A 1960’s British hipster secret agent is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the 1990’s. His social attitudes are glaringly out of place which are, at times, uncomfortably clear to everyone. Somehow, he thwarts the evil plan of his arch nemesis to drill a nuclear warhead into the Earth’s molten core, triggering a global eruption of liquid hot magma, destroying the planet. This famous secret agent is none other than… ? Of course – Austin Powers, international man of mystery. The first movie of the trilogy came out the year I graduated from high school and I must say to you now – don’t download this film for family movie night saying Pastor Mark recommended it – not overly appropriate for family night. I was reminded of the movie this week, however, as I was thinking about what it means to be where you are. The movie is full of one-liners that fans have quoted for twenty years but one simple line was often overlooked – subtler than the more grotesque lines. Austin Powers and his fellow undercover agent enter a Las Vegas casino to begin their reconnaissance work. Having a larger than life personality, Powers is bouncing through the packed space hollering at everyone he passes. He shouts, “Hey Americans, yeah!” As he moves along, he points to a man who is wearing a cowboy hat, suspenders and a t-shirt fully equipped with a light up slot machine and says, “Hey – there you are!” The man sticks out his hand and says, “Do I know you?” Powers responds, “No, but that’s where you are – you’re there!” Now – why this has stuck with me for the last two decades is beyond me. But nothing truer has been said, right? Where you are right now is exactly where you are. And yet one of the hardest things for us to do is be where we are in any given moment.
This is understandable. We’ve lived long enough to recognize the layers of such a reality. Where you are can be a physical and literal reality but we also use that idea to get a sense of what we think, what we feel, what we believe. Where are you on the MJ/Lebron greatest of all time debate? Where’s your spirit on this issue or that issue? In this sense, being where you are is not as clear cut as we might like it to be. We will do our best, this morning, to consider several of these layers as we dive back into our Road Trip series. I have loved the many stories you’ve shared with me this week about trips you’ve taken or ones that are yet to come. Fun stories and tough stories from the road. One said, “We almost got arrested on that trip!” I hear it all and it’s truly a privilege and joy to hear about your lives. Several said to me, “We’re headed out on a trip this week – thanks for the packing tips.” Happy traveling to all of you who may be listening to this message online since you’re on the road. We miss you and wish you a meaningful time on the road.
Being where you are on a trip is seemingly harder than it used to be. In a time before cell phones and iPads and access to twenty-four hour crisis news, I have a sense that people were more present to the given moment. I read something the other day that surprised me and didn’t surprise me at the same time. The article said that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table during a lunch gathering makes for much more shallow conversation than if the phone isn’t there at all. Just the presence of the device – not even looking at it or using it in any way – simply having your phone on the table suggests that you’re preoccupied, not fully present to the person or persons sitting with you. At any moment, what happens with that device is more important than what’s happening in the flesh right in front of you. I get that and am working to be more conscious of that reality in my own life. Many of us have allowed technology to become our functioning brains and I think we’re losing creative imagination as a result. Times when we were once forced to create conversation or dream dreams or make a stick a treasured sword to defend the imaginary kingdom of the backyard fort – we now flip on the phone and scroll the feeds to pass the time. We take a moment of silence to equal boredom so we pick up our brain from the table to entertain ourselves. This is a fascinating historical development with repercussions that aren’t fully clear at this point.
Beyond the technology itself, I think many of us tend to look beyond the moment to what’s next. This was true pre-tech era as well. It was a mentality that says, “We’re going on a road trip and dog gone it we’re gonna have fun!” And fun meant planning the details, consuming ourselves in the fantasy of making lasting memories but then never fully living them when we are in them because we’ve got an agenda to uphold. It’s the determined driver who will not stop early for any unscheduled bathroom stops because that’s not in the plan. “Shouldn’t have had that Venti cup of coffee!” (rebuttal) “Next time you get to birth the children.” [Guys, you’ll never win that one. Just stop the car.] It’s the one who won’t linger at the view of the sunset on the beach because time is up and the schedule says you’re to be somewhere else. Think Clark Griswold at the Grand Canyon. It’s the one who finally got thousands of miles from work to be with their family but has the laptop out responding to fires back at the office while their kids are making sandcastles without them. I get this struggle. Some of it is the expectation society now puts on us to be available 24/7. That’s service that sells. And if you’re not willing to do it, there are ten people lined up behind you who want your job that will. I read an article once, I can’t even remember where or by whom it was written, but it was by a burned-out pastor. The pastor had helped a people build a meaningful ministry that was helping people and transforming lives but his determination to build that church came at the expense of his own family’s needs. He said, “I began to see mini-strokes in my relationship with my wife, my kids, and my relationship with God had lost its vibrancy.” He knew too well the prophet Jeremiah’s words: “I am weary with my groaning and have found no rest.” And depression was setting in. Now – don’t hear this as my personal cry for help or anything. I’m not sending any subliminal messages here about my own life so don’t feel like you need to send me an email asking if my family is okay. We are doing just fine. But I have never forgotten what he said which was this: “While everyone in our great church loved our family, I came to realize that nobody was fighting for my family. That’s my job. That’s the task God had given me. Others fought for pieces of my time and energy, but no one would fight for my family.” This meant he had to be present to them in a way that he wasn’t. He had to accept that he was going to disappoint people sometimes and the ones disappointed couldn’t always be his family. This is not easy. And any of us who are passionate about our work, for example, struggle to let it go. If it’s not in front of us, it’s on our minds and if we don’t fight to be present where we are, we float right back to what we perceive to be the pressing need, the future growth, the next thing.
