(Luke 12:22-31, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
1. Deborah Norville, host of the television show, “Inside Edition,” and born-again Christian since the age of 15, always knew that gratitude was a positive force in her life. So much so that she thought there must be something to the positive impact of gratitude not only spiritually, but scientifically. So she scoured the literature and sure enough she found well documented studies confirming that grateful people were healthier, more resilient, more aware, happier people; and the result was a book Deborah published in 2007 entitled, Thank You Power. In the book she talks of her deeply ingrained habit of each and every day writing down three things that she is grateful for. Her constant awareness of grace (grace, grateful, gratitude), her constant awareness of grace in her life has a positive impact on how she lives. She lives as Paul said,
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18 NRSV) “give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul telling us to make gratitude our constant companion.
2. We’re continuing our series on the Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die based on the book of the same name by Dr. John Izzo. Today’s secret is “Live the Moment.” In the book, Author Izzo describes living the moment as experiencing each day with gratitude and purpose. The wise elders that Izzo interviewed for the book had learned to see each day as a great gift and were grateful. In fact, gratitude became for them a philosophy of life.
1. Author Izzo quotes from his interviews (p 85): “It all goes by so fast,” and “When I was young, 60 years seemed like an eternity. But after you have lived it, you realize it is but a moment.” He could have been quoting the wisdom of the Psalms: “[our] days are like a handbreadth, [our] lifetime in nothing in your sight” (Psalm 39:5); and our “days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144.4) or from Job: “Our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.” (Job 7.6) or the New Testament wisdom of James: “What is your life, for you are a mist that appears for a little while and then you are gone.” (James 4:15)
a. Author Izzo says that “If life goes by so quickly, then one of the secrets to happiness is to get more out of the time we have, to find a way that each moment and each day become great gifts.” (p 85)
b. Live the moment. I think the most significant observation that Izzo took from his interviews is that the “present moment is the only moment in which we have any power.” (p 90) “Living in the present means recognizing that we have no power over the past or the future, none at all.”
c. Now surely we can understand that regret about the past is futile. The Bible tells us to live with no regrets, to cast our burdens on Christ. And, “As far as the east is from the west so far will he remove our transgressions from us.” Our faith calls us to simply put our past in the past. Cast our cares upon. We have no power over the past, and when we casts our care upon Him, then the past will have no power over us. Hear the good news, sisters and brothers, your sins of the past are forgiven. The past has no power over you.
d. And Christ tells us not to worry about the future. We have no power over it: “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying” (Luke 12:25-39)
e. Author and passionate Italian motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but it always robs today of its joy.” (repeat) And Jesus said, I think a little tongue in cheek but making his point, “do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will have enough worries of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
f. Recognizing that the present is the only moment over which we have power allows us to live it fully. Fully. I walk our dog Gracie nearly every day. You talk about the present moment, living life fully. My neighbors often comment, “are you walking the dog or is the dog walking you?” There is a lesson there. My aim normally is to get to the end of the walk and back. I take the same walk nearly every day. There and back. For Gracie, every day, every walk is like a brand new experience, like an olfactory Disney World. Every walk is like a new experience. She lives each walk in the present. I just show up and go along. She lives the moment. She is in the present. We need to not only be present in the moment but to live the moment. Not easy to do or I’d be making each walk a Disney World experience too. Easier said than done.
2. How is it that we live life fully? One of Izzo’s wise elders said, “When I was young, they tell you to be in the moment, but you are not sure what that means. Now I know, and it is true at every age, we never know how many more [sunsets] we are going to get to see, so it is important to appreciate each one and each moment as if it might be our last.” (p 89)
a. When we were moving from Connecticut to Missouri, Rosemary and I had a going away dinner with two dear friends. We met at a restaurant in New Haven. All of us had made an effort to get there but it was worth it. After the dinner was over, and as we said goodbye Sarah said, “We need to make the most of these moments, we need to treasure them because when you get to be our age, we’re never certain when you say good-bye that we’ll see one another again.” Sarah at the time was 51 and a picture of health. She died two years later of cancer. Our dinner was the last sunset we enjoyed together. Treat each moment, each sunset like it will be our last.
b. How is it that we can become content to live in the moment? I’ve often thought that Jesus, when he told us to consider the lilies, was painting an undeniable picture of peace and contentment, one we were to be aware of and to drink in. “Consider the lilies… they neither toil nor spin,” be content with the moment, drink in its beauty. He was also telling us that the present moment is gift of grace that we can choose to experience. We can choose to consider the lilies.
c. One of Izzo’s elders (p 93) told him how he had experienced the joy of a sunset but puzzled over the fleeting joy when the sun had gone down. He had suddenly realized that the choice to choose joy was not in the sunset, but within him. Joy was a response to grace that he could choose. He could choose contentment; he could choose gratitude at any time. He did not have to wait twenty-four hours for another external event, another sunset, but instead the choice was within him.
3. When Izzo recognized this, it was radical and potentially life-changing for him. Slowly he began a few simple practices (p 93):
a. Waking each morning and expressing gratitude.
Ever since I heard the interview with Deborah Norville, I try to do that before I even move each morning, my first thought a prayer of thanksgiving for things that happened yesterday or will today or for the important people in my life that God has given me. Many of you know or know of Cathy Cox, worship and song leader at Faith Family. This is what she wrote Friday morning: “On the horizon the sun is rising - morning has dawned - it's a brand new day. As I awaken and my eyes open I yearn to give you praise. And so I drop to my knees in humble adoration with tears streaming down my face. I thank You for another day I get to worship You!” Waking each morning and expressing gratitude.
b. Focusing on the good that happened each day before falling asleep.
c. The third thing for Izzo was: stopping dwelling on the past or future by nudging himself back into the present.
