05 March 2011

Epiphany 8 A

Proper 8 A – Epiphany 8

By Stuart Pike

Isaiah 49: 8-162

Matthew 6: 24-34

St. Luke’s Church

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The problem which many people might have with today’s Gospel message, as Jesus says “Don’t worry”, is that it often seems that there is so much to worry about. Perhaps Jesus’ message will be heard differently depending on who is listening. Someone who has all they need, a warm place to live and money in the bank, might hear this differently than those who have just lost everything they own in an earthquake. How does Jesus’ message preach to the destitute? Doesn’t it all just sound like platitudes? Is Jesus for real

Worry seems to be an essential part of survival in the 21st century. And if we lack imagination, all we need to do is to switch on the radio, or the TV and we’ll be given a dozen new things to worry about within a minute.

Worry drives our economy. It’s what puts up the gas prices, and makes us want to buy that next new item which falsely promises to take our worries away.

Whenever I hear this Gospel story I am reminded of the popular song by Bobby McFerrin: Don’t Worry, be Happy. It just seems to be such a happy go lucky song and today’s Gospel lesson seems to be heading in such a similar direction.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we are to eat, or what we are to wear. And he uses some beautiful imagery from nature as he speaks to his disciples. Look at the birds of the air, he says, look at the lilies of the field. One can imagine Walt Disney’s woodland creatures gathering about.

Jesus leads us along this path and it is so easy to follow him: Don’t worry, our heavenly father feeds the birds of the air. Doesn’t God care even more for you? And look at how God clothes the grass of the field. Aren’t you more important than this? Won’t God care more for you

Jesus eggs us on further. He says that instead of worrying, we are to strive first for the Kingdom of God, and then he says, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” It certainly sounds like a don’t worry be happy kind of message. That is, until the last verse of the lesson. Just when all the birds are happily chirping and the flowers are blooming in our imagination, the ogre shows up.

Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Bobby McFerrin’s happy music grinds to a halt and Jesus brings us back to reality.

Wait a sec, Jesus, Can’t we have the well-fed birds and the beautiful flowers back? What’s all this talk about today’s and tomorrow’s troubles? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

It seems that Jesus’ message isn’t so happy go lucky after all. And for me, this makes the message both real and meaningful.

Jesus is not speaking platitudes. His words are an invitation to seek and find God’s Kingdom in the world around, no matter what our circumstances are. Jesus doesn’t want us to deny the existence of trouble, but he gives us the secret of how to transcend it.

Note the way the Gospel story actually begins – not with Jesus’ words about worry, but with his admonition that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.

One of the strangest things which I have witnessed is how worry often seems to be so much more of a preoccupation in wealthy nations than in poorer nations. Could it be that this is so because our experience of material wealth makes it easier to serve wealth?

Jesus knows that it is all too easy for us to put our faith in wealth - to believe that money is our security for the future. But if we really believe in money that way, we have made an idol out of money and have started to worship it, instead of God.

God’s kingdom operates with completely different economic rules than the material world. The material world’s economy is an economy of scarcity and limits. In such a world, there is never enough. And if we live in that world, we worry. We become preoccupied with counting, saving, spending and hoarding.

The economy of God’s Kingdom is one of abundance: it is overflowing with God’s grace and love. In God’s kingdom, there is always enough because God’s love is infinite. Just like in our own families, love doesn’t have to be divvied up according to how big our family is. In families that have four children, those children don’t have ¼ the love of a child who is an only child. No, the love of those parents expands to shower all those children with love.

God loves us even more. As God says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t tell us that we’ll not have any trouble: rather it almost promises that there will be trouble. The great news of today’s Gospel is that we can choose to live in God’s kingdom, rather than simply the material world. Jesus asks us to strive first for God’s kingdom. If we do, everything else that we need will be given to us as well

In God’s economy, wealth becomes a tool, rather than an idol. It becomes a tool for us to use to further God’s kingdom, rather than something which enslaves us with worry.

A couple of weeks ago I said that God’s kingdom is not some place far away in space and time, but it can be experienced right here and right now. In fact, it can only be experienced in the present moment and it allows us to leave worry behind, even in the midst of troubles. Living in God’s kingdom now is what enables you to stop and really see the flower that graces the grass of the field. Or witness the bird that God feeds in his abundance. Or see the love which exists even in the desperate situation. No amount of money is worth the knowledge of God’s love in simple moments like these.

And this knowledge of God’s love is what will transform your life into one which is about building God’s kingdom and truly making a difference to the lives of others. Amen.

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