April 18, 2021
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
YOU ARE WHO YOU WATCH
The second in a series of four.
There once was a man named Athanasius. He lived 300 years after Jesus. Back then one name was all you really needed. Athanasius is an important early church theologian. He said this: “God became man so that man might become like God.”
There’s a lot packed into that simple sentence. God came to this earth and became one of us. Jesus lived, died, and rose again. But the reason for going to all this trouble was not so that God could prove he could do it. The reason God came to this earth and became one of us was so that we could become what we are meant to be. “God became man so that man might become like God.”
There’s that verse in Romans that says pretty much the same thing: “As Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life” (6:4). It’s that new life that we are talking about in this series of sermons. Resurrection Life.
Last week we talked about what we are thinking. We saw that our thoughts are powerful. They can either hinder us or help us as we pursue this Resurrection Life. Today we will talk about what we are watching. It’s what we watch – what we pay attention to and don’t pay attention to – that defines the person we are. And also that shapes the person we are becoming.
This is kind of profound stuff, so let’s start with something simple and fun. Another video. Last week we had the dancing senior citizens. This week we have some basketball players doing a passing drill. Pay attention and see if you can get the correct answer.
(YouTube: “Moonwalking Bear”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB_lTKZm1Ts
How many got the right answer? How many saw the moonwalking bear? The first time, not the second time in slow motion. And how many were reminded to be looking for cyclists while you drive? It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.
Magicians use this in their magic tricks. It’s called misdirection. They get you looking at one thing so that you don’t notice the other thing that they don’t want you to notice. Even though I know they are doing this, it still looks like magic to me. And of course they never reveal their secrets.
What we are paying attention to matters. It matters what we are looking at. It matters who we are looking at. There’s that verse in Hebrews about running the race set before us that says we are supposed to be “looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). We know that. But how do we do that? I’m pretty sure it means more than staring at a picture of Jesus all the time. They might lock you up for that.
In our daily lives, we are always making choices about what to look at. Who to look at. Here are some questions we might be asking: Who am I paying attention to? Who am I following? Who influences me? Who inspires me?
The answer you give says a lot about you. You are who you watch. Who we pay attention to defines us.
When you are meeting someone, trying to get to know them, trying to keep the conversation going, what do you ask? How about: “Have you read any good books lately? Have you seen any good movies? Are there any podcasts you would recommend?” How we answer questions like these says a lot about who we are.
There are people who keep track of these things. I did a little research. Here are some of the best-selling books right now:
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Codebreaker by Walter Isaacson
The Women of the Bible Speak by Shannon Bream
Here are the most streamed movies:
Who Killed Sara?
Ginny and Georgia
On television, “March Madness” leads everything else by a lot. Honorable mention goes to:
Chicago Fire (and all the spin-offs)
The most visited websites:
The most watched sources of news:
In that order. Fox News is far and away number one. Some of you hear that and you say, “Yes!” Others of you hear that and you say, “No!”
I read a lot of books. Almost all come from the library. I already own way too many books. But when I do buy one, guess what happens. You know. I get all these recommendations on my computer or cell phone about other books I probably would like based on the one I just bought. Marketers are very skilled these days at predicting what you might be inclined to buy and then sending you ads targeted specifically to you. Which I find real creepy.
And creepy or not, one effect of this is that it pushes us to keep reading and watching and paying attention to things that are consistent with what we are already reading and watching and paying attention to. So we find ourselves living in silos, cut off from other people who are living in their own silos. Our worldview becomes narrow and inflexible. We stop listening, we stop learning, we stop growing.
Which is a really bad thing if what Athanasius said is true. That, “God became man so that man might become like God.” If we are serious about becoming more and more the people God wants us to be, we need to be careful about what we are watching.
Which brings us to today’s scripture. This is the one preachers often read when they are trying to raise money, but you can relax. That is not what I have in mind for today.
[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living she had” (Luke 21:1-4).
To understand what is going on here, we need to read the section that comes before. Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes,” and then he tells us why. He describes the scribes. Which is an interesting sentence. He “describes the scribes.” He tells us about them. How they wear long robes. Notice I didn’t wear my robe today. When they go to worship they like to sit the big, important chairs. Notice I didn’t sit up there today. When they go to banquets they expect to be at the head table. They love to be noticed and greeted in the marketplace.
