Pre-set Your Channel
Fifth Sunday in Lent
from the book
Love Is Your Disguise
Second Lesson Sermons For Lent/Easter
How do I look? -- I'm serious. How do I look? Do you think I glanced in the mirror to check before I walked out here to preach? Is my stole straight? Am I wearing socks that match?
Have you ever been somewhere and all of a sudden thought, "I wonder how I look?" A young woman walks into the bank on a cold day, pulls the hood from her head, scribbles some numbers onto a deposit form, and glances up to see the young man she has been hoping to date. "I wonder how I look," flashes through her mind. "Oh, I'm glad I wore lipstick this morning," she thinks. After a brief exchange, she does her banking, returns to her car, and sees reflected in the driver's door window a hairstyle flattened, messed up, crushed, collapsed. Instantly she condemns the coat hood which a moment ago had seemed so wonderfully warm.
How do I look? -- Lately the lens on my camera has changed. I think it's become one of those panoramic, fisheye lenses. Every time it snaps a picture of me, I look wider.
Recently someone told me I look like David Letterman. We laughed and joked about how we wouldn't mind having all of the television money he makes. Later I thought, that's probably right, I do look like David Letterman, kind of.
When I was in college there was a fellow on campus who looked astonishingly like me. I never met him but every time we passed on our way to class, I had to shake myself from the feeling that I was seeing my own reflection.
Standing some distance apart in the grocery checkout lanes are two professional colleagues. One is an attorney; the other is a judge fifteen years his senior. The attorney would like to remain in the good graces of this eminent and neatly dressed jurist. The unshaven lawyer has been painting his home all day, and is hoping to dash in and out of the grocery unseen to buy some pop for the neighbors who are helping him paint. Fortunately the lawyer sees the judge first and from a distance in time to duck down the aisle which sells sewing supplies.
Do I look like anyone to you? Some say I look like my dad and my sister. To my young sons I look like love, safety, shelter, entertainment, discipline, companionship, and a jungle gym. Humans and animals, early in life, develop a strong attachment to the appearance (even to the aroma) of certain individuals. We attach to our parents, siblings, and caregivers.
We set our minds on them before we truly have the ability to think. We set our minds on them so deeply and so completely that our nature and life-long behavior are often molded into a similar pattern.
The recent film Fly Away Home tells a story which dramatically illustrates this "presetting" of the channel. Amy, a thirteen-year old New Zealander, goes to live with her father in Ontario, Canada, after her mother dies. It is a difficult reunion -- Amy still grieving her mother and Tom, her father, unsure of how to be a dad.
When a nearby wetland is bulldozed by developers, Amy finds an abandoned Canada goose nest with eggs. After hatching the eggs in an incubator, the little goslings "imprint" on Amy, as if she is their mother and can teach them what they need to know about being geese.
But what will the geese do when it is time to migrate?
Tom and Amy fear that the geese may be directionally challenged -- that they might get up in the air and not know which way is south. Father Tom comes up with a plan: Amy will fly an ultralight plane which the birds can follow to the Carolina coast. So as the story unfolds, the geese set their mind on Amy and Amy, on the geese, and Tom sets his mind on his daughter. Thus in the end, the geese, the father, and the daughter -- fly away home.
And so to set the mind is an important matter. It can make all the difference in our search for the heart's true home. Paul writes, "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."
Set the mind on Spirit -- how can we do that?
Setting The Channel
If you buy a stereo you will undoubtedly go through a process called "channel pre-set." This simply makes it easy, at the touch of a finger, to tune in a specific, favorite channel. This has not always been true with radios. In the early days, most families had a "crystal radio set." The reception was poor, audio primitive, and tuning tricky. One would strain to hear the voice of Arthur Godfrey or Bing Crosby or Edward R. Murrow. And when a channel was found, clearly transmitting and well received, one spent some time listening to the program to see what was being presented before moving on to another. Not so today. An additional feature on modern audio sets is called "channel scan." Press this button and the radio will quickly move through all available channels, pausing two or three seconds at each. One must hurriedly press another button to stop the scanning and choose a station. In television, a similar phenomenon is called channel surfing, where a person with a remote quickly flips through all of the channels to see if "anything's on."
How convenient it is in selecting entertainment -- rapid scanning, channel surfing -- and how dangerous it is in selecting a Savior.
Paul instructs Christians that to set the mind on flesh is death.
And we know what he means. There are many signals we receive attempting to tell us what is important, what is beautiful, what is good, what is helpful, what is ultimately of worth. If we indiscriminately listen to these many voices, we will become confused, mired, distracted, and agitated by the constant cacophony. To come upon a person in such a state is as if we were present when Jesus encountered the man with an unclean spirit whose name was Legion, "for they were many." And Jesus cast out the unclean spirits which entered a herd of swine, and numbered about two thousand (Mark 5:2-13).
Sometimes we feel as if we are the ones so bombarded by voices of unclean spirits, on the verge of entering us to claim us, that we long for the One Voice of God to send a signal clear and strong overcoming all others. A pastor recently commented on the radio broadcast of his Sunday service. "No matter how strong our signal," he said, "there is always someone at the edge of our broadcast area. They call and speak of 'straining to hear, of static, of frustration.' I feel helpless when I receive such a call, but lately I've changed the way I respond. I say, 'I'm glad you want to hear our broadcast and I'm thankful for that. And when it isn't clearly received, you feel helpless and frustrated. That's always the way it is at the edge of the signal. But there are two things we can do when we are truly trying to hear: 1) we can hope that the signal from the sender will get stronger or 2) we can move closer to the source.' "
When I Don't Recognize Myself
I have to admit there are times when I don't want to know how I look. Sometimes someone will say, "You look tired!" or "Are you feeling okay?" after which, if I was feeling just fine, I don't.
It is not uncommon in marriages, amidst the pressures of daily living, for one partner to blurt out to the other, "I'm not sure I know you anymore!"
And then, if they are wise, husband and wife, wife and husband, go through a season of reconnecting.
And it is also somewhat common to feel that way even when we look in the mirror. "I'm not sure I know you anymore." This feeling especially comes after we have blown up at a loved one or friend, or in a time when we have neglected those things which are truly of greatest importance to us in favor of immediate demands of lesser importance.
Not recognizing ourselves is often the case when we compare who we are with who we thought we would be, who we set out to be, or who we hoped we would be. "When I am a parent, I will never say that to my child!" I thought after hearing my dad say, "Because I said so," for the umpteenth time. This morning in frustration and confusion I said, "Because I said so!" to my child. Who was it that sent those words flying into his bedroom? -- I didn't recognize him.
Peter declared to Jesus, "Though they all fall away ... I will never fall away."
Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times."
Peter said to Jesus, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you" (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter knew who he hoped to be, but Jesus knew better.
So how do I look -- spiritually?
Do you recognize me; do I recognize myself -- spiritually? Do I look like anyone to you, spiritually? To set your mind on flesh is death, but to set your mind on Spirit is life and peace. God dwells in you and says, "You look like me." God is the sender, you are the receiver. God is the Source of the signal, you are the one tuned to the signal. If the signal comes and goes, is at times strongly present but then fades away, we can do one of two things. We can always hope the signal will get stronger, living with the frustration of its coming and going, living with static and interference and competing signals, or we can move closer to the Source; we can pre-set to the Spirit of life and peace. We can position ourselves to hear the signal, strong and sure. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28).
I guess I really don't recognize myself. I am different than I was before, writes Paul.
I have become a new person because I have heard his voice.
Pre-set your channel to his voice. Come close to the Source. And you will find comfort and strength for the living of these days.