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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"The key: Keeping Focused"

The road ahead through a focusing lens
Keep Focused

A “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” Sermon


As Bishop Gayle Harris visited us, I did not prepare a sermon beforehand for Sunday.  However, after listening to what Bishop Harris had to say, and listening to the Scriptures, I decided to write this kind of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” Sermon.


“You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Mark 8:32)


One day, as I was driving back home through the narrow and busy streets of Arlington, I was slowly crawling against the curb to make a left turn at the intersection.  Suddenly, as I was pulling ahead, one person literally jay-walked in front of my car – and across another moving lane, no less!


I slammed the brakes and, I must confess, punched the horn – hard, very hard!  But I had no time to get very angry.  For, as soon as I slammed the brakes, the car behind crashed me.  Thank God, it was a slow-motion accident, but nevertheless, both bumpers took a real hit. 


I believe it was my first accident, so I followed the rules.  Called the police and called the insurance agent.  I didn’t call Elizabeth, as she was working at the school.  Eventually, the police arrived, we filled the forms, and I explained to the officer what had happened. 


The driver in the other car was very upset.  First, his insurance had just lapsed, and second, he claimed that I had stopped right in front of him.  Which it was right, but I rather had to stop, or I risked killing or at least I severely injuring the jaywalker.  The same jaywalker who very conveniently had spirited away.


Nevertheless, the officer proceeded to ticket the other driver.  Why?  “Failure to give full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle.”  Meaning, at least to keeping a safe braking distance from the car ahead and being alert.  In other words, if it is a rear end collision, the last car is the culprit.


Eventually I set up an appointment at the collision center, not far from home.  There were quite a lot of people waiting for the adjuster to appear.  As you will gather in a second, the adjuster never showed up, and even if he did, there was no reason for me – nor for the other customers to linger at the dealership.


It was Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, and the dealership was two miles west of the Pentagon.  And together with the crowd at the dealership, we all saw the plane flying over our heads eventually crashing on the Pentagon. 


But that is another story.  Let me go back to my accident.


Really, I felt for the second driver.  There was no way that he could have thought about the possibility of a jaywalker.  And, if one has been driving long enough, leaving two or three car lengths ahead is, often, a losing proposition.  Other drivers will see the space for theirs to take and jump ahead of the judicious driver.


But even so, we all have things on our minds.  It could be a sick child, a job interview, bills piling up or a prospective date.  Or a junk caller intent in selling houses, cars, or health insurance.  Or, even if not as usual, thinking about last Sunday’s sermon or even praying for oneself or for others. 


I never asked, could it be that the driver in the other car was just thinking about calling the insurance agent to pay his dues?  Multitasking: it is what we do.  And may be, with the best intentions, one crucial item falls aside being taken over by the pressures of the moment. 


So it is that I also have a feel for Peter.  Who in his right mind after hearing that a dear one is talking about his or her own death would just say – “Just do it!” 


Certainly, as Bishop Harris suggested in her sermon, “The human Peter could not afford to lose the human Jesus.”  Or maybe, like many in the church today, Peter thought that he knew better than God, and that he knew what was right to do then and there.


But the fact, nevertheless remains.  Peter failed to give full time and attention to what Jesus was teaching, doing, and preaching.  And, like many of us, Peter took a little bit of the good news, and run away with it.  And in so doing, he began to look away from Jesus and his mission, and started looking to what he already decided was best for the Kingdom of God.


In the agricultural setting where Jesus lived, he noted what would have been obvious to the people of his day.  “You can’t plow a straight line, if you keep looking backwards,” (Luke 9:62).  For Jesus – and He himself affirmed it in John 18:38 and elsewhere – the kingdom was the one and only thing that mattered.  Failing to give full time and attention to God’s will was not an option.  Even for a good reason.  And even for Jesus.


Psalm 22 includes a moving as well as challenging verse, v24, which says that God “does not look the other way when the poor or the suffering look up to Him.” 


Quite probably the best example of such attitude can be found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  While others had their good reasons to pass by, it is the Good Samaritan who not only saw the poor man in his plight but, nevertheless, acted accordingly.  In other words, he was giving full time and attention to his calling as a human being.


He did not stop to consider how to deal with the issue of lawlessness or the absence of law-enforcement on the highways, the lack of affordable healthcare, or the consequences of poor choices.  He was laser-focused on his calling to help a fellow human being.


Which is, I suggest, what Jesus was trying to teach Peter – and us!  As Bishop Harris rightly mentioned in her sermon, there are several pandemics still raging in our society.  And so, one may be tempted to start dealing with the larger issues, like racism and bigotry, violence, or deep-rooted homelessness, or whatever.


To say nothing of mental health, the rampant war waged by foreign and domestic scammers preying from corporations and healthcare institutions to even seniors deprived of their life-long savings.  And… you name it. 


But as long as we look the other way into the larger issues, we may end up stop giving full time and attention to the person with whom we may be called to deal on a daily basis.


What am I trying to say?  That we should not look so much to the issue of bigotry and racism and trying to find culprits and blame on individuals or society at large, but like the Good Samaritan, we should focus ourselves in making sure that we respect the dignity of all human beings.  Even if the favor is not to be returned.


Or that we should focus in helping some of those people whose paths we cross daily and who seem to have a raincloud parked over their lives – be it poverty, family, or health issues, and never seem to get enough oomph to rise to a higher level.  Like the Samaritan, can we be the right person at the right time?


As much as I read and re-read the story of Jesus, I become more and more convinced that He applied himself to his singular calling.  He kept himself focused. He did not deal with the problem of desert blindness – He healed the blind.  He did not spend time researching alternatives to health care, but he healed those whom He touched.


Does it follow that no one should take care of the big picture issues?  No.  It just means that the big picture issues should not become blinders hindering us to see the problem at hand.  Like what Bishop Harris did in dealing with a troublesome parishioner of hers.  For God has a heart to avoid looking away from those who are in distress, even, I guess, knowing that the issues are larger than a single human being.


During her visit, Bishop Harris invited us to renew our baptismal vows.  Perhaps some of you may not have been baptized in the Episcopal tradition.  Some others may not recall what they and their godparents committed themselves to do.  Never mind, today it is a reset opportunity to re-commit yourself to give full time and attention to Jesus, your Master and Savior, and to do what He has taught you and enjoined all of us to do as his followers.


It also means, particularly now during this Season of Lent, to give full time and attention to the state of our souls – and then, to act accordingly.  With ourselves, and with our neighbor.


Fr. Gustavo

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