A Quiet Mind
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Trinity
November 10, 2019
“Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind.”
A FATHER’S MUCH-LOVED SON lies dying. In a deep fever, his body drenched in sweat, crying out occasionally in a delirium, the son’s rasping breaths rag on, and on, then suddenly stop. Then gasping, they start again. The father’s mind rages in terror, pain and anguish. “What can I do? What can anybody do?”
A friend drops by with support and pity. “I wish the Healer were nearby.” “Healer? Who do you mean?” A Galilean, the man explains. A wonder-worker named Jesus, and he just furnished an entire town, Cana it was, with wine made from just water, to furnish a wedding celebration. He might do anything. It’s sad that he’s gone off to Judea.
“He’s back in Galilee, I hear,” says a servant boy. “He’s down at Capernaum, at the home of Simon, son of Jonah, a fisherman.”
The father, in a fury of excitement, finds out where the place is, pulls on his robe in haste and runs out, his sandals flapping as he runs. It looks odd, this nobleman, running like a street beggar. And then you see his face. He orders a horse to be saddled for him and rides the distance to Capernaum.
Finding the place, he inquires after the healer. “Oh, you must mean Jesus. He’s over there.”
“Jesus! Rabbi! I’ve heard you can do wonders. My son…” and here the man breaks down in bitter tears. “My son is dying. Can you… can you help me?”
Jesus looks skyward. Something troubles him. He slowly shakes his head. “Only if you see signs and wonders, miracles… will you believe me, believe who I am.” It looks as though he will refuse.
The man is tormented by that thought. “No, m…master! Lord, no! Sir! Come to my home before he dies!”
Something in the power of this man’s need and certainty that here he might find his answer, here alone, now turns the thing in Jesus’ mind, unbars the door, settles the issue. His face brightens noticeably. “Peace, my friend. Go home. Your son lives.”
The boy’s father sees the change in Jesus’ countenance, hears his calm, assured statement, and he believes him. His son is going to be fine. He stands straight, smiles at Jesus, embraces him, and then with one fond look back, mounts his horse and turns it toward his home.
The following morning, after a brief night spent at an inn, and now close to his estate, he encounters the same servant boy, running toward him with joy in his eyes. The boy calls out. “Master! Good news! Your son is alive and well!” And the man returns with a quiet mind and a heart filled with love, his spirit filled with new faith.
What gives us peace of mind? And just how badly do we want our minds to be quiet, peaceful, rested, untroubled? Be sure of your answer, for a thousand vendors of violent entertainment, including and especially the news masters, want you to become anxious, hot and bothered. They sell anxiety.
I make fun of the Enterprise Record when it pictures a dog on the front page, above the fold. A dog. I like dogs, but the maxim holds. A dog bites a man: and it’s not news. A man bites a dog, that’s news. But just a photo of a dog? And yet, that says something for Chico. A major reason we’re all living out here and not in Hayward is the pace of life and the escape from the frenetic state of living on the freeways. Crime, pollution, competition, billboards, stolen cars, and headlines that grab at your hearts: that’s what we came away to Butte County to escape, isn’t it? A dog above the fold lets you know what’s important.
I was wondering what the internet wisdom about having a quiet mind might be, and WebMD, a medical opinion source, gives us a word or two. Several in fact. For us to be quiet of mind, it advises that we breathe. You know, calm, deep breaths. That’s good advice. You can get hold of your racing heart in anxious moments by controlled breathing. What else?
#2 was to watch fish swim. I know, right? #2? But that is calming. Then exercise: and we all know there should be more of that in our lives. Listen to music: this is my very favorite of the WebMD prescriptions. Got that. What else?
Help someone. Good, biblical advice. It gets your mind off of you and on things that get better for another person. Go outdoors. We all love landscapes, trees, water, mountainsides, flowers. Ok.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Ok. What? Tense a body part then let it relax. Skip that. Next? Ah! Hang out with a dog! Not above the fold, this dog, but he finally arrived. I knew it!
Uh oh. Guided imagery, and Yoga. Ok, the new religions had to make the list. Nah.
Then Get creative. I like that. Take a break. A break from what? Watching fish and petting the dog? No, from the yoga, imagery and tense muscle thing. Remember to breathe. Dig in the dirt! I think they mean plant something. Gardening. Got it. And of course, we end with… Biofeedback. You would need a Scientologist to hook you up to that, and I forbid it. Quiet of mind does not come by paying $50,000 to get soul-scanned by Tom Cruise. He’s got a quiet mind. Right.
