Have You Sharpened Your Axe Lately?

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on Sunday, August 12, 2018. 

 

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
— John Lubbock
O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land.
— Psalm 95: 1-5
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
— Mark 6: 30-32

How quickly time slips away from us.  It seems like when we are growing up we’ll never get to adulthood fast enough but now life won’t slow down! Writer George Bernard Shaw once said in an interview –“Youth is wasted on the young.” 

Now there have been many interpretations of this saying, but I think what it means is that by the time we are lucky enough to gain meaningful life experience, it’s too late.  We either don’t have the energy or don’t care.  In counseling, I’ve always told people that were afraid of doing something – “Don’t wake up when your 60 or 70 and have to say 'I wish I did this or I should have done that.'"

There was a man I once knew who lived in Batavia.  When “Bob” was a young man WWII broke out and he, like many of his generation, quickly enlisted.  He became an infantryman in the Army and participated in many of the Battles in Europe.  “Bob” described to me how one day his platoon came across what we now know as concentration camps.  He told me what he had witnessed and how it had haunted him his entire life.  He said he didn’t really have any words to describe it. When he came home from the war he married, started his business and had several children.  “Bob” decided he would work as hard as he could to be a success in life, and on the outside he was.  He belonged to several community organizations, gave regularly to his church and other charities.  He would always be the first to raise his hand and volunteer.  But now, after retiring, he realized he worked so hard he never really took the time he should have to spend with his family.  He was so driven by his war time experience that he hid it away and never faced the terrible reality that was his.  Outwardly he was a happy man who had surpassed all the goals he had set out to accomplish after the war.  But now he confessed to me that time had gone by so fast that he didn’t know what happened.  You see, at this time in his life his wife had died after a long illness.  His children had grown and moved away.  He was left, all alone, in a big house with nothing to do but think about all the things he felt he should have done with his family, if only he had stopped and rested with them once in a while.   He said he realized that his wartime trauma had dominated his thinking and he spent his adult life running from the memories.  “Bob” broke down and cried as he told me he didn’t have a good relationship with his children and they never attempted to foster a relationship with his grandchildren.  He said they were “like strangers” to me.  He died an unhappy, lonely man, regretting not haven taken the time he could have with his family.

Waiting for Our Souls to Catch Up

An archaeologist once hired some Inca tribesmen to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped and insisted they would go no further. The archaeologist grew impatient and then angry. But no matter how much he cajoled the tribesmen would not go any further. The all of a sudden the tribesmen changed their attitude. They picked up the gear and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked why they had stopped and refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered, “We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.”

Source: based on a story told in the movie Beyond the Clouds

What a beautiful way to say it; we “had to wait for our souls to catch up “.  I think, in our culture, we tend to compartmentalize our lives.  Instead of seeing the “mind, body, spirit” concept as three parts working together as one, we tend to focus on one or the other.  If you use the three together you will think much deeper and experience life from a different perspective.  To give you an example; in seminary we were taught to always think – “where is God in this?”

No matter what happens to you in life, good or bad – where is God in this?  About three years ago my mother passed away. She and I were very close and I stayed at her bedside throughout the night she left us. Almost one year later I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In fact my younger brother had suffered with it for many years before he too died unexpectedly.  He was the one that told me what my symptoms meant.  It required me to make many lifestyle changes.  I had to resign from my full time job as an addictions counselor because I couldn’t concentrate and was experiencing much pain.  My physical activities have been diminished and some days are nonexistent.  On most days I have constant fatigue and want nothing more than to go to sleep. So, in a matter of a year and a half I lost my mother, my younger brother, a job I loved while learning to overcome physical pain. Our income has plummeted as I wait for Social Security Disability.  But where is God in this?

