask him about those fifty people who were killed while they were saying prayers at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand two weeks ago. Were they more sinful than other New Zealanders?  And he would say again, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.”

Ok, well then, Jesus, what about that building that collapsed in Nigeria last week that killed twenty people.[2]  Were they more sinful than other Nigerians? And Jesus would say, yet again, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.”

What about……you get my drift.

Jesus’ response reminds me of what my parents would say when I was a kid and was asking them about something my brother was doing that I thought was a problem.  They would say, “Don’t you worry about him.  You worry about you.”

It sounds similar to what Jesus told us in this analogy about seeing from Matthew:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.

We sometimes talk about how “repent” means to turn.  In the Old Testament, the word in Hebrew shub does mean to turn back or return.[3]  To turn away from evil, and to turn toward God.  In the New Testament, here in Luke, the word in Greek for repent is metanoio which means to change your mind.

It sounds a bit extreme to say, “Change your mind or you will die.”  But really we will all die, and we don’t know when that will happen.  When those people died from the tower falling on them, they met their maker.  They met God face-to-face, and so will we.[4]

That’s a positive experience if we have made friends with God during our lives, but a negative experience if we have lived as enemies of God.  When we repent and turn to God and accept the gift of grace that God offers us through believing in his son Jesus, then we change our relationship with God from enmity to friendship.  In the process, we change our focus and begin to see things through God’s eyes as the Holy Spirit starts working in us.

That’s a big change, and sometimes we perceive the difference because things change noticeably, and sometimes we don’t because it’s happening in small ways.

4sr7a96ufhw11And sometimes, after awhile, we get stuck.  We don’t always notice when we’re stuck, because sometimes this happens gradually.  Like the time when Winnie the Pooh got stuck.  Winnie the Pooh loves to eat honey.  (He spells it h.u.n.n.y.)  One day he goes to visit his friend Rabbit because Pooh has run out of honey and needs to borrow some.  He goes into Rabbit’s house and sits down to have some honey.  But he eats so much honey that when he goes to leave, he gets stuck in Rabbit’s door.  Rabbit tries to push him through, but Pooh doesn’t budge.  His friends try to pull him out, but that doesn’t work either.

rabbitSo Christopher Robin decides that all they can do is wait until Pooh gets smaller.  This of course takes some time, but Pooh’s friends help him to get through it. Rabbit even makes the best of it by turning Pooh’s rear end into a piece of art.

It’s obvious in this situation that Pooh is stuck and needs to move.  He can’t stay there forever.  He needs to get out of that doorway or he will die.

It’s not always so obvious to us when we are stuck, or when we need to change something.  When we need to repent.  We don’t know because we can’t see it.  So we need to find a way to change what we’re seeing.  We need to change our focus.

One way to do that is to change the way we’re looking at things.

Change our perespectiveFor example, take a look at this picture.  Do you know what it is?[5]

extremecloseuppencil

How about now?

farpencil

What about this picture.  Do you know what this is?

extremecloseupwrench

Ok, how about now.

farwrench2

Changing our physical location changes how we see things.  It helps us to change our perspective.

Have you ever sat in church and thought, ”we need to change the church”? Something needs to change. Ok.  I’m going to tell you right now how we’re going to do that. This won’t be very Presbyterian.  Everybody stand up.  Now go to a different spot in the sanctuary and sit there.  You can change a lot by going to an entirely different area, or you can change just a little by just moving over.  If it’s difficult for you to move from where you are, that’s ok, please don’t, but if you can, give it a try.  It feels different, right?

Things look a little different now, don’t they? You just changed your perspective. Literally.

Making a physical change, changes on the outside, can help us to make changes on the inside.

We also change our perspective by getting new information.  This is why we keep re-reading the Bible.  Why we listen to sermons, have discussions with people.  This is why we’re working on having more small group opportunities, so we can talk with other people who might see things differently, and so we can work on learning and growing.  It’s also why we go new places and meet new people, and why we need to hear each other’s stories.  All of these steps are ways to change our perspectives.

No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.  Paul puts it this way:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Paso Robles vineyardIn the second part of our reading from Luke, Jesus tells a parable, using the example of a fig tree.  He says a man planted a fig tree in his vineyard.  It’s important that we know it’s a vineyard because a vineyard is a common symbol in the Bible for the nation of Israel.[6]  So it’s not just a tree anywhere, it’s a tree in the midst of the church.

One thing that’s important about that is that it continues the point Jesus has been trying to make when he says, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.”  Have you ever sat and listened to a sermon or a lecture or read something and thought, “Boy, my friend sure needs to hear this,” or “Gosh, I wish my brother could hear this.”  In some ways that’s good because we do need to share the good news of the gospel with our friends, but sometimes it also means we’re not letting the word change US.  We’re thinking about the speck in our brother’s eye, and totally missing the log in our own eye.

Jesus has been teaching that the kingdom of God is here and now, and that people need to turn to God and make a change right now, but many of them weren’t getting it.  So now he tries a different approach.  He tells them about a tree planted in a vineyard.  Israel is the vineyard.  The tree is there to help support the vineyard.[7]

It’s a fig tree, and so the vineyard owner comes looking for some figs, but the tree hasn’t started bearing fruit yet.  So he wants to cut it down, because it’s using up resources.  It’s taking up space, and water, and nutrients from the soil.  That’s it’s footprint.

