It’s the Nike slogan: Just Do It! It’s the “American” motto: Can Do! It’s the modern world’s obsession: Make it happen. We are a people who have been shaped in our contemporary age with an expectation of getting things done, accomplishing goals, and doing whatever it takes to achieve our aims and dreams. We are an extremely “productive” race!
AND, we are sleep deprived. We are lonely. We are depressed. We are unfulfilled.
Now before you get the wrong impression that I am now advocating a “laissez faire” attitude toward good progress and productive lives, not so! What I am saying is we humans are notorious for being out of balance in our lives. We work 80 or 100 hours a week to climb some corporate ladder all the while our marriages disintegrate, our kids don’t know us, and our health suffers, and for what? Money? Some would look at this obsession and consider it a mental illness. We pressure ourselves to achieve and when we don’t reach some unrealistic idea of what that achievement is suppose to be, we pressure our children to achieve so that we can live vicariously through them! Again, an unbiased outsider would look at this and suggest we are crazy.
I suppose it is something of a mental disorder we have developed in a society so defined by achievement and accomplishment and plenty. Our “American Dream,” the envy of the rest of the world, is becoming a nightmare for too many. Not because it’s a bad dream, but because it’s a partial dream. It must be balanced by a more comprehensive vision of what a fulfilled life really is. It must be made healthy by the Kingdom of God!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today: At that time, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ or ‘Lo, here!’ Do not go, do not follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
Our Lord Jesus once again attempts to get the religious leaders of His day to reorient their expectations, ideas, and beliefs, back to what was initially revealed to them by the Prophets and the Holy Scripture. Jesus isn’t teaching some new idea. He is embodying the revelation that God had given over and over again throughout the history of the People of God in the Scriptures. The Kingdom of God wasn’t some mere political entity meant to favor one race above others or to “settle” old scores, but to be an internal revolution in the hearts of humanity that none of that would ever be necessary! Their idea of God’s Kingdom was TOO SMALL! God’s Kingdom is here, “in the midst of you.” Even Zechariah, the Prophet declared “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6) And The Lord reminds these religious leaders that the “kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.” The Kingdom God is building in the world is a Kingdom of transformed people made in His Image to become in His likeness.
As usual, we humans get it backwards. We think that if we rearrange our “outsides” so that “everything is awesome” then our “insides” will be changed and we’ll be “good people.” But the Revolution Jesus Christ offers us is one of a constant internal struggle to be transformed by His grace. It is precisely this internal struggle that all the disciplines of our Orthodox faith invite us to engage. It is by allowing the wisdom of our faith to discipline (this is the root idea behind being a disciple) our internal lives that produce the external peace and joy no matter what the circumstances. It is being about this hard, internal work that makes visible the Kingdom of God for everyone. It’s a movement from internal to external rather than external to internal. And that’s hard work! No wonder we are always looking for a short cut!
Today, are you a “productive” follower of Jesus Christ or is your life so cluttered with smaller expectations and goals that there is hardly any energy left to do the spiritual labor that is most important? In this season where we move methodically to the Feats of the Nativity, perhaps it’s time to stop being so “productive” that it’s killing your health, your relationships, and your ability to know true joy and start reorienting your own expectations toward the Kingdom of God. Start by going to church, learning to pray, and embracing the spiritual disciplines meant to build God’s Kingdom in your own heart!
P.S. We had a wonderful Faith Encouraged LIVE program last night. If you didn’t get to hear it, here’s the link http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouraged/a_good_and_faithful_steward. Please share this with your parish leadership! Also, I have a prayer request: My family and I are traveling during this special week to visit family and spend Thanksgiving with loved ones. Please pray for our safety and peace. We certainly wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving holiday and pray for you as well. God bless!