So, to the WebMD page, I would add Prayer. We seek a God who listens and we find Him, here, at home, wherever we call on Him. He’s listening, and He is powerful to help. He loves us, and hears us. Pray.
Read. The scriptures, for sure, and every day a portion. Your prayer book has good suggestions. But also, inspirational reading, light reading, good books, literature.
Worship. It’s different than prayer. It gives praise to the One who deserves all praise. It sets us in proper relationship to Him.
And Give. The previous list said to help others. I think before that, we need to set things right. God has given us life. He orders the universe so we may live in it successfully. We’ve all managed to live long enough to get here this morning and give up time to this act of worship. We all have homes to return to, places to lay our heads. Are we thankful? Nobody in this land starves to death. No one is being shot by the government for thinking the wrong way. Life is really very good. We’ve never known such plenty, never seen so much ease and ample supply. That fact came home a year ago when the fire victims were met with literally mountains of freely given food, water, clothing, housing, and safety at great cost from generous hearts. This isn’t Bolivia. Thank God. Breathe.
What do we give to God? It’s the season for asking that, because each year, in November, we reconsider our pledge at church and commit for the coming year what portion of our livelihood goes in the plate on Sunday. You know the biblical admonition, and you know the excuses for not meeting it. But what is it you owe God?
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Rom 12:1 I say it every Mass, in other words. “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…” We owe Him our lives. That’s reasonable. It’s appropriate. But how can we do that? He’s not asking our death. No. A living sacrifice. We give Him our living selves. Breathe. This gets better.
He accepts our gift of our selves. Our souls and bodies. Our wherewithal. That’s our income, and all our possessions. That includes all our worries, our anxieties, our debts, our unpaid bills. All of it. When we do that, He lets us keep 90% of it, in our hand, but blessed and received by Him. That’s called the tithe. You give up 10% of your current income, to God, in His Church. You keep 90% for Him, but as His steward, His servant. Use it wisely, and in a godly manner. In other words, don’t gamble it, use it for bad habits, give it to Tom Cruise or anything like that. And watch it grow. It will grow. It will cover the debts, span the gap, make things happen. Breathe.
Alright, what else? How can we have quiet minds? St. Paul doesn’t mention fish, but he does write that: “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Phil 4:8 The webmasters missed this important idea. Think about things that bring you peace and quiet of mind. Of course. Leave Syria where it is. It’s been there 10,000 years, and never been at peace yet. Not ever. So, that’s not your problem. Think truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, goodness. That’s right. Breathe.
And the small print. Here it is. There is nothing guaranteed in this world. That’s why there’s another world, another life. If we want good outcomes, we have to allow heaven to exist for us, a place for scores to be settled, justice done, mercy finally shown, and total healing. This earth is not a safe world, if our definition of safety means nothing uncomfortable or dangerous may enter in. Something dangerous already has. You. And me. And them.
I laughed when I read Webster’s definition of peace of mind. Ready? “…a feeling of being safe or protected.” And the example they give? “Installing a security system in your home will give you greater peace of mind.” So, an alarm box is going to make me feel safe. Give me a quiet mind. Sort of, but that’s missing the point. I am now armed to the teeth against robbers and burglars who I imagine are creeping all around my house, ready to steal my stuff. And all I need for peace of mind is a loud siren and a phone call to police. Breathe.
Peace does come through strength. This isn’t a safe world. We can’t leave our door unlocked, the car keys in the ignition, our kids wandering city streets unwatched, not anymore. Gangs, drugs, driving while texting, driving while stupid, uninsured motorists… we’re not in Kansas anymore. But our peace comes without taking arms against the world, without pushing any fellow humans around. We war, but not against flesh and blood. We wrestle against an enemy whose best weapon is deception. He makes us think he’s got us. But we settled that already. God’s got us. Jesus has us. He spoke assurance to our seething hearts and minds: “Peace, my friend. Go home. Your son lives.” In our case, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Jn 14:27
We arm ourselves with the Person of Jesus Christ, our belt of truth, our breastplate of righteousness, and all of it. We dress ourselves in His character. That’s also what comes with making ourselves living sacrifices, giving it all to Him. We give up nothing but our pirate flag and our rebellion, and all we get in return is everything that exists, and a future life as well.
Or you could simply watch fish swim. Or pet a dog. Or breathe. Do please breathe. And consider the best offer that’s ever been made to humans. We give it up, and we get ourselves back, better, greatly improved, and a universe thrown in for good measure. That should quiet your mind.