‘Consider The Lilies Of The Field’

Posted: June 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Consider The Lilies Of The Field’

Isaiah 49:13-16a                 Matthew 6:25-31, 33-34.

A call to contemplation/mindfulness with imagination

Way back in the 1960s and early 70s, a contemporary theologian named Amos Wilder claimed that Jesus’ speech had the character, not of instruction and ideas, but of compelling imagination. (Wilder 1971). He claimed that Christianity is a religion of imagination and the oral word. And behind the particular gospel stories and images lie a particular life-experience and a language-shaping faith.

His ground-breaking scholarship was that Jesus of Nazareth and his first followers broke into the world of speech and writing of their time, with a novel and powerful utterance. This reminds us that as far as we know Jesus never wrote a word, except on that occasion when, in the presence of the woman taken in adultery where, ‘he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground’. In secular terms we could say Jesus spoke as the birds sing, oblivious of any concern for transcription or written record.

Less romantically we might say that Jesus’ use of the spoken word alone has its own theological significance. This is because writing things down has about it a sense of permanence. It presupposes continuity and a future. But the spoken word is temporary. The words are gone as they are spoken.  As Wilder said: “Jesus was a voice not a penman, a herald not a scribe” (Wilder 1971:13).

Tradition has it, that one of the most important pieces of ‘Jesus voice’ is the so-called ‘sermon on the mount’, and the bits and pieces of sayings that the author of Matthew’s gospel puts after this collection, such as today’s sayings:

  • Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear…
  • Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns…
  • Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…

Generally speaking, most biblical scholars now days believe there was really no such thing as a ‘sermon’ on the mount. In reality, they say, it was the editorial work of the author of Matthew’s gospel, to place Jesus within the Jewish tradition in general, and as another great teacher like Moses, in particular. However, many of those same scholars reckon that the particular everyday sayings which follow in the next chapter, and make up today’s Lectionary sayings, indicate every possibility that we have before us “the longest connected discourse that can be directly attributed to Jesus” (Funk & Hoover 1993:152). So let us stay with this scholarly suggestion for a moment.

The biblical stories frequently have Jesus drawing his figures of speech from the everyday world around him. “The need for food calls the birds to mind, the need for clothing the lilies…” (Funk & Hoover 1993:153). Plus… as the 1950s Scottish theologian William Barclay helpfully said, Jesus was not advocating a thoughtless, improvident attitude to life, “but was warning against a care-worn, worried, fearful way of living each day” (Millar 2000:175).

That’s why many scholars claim Jesus was a secular sage, (Hunt 2007:6). He made no theological statements. Neither did he set out to establish a new religion. He belonged more to the ‘wisdom’ stream than the ‘priestly’ stream of Judaism. That said, these particular sayings:

  • are addressed to people who are preoccupied with day-to-day existence, rather than with the broader political situation;
  • challenge common attitudes towards life, and
  • and of course they are exaggerations
  • and they do fit with some other sayings also attributed to Jesus.


In another but similar context, theologian Arthur Dewey says of Jesus’ sayings, they:

  • dispute the conventional wisdom that says one’s primary concern should be for those within our own social group or clan or family or nationality,
  • admit there is a degree of alienation in society, be it towards Muslims, gays and lesbians, or so-called illegal boat people/immigrants—whom we or they often turn into ‘the enemy’,
  • challenge us all to reshape our social categories, especially those of others, formed by our fears and rumors and innuendo.

And the implications of these sayings and this vision? Arthur Dewey again offers this suggestion: “…can you imagine acting differently towards those outside the circle of your people? …not only to re-imagine [your] response but also to offer [your] oppressor a chance for a more [humane] reply” (Dewey 2002:80).

What is important about all these sayings is, the imagination bit. They make it possible for us to see the world, the everyday world in which we live, not only as it is, but also as it can be. To re-imagine. To move us to new places. To turn us into new people. And to lure a response from us that will want to do away with that which oppresses, limits, restricts, deprives, imprisons, others. And this brings us to the contemplation/mindfulness bit.

Clyde Reid in his book “Celebrate the Temporary’ wrote;

Celebrate the simple things: enjoy the butterfly embrace the snow run with the ocean delight in the trees or a single lonely flower

Go barefoot in the wet grass

Don’t wait until all the problems are solved or all the bills are paid You will wait forever

Eternity will come and go and you will still be waiting

Live in the now with all its problems and its agonies with its joy and its pain…

There is joy and beauty today It is temporary Here now and gone

So celebrate it while you can

I read this as a call to take time out, to engage more fully, waste a moment so that whet come next will have meaning. Consider the Lillies of the field. But just before we get into that we need to get some sort of working definition for mindfulness, which in today’s world is the discipline that psychiatry, psychology and counselling is suggesting as a means of dealing to depression, anxiety and many things listed under the term mental illness. Mindfulness is it seems the tool for a non-pharmaceutical approach to healing the mind.