When I was in purchasing years ago, we learned how to calculate the footprint of items we were buying.  We had to take into account the money it would cost to buy them, the amount of space they would take up on the shelf.  We also had to factor in cost of depreciation, and the cost of the manpower to maintain the stock and to make the sales. All of that made up the item’s footprint.

Change our footprintThe manager of the vineyard responds to the concern about the fig tree by changing its footprint.  The vineyard owner wants to cut down the tree, asking, “Why should it take up this space for nothing?” But the manager talks him out of it, saying, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.” (13:8)

Most of the time when we talk about changing our footprint, we think about reducing it.  For instance, there are websites[8] where you can calculate your carbon footprint by entering how much you fly or drive, how much you use electricity, etc. and it tells you about your carbon footprint, your impact on our energy resources and environment, and shows you ways you can reduce your footprint by reducing your energy use.

But the vineyard manager talks the vineyard owner out of reducing the tree, asking him to wait another year, and instead the manager is going to increase the tree’s footprint by digging around it and giving it more manure.[9]  Manure is fertilizer, which is … poop.  We put manure on plants to help them grow.  They need water, and sun, and it helps if you give them some extra . . .uh . . . stuff.  Sometimes when life gets dirty and smelly, we complain, but maybe we’re being fertilized to help us grow.

My point is, we need to change our footprint, not by reducing it, but by using all the resources God gives us to help us grow.  God gives us access to himself 24/7.  We sometimes get into a less is more mentality.  We don’t want to bother anybody.  We don’t want to bother God.  But we’re starving ourselves and killing our souls.  Our psalm for today describes our need for God:

O God, you are my God;  I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you… -Psalm 63:1

We need God! We need Jesus! We need the Holy Spirit!  We need God to feed our souls.

The psalmist reminds us how we do that.  He says to God, “I have seen you in the sanctuary, seen your power and glory.”  When we change our focus, turn toward God, and change our perspective, changing the way we are seeing, we also can change our footprint, and take advantage of the amazing resources we’ve been given.  We are always in God’s presence.

I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. -Psalm 63:3

One way to change is to try a new prayer practice. In your bulletins, there’s an insert called the Daily Examen.  It’s a guide for taking a few minutes at the end of the day to review the day with God in prayer, and to prepare ourselves for walking with God into the next day. I hope you’ll use that to feed your souls and change your footprint.

We change our footprint by focusing on God and letting him feed our souls and give us strength, and in the process, we change our fruitfulness.

Change our fruitfulnessOur fruitfulness is about accomplishing our purpose. We have a lot of different purposes in our lives, but there is one overall purpose, according to our confessions.  The Westminster Confession tells us that our chief purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.[10] Our best fruit is our joy. Joy is contagious. Our biggest impact on the lives of the people around us and on our own lives is through joy.

One of the ways we connect with that joy and feed our souls with joy is through singing.  Music increases our joy.   That’s why I love this quote from the movie Elf. Can you guess what it is? “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”  Joy is contagious.

There’s a pastor that goes out to the prison near his church every week and leads Bible studies and worship services.  Over the years, he’s gotten to know the men there, and there’s one that he’d been especially concerned about.  He’s eighteen and he’s been sentenced to life without parole.  The pastor knows that it’s going to be hard for this young man to have hope and to have joy.  But he’s noticed that singing helps.  The pastor found a pile of old hymnals on the shelf in the room where he meets with the men.  Many of them don’t know hymns or church songs, so the pastor has been teaching them, and when they sing, it helps change the mood of the group.  They have more joy.

Sometimes, when the pastor himself is struggling with what to teach them, he’ll have them sing more instead, and it not only helps the men, it helps the pastor.  Singing is fighting back. That pastor says,

“Singing, I’ve come to see, is spiritual warfare. Singing is how we come alongside each other to lift our spirits in the midst of darkness and despair. Singing is exorcism.”[11]

Jesus said, “No, but unless you repent, you too will perish.”

We all need to change, to renew our focus on God.

Let’s all walk out of this room today open to God’s Holy Spirit, so that he might change our focus, change our perspective, change our footprint, and change our fruitfulness.

Being open to change is one of the big ways that we let the Holy Spirit do God’s work in us, so that we see God’s presence and overflow with God’s joy.

And that joy will be contagious.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Siloam

[2] https://www.voanews.com/a/nigeria-building-collapse-kills-20-mostly-children/4830634.html

[3] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7725.htm

[4] “His point is that with death comes a decisive encounter with God, one that does deal with sin.  Whether one is a little sinner or a big one, repentance now is the only way to survive that coming encounter.” (Bock, NIV Application Commentary, p.366)

[5] Pictures from https://brightside.me/wonder-quizzes/test-can-you-recognize-everyday-objects-close-up-262360/

[6] Bock, NIV Application Commentary, p.366

[7] Joanna Harader at https://spaciousfaith.com/2016/02/23/the-value-of-a-barren-tree/

[8] Here’s one: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

[9] https://biblehub.com/greek/2874.htm

[10] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/wsc-english1.pdf

[11] Beck, Richard. Reviving Old Scratch (p. 130). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

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