Some while ago I was on the `phone to a harassed father. He and his wife were in those days coming to terms with being parents… and so I rather airily said, “So how are you getting on?” Their little boy was about two years old at the time and the father said, “Oh he`s alright but he`s got the attention span of a gnat”. This picture of that little boy careering from one thing to another still makes me smile.
But it made me think of how many adults I know who are like that. I mean, I wonder what kind of attention span you have? For example, how good are you at say, really listening to someone else? I don`t necessarily mean moments like this but just daily conversations….? Are you distracted easily…? Are you all too inclined to let your mind wander off to other things whilst people talk to you…? Do you give them `eye contact` or are you gazing over their shoulder? Do you easily tune-out of conversations and resort to checking your mobile phone and all the rest?
Of course those who want to influence us or sell things to us are all to conscious of how hard it can be to hold our attention these days aren`t they? That`s why they shape their message and deploy all manner of techniques to make their point quickly before we move on to other things. This is why everything seems to be is served up in bite-sized chunks and sound-bites. Time for reflection is scorned and everything is as we say `dumbed down`.
Now, this is quite a serious matter… and I would suggest that it`s quite corrosive. Because the gradual erosion of our attention span…… shall we say; losing that ability to be truly present to one another and the things that are going on around us is a form of death. And the tragedy for me is that far from resisting this trend, so many people of faith feel that we have to `ape` this culture if only so as to maintain our market share….. or gain peoples` attention.
This is what`s behind what are often called fresh `expressions` of Church. It`s the attempt to re-package Church and cater to peoples individual tastes and diminishing attention span. We haven`t so far to my knowledge begun to market `bite-sized church` yet… but give it time. And so my `rant` this morning is that I think this is a bit of a blind alley.
But more than that, it seems to me that you can`t have a bite-sized, dumbed-down, instant, drive-through faith…. You simply won`t get it unless you learn to cultivate a good attention span…. That is, unless you become the kind of person who grasps the importance of silence and waiting. My point is that the character necessary for faith is one that knows the importance of giving time and attention to others and more especially to Christ.
It`s summed up beautifully for us in that reading we heard a moment ago. (Luke 4.20) “(Jesus) rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. (and) The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him”. I find this a stunningly good description of worship… Of what we do here this morning. Jesus is there among the people of God… and the people give him their rapt attention. And to some extent we could stop there and fruitfully reflect on how we might create spaces in our daily and weekly pattern so that this becomes part of who we are.
But we might also like to ask “Well, but what did the people see when they gave their attention to Jesus?” Well, the first and very simple point is that he was there. St Luke tells us very directly that “Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom”. (Luke 4.20). So what we learn is that Jesus` life is centred on the worship of the Father. This is where he leads us.
We know from other Gospel passages that Jesus saw the Sabbath Day as the Father`s gift to us rather than a burden… and like any good Jew he observed it so that the rest of his life would be about giving attention …. About giving the Father his due place in the other facets of daily life. And that`s what we`re doing this morning….. Just like we adjusted the clocks last weekend….. This worship is about giving our attention… so that we re-align our lives with the pattern set by Christ. You see what we do this morning sets the pattern.. the agenda, the template for the remainder of the week. We pause, give our attention SO THAT the remainder of the week would be coloured by `giving attention` to the Lord.
And then secondly the people listened while he read the scriptures. Now, Jesus read the people a passage from the prophet Isaiah in which Isaiah promises that the day will come when the Lord would set all things to rights…
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4.18-19)
This year of the Lord`s favour was the day all God`s people dreamed of. And astonishingly Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.20) This new world, this re-ordering of the world has arrived now…… And HE was the one who was ushering it all in.
But listen, give your attention, fix your eyes on Jesus for a moment. Try to grasp the significance of what he`s saying……
You see, whilst we`re often inclined to talk of making the faith `relevant` to what we call `real` life; and as I was saying, if necessary carve it up into bite-sized chunks so that it fits in with our busy lifestyle……..
Jesus doesn`t do this. Quite the opposite. Jesus redefines what `real life` means. He`s announcing a new world order…. What he calls the Kingdom of God. And it`s not for him to fit in with us… It`s for us to have our lives re-shaped by him.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Day after day we hear news reports about what`s called `obesity`. In short we`re all eating far too much. Now, the point is that we don`t really want to change what we call our lifestyle. What we want is for the scientists to come up with a little pill that we can take so that we can quite literally `have our cake and eat it`. In other words we want to carry on as we are… but without the consequences.
Now, what I`m saying is that we`re not listening to Jesus… we`re not giving him our full attention if we think that we don`t have to change….. or as I`m always saying “To come under new management”. You see, Jesus is not selling a product designed to give us a better lifestyle- he`s announcing a whole new way of being a world and as I was saying last week it`s for us to `get with the plot`. Like Galileo and others who told us that the earth actually goes around the sun… rather than the other way around….. Jesus totally re-framed their understanding of themselves and the world.
Jesus knows that we have a short attention span. He knows how blind and deaf we are to the true state of things. He quite realistically says that we won`t get it, we won`t see the Kingdom unless we become as a child… or unless we`re born from above (unless we truly open ourselves up to the work of his Spirit).
He knows not everyone will want to get on board. His home town of Nazareth, as we heard was not exactly his finest hour…… But for a moment they gave him their full attention. They heard his gracious words. Jesus told them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
It was as if as they gathered for worship… as they fixed their eyes on Jesus …..In that moment a window opened on the truth of what God was doing…. Sadly, they didn`t buy it….. the question is “What about us?”