As we experience past regrets or worries we simply nudge ourselves back to the present.
d. And this last one I appreciate: simply practicing breathing in the moments of life, he says, “as if they were precious—as if they were numbered.”
Of course we know that they are.
4. After I had read this paragraph, I went outside, we were heading somewhere, where was not important. As I stood there I was kinda’ blank, not awake. I then thought of Izzo’s practices and nudged myself back awake, into the present. Then I breathed in the street scene that I see every day. Suddenly, the colors became more vivid for me. The yellow car driving down the street was suddenly an intense color. I saw the street in a new way and realized that I could choose almost everywhere to breath in moments of life. I could choose happiness and contentment.
5. Some thoughts on how we make changes. In a closing chapter of the book, Izzo says there is a great gulf between knowing and going, between having knowledge and making the changes that knowledge should dictate. He says that 70 percent or more of people who know they have habits that are damaging, that will shorten or take their lives do nothing about it. There is a great gulf between knowing and going. So how can we make changes that we know we need to make?
Last week when we gave out the card at children’s time, I talked about Dr. Izzo’s thoughts on how we make changes in our lives the most natural way. We do it through awareness and experimentation. The card was to help us be aware of something we wanted to do during the week. In this case the card said, “Love. Stay in Love with Jesus through word and prayer.” One reason we change is because of awareness. The card in our pocket makes us aware as we touch it or take it out to read it, and awareness leads to change. Pray. Pray without ceasing.
a. Izzo used the example of a baby learning to talk or walk as an example of natural learning through awareness and experimentation. Babies don’t do complicated things like setting goals. They become aware. Mommy makes noises, in response they experiment, Mommy makes noises, baby babbles. Over the course of time, when Mommy talks, baby forms words. Change occurs and soon Mommy and baby talking together. Learning a language, one of the most complicated tasks we can ever undertake happens in a natural way. Awareness and experimentation.
b. Izzo suggests that we can remain aware of changes we want to make by putting a simple phrase on a card and putting it in our pocket or purse. We used the “Smiley” card to make us aware that when we greeted people we needed to welcome them into our space with a smile. The card in our pocket made us aware every time that we touched it.
c. In last week’s secret we must discover before we die, Become Love, we said that we needed to do three things, to love ourselves, to love those closest to us, and to love those we encounter. Part of that was loving ourselves, not a narcissistic love, but the kind that recognizes our worth, that we had to believe that we were of value, of worth before we could be of value to others. If we decided that part of loving ourselves was taking care of our health, we might have a card in our pocket that says “Fit and Thin.” Rather than setting goals such as exercise four times a week and eat 2000 calories a day, studies show that we make hundreds of decisions each day that affects our fitness and diet. What we eat, how much we eat, whether to walk, drive, take stairs, etc. People who are continually aware, make the best of their decisions and are more likely to be successful by just being aware of “fit and thin.” And having that awareness impacts the multitude of decisions we make each day.
d. Over the course of this sermon series, we will have passed out five cards. That’s too many to work on at once. Contrary to popular opinion, we humans really are not that good at multi-tasking, especially when we are dealing with change. Izzo suggests we look at one change at a time. Psychologists say it takes three to four weeks to break a habit. It takes even longer to create a new one. If we carry a card with the phrase we choose for 12 weeks, looking at it 20 to 25 times a day, that awareness will lead to the experimentation in our decisions that will change us, then we can go on to the next challenge. But maybe it’s not 12 weeks, maybe it’s 12 months. Or to be “Fit and Thin” maybe 18 months or two years. Fine. But I’ll just practice this one until it becomes part of me.
e. It’s the same with developing the practices of gratitude. Practicing the new habits that bring us contentment and gratitude in our lives is not easy or quick.
f. That’s why we call it practice, those activities that deepen and habituate an attitude of gratitude.
6. Live the moment. Practice the moment. Have as attitude of gratitude and purpose. In fact develop not just an attitude but a life philosophy of gratitude.
a. First, we need to be aware that grace is a gift, a gift we choose to accept or reject. Become aware that grace is a gift, gratitude is a choice. Remember the person who said his joy faded when the sun went down and he suddenly realized that the choice of happiness and contentment was not in external events but within him? Awareness, grace, gratitude. We can choose gratitude.
b. Then make thanksgiving part of your prayer life. Like Deborah Norville, habituate the practice of recalling three or more things that you are thankful each and every day—a prayerful gratitude attitude. It may be especially important to write them down.
c. Third and last, be present in the moment. When regrets or worries try to choke out the joy and contentment in your life, nudge yourself back into the present. Then breathe in the moments of life knowing that they are precious and numbered. Live the moment. Practice.
1. Only if we live the moment can we experience the abundance and joy that Jesus calls us to. Recall these words of Jesus to his disciples and to us from the Gospel of John: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11) So that your joy may be complete.
a. We love in the present, we live in the present, we experience joy in the present, we rejoice in the present, we give thanks in the present. To do all of these meaningful things in life, we must be in the present.
b. Recall that Paul told us: “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18 NRSV)
2. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. All done in the present moment. Live the moment. Live with an attitude of gratitude. This is the will of God in Christ for you.
3. May you this moment find new life in Jesus Christ and so give thanks for the salvation you find in Him. Live in the present with Jesus Christ, and you will find eternity thrown in. Amen.
**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.