Jesus learned from an early age that we human beings are a little like a car. How it runs depends on who is driving and what juice is in the tank. One of our neighbours recently put diesel in his van instead of petrol. It wasn’t a good move. He did drain most of the diesel out and put petrol back in but the poor old van has been sounding very sick as it drives past our place spluttering and misfiring badly as he tried to burn off the residue of diesel in the system. His van needs petrol to run well.
To get us going well we need to be aware of our inner life and what voices within are fuelling us and driving us. Jesus taught that true and fruitful life would come as we incorporate a process of reflection in our living, and look carefully what we are trying to run on. To do this Jesus found it important to turn off the music and noise in our lives, to stop the activity and spend time alone in solitude. One place he headed frequently was a quiet place where he could turn inward and look inward at what was fuelling his life. Was it ego juice and a desire to promote self and be noticed by others or was it God juice and a higher desire to serve something beyond self.
I wonder if you ever look within and examine what fuel is in your tank. I know I’m better off when I do. Someone challenged me the other day about something I said and I caught myself immediately jumping to the defence of my view. Instead of listening and really hearing what the other person was saying I wanted to tell them I was right and they were wrong. Where did that come from? What was driving that response? Or the other evening I was a little tired and was working at sending some emails and my computer did some things that computers do and I lost something I had been working on. I found myself getting quite angry with a little bit of plastic technology and ….. It really wasn’t that important and my reaction was over the top. But where did that come from. What was driving that? Or I was out my bike and saw a young fellow up ahead on his bike and I thought I can bike faster than him and set about really pumping the legs. Why did I do that? What was driving my actions?
Taking time to look within is an interesting process. Making space to be aware of what is driving your actions and your words is an insightful thing to do. It’s something Jesus encouraged us all to do. One place I know some of do this work of reflection is coming to church Sunday by Sunday.
A place of solitude is where the everyday stuff that keeps us running around in circles doesn’t happen anymore. It’s a place where we no longer mow lawns, cook fancy meals, head off to work, worry about the kids, because in the solitude none of these things matter anymore. There isn’t lots of stimuli, no TV, no streaming music, no internet, no smart phones, and no incoming messages. There is silence, a landscape paired back to bare simplicity, and in this space life can be examined. In such an environment you begin to notice what is happening inside yourself.
Our scriptures tell us that Jesus before he set out on his public ministry spent time in the desert. I think he spent a lot of time in the desert, specifically in the Judean desert an area between the Dead Sea and the city of Jerusalem. It’s not desert like the Sahara full of sand, but is a rocky hilly desert with ravines cut into it by water, the result of sudden downpours. It’s a harsh empty environment, and yet there is life tucked away if you know where to find it. People have always found such places good places to become aware of what is going on within.
There I think Jesus listened and observed what was going on inside. Why did he react to that critical voice with such defensive vehemence? What was that niggling anger or frustration all about? What voices could he encourage that brought life into his being? What happenings in his life brought a deep joy to and peace to him. What demons needed to be faced? What life bringing angels needed to be nurtured? Our forefather John Calvin talked of human beings as being like horses who need a rider and that rider can either be God or the Devil. I don’t see things quite in those terms, but I do see there is a power at work in my life, a self seeking power, a greedy power, a me first power that I call my ego speaking. This voice promises much under the guise of success but ultimately delivers no peace and no deep joy. But in the stillness I am aware of another voice. Some call it the true self, or the God spirit and this voice whispers of other things…. The importance of serving and using your gifts for the common good, the need to listen well, the joy of anchoring your life in what is true and not what is popular, and a grace that sees everything in life is gift. Which one do we feed, and which one do we starve.
Once upon a time, there was a Navajo grandfather, who told his grandson, “Grandson, there are two wolves inside of me. One wolf is, good and altruistic, generous and kind, compassionate, and the other wolf is selfish, mean and greedy, violent and angry. The two wolves are in a constant fight within me.” The grandson, with wide eyes, says, “But which one will win, grandpa?” And the grandfather says, “The one which I feed.”
We come today to feed on Jesus. We come to take his life into ours that we might be transformed as people from the inside out.
I can’t remember a time in my life when Jesus wasn’t influencing my life a feeding me with patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking and seeing. Many of these patterns were mediated by parents who tried to instil a sense of the importance of others, of serving rather than getting, of looking for the best in others, and looking deep within self to determine what was really driving your actions. There were other important people too who I looked up to and saw compassion in action.
But there were other influences too. I remember well long walks home from school through the town belt in Dunedin. These were times of solitude and I learned the importance of silence and the importance of looking within. In stillness you can start to see some of the demons within us all and start to notice how many of our actions are motivated by our ego and the desire to push ahead of others. You need solitude and stillness in your life, a place where you can examine what’s driving things.
And you need the example of Jesus. As I read and re read the stories, and heard his sayings something gripped my heart even as a youngster. His words and actions seemed to speak to me as no other. In those early days I think I was motivated by a desire to get to heaven and I still am. What’s changed is that heaven is no longer out beyond the clouds somewhere, but is here and now. What hasn’t changed is the message that God is a loving accepting God who seeks to shape our lives into something worthwhile. It’s all grounded in a love that will not let us go. It’s not about proving our success but about using what has been gifted to us. It’s not about being better than others but working together for the good of all. It’s not about winning but about loosing something.
Jesus is quite clear, religion that fails to transform hearts, the deep places within, is useless religion. Religion that fails to transform lives is not worth committing time and energy to. Religion that is just about appearances is worthless.
I come to this meal today to feed on Jesus and to be transformed by Jesus. I come to commit to a way of self reflection with Jesus as my guide. I invite you to join me.
Dugald Wilson September 2nd 2018
• What idea from today’s address caught your attention, challenged you, or encouraged you in some way.
• Pick ‘a significant encounter’ you have had in the past few days and reflect on your reactions and words. Honestly reflect on what was behind your responses? Did you seek to increase your prestige and power or to serve God?
• Examine yourself when you feel angry and ask what is driving this…