July 03, 2023
• Rev. Mindie Moore
Parched Week 1: Pay Attention!
Scripture: Psalm 63:1, Isaiah 44:1-4
It’s (in theory, maybe not this week!) hot and sunny and a perfect time to be outside! And I feel like all summer long, I am on a constant loop with my kids- have you drank enough water? Where is your water bottle? I don’t want you to get dehydrated!
Whether we’re kids or not, when we’re out in the heat too long, we can get parched. And a lot of times it happens before we even know it! We’re just doing our thing, we’re out and about and all of a sudden we get thirsty and grouchy, we get a headache...and sometimes the only thing that will help...is a big drink. Something to quench our thirst.
You know what? The same thing is true in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we are just THIRSTY for something. We know that we want more but maybe we’re not sure what more is or how we find that thing.
So in this series, we’re going to be talking about WHY we feel parched and HOW we got there...but we’re also going to leave each week with some super practical tools to fill our spiritual cups. We’re going to explore a different Spiritual practice together every week. And I'll tell you that as Pastor Jevon and I prayed about and planned this series what we didn’t want to do was give you a nice little message you could just nod along to every week. We want to give you real things that you can try in your everyday life, no matter what that looks like. You don’t have to build a special space in your house, you don’t have to go on a retreat, you don’t even have to be with other people- these are simple, everyday things that can fight that parched feeling and bring you closer to God.
So as we look at our first practice today, let’s pray together.
Well, today’s practice is maybe the most important place we can start if we’re going to talk about our spiritual health. Today’s practice is (SLIDE) paying attention or noticing what’s going on in us and around us.
And I want you to think about- (SLIDE) When was the last time you really paid attention?
Feel free to write that down in your sermon notes.
Now, this wasn’t the most RECENT time I've paid attention, but it was a very memorable one. When I was a sophomore in high school I learned a lot about what it takes to really pay attention and notice what’s happening. I was in an advanced biology class and the teacher was super into birding. Like, bird watching. And so that meant- WE were super into birding by association. As part of this class, whether we liked it or not, most Saturday mornings during first semester, we would show up at school before dawn and travel all over the state to go look for and learn about birds.
But even though you might not think a bunch of teenagers would sign up for weekends full of birding, we were so into it! Like we would get so excited when we’d spot a bird, we each had a bird that was OUR bird and we had to do a report on where we did the bird call- mine was “PETERPETERPETERPETER”.
And we were so into it, because at the end of the semester, we had to take THE TEST. And the test was massive. But if you could correctly identify 90 birds...you got to go on THE TRIP.
Now, can you imagine what the reward was for a semester full of 6am Saturday field trips, publicly imitating bird calls, and memorizing hundreds of birds?
IT WAS MORE BIRDWATCHING!
But, believe it or not, this trip was such a thing at my school. It was 4 days in Georgia and there was a whole deal about who had been on the Georgia Trip and who hadn’t. And literally, it was 4 days of about 50 16-year-olds walking around random parks in Georgia like this (binoculars).
And we learned really quickly that if we were going to find the birds on our list, the birds that we drove 10 hours just to see...we were going to have to pay attention! (SLIDE) Because these birds blend in! They are hard to see. They move fast and fly away before you even know what happened. And so you have to slow down, you have to be focused, and you have to listen and look and really understand what’s happening around you.
And if you can do that- you're going to see something different. You’re going to see things for the way they really are, not just what they look like on the surface. And what we learned on this trip was so much more than what bird lives where. What we learned is that
(SLIDE) Our whole perspective changes when we pay attention.
And I don’t know about you and where your life is right now, what your relationship with God looks like, but sometimes we really need that perspective shift.
You know, this Scripture that we read today is all about that. It’s this message from God to the Israelites, this group of people that are so important to God but so often are in some kind of conflict with God. And God is saying to the people- you see things one very particular way- and I want to help you pay attention and see something different.
And Israel needs this message that God has for them. They desperately need to pay attention here. Because these are people that are barely holding on to hope. These were people who had survived a horrific event- you'll hear me a lot, when I preach on the Old Testament, talk about this event called the Exile. And I think it’s important we talk about it so much because it was the THING that shaped an entire generation of people at that time! You’ve got these people who for so long believed that they were kind of untouchable. These were GOD’S PEOPLE, they were living in land that GOD had told them to inhabit. They should have been good.
But there comes a point where their whole story changes. And it’s bad. They’re kicked out of their homes, they experience violence and loss, they watch everything they knew about their lives fall apart. And now God’s people aren’t really sure WHOSE people they are and there’s not only a distance between them and the place they called home, but there’s this growing distance between them and their God.
And so if you’re these people that God’s talking to here? Your whole perspective is that your story is one of pain and failure and grief. That’s what you see when you look at the world. And it’s not WRONG. Those things are real. That’s what’s actually happening in your life.
But you know how sometimes our perspectives can get really skewed and we only see ONE thing even though there’s a lot of other stuff going on? I mean think about when you’ve had a bad day. EVERYTHING gets colored with that. Everything! Every interaction, every moment, even if there was good stuff, we just want to say, “well, but let me tell you about what went wrong.” We ALL do this! And when that happens, we get major tunnel vision and it is so hard to notice anything else that’s happening.
That’s where these people are. And to those people, in their most parched moment, God invites them to pay attention.
And so this is what God says to them: (SLIDE)
Do not fear...For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants and my blessing on your offspring.
