A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, June 5, 2016
Exodus 17:1-7 ESV
I suppose today is the first unofficial Sunday of summer, now that Memorial Day is past. Such means that a lot of families are thinking seriously about this summer’s vacations. I am looking forward to a couple of vacation trips myself; perhaps you are as well. Thinking back, what is the first summer family vacation that you can remember? How old were you? Where did you go?
The first real summer family vacation my parents planned that I can remember was when I was four years old and my brother was six months old. My maternal grandparents accompanied the four of us, so six of us crammed into my dad’s 1957 Chevy about 5 am for a nine-hour-drive across the North Carolina mountains to Myrtle Beach. I rode in the back seat with my grandparents. Obviously I had never ridden in a car for such a length of time; so as expected, I got quite restless before we arrived. I fidgeted, I stood on my head in the seat, and I wallowed in the floor at my grandparents’ feet. And, of course, I repeatedly asked that famous question children are wont to ask when traveling, “Are we there yet?” Perhaps you can identify; if not a question of your own posing, then a question posed by your children—“ARE-WE-THERE-YET?”
Well, such reminded me of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness en route to their desired destination—the Promised Land. I have read just one of the number of passages (and I could have selected from a variety of ones) where the people grumbled and murmured as they traveled. In this particular case, it was lack of water that set the people to complaining, which is quite understandable. We have to have water to live. But there are a number of accounts of when the people murmured and grumbled as they traveled, complaining of the lack of meat, the lack of vegetables they had known back in Egypt, wanting to return to Egyptian slavery, and so on.
But as I reflected on these wilderness journeying stories, I have to believe that there were those in the company who on more than one occasion whined to Moses, “Aren’t we there yet?” And if it wasn’t the adults doing the whining, then surely those little Hebrew children were tugging on their parents robes and saying, “Are we there yet?”
Well, I have long since learned that summer family vacations are not just about arriving at your destination. I have learned that much of the fun, excitement, satisfaction, and joy of summer vacations is in the planning and the actual getting there. Mary Lou will tell you that I start planning our summer trips months in advance, by deciding on sights of interest, the best route to travel, then the best lodging, and so on. And as we prepare to journey, we aren’t only thinking of the destination—Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks this year, for example. We find joy in the planning, the getting there, every day, every mile, every landscape scene, down to every wildflower along the way. I am sure it is the same with you.
Well, what I am driving at (and no pun intended) is the universal life truth inherent in all of this: Life—true life—is in the living, not just the destination. Some Christian groups, you know, focus much or most of their attention on the destination—making sure you are saved, getting to heaven, mansions in the sky, streets of gold, and so on. For some, the primary focus of life is making sure you are believing and doing what will get you to heaven. So life is centered around obeying the rules, strict living, not falling from grace, and so on, with life’s end and heaven in view.
But I have learned that true life is about the journey of each day, each hour, each moment, and at all times being mindful of the blessings and opportunities at any given moment. Now, I must confess to you that I have not always understood or abided by this paramount principle. There have been times in my life when I was more focused upon the far-away goal or end destination than I was about the daily journey of getting there.
For instance, as a child I was only interested in getting to the beach, not enjoying the scenery on the way there. Months in advance I longed for Christmas to come. I remember saying to one of my cousins, “I wish Christmas would hurry up and get here!” And my cousin wisely replied, “But you’re wishing your life away.” When I was a teenager of 14 or 15, my primary goal was turning 16 and getting my driver’s license (a ticket to freedom), and that was about the only thing I could focus on. When I started to college, the goal toward which I strained was graduation. And there were many days in getting there when I didn’t really appreciate the blessings of the journey. You get the idea. Perhaps you can relate in some ways.
Now the older I get the more I try to appreciate the joys and blessings of each day, each hour, each moment. Perhaps it is not so much a religious or spiritual thing as it is an aging thing. But I think it could actually be both.
Some spiritually-inclined of Christianity, Buddhism, and some other religious traditions refer to it as mindfulness. And what is mindfulness? Well, this past week I wrote down some attributes of mindfulness, as I see it anyway. I came up with a few.
For instance, mindfulness entails openness. It means being open to the present moment and circumstances, one’s current surroundings and environment, the immediate opportunities and possibilities, and looking for the inherent good that may be contained therein. Of all the people I know, our friend Beverly comes to mind as the one who most exemplifies this characteristic of open mindfulness. Beverly always has a positive outlook and positive approach to life, regardless of the circumstances. She can find good in any and all situations. In other words, she is open to the opportunities and possibilities in any situation, and one of her favorite sayings is, “It’s all good.”
A famous person once said, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I am in, therein to be content.” Would you care to guess who said that? It was Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf.
A second attribute of mindfulness is contemplation. Those who are mindful tend to reflect, meditate, and contemplate life, religious questions about life and the world, the natural world around them, and the present moment. Now, here (the present moment) is an area where I am still in the process of learning. Some people have the ability to reflect upon a situation and discern what is really going on and why some people act or react in the way that they do. And then they know how to respond in order to bring calm to the situation. I think that being able to reflect upon the present moment and determine why people say what they say and do what they is partially a gift, but maybe it can also be learned. I am still learning to stop and reflect upon and determine why our grandchildren sometimes act out, and then react appropriately. Such, I think, is just one piece of mindfulness.
A third attribute of mindfulness is appreciation. It is learning to appreciate the beauty, uniqueness, and gifts that each moment and each object we see have to offer. Such means looking more closely at things that we come into contact with each day, especially different aspects of the natural world. But it could also the smile of a child or expression of a loved one. It also means learning to appreciate different things in the world and their place in the order of things and the interconnectedness of all creation.
Well sadly, there isn’t a whole lot of teaching in the Bible about mindfulness per se. In the Old Testament, there is a negative passage where the writer speaks of the children of Israel’s murmurings in the wilderness and recounts how they “refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you [God] performed among them,” longing to return to their slavery in Egypt” (Nehemiah 9:17).
And the passage in the New Testament that comes closest to a teaching on mindfulness is where Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air . . . Consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:26, 28 ESV). There are other more indirect biblical references to mindfulness, but we have to look for and be open to them.
So as we think about those summer trips—whether they be extended, faraway vacations or one-day trips to the lake or Great Smoky Mountains—may we remember to not just focus upon the destination and whether we are there yet; but to be mindful of each moment in the getting there. But more importantly—and this is the real point of the sermon, in case you missed it—may such be a constant reminder to us to be more mindful—more open, more contemplative, more appreciative—of each moment and opportunity of life as they come to us. Life is in the moment and not just the destination. Amen.