Then it says they “devour widows’ houses.” What does that mean? It means they robbed the poor and the helpless. They preyed on widows, taking advantage of their generosity and gullibility. Often these women who had little to begin with would be left with nothing, not even the roof over their heads. That’s what it means when it says that they “devour widows’ houses.”
What made it even worse was that these scribes were experts in the Law. They were very familiar with the multitude of scriptures about caring for widows and orphans. God’s command was to help them and support them, but they were doing the opposite.
This sets the stage for what’s going on at the temple treasury. The rich are making a big show of how much they are giving. It doesn’t say they were scribes, but since Jesus has been describing the scribes, we can assume they probably are. They love to be watched. All eyes are on them. The level of their giving is really quite impressive, and they love to impress.
Then up comes this widow. She may very possibly be one of the widows the scribes have already impoverished. She could have put in more, but now all she has left are two copper coins. That’s what she gives. She gives all she has.
The big givers get most of the attention. That’s what they want. They thrive on attention. But Jesus barely notices them. He calls our attention to the widow. He helps us see her. He helps us see that she is the one we should be watching.
Jesus doesn’t praise her for what she does. What she does is praiseworthy, but that’s not why he calls her to our attention. He’s not interested in helping future preachers with their stewardship sermons. He just wants us to see this woman. He just wants us to notice her. Because people like her too often are invisible. We look right past them. We don’t even see them. We are the losers when we don’t see people like this poor widow.
Who are you watching? Who are you paying attention to? Who are you following? Who influences you? Who inspires you? Are you watching the wrong people?
Joe was a drunk. A hopeless drunk. He lived on the streets. Most people didn’t even see him. He was invisible. He survived, barely, because some people did see him. They took pity on him. But whenever he was given a few bucks he invariably spent them on booze.
He hadn’t always lived this way. He once had good job. He was a hard worker. He was a good worker. He had hopes and dreams. Then his woman left him, and he lost his job, and he lost his battle with the bottle.
There was a Mission in the downtown ghetto where he lived. He ate there and slept there as often as he could. But they had strict rules. They wanted to help him get better, not enable him to stay the way he was. And Joe wasn’t sure he wanted to get better. He kind of liked the way he was. He liked being drunk. He sat through quite a few evangelistic services. That was one of their rules. But nothing got through to him.
Until one day, it did. The preacher was talking about Jesus. About how God loved him so much that he sent Jesus to die for him. So his sins could be forgiven. So he could live a new life. So he didn’t have to live the life he had been stuck living for so long.
It was nothing Joe hadn’t heard before. But this time when Joe prayed the sinner’s prayer, he meant it. And he felt something he had never felt before. It was God reaching down to him and touching him. He knew right then that he would never be the same. He was right. He was a changed man.
Everyone in the Mission marveled at the new person Joe had become. They had seen short-term conversions before, but this was the real thing. Joe had become the most caring person in that Mission. He wanted to help any way he could. There was no task too lowly for him. He would clean up the vomit left by some violently sick alcoholic, he would scrub the toilets after careless men left the bathroom filthy. Nothing was beneath him. Everything he was asked to do he did with a smile.
He saw himself in these men who wandered in from the streets. He remembered what it had been like. So he fed them. He talked to them. He listened to them. He helped them get ready for bed. They were often too out of it to take care of themselves, so he took care of them.
One evening during the worship service, as the director of the Mission was giving his evangelistic message to a crowd that didn’t seem the least bit interested, one man walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar. He was drunk, but he didn’t want to stay a drunk. He was praying that God would help him to change.
He prayed out loud, “O God, make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!”
The director of the mission approached this man who was so obviously confused. He said, “Son, I think it might be better if you would pray, ‘Make me like Jesus!’”
The man looked up at the director with a puzzled expression on his face and asked, “Is he like Joe?”
Who are you watching? Staring at a painting of Jesus probably won’t do you much good. But watching a follower of Jesus sure will. Someone like Joe. Someone like that widow with the two copper pennies. Someone who looks like Jesus and acts like Jesus and helps us become like Jesus. It’s called Resurrection Life.
Athanasius explained it like this: “God became man so that man might become like God.”
God, we need to confess that we are easily distracted. We are impressed by the impressive. And we miss what Jesus is doing in common, everyday, lowly people. We confess that there is a lot of scribe in each one of us. We want to be watched and noticed and praised. We may not rob money from widows, but we do rob them of our attention and our love. May we listen to and learn from Jesus. The last will be first. The lowly will be exalted. The least will the greatest. Those who die to self will live the life that death cannot destroy. In Christ, Amen.