But the present is where it’s at. Jesus says so in his famed Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has gathered quite a following by now – he traveled through Syria teaching and healing – he’s kinda a big deal. But Chapter five is where it sinks in: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain.” When he saw them… when he saw the need… when he saw the humanity… when he saw the passion and the desire and the struggle… he perched himself on the mountain and dropped the greatest sermon every preached. “Let me tell you something about what it means to be blessed,” he begins. “Let me tell you the difference between good and evil. Let me tell you a thing or two about your anger problem. Let me tell you something about relationships – honor them, care for them, or lose them. Let me tell you something about the integrity about your word, about forgiveness, about making room for even your enemies. Let me tell you something about being generous; about prayer and spiritual disciplines. Let me tell you about the problem with material possessions. You can serve money. You can serve God. But there’s not room for both in the primary position.” And then… this is a killer sermon, okay (go home and read Matthew 5, 6 and 7) … and then, he gets to this part about worry; about being where you are while you’re there.
“Don’t worry about your life!” he says. Some of this can be a bit shocking. If we take much of it at surface value, we could think Jesus is advocating for apathy and careless living. What he’s talking about is worried fear about the future and about living with a mentality of scarcity. And for some it is more than a worry about having enough – it’s a worry about having an abundance of wants over needs. Jesus is saying, “Don’t give that stuff control over your lives.” The great Rabbis often taught that every father should teach his son a trade. To not teach him a trade was to teach him to steal. Working and planning and living prudently was not to be discouraged. At the same time, those same Rabbi’s would teach, “He who has a loaf in his basket, and who says, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ is a man of little faith. Some went as far to say that “To worry is to distrust God.” The thought was that, “How can you call God, Abba [Daddy], and not trust?” I know parental relationships are more complicated than that but the argument was to say, “Worry fades away when you believe in the love of God.” Worry wears out the body, mind and the spirit. It affects our judgment. Jesus seems to be saying, “Bring your best to each situation, each moment, and leave the rest to God.” Easier said than done, right? There is no easy out to worry so there’s plenty of grace present today, okay? But – this the ideal. How much more does the moment mean when you not only hear the laugh of your beloved but you join in the laughter? How much more does it mean to play catch with your son than it does to set him up to do so on his iPad? How much more deeper do you tend to get in a moment, a conversation, an activity, or whatever when you’re fully attentive to it from the start instead of having one eye on your email and the other trying to “put in the time” with the fam? I think one of the greatest compliments one can give another is “When you’re with her, you feel like you’re the only one in the world.” Or… “When I’m with my dad, it’s like he has nothing else to do but be with me.” We may not know what we’re missing until we truly start being fully present to the moment.
The Japanese have a word for what gets you out of bed in the morning: They call it your ikigai. Your ikigai is that sense you have when you wake up that this day matters – that each moment is ripe to bring a unique gift into your life and into the world. Your ikigai is a web of work and family and play and how you spend your time – what you give your energies to; when you say ‘yes’ and to what you say ‘no.’ It’s always a balanced work in progress but it is lived with a heightened awareness. And our tendency is to try to get this all figured out at once; immediately; as if it is something to master. But I’ve found, the most wise people I know, pay close attention to each moment knowing it’s found in the journey, not in the destination itself. It’s not about arriving.
Carlton Cuse, a fifty-eight year old screenwriter most known for the creation of the epic series “Lost” once said, “It’s always weird when I see words like “old guard” and “veteran” next to my name… I feel like I’m still figuring it out.” And there’s a man at the top of his field still searching, still living in the moment as if there is something to learn. Jesus is saying, “Live like that.” It’s a couple of fifty years who still attempts to learn something new about their partner. It’s a dad who sits on the dock with his son after decades of ups and downs and yet they still scan the depths of their shared stories. It’s an honest faith seeker who says, “I’m still trying to figure it out.” That’s the person I want to learn from – the one is still learning and leaning into the moment. You may not find achievement every time – or reach the destination every time, but you’ll find alignment – a consistent presence to show up moment to moment that ultimately results in wisdom and a deeper joy than you thought possible. You’ll often hear this come out as “It just clicked,” “It all came together.” That’s ultimately alignment one finds in their life from focused living in the moments of grace, work, and play – all of it while being where you are while you’re actually there.
Maybe today ends with a prompting question. What kind of world do you want to live in? Your presence to each moment creates that world. What kind of relationships do you want to share in? Your presence to each moment creates those relationships. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? It’s not something you choose later – it’s made in the way you spend each moment. What kind of faith do you want to hold? Your presence to God creates that faith? Jesus finishes that passage from Matthew saying, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” That sounds faith enough. The next time someone says to you, “Hey – there you are!” may you be present enough to that moment to trust, smile and say, “Yes I am – and there’s no place I’d rather be.”
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 From William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. The Westminster Press. 1975.
 As found in Rob Bell’s How to Be Here. Harper One Publishing. 2016.