Matthew 6: 24-34 -
Sunday, 11 October 2009
St. Luke’s, Burlington
By Stuart Pike
Worry seems to be a permanent state of being for most people. We’re indoctrinated to it. It begins in grade school, when we’re taught to compete with one another. Later we are socialized to worry about social expectations. We have to measure up. No matter how we feel, we need to look the part.
Some of us can relate to the Charlie Brown cartoon that shows Linus dragging his blanket as he observes, "You look kinda depressed,." "I worry about school a lot," Charlie Brown replies. Then he adds, "I worry about my worrying so much about school." As Charlie and Linus sit on a log together, Charlie makes his final observation "My anxieties have anxieties!"
Early on I seem to have been a quick study in regards to worry. Worry became a natural part of my life. It was sort of like an old friend. Worry always provided me with a certain amount of energy – adrenalin, I suppose. And, strangely enough there is a certain kind of comfort in that. It was like always carrying a spare battery pack around with me.
When I was a kid and into my teenage years I used to seriously bite my nails, much to the dismay of my parents. It all had to do with worry and anxiety. Fortunately, I seem to have grown out of that stage, and, with maturity and experience my confidence has developed and it appears that I am beyond nervous behaviour and mannerisms. (Knuckles)
Today is Thanksgiving day. It has been the tradition for thousands of years to give thanks around the time of the harvest. The religious rites were developed around a great feast.
In the middle ages in every village in Christian Europe, the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the holy altar and blessed. And people would gather in thanksgiving for all that God had provided for them. For the people of the village this harvest was essential to them. It could mean the difference between life and death. In the early Church, the Priest of the village would bless the gifts of the harvest, and would bless the people and then the feast would begin.
I can imagine how meticulously the ceremony would have been planned. Everyone in the village would cooperate, and would be there, to make sure that every protocol was carried out. And there would be one good woman of the village who would have slaved for days preparing a feast to close the celebration: she would have organized everyone, made sure the children were in line and knew their responsibilities. She would be quintessentially gracious on the outside and her heart would be madly ticking on the inside.
In the religious ritual before the feast began, she would have heard, along with the others the words from the Prophet, Joel: “Fear not, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the creator has done great things … God has poured down for you abundant rain … the threshing-floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.”
And then she would have heard the words of their saviour, Jesus, as he said to her: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” And she might have thought, “But what about my battery pack?” (Knuckles)
And the feast would be celebrated, and from the next day, the rest of the harvest would be gathered in. And some of the seeds gathered from the harvest would be set aside for the next years planting and they would represent the great hope and promise of a God who provides for us. And despite Jesus’ words, many would worry.
Anxiety as a way of life would not normally be the intuitive choice of most people that I know. And yet, it seems that more and more people seem to suffer from it. Anxiety and worry are the order of the day. People today are more worried than ever. And we worry about everything. When we look at what the root cause of our worry is, it seems that it’s mostly about material stuff. But that’s not the whole story.
The essential element of our worry is our fear of scarcity. We are afraid of not having enough, of being without. Worry about material goods is the root cause of much evil in the world - it is the cause of greed and selfishness, which in turn are the cause of most wars and conflicts in the world. But the material goods are only symbols of a deeper worry which we have.
Far more serious, (and more integral) than the worry that we won’t have enough, is our deeper, usually unconscious fear that we won’t be enough. (Knuckles) Our wants for the material stuff in our life spring out of the fear we have about our being. Sometimes we try to fix our sense of worry by trying to acquire more material things, and yet, intuitively we know that this is not the deepest problem.
We’re afraid that we somehow won’t measure up. We won’t be good enough, we won’t perform to standard. We’ll never make a good enough spouse, or worker or parent. Perhaps, we feel, that we will not be able to produce – that we will not be productive. Will we not be just a barren desert?
Jesus says not to worry about material things. That God will provide for all our needs. It is an amazing thing to truly be freed from the need to ensure our material future. And freedom is exactly what it is. Barbara Brown Taylor writes "The opposite of rich is not poor, but free."
“Richness” here is about material things, but “freedom” here is about being.
How many people spend their lives worrying about their material possessions? The more we own, the more we have to upkeep and protect. And then we have to insure it all in case something were to happen to it. At some point we might realize that our possessions really possess us and not the other way round.
I have heard several aged people say to me that they spent the first part of their lives wanting more things, the middle part of their lives acquiring all the things they wanted and the last few years of their lives wanting to give it all away: trying to find relatives and friends who could receive and cherish the meaning of the thing, and not just take the thing itself.
Some people have found that it is in the very last part of their lives, when they have given most of it away, that they find a freedom of spirit which they had always hoped for, but could never experience because they were too encumbered with material things.
You've heard how the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that one sees the glass as half full, and the other as half empty. But it seems that most people want the glass to be all the way full. The only problem is that it is very hard to walk or to move with a glass which is completely full. Having too much keeps us from moving, from being and from living.
Some people have learned that secret earlier on in their lives and have had such fruitful lives giving their energy and life for causes which they believe in, rather than just on stuff. This is the secret which Jesus wants to share with us in today's Gospel.
Don't worry about things: what you will eat, or what you will wear. God clothes the grass of the field with beauty and provides for the wild birds of the air out of his abundance.
The best things in life aren't things: they're relationships. The best that we can do with our lives is to spend them freely building up strong relationships as we search, not for more things, but striving instead for God's kingdom: and working to build that peaceable kingdom here on earth.
The best way to do that is to help ourselves and others to find in ourselves our centre – our own true selves - and in the beautiful, silent, material poverty of our being we reach our thin place, and can touch the infinite reality of the Divine.
We might worry about our being, about being productive, but when we come to ourselves we will know that God has planted the seed in us, and that seed is blessed for the harvest and God will make us fruitful.
“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the creator has done great things.” And, “all these things will be given to you as well.” Amen.