Where do we live? Seems a silly question, the answer self-evident really. Yet again maybe it is not as simple as it first looks.
On the way to work up Frasers Drive is a sign for what I believe will be a new housing development – it’s slogan is ‘Aspire to New Heights’, it’s billboard says Altitude, and underneath is the word Aspire. A very grandiose promise for a humble housing development I would suggest, yet it says something about the world in which we live.
Ours is a world defined by what we possess, where we live, what we have achieved and where we have been. Where do you live is often the next question after what do you do in any casual social conversation. It is more than just fact finding, it is a means of identifying and defining who you are and whether you of a similar aspirational status as the one asking the question.
Our aspiratons define us. As we wander around the school we meet students whose aspirations are indeed grandiose and others more realistic and we engage in discussion about those aspirations. Encouraging, supporting and offering suggestions as appropriate. Aspirations are good and we need them but when they become unrealistic or simply inappropriate then they become a problem. Aspirations can be expectations, signs of entitlement and anything which gets in the way of that entitlement is deemed at the best negative and at the worst something to be destroyed. It is the reason why much of our society is affected by a form of depression which is best defined as disappointment because my aspirations, what I have aspired to, has failed to materialise.
Where do we live is then not a question of geographical but of attitudinal location – of where our head is at – what is important to us, how we see the world, where we stand in relation to God and others. It is about what reigns supreme in our lives This then defines what we live and strive for and how we do so.
One memorable moment in Borneo (there were many) occurred when we were walking along a bush track and were met by a wizened up, bent over toothless elderly lady. She was carrying a stick and some bags of groceries. There was nothing aspirational about her but she shone light into all of our lives as she shook hands and toothlessly smiled selemant pagi – good day. It was done with enthusiasm and sheer joy, so much so that it impacted one ach of us. Here was someone with so little in our terms who cherished the few moments of greeting in such a bountiful manner. It was unlike that which we may experience here.
At Paginatan there is a wonderful photograph of the Ring Lady standing with her hands together as I blessed the rocks for the new memorial. It is a picture of deep reverence and hope that is moving for its sheer simplicity.
For her and others that we met the mercy of God (or Allah) was such that each day was a day of abundance, of joy, of hope. There were no disappointments or a sense of entitlement, life was just life and lets enjoy it everyday. It is not a fatalistic approach to life but a life based on faith, hope and love. It is a life that is about simply getting on with what is there in front of you knowing that all that you do is hidden in the mercy of God.
Joel in his little book reminds the people of Israel that they are not in control. It is not their life. It is not about them. It is about God and he will provide all that they need and will bring in the ‘Day of the Lord” or in New Testament Terms, the kingdom of God. It is a promise of hope but also of judgement, it is not just all will be rosy but includes a need for repentance and forgiveness. And those unable to do that become the enemies of God and reap their rewards.
Paul reminds us clearly at the end of his life that living for God is about being poured out for others – a libation – a sense of complete giving not for ourselves but for others. It is a marathon race and it is to be struggled with all the way to the end. It is easy to be sidetracked and start to think about ourselves – what is in it for me? Yet there is no me in kingdom but it is the beginning of mercy. How we live is not for ourselves, how God sustains us is.
It is not about doing all the right things as the Pharisee in the Gospel reading thinks but like the tax collector it is all about the mercy of God. The Pharisee is the ultimate aspirational man. He lives in the world he has constructed for himself. It is “I-topia’ – my kingdom and he expects the rest of the world to accommodate him and his world view.
The publican is a little more realistic. He’s not a bad person, simply an ordinary garden-variety type eking out a living in the everyday and recognises his own ordinariness. His personal awareness is such that he knows he’s not the centre of the world, that he is not the sun around which all else revolves – he is simply who he is and he recognises God’s place in his world. God is the centre around which he revolves.
Where do we live? How life is defined is not by our aspirations or latitude but by our centre and our attitude. It is about what sits at our centre around which we revolve. If that centre is built on the sand of self then life can be precarious and fearful – the walls may fall at any time either by themselves or be pushed over by others, be that people or circumstance.
How do we keep our feet? By ensuring that our world is centred on the mercy and steadfastness of God.
Psalm 65 says it all and is a reminder that God is not only at the centre of our lives but of all creation and through his Son Jesus he is at the centre of his kingdom now and forever. As we share in the Eucharistic meal we are reminded in the great thanksgiving that God through his Son and then through his Spirit holds the world at all times in his hand – there is no place we can go to – physically, emotionally or spiritually – where God is not. And by participating in this meal we become God’s Kingdom in its entirety wherever we are.
Where do we live? You have to answer that for yourself and today is a good time to begin living in the centre of God.
Joel 2:23-32 Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18,Luke 18:9-14)