Bread – Undivided

September 26, 2011


Readings for Monday, September 26, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: 2 Kings 17:24-41; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Matt. 6:25-34; Psalm 89

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“Give me you undivided attention!” Have we ever had that said to us (perhaps as a little child)? Have we ever said it to someone (like our own children)?

If we as parents can be so frustrated when our children are not listening to us because they are paying attention to something or someone else, can you imagine how aggravated our Lord must be when we do not give Him our undivided attention?

In today’s readings from 2 Kings, Paul’s first letter to Corinth, and the Gospel of Matthew, we have three examples of how and when our attention becomes divided, how and when we lose focus on God.

The three examples are (a) other gods, (b) other people, and (c) ourselves. As we read these passages, it is appropriate to ask ourselves how many different ways does our attention upon God and His glory and wishes for us become scattered and divided, to ask ourselves how often this has happened already today.

In 2 Kings, the king of Babylon (Assyria) has resettled Samaria with non-Jews. The situation facing the people is that they are getting killed by a bunch of lions sent by God because, according to the Assyrian reporter, “The people … do not know what the god of that country [Samaria] requires. He has sent lions among them … because the people do not know what he requires.” 2 Kings 17:26. What do we do when we don’t know something? We go hire an expert. That is what the king of Assyria did; he found a priest to go explain to the people what the “god of that country” demanded.

Now what is funny about this (and tragic at the same time) is that the priest did his job. He taught the people that God requires that they “not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them.” 2 Kings 17:35. However, the people in the land “worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” 2 Kings 17:33.

How many of us do the same thing? We have been brought into the church from the world. How often do we worship the Lord on Sunday, only to worship our own gods (money, power, ourselves, work, play, good looks) [the customs of the world] the rest of the time?

So, in 2 Kings, we are taught that our first major source of divided interests, of divided attention, is the existence of other gods and our service to those other gods “in accordance with the customs of the nations.”

In our reading today from 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses marriage in the context of the Corinthian situation and suggests that marriage not be automatically sought because it creates divided loyalties. He says “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided.” 1 Cor. 7:32-34. The point here does not involve so much marriage as it does other people; when we are bound to other people our interests and attentions are divided. When we are paying attention to our spouse, we are not paying attention to the Lord. When we are paying attention to someone else, we are not paying attention to the Lord.

Because we live among people with different degrees of affinity and affiliation, the fact is that our attention will always be divided, unless we (a) acknowledge it (and see it for what it is) and (b) work hard to counter-act it. One way we can help this division of attention is to constantly ask ourselves whether we, in interacting with the other person, are acting like Christ to that person, whether we are abiding in Christ. While, then, we are attending to the other we are also attending to Christ. We are then “piggybacking” on our divided attention to refocus our attention where it needs to be. Unless we do what Paul suggests, withdraw from personal relationships, divided attention will always exist; however, by recognizing what is happening we can act in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us effectively deal with it.

The third place we can become divided from attending to our Lord is ourselves. Our reading today from Matthew is the teaching on worry. Jesus tells us not to worry because God has it under control. Why worry about worry? Because it divides us from the power source, from God Himself. What is the first thing that happens when we worry – we ask ourselves how we are going to fix it. (What can I do to fix ….?) Jesus reminds us simply that if our undivided focus is first on “His kingdom” and “His righteousness,” “all these things [the things we worry about] will be given to [us] as well.” Matt. 6:33.

Other gods, other people, our personal situation – which of these today divides your attention and takes you away from undivided focus upon God’s kingdom and God’s holiness and righteousness? There is no answer but one. “But seek you first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and other gods will be cast off as irrelevant. “But seek you first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and we can see people through the eyes of Jesus and deal with them firmly grounded in truth and love. “But seek you first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and those things about ourselves we are concerned about will be handled.

The way we remain undivided is to seek first things first. “Seek His kingdom and His righteousness” and the “divi” words – divided, division, divisiveness – will disappear into the woodwork.

And wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to begin the week!

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