God acknowledges the state of how things are. These people are dry and thirsty and don’t have a lot of hope. But God says, look. Blessings are coming. Good things are coming. I’m not done with you yet and I want you to see it.
A few years ago, Ross Gay (SLIDE) wrote a book called The Book of Delights. And in this book, he set out to write one essay every day for a whole year focusing on finding and naming one thing that day that delighted him.
And he said this exercise totally changed his perspective. Like it completely opened up a new way of seeing the world. He actually said that when he set out to write this book he thought it was going to be incredibly difficult. Like would he actually be able to find one thing every day that was both delightlful AND worth writing about so other people would want to read it? But he said that One of the things that surprised him was how quickly the study of delight- when he was on purpose paying attention and looking for it- made delight more evident. And it happened really quick.
And all of a sudden, that thing that he thought would be so difficult to find, was EVERYWHERE. It was this amazing self-fulfilling prophecy- he was paying attention, looking for delight and delight was finding him all
over the place. Looking for this on purpose totally changed his perspective.
I think this is why I would go so far to call paying attention a spiritual practice. Because it lets us encounter God in ways we might not ever have thought we could. It brings things into our lives that we might have thought could never be for us. And when we know what we’re working with, with the state of our souls, and we can let ourselves see how God is at work- that's when things start to change for us. Because we start to grow, when we let ourselves pay attention. (SLIDE) We grow when we pay attention.
That's part of God’s message to the people in this passage. Not only does God want to open up their eyes so they can see that there’s more to the story than they might think, but God wants them to know that when they let God work in them, that something is going to grow. Their story is going to matter in a different way. They’re going to be known for something that’s going to outlast the here and now and is going to overflow from them to everyone else.
God DOES quench the parched places in us. But I don’t think God wants to stop there. I think God wants to take the places that we believe are dead and dry and put life there. God wants to grow something there.
And one of the things you will hear me say about spiritual practices over and over again is that we do them for US, but we also do them for other people. Our Spiritual health MATTERS- but it doesn’t just matter so we feel good. I mean, I want you to feel good! I think God wants good things for each and every one of us.
But you and I both know that the way we show up in this world is impacted by what’s going on inside of us. If we’re healthy or if we’re parched- that's gonna come out. It’s going to make itself known in our
families, with our friends, at work, in your small group, I mean it’s even gonna show up in the way you navigate the 5000 construction zones that exist within 2 miles of this building!
What’s happening in here impacts what’s happening out there. And that’s why we’re going to spend 5 weeks talking about Spiritual Practices and really inviting you to take an honest look at what’s going on in here. Because I honestly believe- if we would each pay attention and tend to the parched places in our lives, not ONLY would WE look more like Jesus, but so would our world.
And if we’re going to take that honest look, we’ve got to know what we’re looking for. We’ve got to be able to pay attention and really notice when God is trying to move in our lives. We have to be able to filter out God’s voice from all the other noise in this world. Because (SLIDE) When we know what we’re paying attention to, we are able to recognize it.
Our neighborhood had a block party last week, and there was a LOT of noise. There were tons of adults hanging out, kids running around and it was fun and chaotic and noisy. And there was one point in the party, probably around dinnertime, when it seemed like there were 500 voices all saying “mom!” at the same time. And the thing that always blows my mind as a parent is that in the middle of all the noise, all the voices, I am able to pick out which voices belong to my kids.
And it’s not because I’ve got superhuman hearing, but it’s because I have been listening to them for a long time! I listen to them in every mood, every situation and because I listen to them so often- I can notice them immediately. I can pick out their voices.
And the same way I recognize my kids voices because of years of paying attention, we can recognize and notice God. There is a LOT going on in
our world. I mean, we are in a constant stream of noise and information and opinions and feelings and it can feel almost impossible sometimes to pick God out of all of that. I think all that noise is one of the main reasons so many of us FEEL so spiritually parched.
But I told you, each week, we’re going to give you a tool. And if this is you today, where you are trying to hear God’s voice, you are trying to pay attention in the middle of the distractions, if you are trying just to slow down and have a bigger, truer picture of what your life and faith are like...this tool is for you.
So we’re going to practice this together now, but we’re giving it to you to take home. You’ll find these prompts on the back of the insert in your bulletin and you can literally do this spiritual practice of paying attention ANYWHERE. You can use it at your desk at work, the dinner table with a friend or your family, before you go to bed or right when you get up. Maybe you could even use them in the car, but don’t close your eyes like I’m about to ask you to!
But right now, in this moment, I do want to invite you to close your eyes and let yourself take the next couple of minutes to be present and pay attention. Let yourself notice what’s happening, embrace the moments silence that are about to come. And know that you are creating a space where God can meet you, even in the parched places of your soul. So first:
Notice what’s going on with your body today. Where is there tension? What feels good? What might your body want you to know?
Notice your spirit. What’s happening there? Is it troubled? At peace? Ready for action or ready for rest? Is there something that your spirit is longing for?
Notice this space. What do you hear, smell, feel? What is worth paying attention to in your present surroundings?
Notice the things on your mind. What people, thoughts, concerns, or distractions are taking up space right now? Do you want to hold on to those things? Would you like to release them?
Notice the still small voice of God. What would God say to you in this moment, exactly where you are and how you find yourself?
Let’s pray together to end this time and transition into communion.