Spilling the Tea – August 18, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Sometimes, God speaks in a way that you don’t expect. Sometimes, while listening to the radio or watching a movie or a TV show – even if it has nothing to do with spirituality or faith, God sends a message. God speaks in ways we often don’t understand. 

For those of us who did not grow up in the church, we often hear God through pop songs or in musical theater or in art. For me, that’s George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”: a message sent from God to those of us who didn’t grow up with familiar hymns or Sunday School. That’s what “My Sweet Lord” is to me: my favorite hymn that has guided me and accompanied me throughout my life. “I really want to know you; I really want to go with you…” It still means the world to me. I REALLY want to understand what Jesus wants from me. I REALLY want to understand the messages that Jesus is trying to tell us. I REALLY want to see Jesus in the faces of my fellow humans. But it is difficult. And it takes so long, my Lord. 

When we encounter a scripture text like this one filled with premonitions about divisions among us and fire consuming the world, I really want to see Jesus in it. I really want to understand the message he is trying to teach us. So, we grasp at all kinds of methods to tell us what the message is, we try to predict what will come using the signs and symbols tell us. We take the advice of psychics and fortune tellers, because they give us certainty in an uncertain world…. 

In seventeenth-century Europe, after Dutch merchants introduced tea to Europe when the trade routes from China were finally opened and established.  When tea became a part of European life, fortune-tellers moved from interpreting the splatters of candle wax to the reading of one’s tea leaves. After the tea is poured and finished, the diviner surveys the patterns of the residual tea leaves and looks for symbols that would explain your future: a snake meant enmity and evil were coming; a spade meant good fortune through industry; a mountain told of a journey and the shape of a house meant success! (1) 

And even if we don’t practice this literal reading of the tea leaves, it has become part of our culture to “predict” our futures: whether it is in reading our daily horoscope, or betting on the outcome of a sporting event; or in financial planning for our retirement or dreaming of the perfect vacation we will take… someday.

We want to know the future. We want to know what’s coming for us, for our families, for our country and our world. And part of that “wanting to know” is to spend our NOW thinking about TOMORROW.

In our Christian Tradition the desire to know what’s coming manifests itself in our literature of the End Times: What will happen at the End of the World? Who will be saved and who will not be saved? What will happen to those of us who’ve made mistakes and what will happen to our loved ones? These questions have occupied much of our literature  – biblical and otherwise – proving and disproving theories, justifying our stance and judging others for their opinions… so much NOW wasted on worrying about what will happen tomorrow. 

BUT Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 6: 34

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And I would add, enough JOY of its own. Each day is filled with the possibility for hope and laughter, joy and dreams fulfilled and in our scripture lesson from the gospel of Luke, Jesus chastises us for predicting the future (and worrying about what will come…) while ignoring the reality of the present. 

He also said to the crowds, in Luke 12:54 -56 ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

“The illustration seems to point to the weather patterns in the Near East. The Mediterranean Sea was to the west and winds from that direction brought rain. The desert was to the south and winds from that direction brought heat.” (2)

In this reprimand, Jesus scolds us: We are looking at the future, but we aren’t even attempting to learn the signs of our PRESENT time.

 Even those who claim to study the “signs of our times” seem to get it wrong. We pour over prophecies, dreaming of our wonderful futures, while the possibilities of our present time go unnoticed; suffering and pain of today is silenced, and the beauty and joy of today is overlooked. 

“ ‘Analyze this present time!’ heralds our Lord. This present time! Who did I drive by this morning? Who was I too busy for today that needed a word of encouragement? What person cries out right now … that is less than a few minutes from my house, work, or church? This Jesus is angry. He is red-in-the-face and stating, ‘Forget about the ‘end times,’ forget about someday, quit yakking about my return: ‘Analyze this present time!’’ (3)

What do we focus on? To what do we pay close attention, and to what do we turn a blind eye?…

Author Alan Culpepper explains it this way: “Jesus’ sayings challenge us to examine the inconsistencies between attention and neglect in our own lives, but the underlying challenge is to consider whether these inconsistencies reveal a pattern of prioritizing the insignificant while jeopardizing the things of greatest value and importance. Have we given as much attention to the health of the church as we have to our golf score? Have we given as much attention to the maintenance of our spiritual disciplines as to the maintenance schedule for our car? Where in the scale of our attention to detail does our devotion to the teachings of our Lord rank?” (4)

We may not be blessed with an abundance of wealth; we may not be blessed with a fortune, or the best education; or the best family or the best opportunities…. But we all have been blessed with TIME. Some more than others, but each of us has time here….Time on this earth to be who we were created to be; time to make a difference in the lives of those we love; time to fulfill the dreams of others; time to do what God wants us to do… 

But how do we use the time we’ve been given?

In 2012, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics updated their American Time Use Survey to reflect how we use the 24 hours each day (5) And after working and sleeping, caring for others, eating and drinking and household tasks… we are left with 1.7 hours for ourselves. 7% of our day to think, pray, enrich ourselves or work from the kingdom. 

What does that OTHER include in your life? 

That’s really the heart of the matter – isn’t it? What do we do with the time we have  left over-  after we’ve completed our obligations to our health, our family, and the maintenance of our physical well-being? Then what do we do with that 7% of the day? That OTHER 1.7 hours in our day?  That 1.7 hours doesn’t HAVE to be spent worrying, or vegging out in front of the TV, or playing games on Facebook, or complaining about the other 93% of our day…. 

That 7% could be spent in a way that brings joy to others. 

That 7% could be spent in a way that helps you achieve your dreams. 

That 7% could be spent in a way that helps someone else grow into the person they were created to be…

That 7% could be the best, most fulfilling, most meaningful part of your day! How will you spend your 7%?

Today is an opportunity to see what God has given us. DO not overlook the joy of the present in anticipation of the future.  May we use our day – each day – to become the disciples God created us to be, to love God and to love our neighbors as well love ourselves. And may we look to this day with gratitude and praise to God. Amen.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasseography
  2. http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke12x49.htm
  3. Jerry Goebel, found on http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/Luke/lk_12_49-56.html
  4. Culpepper quoted on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke12x49.htm
  5. http://www.bls.gov/tus/overview.htm#1