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Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
hate to admit it, but I admire advertisers and their ability to sell us products we didn’t even know we needed. Some of these advertisers are geniuses at convincing us that if we just had their product, it would fill some hole in our lives and would bring us complete satisfaction.
One of the more famous ads along these lines came out in the early 1970s. It was an ad for Schlitz Beer. The ad implied that Schlitz Beer was the ultimate beer experience. The tagline went like this, “You only go around once in life: Go for all the gusto you can.” Remember that advertising slogan? What does that even mean? I don’t know, but consumers loved it. Everyone knew the Schlitz Beer tagline, even those who didn’t drink beer.
There’s a term you’ll hear advertisers use today, and it refers to a recent phenomenon in our society. It’s called “FOMO”—the Fear of Missing Out. It’s the idea that someone somewhere is having a better time than we are, living a richer life than we are, attending a better party or taking a better vacation than we are, and that we’d better cram as many experiences into our life as possible so we don’t miss out on the good life. After all, “You only go around once in life….”
FOMO is popping up in other areas of our society as well. When the stock market was soaring in early 2018, many experts attributed it in part to FOMO—people were afraid of missing out on great returns on their money. Later many of them wished they had placed their money somewhere safer.
The origin of FOMO seems to have come from an article written by a young man named Patrick McGinnis at Harvard Business School around 2003. Patrick and his buddies were young, ambitious, and reasonably well-off. In their early twenties, they experienced the collapse of the dotcom and tech stocks in 2008, which drastically affected the stock market. They also experienced 9/11 and the terrorist planes crashing into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. These experiences created a lot of anxiety in these young people, and a desire to live life to the fullest, because you never knew when it would all fall apart.
Patrick started noticing that he and his friends were cramming their social schedules with as many parties, events, adventures as possible. But they didn’t seem to be enjoying these experiences. Instead, they had a nagging feeling that somebody somewhere was having a better time than they were. Patrick wrote an article about this situation, and he called it FOBO—the Fear of Better Options. This later became the phenomenon FOMO—the Fear of Missing Out. Patrick describes it this way: “All you wanted to do was live life to the fullest at every second. You felt the need to do everything all the time because you’d seen your own mortality.”
Texting and the rise of social media made FOMO even worse. Suddenly, you could let friends know that you were at the coolest new restaurant in town, or you could post pictures of yourself at a much-desired vacation spot. Now everybody felt this instant pressure to do more, to search for some new and amazing experience or adventure that they could impress their friends with. And a new issue arose, one that counselors called “decision paralysis.” Suddenly, people were so overwhelmed by their options and so driven by the Fear of Missing Out that they literally couldn’t make a decision, couldn’t commit to anything, because if they committed to one party, or place or option, then they might miss out on other, better options. As one of Patrick McGinnis’s friends says, “(FOMO’s) actually an amazing acronym, because it captures the essence of life.” (1)
Can you relate to what he’s saying? Is the Fear of Missing Out really the essence of life? I can see his point about wanting to live life to the fullest. But is all this anxiety and chasing down better options what a full life is all about?
I think Jesus is addressing this question in our passage today. But his definition of living life to the fullest is different from ours. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, open their home to Jesus. Martha wants to be the good host, so she rushes around fixing the meal, setting the table, taking care of all the details. Now let’s be clear about this: Marthas are vitally important in our lives. Some of us would be in trouble if we didn’t have a Martha to make sure things get done. Still, the hard work and attention to detail of the Marthas of this world often get overlooked.
One mother was trying to explain the health benefits of a colorful meal to her family. “The more colors, the more variety of nutrients,” she said. Pointing to their dinner, she asked, “How many different colors do you see?”
“Six,” volunteered her daughter. “Seven if you count the burned parts.” (2) The mother quick on her feet said Charcoal is there for your digestion
Another woman says, “I have my own system for labeling homemade freezer meals. Forget calling them ‘Veal Parmigiana’ or ‘Turkey Loaf’. . . If you look in my freezer you’ll see [labels that say things like], ‘Whatever,’ ‘Anything,’ ‘I Don’t Know,’ and, my favorite, ‘Food.’ That way when I ask my husband what he wants for dinner, I’m certain to have what he wants.” (3)
It’s really tough to be a good host, to take care of others’ needs, especially if no one seems to appreciate your efforts.
Martha’s sister, Mary, wants to be a good host too, but she has a different way of approaching it. She sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him teach. When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister isn’t helping, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing only is required and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary reminds me of a wonderful story about an eleven-year-old boy named Tyler Sullivan who skipped school one day, but it was for a good reason. Former President Barack Obama was visiting his hometown for a big event, and Tyler’s dad was introducing the President to the crowd.
