Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Feb. 27, 2011

Matthew 6:24-34
24  "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.   25  "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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?   28  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  31  Therefore do not worry, saying, "What will we eat?' or "What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?'  32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33  But strive first for the kingdom of God  and his  righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34  "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Well, if you thought that last week’s portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount presented some difficulties, you know that whole praying for enemies and turning the other cheek business, I dare say that that was only a preview. Yes, indeed, it appears as though Jesus was just getting warmed up.   For in today’s selection: we receive the following admonition from our Lord:  Do not worry about your life, about what you will eat and drink.  If there were ever place in the Gospels where one is tempted to ask Jesus exactly how well he knows humans, this would be it.  Really, do not worry? Indeed, the relative difficulty of praying for enemies now seems a minor and wholly accomplishable task.  Worrying for us is as natural as breathing or eating.  The instant that our brains develop the capacity to recognize that things go wrong in this life, we meet that realization with worry.  So, what exactly am I not supposed to worry about?  Should I not be concerned with the health of my children or grand children, or how well they are performing at school?  Should I not be concerned that my job will continue to supply the income for the needs of my family?  Isn’t only responsible that we watch our retirement savings and social security accounts?  And what about getting into the college that we most desire or maintaining good enough grades?  Yes, these and sundry others are the worries that cloud our minds and make us desperate, desperate for any word that may offer some comfort, however limited, or respite, however brief, from the unfailing feeling that we lack the control over this life that we so desire. 
And make no mistake, dear people of God, there are forces everywhere in our midst that will gladly prey upon this anxiety, and they come in all shapes and sizes, yes, even in the garb of the religious. Sadly, it is our lot as those who instinctively mistrust God to give heed the seductive call of these forces and we suffer the destructive results.  While they present themselves in any number of ways, these forces seem to share this one basic principle: they want us to believe that there is not enough (enough money, enough jobs, enough education, not enough youth left in our bodies, not enough wideness in God’s mercy) yes, there is not enough to go around, but with their help you can make certain that you will be one of those lucky or enlightened ones who made the decisions or aligned themselves with the right forces to have enough.  These are forces that promise us that we can game the system in attempt to shore up some security in this world where stability is far from promised. Televangelists will promise us that our material wealth is only dependent upon us simply having enough faith.  Yes, new age gurus ensure us that negative thinking is the only obstacle on our way towards some state of self-discovery and fulfillment.  And what of your neighbors, those who were not fortunate or wise enough to be on the right side of this great divide?  Well, better you than me, I suppose.  Yes, this force that we are here describing is what the Bible calls “mammon,” and “mammon” is a stingy god, indeed.   What “mammon” does to us is reinforce the fundamental belief that we are alone in this universe and that there is limited supply of whatever it is that we need, from food and clothing to work and education to youth and attraction.   So, with no regard for the God who provides for us or for our neighbors who may have less than us, we stockpile and accumulate, and this is how we bow our need at “mammon’s” vulgar altar. The problem, though, is this: we are never really given what we were promised.  This “enough” is finally entirely elusive, and just when we think we are there, our security slips through our fingers once again.  However we once defined enough, enough money, enough education, enough happiness, when we reach that point, we suddenly discover that we want, nay need, more.  This is how mammon, the fear, works on us. 
It is no wonder, then, that Jesus begins this passage by saying that we cannot worship both mammon, that is, wealth and God.  For there could not be a more pronounced difference between the way God and wealth operate.  While mammon works on our insecurities and our fears, God gives us more than we could ever imagine or require.  Though, we make a crucial error if we assume that this giving of God’s is the same as the mass accumulation of wealth and status that drives our culture.  No, God is after something entirely different.  Something that that breaks the cycle of fear, insecurity and accumulation for accumulation’s sake.  And God will stop at nothing, not even an encounter with death, to ensure that you will never be separated from this love of God in Christ Jesus. This giving of God’s self, this is the kingdom that has taken hold of us and in so doing, has beckoned us to strive after it.  And it is only the kingdom, which is given its fullest expression in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, that can fill our deepest needs.  For it is only at the cross that we can say we have been apprehended by a God who knows us in our fear and weakness, in our sin and unbelief.  For in Christ and his cross, we are met by a God who enters into our fear, who joins us in our worry-soaked sleepless nights and gives us the loving presence of a God who can transform worry with the assurance that this God will not let us go.  Yes, this is the comfort that wealth, that mammon, can never provide: a God who does not manipulate our fear and worry, but a  God who enters them and transforms them by his sweet presence.
And to be sure, dear people of God, this love is not somehow disembodied and removed from the concerns of this life.  It is tempting to believe that being “spiritual” means somehow rising above the concerns of this life, but a spirituality such as this cannot be called genuinely Christian.  For this is not a God who is somehow indifferent to the very real concerns of this life, including food, clothing, work, stable family life and all the rest.   No, as Jesus says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need such things.”  There is no guilt in wanting to provide for yourself or your family, nor are such urges somehow a mark of weak faith. Yes, the point that being made here is that Christian discipleship is a deeply embodied reality.  Unlike so much of what passes for “spirituality” in our time and place, Christian discipleship, yes the kingdom of God, does not negate the importance of the body or the complexities of life. This, then, is also the reason that care of the neighbor, in providing food and shelter, is of such importance to our lives as Christians.  For when we do that, we participate in the kingdom of God, right here and right now.  Yes, there can be no more spiritual an act that reaching out and giving someone who is hungry a bit of food, or a new immigrant a blanket to help stay warm.   For genuine discipleship is nothing less than saying that with God there is more than enough.  With God we have the abundance that we crave and we are given the security to live our lives in ways that honor the needs of those around us.  To be sure, the worries and the concerns will persist.  This is a given, but we are also given a God who meets us in those worries and who promises to provide, no matter how different that may look from our expectations or from what the culture around us says we must have and be in order to be people of status.  For in Christ, we have all that we need, we have the kingdom right in this place.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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