Those who love flowers will not pick them.
One of the things that was on my “Bucket List,” prior to my auto accident of some years ago, was to make the hike to Mount Whitney in the southern Sierra. Kathy and I love to go camping, and we have done a lot of day hiking.
One brave day we hiked out of the Whitney Portal and made it to Lone Pine Lake which sits at over 10,000 feet. We were told by many of the hikers coming down the trail that we had completed the most difficult part of the hike to the Whitney peak.
A strange thing happened while we were taking that very arduous and literally breath taking hike. After a while, I stopped thinking about the lake to which we were headed. Instead, I began to enjoy the breathtaking views of the peak above us and the Owens Valley below us. I learned that when I took my mind off of the goal while looking for the next mile marker, I short changed myself. Once I simply enjoyed the journey itself, stopping to look at the sheer beauty of God’s hand in those majestic places, I found myself renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated, instead of exhausted and wishing I could just sit down at the next big rock we found along the way. Time flew by, and before I knew it I had a view from the lake that was incomparable to any I have every seen before or since. We’ve all heard the saying, the real treasure is not the destination, but the journey itself. This trail confirmed that for me.
There probably isn’t enough physical therapy or physical exercise that will make it so I can take a day hike to Lone Pine Lake again, but I have secretly penciled it in on my new and revised “Bucket List”.
When people talk about the difference between spirituality and religion, I think this is what they are hinting at. Spirituality is taking the next step in the Spirit’s lead, while all too often religion, or maybe more appropriately, “religiosity,” is about finally arriving at a destination. You know sometimes you can find more grace in the search for understanding than you can in dogmatic certainty—more value in sincere questioning than in retrieving a list absolutes.
I’m sure you have run into people who act as though they have fully arrived in their understanding of God, people who are dogmatically certain about everything because they practice a religiosity that is black and white. I’m always tempted to say to them, “Just write it all down in plain text so everybody can open it when you send it out as an attached file, and we can stop all this Christian Education stuff, and we can forget these gatherings on Sundays. We’ll have it all in black and white, and it will be settled. If people like that irritate you just a little bit, don’t be too hard on yourself because that’s what the Sadducees believed, and Jesus had a few choice words for them from time to time.
We live in a MEANS oriented world. It so often seems like everything we do and experience must be a MEANS to something better than itself. I think Jesus understood this temptation only too well and that’s why he uses the illustration of the master and the slave in this week’s Gospel.
In so many words, Jesus asks the question, why is it necessary to praise and fuss over someone because they did their job? Why reward them for doing well what they are suppose to do well? That question sort of goes against the grain doesn’t it? We aren’t too sure we even like Jesus’ question are we? I mean, whatever happened to, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
But here’s the point that I think Jesus is making here, once again, using hyperbole: The point is that when we do what we are called to do, we are blessed in the doing. Ministry and vocations, like spirituality itself, are journeys. The doing of them is an end in itself and not a means to a greater end.
When Jesus talks about having faith as small as a mustard seed, I think of taking that small step in faith, that sometimes is risky and sometimes scary. It really is like moving a mountain because that first step begins a magnificent journey. Sometimes there is pain along the way, but it’s always better than no journey at all, or looking for the next mile marker along the way.
Whenever I preach a “Free Grace” sermon, some folks’ antennae go up, and they look a little cross-eyed at me, and I’ll often get asked at Coffee Hour, “Well, if there’s no fiery furnace in hell, then why should I bother trying to live a Christian life?”
Do you hear the terrible mistake in that question?
We don’t live the Christian life because it’s a means to some better end. We don’t live the Christian life as a type of “fire insurance”.
We live the Christian life because it is the greatest end we can achieve! There is contentment in the journey. It’s the biggest mountain we can move! If you stop to think about it, none of us are getting old in the church. I’m serious, and do you know why? Because the mile markers are incidental in the Christian journey!
Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Do you thank the servant for doing what was asked? So you also, when you have done all that you were asked to do, say, ‘We are but servants; we have done only what we ought to have done.’”
I’m certain that Jesus acknowledged people’s contributions and I’m certain that he wasn’t on a campaign to take the word “Thank You.” out of the Aramaic dictionary, but Jesus knows that there are other rewards for taking this glorious baptismal journey.
Following Jesus Christ IS the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there is no greater treasure!
You see, it’s not so much where Christ is leading us that’s important, it’s the fact that we get to follow that is so rewarding in and of itself.
I don’t know who wrote this, but I do know it’s all over the internet:
People are unreasonable illogical and self-centered: Love them anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow: Do good anyway.
People really need help, but they may attack you if you help them: Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have to give and you’ll get kicked in the teeth: Give the world the best you have to give anyway.
I will be celebrating the 37th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood this December. As you can imagine, I’ve presided over a number of stewardship programs and pledge drives in parishes. The thing that has amazed me more than just about anything through those years is how easy it is to raise money when there’s a building to fix, or a deck to build, or a furnace that needs repairing. In contrast, almost every Vestry has to beg, borrow and steal to find money just to keep a church community together. I really believe that this goes back to that tendency we have to miss the REAL treasure; it goes back to our being destination-driven and not always stopping to smell the roses. When bricks and mortar are being laid it’s easy to see the return on our money. But it’s not so easy to support something that we take for granted will always be there, like a loving community we’ve come to treasure. Sometimes we’d rather help fund the outcome, but not the journey. I pray with all my heart that this will be the year that changes for us.
I’m told that somewhere in France there is a park with a large and very beautiful flower bed. Right next to the flowers is a sign written in three languages:
In German it reads, “Picking flowers is prohibited.”
In English it reads, “Do not pick the flowers.”
In French it reads, “Those who love flowers will not pick them.”
I think our Gospel this week begs the question: “What is our motivation for doing the will of God?” Is it fear, is it a means to a healthy fireproof afterlife? is it to pave the way to some reward, or is it simply because we get a chance to journey hand in hand with Christ and with one another?