Imagine his teacher’s surprise when Tyler presented her with a note the next day, written on presidential letterhead. It read, “Please excuse Tyler. He was with me. Barack Obama, the president.” (4)
Jesus defends Mary’s neglect of her hosting duties by saying, “Please excuse Mary. She was with me. Jesus, the Messiah.” Please don’t misunderstand. He isn’t trying to pile more guilt on Martha’s shoulders. But he’s trying to teach both sisters about the essence of life. Life is short. You only get one go-around. Don’t get lured into using up your energy on what doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters. It is the better option. And it can’t be taken away from you. I believe it is the best cure for FOMO there is—sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus is saying here, “Don’t miss out on the opportunity to know God.” Our society promotes backwards priorities. We promote achievement and consumption and cultivation of the self over our relationship with God. Yet God is our Creator. The Way, the Truth, the Life. What good is our life if it is not reflecting God’s glory and conforming to God’s plans?
Lewis Grant came up with the perfect term for what happens when we put temporary, selfish ambitions ahead of our love for God and others. He calls it “sunset fatigue.” When we come home at the end of a day’s work, those who need our love the most, those to whom we are most committed, end up getting the leftovers. Sunset fatigue is when we are just too tired, or too drained, or too pre-occupied to love the people to whom we have made the deepest promises. And that includes God. (5)
All of Martha’s rushing around to serve Jesus was draining her. She was developing sunset fatigue. If she didn’t stop and just enjoy Jesus’ presence, then he would end up getting the leftovers of her love and attention.
Jesus is also saying here, “Don’t miss out on the opportunity to give love and to receive love.” After all, this is the true essence of life.
Many of us were raised in a legalistic church. Worship is our weekly obligation. We show up because it’s expected, because we believe it will make us a better person, because it will help us get into Heaven. But that is the wrong way to approach worship. Worship is about enjoying God’s presence. It’s about giving and receiving love. Did you know that’s the purpose of worship? Did you expect love when you walked in here today? How sad it would be if you missed out on that opportunity.
You don’t have a good marriage if all you do is what is legally required. You have a good marriage when you put all your heart into it.
Finally, Jesus is saying here, “Don’t miss out on the joy of living in this moment.” Because God made you for joy.
Erwin McManus in his book Seizing Your Divine Moment writes, “What if you knew somewhere in front of you was a moment that would change your life forever, a moment rich with potential, a moment filled with endless possibilities? What if you knew there was a moment coming, a divine moment, one where God would meet you in such a way that nothing would be the same again? What if there was a moment, a defining moment, where the choices you made determined the course and momentum of your future? How would you treat that moment? How would you prepare for it?. . . the only moment that you must take responsibility for right now is the one in front of you . . . the moment you are in right now waits to be seized…” (7)
Best-selling Christian artist David Crowder had a moment like that–an experience that changed his views on God. He was in high school, and he regularly attended church. He thought he had God all figured out. However, one particular day, he was feeling down. He wandered around his local mall, then bought a chicken sandwich and sat down to eat it. As he bit into this delicious sandwich, David suddenly realized that all good things come from God. And tears filled his eyes as he realized how grateful he was to God. This happened, not in a church, not in a Sunday night youth group, but in the middle of a mall food court. He described the experience as a moment of unexpected joy. He writes, “That’s when I realized that every second is an opportunity for us to experience God. There’s not a second he’s not there and available to us.” (8)
Every second is an opportunity for us to experience God. If we’re afraid of missing out on something, this is the experience we should be afraid of missing. If we’re going to spend our lives chasing something, this is what we should be chasing. God is in this moment. It’s God we don’t want to miss.
Author Dale Dauten tells a truly memorable story about a dramatic moment in one man’s life. In the 1950s, Dr. Don Cooper was working the emergency room at a Kansas City hospital. In a seemingly tragic moment Dr. Cooper accidentally injected a tranquilizer too quickly into a patient, and the patient went into immediate cardiac arrest and died on the table.
The patient had absolutely no heartbeat. Dr. Cooper was so upset over his mistake that he slammed his fist down on the man’s chest. Instantly, the patient revived. Imagine that—a surgeon so angry that he slams his fist down on a patient’s chest so hard that he brings him back to life. Now, that’s kind of funny.
