This sermon is part of the sermon series "inSanity". See series.
I've jumped into this series on inSanity not because I'm throwing stones, but because crazy has become the new normal for me. I feel like I'm becoming like one of those possessed people we read about in the Bible. I'm living under the influence of some extremely powerful external forces and some extremely persuasive internal voices, and the combined effect is not good. When I get some objectivity on it, I don't really like the person and life that is being shaped. It seems insane—as in, not healthy. And I know I'm not alone.
But that's the first step toward greater sanity. First, we admit we're under the influence of a destructive power. Then we start to name the demons—to flesh out the character and effect of the particular influences we are under. Thirdly, we start purposely drawing near to God. We make some choices and adopt some new rhythms that put us where God can start to restore our health. That's the route to greater sanity and the path we'll explore again now.
The friendly demon
A few months ago, I came across a fascinating book by award-winning author and researcher, James Gleick. The title intrigued me because it read like a vanity plate you might see on the back of a red Ferrari—just four letters: FSTR. Faster! Too fast to even use vowels. The book's subtitle was The Acceleration of Just about Everything. On page after page, Gleick demonstrates how everything from travel to cooking to communications to commerce has gotten so much faster, and how even the rate of increase itself is also accelerating. You know how when people used to describe something really fast, they'd speak of nanoseconds? Well, physicists are now measuring time in femtoseconds—a unit equivalent to the time it takes for something to travel a distance the width of an atom.
As many of you know, businesses today are constantly working to shrink advertising, bidding, ordering, manufacturing, and delivery times to this kind of scale and rate. "Speed is God," said Hitachi Corporation's David Hancock, "and time is the devil." What has happened in science and industry has also happened in the domestic dimension as the pace of our lives has steadily ramped up to a level almost unheard of a generation ago. For most people I know, the throttle is stuck on FAST and the RPMS are in the red zone. We are constantly rushing to cover the bases, to get to all the places, to keep up with the competition, to meet our obligations, to leverage all the opportunities that life today presents.
On certain days, this Faster phenomenon, strikes me as a "friendly demon" at worst. By that I mean, I like a lot about the increasing pace of things. I like quick service, instant popcorn, fast lanes, and blazing internet speeds. Czech novelist Milan Kundera said that "speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man," and there is a part of me that is hooked on speed—on the ecstatic adrenaline rush of a fast-paced life. Fast can be fabulous.
The chief enemy
Until it isn't. Until fast becomes foolish. In her book Breathe, Keri Wyatt Kent makes this confession: "I feel like I'm on the teacup ride at Disney World. At first, I'm turning the wheel and setting the pace. The spinning is fun and somehow contained. But then the momentum builds, and even if I let go of the wheel in the center of the teacup, we continue to spin faster and faster. I feel … sick." This, I think, is the world in which we live today. The flywheel is turning at greater and greater velocity. We show ourselves willing to move at this speed, and the machine goes faster. We keep moving at this pace and others around us say, Oh, that must be normal; I just need to spin faster myself.
How many of you know what it is to suffer from speed sickness? We can get used to such a fast forward life that we actually burn out our nerves and bodies. Maybe we don't actually drop dead of a heart attack at 50 or suffer a stroke, but, bit by bit, we lose the ability to feel the deep substance or joy of life. Maybe we start drinking too much, trying to slow down the engine after it's been racing so hard. In the name of all kinds of good things, we can drive so quickly down life's road that we actually miss the beauty of people and the world around us. The glory was right there, but we were flashing by too fast on the highway to notice it, and when we go back and finally turn aside, it's gone. We can get to living so pedal-to-the metal that those trying to keep pace with us are inadvertently destroyed, because even if we are comfortable with these RPMS, they were just not built for our velocity. I know it sounds strange, but I think we can actually get moving faster than the speed God uses. We can fail to see or hear the moments of opportunity he presents to us when they come.
I have this awful vision in which my kids are standing up at my funeral. They've been asked to speak about their father, and the dominant thought in their minds is: Well, he was a busy man. He went a lot of places and talked to a lot of people. He attended an amazing number of meetings and answered tons of email. His schedule was so full of activities. He checked a lot of stuff off. It was incredible the pace he was able to keep up. Yeah, our dad sure was a busy man. How many times a day do you ask someone how they are, and they answer, "Oh, busy. Life sure is moving fast, very busy." How did busyness become a badge of honor? Why do we all just laugh about the fact that many of us are driving around with our hair on fire? At what point do we say: "This is kind of insane."