Hold in your minds the idea that mindfulness is another mane for contemplation and that the wisdom tradition, the monastic tradition, the gnostics perhaps were all attempts to explore the wholistic human being. Being able to explore the imagination, the silence, the depths of thought were all ways of healing humankind. But to return to today we find that Dan Siegal summarizes mindfulness as “being aware, on purpose and non-judgmentally, of what is happening as it is happening in the present moment”.

Tara Brach defines is ‘The quality of awareness that recognizes exactly what is happening in our moment -to-moment experience”.

James Austin tries to capture the one-of-a-kind nature of mindful awareness when he speaks of ‘being mindfully attuned to the fresh individuality of each present moment as it evolves into the next one, and then the next one”

Jon Kabat-Zinn when speaking of lovingkindness meditation suggests mindful awareness is focused on someone you love. This is a blending of mindfulness into the experience of the relationship itself.

It is not surprising then that mindfulness/or contemplation as it is understood above involves the very areas of the brain that are involved in the creation of our capacity for compassion and intersubjectivity. In other words how my subjectivity, (the fact that I cannot ever get outside myself) interacts with your subjectivity (Out of which you cannot get either). It is by the practice of mindfulness that enables us to let go of judgmental processes and stay more ‘present.’ Meditation or contemplation can change the brain to become more empathetic and attuned to everything.

I want to show you a short video now that talks about this place that we might enjoy by being mindful through contemplation. But just before I do that I want to remind you about Eric Fromm’s 5 points about living a spiritual life.

  • He says that people who have a spiritual life believe there is a hierarchy of values – Love and compassion are seen as more important than distain for the Oxford comma.
  • That people who have a spiritual life know that life is not filled with simple answers, but that life is a series of questions that expand us.
  • That people who are engaged in a spiritual life know that life is about being transformed.
  • That people who have a spiritual life know that life is not about the self, but it is about transcending the self we think our selves to be. We need to free ourselves from our selves so we can be ourselves.
  • And that people who have a spiritual life know that there is an inter-connectedness of humanity and with one another.

I think that here we have the key to mindfulness as a discipline that does not abdicate the cognitive, reasoned world in favour of silence or nothingness, but rather through the awareness of self and the subjectivity of the self in tension with the other provides an experience that is birthed in the questioning of our devotion to our self and provides a willingness to be transformed in love and connectedness. Lets watch the video as I think Watts talks about this place of knowing or being mystical and engaged.

You Tube- Waiting for magic -Alan Watts

Emilie Townes, Professor of African American Religion and Theology, at Yale Divinity School, made a presentation to the ‘Voices of Sophia’ conference of Presbyterian women in the USA… Her oral presentation was shaped around a theme: What will we do with the fullness and incompleteness of who we are. She didn’t offer a highly academic speech. Neither did she suggest she was talking about what makes any of us, perfect. What she did say was: “I’m talking about what we call in Christian ethics, the everydayness of moral acts… It’s what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than those grand moments of righteous indignation and action” (Townes 2006.  www.voicesofsophia.org)

Using ordinary rather than so-called ‘holy’ language, reminiscent of the one we call Jesus, Townes lists her everyday moral acts which her listeners, and now us, are invited to identify with:

  • the everydayness of listening closely when folks talk or don’t talk, to hear what they are saying;
  • the everydayness of taking some time, however short or long, to refresh us through prayer or meditation;
  • the everydayness of speaking to folks and actually meaning whatever it is that is coming out of our mouths;
  • the everydayness of being a presence in people’s lives; the everydayness of designing a class session or lecture or reading or writing or thinking;
  • the everydayness of sharing a meal;
  • the everydayness of facing heartache and disappointment;
  • the everydayness of joy and laughter;
  • the everydayness of facing people who expect us to lead them somewhere, or at least point them in the right direction and walk with them;
  • the everydayness of blending head and heart;
  • the everydayness of getting up and trying one more time to get our living right.

It is in this everydayness, Townes says, that we are formed. Boundaries and differences are irrelevant. And in the everydayness of the Jesus imagination: love enemies, forgive others, imitate divine tolerance. Amen.

Notes: Funk, R. W. & R. Hoover. The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York. Macmillan, 1993. Hunt, R. A. E. 2007. “Progressive Christianity: New moves in Christian thinking and practice”. A presentation to Christian Jewish Dialogue ACT, 4 February 2007. Millar, P. Waymarks. Signposts to Discovering God’s Presence in the World. Norwich. Canterbury Press, 2000. Reid, C. Celebrate the Temporary. New York. Harper & Row, 1972. Wilder, A. N. Early Christian Rhetoric. The Language of the Gospel. Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 1971. Dewey, A. “Jesus as a Peasant Artisan”, in R. W. Hoover (ed). Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.