Sermon: Evelyn Underhill

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Duties of state. We’ve probably discussed these in the past. Duties of state are those ordinary tasks which come about due to our various states of life (i.e. husband, employee, friend, mother, etc.) If you are employed to deliver the daily paper, then one of your duties of state is to deliver the paper, but it actually goes beyond that, for included in that is the commitment to do it well and to the best of your abilities. So a newspaper boy’s duty of state says that he’ll get up every morning, deliver the paper, insure that it doesn’t land in the neighbors yard or in the sprinkler, and that it won’t arrive at 7 p.m. instead of 7 a.m.

The trouble with these routine items is that over time, they can sometimes become so familiar that we no longer attend to them as we should. If you stay late at work everyday, while at the same time ignoring the needs of your family, then you are not fully attending your duties of state. At other times, we can become bored and even begin to resent those duties. There are any number reasons that this can occur, but in failing to meet our duties, then not only are we failing those around us, but we are also failing God.

The 18th century French Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade, wrote The Sacrament of the Present Moment. There he states, “No moment is trivial, since each one contains a divine Kingdom, and heavenly sustenance.” He also writes, “To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as in the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith. To find contentment in the present moment is to relish and adore the divine will in the succession of all the things to be done and suffered, which make up the duty to the present moment.”

Faithfully fulfilling those duties of state, even the most trivial, becomes a sacred act because we recognize the moment as a gift from God. Evelyn Underhill, who we celebrate today, also understood this. In her book, Life as Prayer, she wrote: “Never let yourself think that because God has given you many things to do for Him…pressing routine jobs, a life full up with duties and demands of a very practical sort—that all these need separate you from communion with Him. God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be, receive Him in every sight and sound, joy, pain, opportunity and sacrifice.”

Underhill believed that we should be so filled with God’s Holy Spirit that we give over our lives to His service, not just in church and ministry, but in the ordinary as well, and that if we are faithful, we will encounter God.

Think about the woman in our Gospel reading today. There are many things that are taking place in this incident, but consider the fact that she was performing a very simple task—going to the well to draw water. This was a task she performed everyday, if not multiple times per day, yet in going about her day-to-day business, she encountered God. The same can be true for us, so I have an assignment for you today: at some point today, you are going to be performing some chore, something you do all the time, perhaps even something you don’t really think about as you go about it. In the middle of that task, I would like you to pause for just a few moments and ask, “Where is God in this?” “How can I please Him through my work?” In doing so, you might not only discover the desire to perform the task better, but you might also discover joy in the process.

Enjoy the gift of each “now” the Lord gives you.

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