But here’s what’s interesting. Dr. Cooper was so afraid of admitting his mistake that he kept this incident a secret for many years afterwards. Sadly, his fear kept Dr. Cooper from seeing an amazing opportunity right before his eyes. If he had published his findings, he could have been instrumental in the development of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR. Instead, it would be almost ten years later before CPR was developed as a standard treatment in cases of cardiac arrest. (9)
So what are you doing in this very moment? Are you daydreaming about last night’s game or tomorrow’s work? Or are you seizing this very moment to pray, to focus on God, to look for the Creator of the Universe to speak to you and fill you with His love? You only get one go-around. Only one thing matters, it is the better—make that the best—option, and it can’t be taken away from you. Or to put it in New Testament language, if you are suffering from FOMO, the fear of missing out, make sure you’re not missing out on the Kingdom of God, God’s presence and rule in your life. That’s the only moment that really counts.
- Ben Schreckinger, “The Home of FOMO,” Boston Magazine, July 29, 2014.
- MONDAY FODDER, http://family-safe-mail.com/.
- Nick Schifrin, “President Obama Writes Fifth Grader’s Excuse Note,” ABC News, June 3, 2012. Cited in Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
- John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 77-82.
- Contributed. Source: Leadershipmagazine. Date unknown.
- (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002).
- “One Great Sandwich” by Dave Crowder, https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/truelifestories/ithappenedtome/7.28.html.
- The Max Strategy(New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996), pp. 73-74.
Three figures with wings (presumably angels) are seated at what appears to be a stone table. Could it not also be a sarcophagus or altar? The figures at either side sit oddly on angles on both sides of the table as well as on chairs, even thrones of a sort, while the middle figure sits upon the background of earth itself. All hold staffs in their hands. Delicately their wings touch each other. Beneath the feet of the figures to left and right are rectangular slabs reminding one of a key element in representing the Resurrection in Orthodox iconography – the Doors of Hell smashed open when Christ trampled on death and delivered humanity from its dire dominion once and forever.
Above and behind the three figures, from right to left, we find a mount, a tree, and a building with two clear openings. Their garments (right to left) modulate from the colours of green and blue, earth and sky, to the redemptive colours of red and blue and gold. The three figures point with distinct gestures toward a filled chalice at the centre of the ‘table’.
In the attempt to identify the particular persons of the Holy Trinity from these figures, many ‘readings’ abound, attesting to the profundity of Rublev’s pictorial theology in aiding us to contemplate the truth of the Trinity. The most frequent approach seems to be to read from the left to the right, seeing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in that progression. Counter intuitively from a Western perspective, this icon can also be considered from the right to the left, possibly encompassing more details and biblical reference.
No matter which way one meditates on this icon it drives the beholder back to the Bible. Scripture is written all over it. Although ancient exegetes saw the Trinity in the three men visiting Abraham (and Sarah!) in the text from Genesis 18, it took an iconographer like Rublev centuries later to make this exegesis visual, transforming an icon of the Hospitality of Abraham into one of the Holy Trinity.
If we read the icon from right to left, there is the possibility of seeing the Father seated at the right, clothed in the creation colours of blue and green with the mount behind him, suggesting not only the primordial, but the place where Abraham took his son Isaac, as well as the mount on which the Law was given and the Son spoke his famous sermon.
In the centre, we see the Son. His gesture of two fingers to the fore and three fingers folded under his palm suggest the two natures of Jesus Christ in one person and the hidden mystery of the Trinity. The blue and red of his garment intimate his royalty and sacrifice while the gold sash suggests the government will be upon his shoulder. His throne is the earth. Above him is a tree. Does it refer to the Oaks of Mamre, the Root out of Jesse, the Cross our Saviour hung on? Or all three?
Finally at the left we ponder the Holy Spirit. In many ways here is the most ambiguous and curious figure of all three. Does a light shine through his garments making them more transparent than those of the other two? The configuration of either hand, even the left one holding a staff, is difficult to discern. Could the right hand gesture possibly be a variant of the formula signified by the Son of the two natures in one person and the Trinity? The building with two portals above on the left may allude to the Father’s house prepared for by the Son as well as the New Jerusalem indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Thus, the Son sits at the right hand of the Father who nods toward him. The Son inclines his head to the Holy Spirit. The movement of the mount as in a wave to the left and the tree bending to the left indicate a movement to the left toward the destination to ‘the house of the Lord’ where we shall dwell forever to behold his beauty. Their disk-like haloes add to a sense of rotation. All of this curves in a circular visual movement around a cup with a residual calf’s head from the Hospitality of Abraham standing in for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, reminding us of our participation in the Eucharist.
In this crescendo our eyes drop below and see the slabs of the Doors of Hell, slanted with precision by an expert understanding of perspective that extends behind, rather than before the viewer and includes us. Through these angels/men Rublev helps us see the pervasive presence of the Holy Trinity, even in the tomb (Luke 24:4; John 20:12). We are drawn into an utmost intimacy of being, an embracing fellowship of eternal love.