Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunday's Sermon: Worrying

2 Pentecost (Proper 3) –Year A; Isaiah 49:8-16; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Matt 6:24-33. Preached at St. ThomasMay 25, 2008

Happy Memorial Day Weekend. The official start of summer: for some this weekend is marked by the opening of beach houses, or mountain cabins or homes by a lake, or the start of a weekend share at some resort. Some go on retreat. Some of us stay and enjoy the quiet beauty of the city. And our church calendar has gifted us with what appears to be a Gospel reading that falls into the stewardship model: asking us to consider how we utilize the gifts we have worked hard to achieve…and our attitude toward those material possessions. Today we are presented with an interesting triple-combination of: a holiday weekend where we are to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for our country; a holiday weekend which begins summer in most people’s minds; and a Gospel about wealth and choices.

In our Gospel today we have two sections that are tied together: one having to do with wealth and the second about our attitude. The Gospel begins today with the verses: No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. I am always brought up short when Jesus refers to slaves: he does so a lot today. Did you hear the first phrase: No one can serve two masters? Well, the Greek word utilized, translated as serve here, has been softened by our translators because that Greek word (doulas) is slave. It is the same word translated later in that same verse as slave. And this two verse section on wealth ends with You cannot serve God and wealth. Again, that word serve in the Greek is the word for slave (doulas). A more accurate translation of these two verses would be: No one can be a slave to two owners, as opposed to No one can serve two masters. And the last verse: You cannot be a slave to God and to material things, as opposed to You cannot serve God and wealth. A lot more direct, don’t you think? A lot more harsh, which is what brings me up short, that I find so startling.

Jesus is being pretty clear when he says we cannot be a slave to God and to material things. But a slave to God? Wow, that is a different way to think of things. Jesus is leading us to think about putting our trust in God and not in material possessions. We cannot allow material things to usurp, overtake all else, to enslave us. Jesus is not saying the possession of wealth, money and material things is evil, is sinful. Jesus is saying that with the possession of material things comes a tremendous responsibility: the proper usage of wealth, money, material things is what Jesus is demanding here.

And Jesus is making a clear connection between material possessions and the burden they can be to us: how they can cause us to worry, how they can enslave us. At one point in my life I collected lots of things and my home was just jam-packed with these collectibles: all of which I liked, none of which I really needed. At one point in that time period, I was thinking about moving, and then looked around at all this stuff and was nearly overwhelmed and paralyzed at the thought of packing it all up to move. When all was said and done, I got rid of almost all of those collectibles and my beloved antique furniture. Although initially saddening, almost immediately after getting rid of all that stuff I felt, somehow free: a freedom from the weight of all that stuff. I think Jesus is talking about this possession that material things can have over us and how much freer we can be without them.

And here is the strong link between these first two verses of the Gospel and the second part that has to do with responsibility and choices and our attitude toward these possessions. Did you hear the strong concern Jesus has for us worrying. That word is utilized six times in these 7 verses. Do not worry about….clothing…about food…tomorrow… can any of you by worrying add a single hour. Jesus is strongly forbidding a careworn, worried fear which takes all the joy out of life: a fear, and an attitude of worry that enslaves us.

My friend Joel (not this person’s real name) is a worrier. He worries about everything. Is it going to rain? Is it going to be too cold? Too hot? Will he be early? Late? Does so and so like him? Will the store be out of the ingredient needed for this cake he is making? Will he screw up making the cake and will he then have to start over or, God forbid, buy one from a store for party he is going to? If so, is that cake going to be any good? Will he drop the cake on the way to the party? Are these the right clothes to wear? Do they make me look fat? Is my hair stylish enough?

Well, anyway, you get the picture…this worrying and negativity is self-propagating…each thought leading inexorably to the next worry. It is a state of being for Joel. We probably all know at least one person who has a penchant for this kind of drama….perhaps we participate in it ourselves too…..But even if we do not worry to the extent Joel does, who among us today does not worry to some extent?

Jesus is saying here that there is a danger in worrying, a danger in the self-absorption involved in this kind of worry. This worry around possessions and this state of anxiety it causes, enslaves us to these possessions. This worry is a self-absorption that takes us out of the present, out of the world we live in, and allows us to more easily ignore the world in which we live by focusing inward.

Jesus is instructing us to stay focused on creating the kingdom of God around us, here, now. To do our best to stay in the present and to trust God that we will be provided for….Not sit back and wait for God to provide, but to do the work we need to do without worry…to follow where we know, deep in ourselves, that God is leading us. To reach out to the other, the stranger and not only assist them but to see Christ’s face in their face and to see Him in ourselves too.

If we live each day as it comes, if we face each task as it is presented to us and do our level best, then the sum of all our days, when we reach the end, is bound to be good. That life will probably not be what we planned or envisioned, but it will be good, for we will have changed with our times. We will not be stuck in the past, clinging to material things that only impede our growth, that can enslave us and cause us worry. Jesus is telling us that worrying proves only one thing: that we do not trust God. This is a rather harsh truth to hear, a rather harsh condemnation: that we do not trust God when we worry. William Barclay said “Worry is worse then useless, it is often actively injurious.” Worry gets in the way and often times is used as a stalling technique to growth and change. Jesus is telling us today to put worry away because it is disabling. Jesus’ commandment today can bring peace and can also bring power to each one of us, enabling us to move forward with confidence breaking the enslavement brought on by worrying. And this seems almost to be an impossible task for us to achieve on our own.

Perhaps we need to think about life differently. Life is not based on things we acquire. It is okay to acquire things, but we cannot let these possessions overtake our life. Jesus is telling us to seek God’s kingdom above all else. The first part of today’s Gospel about being a slave to God and not to material possessions is not an attack on rich people: it is a warning about the seduction that material possessions can have on us and how that seduction can misdirect us away from being present, really present in the world. Jesus is calling for the proper usage of these possessions as well as an appropriate appreciation, an appropriate attitude about them. Likewise, this passage is also a warning to people who do not have a substantial amount of material possessions, warning not to idolize what they do not have…for again that distracts from God’s work in the world and our part in that work.

First striving for the kingdom and leaving tomorrow’s worries for tomorrow calls for a great effort on our part to put aside the enslavement of self-absorption, self-concern, self-doubt and to focus on the here and now, not worrying about the past or the future…and above all….to trust….trust the one who created us just as we are….and who does not forget us, remember that reference we heard in the Isaiah reading, God inscribing our names on his personal is that, how much confidence that gives us that God will not forget us and who loves us…This is a lifetime’s work, but through vigilant prayer and constant effort, this different way of thinking about life, about material possessions, about our relationship with God, can lead us to a place were the state of worry that we live with will be something in our past, as we awaken to the sure knowledge that we are taken care of, we are not forgotten and we are embraced by God’s love.


Copyright 2008, John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment