These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 4, 2018. The discussion was based upon a reading from Hebrews 10:22-25.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here. Note: the questions on this handout are often different from the questions raised in the discussion.
The second commitment of membership in the United Methodist Church is presence. In many ways this seems like an oxymoronic vow to me. If you commit to something, then surely you’re present. I’d like to think that this is not just a Midwestern value but something common among all persons—you show up when you commit. You shouldn’t need a reminder. You are simply there, present, because you said you’d be there.
And yet, this is not always the case. So often we fail to show up, and be present for the things we say we’re most committed to—whether it be to an important event for our children or a commitment at church. Nevertheless, we would describe ourselves as committed even though we didn’t show up. So, what does it mean to be committed and present?
What does it mean for us to be committedly present?
What does it matter if we’re absent?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes to the church, “make my joy complete: be of the same mind” (Philippians 2:2a, New Revised Standard Version); in his letter to the Romans, he prays that the church might “with one mind and one voice…glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6, New International Version). In his first epistle, Peter pleads for the same thing: “Finally, all of you be of one mind” (1 Peter 3:8, New King James Version).
We need to be present with one another if we’re ever to find a common purpose, and live a common mission in the world. We may be able to reach the same conclusions when we’re apart, but we cannot live them out apart. We need to be present if we’re to ever, as the Scriptures plead, “be of one mind.”
In a very literal sense, science has shown that when we’re present enough to have a conversation—to communicate and seek understanding—that our brainwaves literally synchronize. When we’re together and conversant, our minds synchronize. In fact, scientists can tell how well we’re actually communicating by whether or not our brainwaves align.
This, I think, points to a powerful spiritual truth, we cannot live out God’s purpose for the world alone. We must be in conversation, present—with God and with one another—in order to synchronize our hearts, minds, and bodies to the rhythms of God’s new creation.
Faith, the kind that transforms individual lives and the world, is about having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11), it’s about loving as Jesus loves (John 13:34) and doing (more than!) what Jesus did (John 14:12-14). It’s a synchronizing of our whole being—mind, heart (soul) and body—to the will of God. And, that cannot be done in isolation, but only when we’re fully present to and with one another.
Faith can only be lived to the extent with which we are fully present with one another. It’s about creating a rhythm of life that synchronizes our minds, hearts, and actions to the purposes of God in the world
Have you ever felt “out of step” with God or the church? Could it have been because you were not fully present?
What keeps you from being fully present?
In his book, A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion, Trevor Hudson describes the practice of presence. He writes:
Being present involves letting go of our constant preoccupations, immersing ourselves in the here and now, and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever is at hand…
It’s about becoming aware, alert, awake to the fullness of the immediate moment. If we are with another person, it means engaging with [them] with all our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength.
Such wholehearted attention requires patience, time, and disciplined effort. And it is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to those around us, especially our suffering neighbor.
Being genuinely present with one another helps us to become more present. Absence begets absence. We emulate one another. Therefore, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, Common English Bible).
A Reprise (or Second Ending)
My first car was a 1957 Chevy. Yeah. It was awesome (wish I still had that car): 4-door, black with a white top, orange dash with orange and black interior. One of the things I enjoyed about that vehicle was that it had a manual transmission—a “three-speed on the tree.”
One of the nice things about having a manual transmission (older) vehicle (without all the electronic stuff) is that if the battery dies, you don’t have to jump it. You can “pop the clutch.”
You put the car in first gear, keep the clutch pushed down, and have a bunch of friends push the vehicle. Make sure the key is turned on. Once your friends have the car moving at a reasonable speed, they let go, you release the clutch. As the wheels, transmission, and engine engage together, the car may jerk and sputter, but (if you have enough speed) all the parts of the powertrain will synchronize, and the engine will start.
The same is true with us. Often, we need people to give us a push to get us going that our lives might synchronize with God’s will and the community. We may have our fits and spurts, jerks and shutters; but, if our friends push hard enough it can get us going on the Way.
We need people, in the words of Paul, to seriously consider how to push us, spur us on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). Therefore, we should not grow in the habit of not meeting. No!
“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other” (Hebrews 10:25, Common English Bible). Be present with one another that through our common life together our lives might be transformed, that we might have the same mind, love, and do the same work as Christ, and God’s kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven.
 “Our brains synchronize during a conversation” on ScienceDaily.com <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720095035.htm> accessed March 4, 2018.