Sunday 19 • 7 Aug 2016

Isaiah 1:1,10-20
Luke 12:32-40

Rev. Chris Udy

There’s a story that’s told
with many variations -
and goes something like this:
An American businessman
was standing on the jetty
of a Mexican coastal village
when a small boat
with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the boat
were several large yellowfin tuna.
The businessman complimented the fisherman
on the quality of his fish,
and asked how long it had taken to catch them.
The fisherman replied -‘Oh, only a little while’,
and the businessman then asked
why he didn’t stay out longer
and catch more fish.
The fisherman said he had enough
to support his family’s needs.
The American then asked
‘But what do you do with the rest of your time?’
And the Mexican replied
‘I sleep late, fish a little,
play with my children,
take a siesta with Maria, my wife,
and stroll into the village each evening,
where I sip some wine
and play guitar with my friends.
I have a full and busy life, Senor.’

The businessman scoffed and said
‘I have an MBA from Harvard,
and I could really help you.
You should spend more time fishing
and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat.
With the proceeds from your bigger boat
you could by several boats.
Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats,
and instead of selling your catch to a middleman
you could sell directly to the processor.
In time you could open your own cannery,
and control your product, processing and distribution.
Then you would need to leave the village
and move to Mexico City -
then to Los Angeles and even to New York,
where you would run your expanding tuna empire.’

The Mexican fisherman asked
‘But Senor, how long would all this take?’,
And the American replied
‘Just 15 or 20 years’.
‘And then what, Senor?’
The businessman laughed and said -
‘Well then comes the best part!
When the time is right you could float your company,
sell all your stock and become very rich.
You could make millions!’

‘Millions Senor? And then what?’

‘Well’, said the businessman,
‘Then you would retire.
Move to a small fishing village,
sleep late, fish a little,
play with your kids,
take a siesta with your wife,
and stroll to the village in the evenings,
where you could sip wine
and play your guitar with your friends.’

I first read the story in a book called
SQ - Spiritual Intelligence: the ultimate intelligence,
published by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall -
who were then working and teaching at Oxford University.
They were writing about the results
of a new wave of research
into the way our brains work -
research using all the new scans
and medical technology
that have been developed over the last 30 years -
and specifically research into the different ways
our brains process information.
When I studied psychology 40 years ago
we were trained to use tests and other instruments
to measure intelligence - IQ -
and at that stage it was assumed
that you could give the same test to everyone
and come up with a number - a score -
that showed who was brighter than who.
But over the last 30 years that’s all changed,
and now we know
people have different kinds of intelligence,
and whatever it was we were measuring 40 years ago
isn’t especially helpful
to work out what people can do with their brains,
or what they need to do to live and work and grow.
We now know that people who are good with language
aren’t always good at mechanics -
and people who are very good with numbers
can sometimes fail dismally
at maintaining a relationship.

In the 1990s Daniel Goleman showed
that when the brain is working with feelings and emotions
it actually uses a different network of connections
from the ones we use
to produce words and access memories
and make calculations -
and in this book the writers say
that there’s another network -
another system of connections in our brains
that we use to function spiritually.
They say IQ lets us do the things a computer does -
analyse and communicate
and organise and remember.
EQ - emotional intelligence -
helps us work out where we belong,
and who we belong to,
and what’s going on between us -
but SQ - spiritual intelligence -
is about meanings and values;
it’s the way our brains work
when we’re being creative and looking for direction -
and when we pray,
or when we have an experience
of God’s presence and God’s grace
it’s the spiritual intelligence connections in our brains
that are fired up.

Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall argued
that IQ - our logical processing intelligence
works on the edges of our brain -
on the outside surfaces;
EQ - emotional intelligence - has a deeper network -
and it helps us co-ordinate and understand
the information we receive -
but the network we use for spiritual intelligence
is deeper still -
it’s at the centre - the core of the brain -
and it’s essential to everything we do.
It co-ordinates and integrates
who we are, and what we believe
and it lets us find a way to live.

