March 5, 2006
First Sunday of Lent
"Cross Eyed: Focus"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Wasn't the rain last week great? It did so much to refresh the parched ground. It was great but I've got to tell you that it almost caused me to be in an accident. You see, the rain made me lose my focus. You know how it is when you're driving and the first drops hit your windshield. It's not enough to really turn on the wipers but just enough to make it hard to see. And you know if you turn on the wipers all you're going to do is smear all the dirt around.
Well, I waited for a little bit for the rain to pick up and turned on my wipers. But it had been so long since we'd had rain and so long since I'd used my wipers that I wasn't sure they were still any good. I got distract checking whether my windshield wipers were doing their job or not that I almost ran into the truck in front of me. I lost my focus.
And apparently from all the wrecks that day, I wasn't the only one who lost his focus.
It is so easy to lose our focus whether it's driving or whether it's in just living day to day. IN the passage from Mark this morning, we hear once again about Jesus' baptism. But this time we follow Jesus a little further. For while His baptism was marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, God's blessing and God's words, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." We also read that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert where He was tempted.
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
So often we have a spiritually significant moment in our lives, a mountain top experience of some kind only to find ourselves beset with all kinds of temptations and calamity afterwards. It's as if we are being tested. For Jesus, that was very true. Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness so He could be alone with God. God knew the temptations were coming. God didn't order them or cause them, God just knew they would be there. So, just before hand, God reminded Jesus of their relationship. God provided the Holy Spirit to strengthen Him. And in the wilderness of temptation, Jesus struggled to keep His ministry and purpose in focus.
As we begin the Lenten Season, the season of the 40 days leading up to Easter and the celebration or the Resurrection, we're called to keep our eyes and our Focus on the Cross. We're Called to have a Cross Eyed Faith, and a Cross Eyed: Focus.
So how do we do that. Well, being here today is a good start. Worship is always a good place to start, especially worship where we celebrate the Sacrament. You see, at the Lord's Table we are reminded whose we are and our relationship with God. We are fed and filled with God's grace once again. And we are reminded that all the world can offer in place of this feast of forgiveness, this all you can eat buffet of God's Grace, is nothing more than imitation, stale leftovers. But there are a couple of other ways to stay focused as well. Mainly, Self Denial or Giving Something Up or Acts of Kindness or Taking Something On.
A. Self Denial is an important Christian concept, it allows to walk the same path Jesus walked. It allows us to feel some of what Jesus felt when He gave up everything for our sake.
Over the ages people have given up all sorts of things like meat, to sweets, chocolate, cokes, going to the movies and those kinds of things. I know one guy who gave up giving things up for Lent. Not really the right spirit but you get the idea.
The idea of Self Denial is the idea of making a Sacrifice. But it shouldn't be something you're not going to miss. I can't give up coconut, cooked spinach and boiled okra. While it sounds good, it would be a sham because those are about the only foods I don't like. Self Denial is about making a sacrifice that makes a difference, focusing on the Cross and reminding ourselves what Christ gave up for us.
B. Rev. Craig Gates of Jackson Mississippi has a great list of suggestions. He says we should:
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion. A few minutes in prayer WILL keep you focused.
GIVE UP looking at other people's worst attributes. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting or to offer a smile. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! They're too heavy for you to carry anyway. Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit someone who's lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift: your time!
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We're called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.
GIVE UP judging others by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ.
Or how about this one that I think Rev. Jackson left out. GIVE UP missing Worship and Sunday School. Attend every service during Lent. What better way to focus on the Cross.
A. Another way of Focusing on the Cross in Lent is to take something on or to do Acts of Kindness.
I know a woman who loved to make jelly. And she made delicious jelly. But you don't normally make jelly during Lent because the fruit isn't available. However, she set aside every Thursday to make jelly. The cost was higher because she had to buy fruit out of season. But she would work all day making jelly, then she would bring it to church and sell it to the members. The money raised would then go to a special mission or ministry project she had chosen.
She could just given the money she spent on the jelly but had she done that, she wouldn't have been able to give God the time and the labor. And she wouldn't have been able to pray over each jar of jelly or make a list of those who bought her jelly so she could pray for them. (Nobody else knew about that part.) Her sacrifice and self denial were a blessing in any number of ways.
B. Another way to take something on is to look at what you're giving. If you have been working on tithing but haven't worked your way to that level yet, why not start right now. Do it as a personal sacrifice. Do it as an act of faith and trust. Do it as a way to discipline yourself and focus on the Cross.
Or if you're already tithing (which is where we all should be) take on support for something else. Maybe you could take on one or more Church Growth shares and invest in the building of new churches in our Conference.
Of course, there's nothing that says you can't do both. As an act of Self Denial and Sacrifice give up one meal on a particular day. Or better yet, fast. Give up eating for an entire day. Not to lose weight but as a spiritual discipline and as solidarity with the poor and hungry. Every time your stomach growls, think of them.
When you fast, make sure you drink plenty of liquids. Or do a juice fast. Only drink fruit juice, to keep your blood sugar levels up. That doesn't mean drink ten gallons of cranberry juice or orange juice, but drink a little occasionally to curb your appetite. I usually drink 2 16 oz bottles of cranberry juice or something like that when I fast. Then I drink plenty of water.
And you can fast starting immediately after breakfast. Skip lunch and dinner or dinner and supper whichever it is at your house. Skip that evening bowl of Blue Bell or popcorn. Spend the time you would have spent eating in meditation and prayer. Or read your Bible. Or both. All of these things will help you Focus on the Cross. Then when you wake up the next morning, don't go to an all you can eat breakfast buffet, eat a light breakfast.
The both part of the fast? Take the money that you would have spent for those two meals and donate it to feeding the hungry. Donate it to the youth mission trip or the Helping Hands Pantry. Don't skip the meals and think, "OOO, now I've got extra money to buy, whatever." The sacrifice is for God, so this is God's money. Use it to honor God and the sacrifice you have made.
A business man driving home from work one day, saw a little league baseball game in progress. He decided to stop and watch. He sat down in the bleachers and asked a kid what the score was. "We're behind 14 to nothing," he answered with a smile.
"Really," he responded. "I have to say you don't look very discouraged."
"Discouraged?" the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face. "Why should we be discouraged? We haven't been up to bat yet." (1)
A lot of us start thinking about all the things in our life that need to be changed. Or all the things that are out of control and we get discouraged and we lose our focus. We fall back into old habits. When in reality those old habits should be gotten rid of. We all are tempted. No one is exempt from temptation, not even the Son of God. But Jesus overcame temptation by keeping His focus.
We know that overcoming temptation makes us stronger. Overcoming temptation helps us keep our focus. The whole point if the Lenten Season is to end up Cross Eyed. I'm not talking about being cross-eyed where you can see left out of your right eye and right out of your left eye. I'm talking about having our lives and our hearts Focused on the Cross of Christ.
Keep your focus. Stay Cross Eyed.
1. Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com
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