John Ortberg once asked a wise mentor for some advice on how he could live the healthiest, most soulful life possible. The older man said: "The chief enemy of the spiritual life is hurry. If you want to live a more soulful, sane life, John, then you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." Ortberg replied, "OK, and what else!"
Stopping in Jericho
I have a friend who has been undergoing a pretty profound spiritual renewal after many years of moving dangerously, even destructively, fast. "You know, I've noticed from reading the Bible that Jesus rarely seemed in a hurry," he said. Jesus had the most significant work to do. He got more lasting work done than anyone else. Yet he did not move through life at anything like the breakneck speed we do. In the story we read from Luke chapter 19, for example, we see Jesus taking a spin along the streets of Jericho—one of the fastest-moving, commercially-oriented, and competitive cities of his time. He is surrounded by a huge crowd of people, who rush along by his side, clamoring for his attention. Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem to complete his ultimate work. There had to be many voices urging him onward. The voice of Efficiency might have said: "Move as quickly as you can through this city, Jesus. There's a lot to be done in the next few days." The voice of Efficacy might have said: "Oh, don't stand still. Keep talking to as many different people as you can, Jesus. Networking is everything in this campaign." The voice of Energy might have said: "Keep on jamming. Your ratings are climbing. Isn't it great to be on a roll! Keep going fast-forward!"
But the voice of God said to his Son: Go ahead and hit pause. And so Jesus did something that made absolutely no sense to the crowd that was traveling with him, but made all the difference for the purposes of God. He slowed his spin through Jericho and actually stopped. He looked up into a sycamore tree and spotted a little man named Zacchaeus. Jesus struck up a conversation with him, and then left the clamoring crowd altogether to go have lunch with Zacchaeus. That encounter became the turning point of this hard-bitten tax collector's life.
With all that was swirling around him, how did Jesus ever spot that little man, just one among hundreds of others? With all that Jesus still had on his schedule—the urgency and pressure of the Cross rising before him—how did Jesus manage to hit the brake pedal and do the profoundly significant thing that needed to be done in that man's life that day? For that matter, how was Jesus able to do this kind of thing not just once, but dozens and dozens of other times as recorded in the gospels? More personally, how can we learn when and how to hit the brake pedal ourselves, so that we're sure to engage the most significant matters along the road of our lives?
The practice of slowing and seeing
Here is the most important part of this message: The answer to this question is practice. Jesus was able to do the significant deeds he did when he was under pressure in public, because of the spiritual disciplines he observed in private. Even though there was tremendous public pressure upon him to keep charging ahead, Jesus was able to slow down and stop at a critical moment on that Jericho street, because he had practiced slowing down and stopping through a weekly discipline of Sabbath-keeping. Even though there had to be so many dazzling and distracting concerns along that avenue in Jericho, Jesus was able to notice the moment of profound opportunity up in that tree, because he had practiced discerning the hand of God at work through a daily discipline of God-seeking. In other words, Jesus didn't have to try extra hard not to go too fast. He didn't have to sweat bullets trying not to miss the God-moments around him. Jesus trained for this capacity through the spiritual rhythms he consistently observed.
What's your approach to spiritual health? What is your strategy for maintaining or restoring your sanity in a world that moves around you, often at truly blinding speeds? Find a spiritual discipline of slowness and begin incorporating that into your daily life.
I love this description from my friend Bob:
Imagine that a Great Physician comes to us and says, "Come on, I've made a weekly reservation for you at this mental hospital. The world has made you more insane than you recognize." In a leap of trust, you walk dazed with him into a building. You're stripped at the door of your Blackberry, your briefcase, your jam-packed activity schedule, your to-do list. You hear the doors click shut behind you. The noise of the world disappears, only to be replaced by a gentle hum. There in that hospital you begin to hear your heartbeat again. You feel your breathing. You remember your soul. You stop achieving and start appreciating, really recognizing and enjoying life. This hospital is called Sabbath. The routines there involve rest and play and God-seeking. You realize that if you could go there at least once a week, you might actually begin to change from inside—your sanity will begin to be restored, your soul will have greater health, and you will be given the strength and wisdom required to meet the madness of the world.
Before you dash away today, what are you going to do with this invitation that Jesus issues to you? "Come, I must stay at your house today."
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.