Just as we grow and develop IQ through education
and the disciplines of study and training,
Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall said
we can also grow and develop spiritual intelligence -
and through their careers they developed tests
to assess spiritual intelligence
and also suggestions for spiritual disciplines -
ideas and techniques to build up
spiritual strength and health.

Today we also read
the test and the discipline for spiritual development
that Jesus suggested.
“Do not be afraid, little flock” he said,
for it is your Father’s good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
Sell your possessions and give alms.
Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out -
an unfailing treasure in heaven,
where no thief comes near
and no moth destroys.
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will also be.”

The test Jesus gives us for spiritual health
is to know what it is we treasure -
to look at the things we hold and cling to -
the people and possessions we spend money on,
the activities we invest with energy and time -
because even though we may say
that we want something different,
our treasure will reveal our heart -
and the things we’ve stored up,
and accumulated, and protected,
will show us the values we live by.
What wakes us up with worry?
What do we plan and anticipate?
What comes first when a choice must be made,
and what does our treasure say
about the health of our heart?

That’s the test -
and then comes the discipline.
“Be dressed for action,
have your lamps lit;
be like those who are waiting
for their master to return from the wedding banquet,
so that they may open the door for him
as soon as he comes and knocks.”

When we listen carefully to the Gospels
it’s striking how often we hear Jesus say
‘wait, be ready, stay awake, keep alert’.
Over and over again he urges people to live expectantly,
to look forward -
not with anxiety, fearing attack or disaster,
but calmly, and hopefully,
to be ready for an experience of God’s presence.
He tells his disciples that he’ll return to them
at an unexpected moment -
on a day without warning,
or in the middle of the night.
‘So keep watch’ he says,
stay awake, be alert,
pay attention and be ready.

Some people read passages like these
and think Jesus is simply talking about
some point in the future when he will return -
some day when he will arrive in power
to proclaim the kingdom of God.
They interpret his parables and sayings
as threats and warnings -
promising blessings for those who are ready
when he finally returns,
and punishment for those who fail -
but surely if all Jesus wants
is a warm reception when he arrives
he could have arranged it more simply and effectively.
What seems much more likely
is that Jesus was talking about something
that would be helpful and useful for his disciples
not only at some future moment of fulfilment,
but every day, and all the time.
He was describing an attitude - a discipline -
that can help us live and grow.
Maybe the reason
that most of us miss out on moments of revelation,
and aren’t aware that Jesus has returned to us -
that God is near us - around us and within us -
is because we’re just not paying attention.
Maybe we don’t treasure things of real value
because we overlook them,
we get used to them,
we no longer see them as wonderful and significant
because they’re always there.
But when we live expectantly, and hopefully,
at full attention, awake and alert,
we not only discover things of real value,
we also encounter the presence of God,
and God can feed us and guide us through the Spirit.

Jesus said: ‘Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds alert when he comes;
truly, I tell you, he will fasten his belt
and have them sit down to eat,
and he will come and serve them.’

Throughout their work
Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall wrote about
how hard it is to be spiritually intelligent
in a culture that’s spiritually dumb.
They describe a crisis of meaning and value
and the hunger many western people feel
for ‘something else’, ‘something bigger’, ‘something more’.
This most affluent
and best informed generation in history - they say -
seems to have lost its soul -
and no matter how much we collect and accumulate
we can’t fill up the gap inside.
Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall were convinced
that we already have what we most need -
but because of the static and noise around us
and the pace we set for our lives
we’re not being nourished by the things we consume.
Jesus would certainly agree.
He would certainly say we already have
what we need for health and peace -
we have values we must treasure in each other;
we have meanings and gifts we need to share;
and we have a master
who will feed and serve his servants,
when we choose to live expectantly and hopefully,
paying attention, being mindful, ready to welcome him,
minute by minute and day by day,
into our homes and our lives. Amen.