Proper 28B; Joshua 2; 11/18/18
There was a philosopher who visited a monastery and conversed with a monk. In the context of the conversation, the philosopher challenged the monk: “Why are you so wary of thought? Thought is the one tool we have for organizing the world.” The monk responded, “True. But thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it.”
A thought is a screen, not a mirror; that is why it is easy to live in a thought envelope, untouched by Reality.”
Three questions: What has influenced our lives in the past? What is influencing our lives now?
What influences are we able to choose and are there influences where we lack the ability to choose?
Past influences have shaped us to be who we are now. Our pathways of perceiving, thinking and acting can be so normalized that we are hardly aware of their influence over us.
What has influence over our lives is a combination of external and internal forces that are presently acting upon us without our always realizing this.
How much of what we approach or avoid comes from our own choices or by outside influences?
All of this may sound rather tedious but the spiritual leaders of the Old Testament including Jesus were very specific about directing us in the choosing of our influences—when to interact and when to withdraw.
Our reading from Judges might have us questioning if what Joshua heard was really from God. Joshua is very specific: Do not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars…because they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.
This seems a bit harsh to the multicultural experience of our present day and the cultural value of tolerance. Yet the Old Testament writers throughout history make it very clear that when the people co-mingled with the peoples, religions and practices of other cultures, their moral fiber began to disintegrate and their culture fell apart.
Jesus further instructs his disciples: Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. What influences give us life and which influences pretend –the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing—to break us down? When livestock veer from the path, often they become vulnerable. Amish culture has maintained their practices within a closed community and they still appear to prosper. There may be some downsides to the Amish way of life but their culture has remained intact for several centuries.
Influences consist of people, places and things. What are the people, places and things that manifest the presence of God’s image and likeness within us that bear the fruits of peace, love and joy? What are the influences of people, places and things that inhibit, detract or deteriorate our souls?
Jesus himself modeled this in his own life. He went about the people, teaching and healing. But at the day’s end, he would withdraw to be alone or with his own. Jesus gave warnings beginning using the word, beware. Beware of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus would begin a sentence: “You have heard it said that…” followed by old influence and then add “But I say….” giving a new influence.
We’ve left the altar red since Pentecost to emphasize the Season of the Spirit given to the disciples, creating the church, and us. This season is quickly coming to the end of another year. The Season of the Spirit is a period of continual discernment of listening for direction of the Spirit’s influence—bypassing discordant influences.
Spiritual discernment is an intricate process. Everything we encounter we have some level of relationship with. Withdrawing is an important part of the spiritual life. Withdrawing is not passive but active. We withdraw from the distractions which inhibit our focusing on the presence of God.
Withdrawing is an Advent practice.
The other item that the Book of Judges addresses is that fact that Joshua’s generation remained faithful in their spiritual covenant and intact as a people.
But the generation that followed did not and the culture atrophied.
Throughout scripture there is a pattern of spiritual practice, intimacy with God and cultural harmony in one generation which becomes lax and later abandoned in later generations resulting in cultural depravity and suffering. The church itself has a history of thriving and decay. History reveals that the act of withdrawing from and choosing spiritual influences not a once in a lifetime choice but a daily lifestyle.
We are preparing for a New Year: assessing the influences in our lives and which ones we should approach and from which ones to withdraw. Advent is a season originally intended to give us the opportunity to withdraw and listen for the Spirit’s direction so we are able to fully receive the Christ coming into the world.
What are the influences that will shape our Advent? Do they mirror in any way the intent of original purpose of the season?
Influences—to withdraw or attach. Where are we being led? What is God doing in this time and place?