Well, before I had to step down from counseling, I was anxiously waiting for my official diagnosis.  It caused me to lose sleep, wondering what the future holds.  Would I get worse?  Would I have to stop working?   Would I end up like my brother?   In these kinds of circumstances we sometimes get very “me” oriented.  We tend to think we are the only ones suffering.  In AA there’s a saying – “poor me poor me, pour me another drink”.  We talk ourselves into believing know one understands.  Then one day into my office walks a man who was suffering from another disease, but was experiencing the same thing I was.  He was waiting for his diagnosis, scared and feeling all kinds of anxiety and stress.  I was able to use my own experience to support him through his.

Losing my mother and brother in a year was hard, but I’ve since met so many others who have gone through the same things and I was able to sympathize and support their journey.

My family is learning the importance of supporting each other, as we take time to support my brother’s widow and their children and grandchildren.  It has brought me to a new understanding of the importance of “family”. We take each other for granted until it’s too late.

By seeing God in the everyday, I have gained the understanding of how the web of life is all connected.  Nothing we say or do is separate from each other.  Mind, body, spirit all the same!

Smoke

In 1995 the movie “Smoke” was released, starring Harvey Kietel and William Hurt. The centre of the film is the Brooklyn Cigar Co., located at the corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue.

The Brooklyn Cigar Co is owned by Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel. Every morning at 8 a.m. Auggie walks across the road from his store located on the corner of Third and Eighth and takes a photograph of it. The angle of the camera never varies, just the weather, the people on the street, the color of the sky.

One of Auggie’s customers is Paul Benjamin. Paul’s an author who is suffering from writer’s block, he’s suffered it ever since his wife, Ellen, was shot and killed one morning right outside the Brooklyn Cigar Co. One morning Paul wanders in and sees Auggie’s camera. They get talking, and Auggie reveals that photography is his hobby, his art, his life’s work. Paul tells Auggie he’d love to see his photographs, and so, Auggie closes up the shop and takes Paul back to his house to show him his collection.

Auggie pulls out a set of large, heavy photo albums and places them before Paul Benjamin, the writer. Paul opens the first page. There, mounted on a stark black background, are four photos, and they’re all of Auggie’s shop, the Brooklyn Cigar Co, on the corner of Third and Eighth, all taken from exactly the same place, at exactly the same angle. Paul turns the next page and he sees exactly the same thing. Four photographs of Auggie’s shop, all taken from the same place, at the same angle. He turns the next page and he sees more. He starts turning the pages faster and faster, till he’s rapidly flipping through the book, when Auggie puts a hand down on the back page and says, “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.”

“But Auggie”, says Paul, “they’re all the same.”

“They’re all the same,” Auggie replies, “but each one is different from all the others.” Auggie explains that he has 4,000 pictures of the same place, but that each picture is different. “It’s my corner, after all. I mean, it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.”

Then Paul sees someone he knows in one of the photos: his wife, who was pregnant when she was shot and killed one morning on the street outside the store. “It’s Ellen,” he says. “Look at her. Look at my sweet darling.” And he begins to cry.

Now all the photos do not look the same anymore…It’s just that you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.

Martha and I just got back from our annual vacation in the Adirondacks.  She has been going to the same place since she was about four years old. On that week, most of her family is there along with some of the same people that have been coming for years. In the main building there are walls covered with pictures.  They have almost the same backgrounds and the same people. And in them you can witness how people have changed. Newborns have arrived. People are missing.  Like Auggie – “It’s a record of our little spot”.  The mountains don’t change, but the actors do.  Each year we take some time to let our souls catch up!

There’s another story about a logger:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.”

The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.”

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your pay check on the way out today.”

Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.”

“Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.”

“But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!”

The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your axe?”

The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Our lives are like that. We sometimes get so busy that we don’t take time to “sharpen the axe.” In today’s world, it seems that everyone is busier than ever, but less happy than ever. Why is that? Could it be that we have forgotten how to stay sharp?

Source: Unknown

There are so many distractions, “false gods” if you will, that distorts our sense of what’s important. We get so busy “living” that we forget about life!  We forget everything is connected.

May you leave here today and stop to rest. Remember our reading from Mark 6: 30-32:

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Regroup and take the time to sew peace into your personal web. Don’t forget to stop and sharpen your axe.