A Sermon for 7 August 2016
A reading from the gospel of Luke 12:22-34. And remember: they’re still on the road with Jesus, out of Galilee for the last time as they head for his final trip to Jerusalem. Listen for God’s word to us.
“He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will God clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Believe it or not, most of what I just read from the gospel of Luke is not an assigned reading according to the Revised Common Lectionary. O, the part about selling our possessions to give it away as alms is – which is miracle in and of itself that our church mothers and fathers had the foresight to have those words of Jesus read before his body at least once every three years. But the part about do not worry is not. The lectionary would have us skip from Jesus’ parable of the rich fool and the plea to take care against defining our lives according to our possessions, to striving for the purses that do not wear out as we’re ready for whatever twists and turns life brings. But worry? The invitation to consider the simple things around us like birds. How do they all get enough to eat each day? And enough to drink? And with all of them around; yet each little bird finds a place somewhere in this world to build their nests to snuggle down safely for the night away from any circling prey. And what about the wildflowers? In Galilee, there still are bright yellow flowers popping up all over. Wild mustard I was told, not lilies. But wildly prolific nonetheless. Have you ever been walking along a sidewalk and seen all those beautiful little purple flowers pushing their way through tangles of gnarly Bermuda grass or popping through whatever crack in the path they can find? How do they grow? Presumably the wind alone scatters their seed. When it rains, they drink. When the sun shines, the nutrients they need seep deep into their little-flower pores. It’s like it just happens. They get what they need to grow.
Some might argue that the swarms of common house sparrows and the droves of little purple wildflowers that are so insignificant they rarely are seen as beautiful; someone might say they matter more in this world than people. But most of us believe we matter a little bit more than them. A proper orientation towards all the creation that surrounds us might better be that we equally matter. Species are mutually beneficial to one another. After all, it’s not just beauty little wild flowers provide. They actually have a purpose for our lives too. Did you know that “seaweed, algae, and marine phytoplankton make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s oxygen producing plants” (www.secrets-of-longevity-in-humans.com/oxygen-producing-plants.html)? Even that which we consider worthless slim is important to sustaining our human life. Without oxygen in every cell of our bodies, we cannot live. And there they all are. Chirping sparrows, little purple wildflowers, seaweed, algae, and marine phytoplankton too. Doing their thing without one care in the world. If they could talk and we asked them what rattled them awake in the middle of the night, I’m sure they would say: “nothing. Not one thing.”
It’s we humans that seem to live a different way – which might be why God created a whole world first that knew how to just be before setting us loose in the garden to worry our little heads off. . . . Someone pointed out to me this week that it’s not really helpful to tell someone who’s trying to change their behavior not to do it. Like “Don’t worry,” Jesus says here. “Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.” It’s not really all that helpful because the words alone churn up our anxious hearts. Now we worry too that we worry so much and Jesus told us not to do it. It’s like he’s kicking us when we’re already down – even if he didn’t mean further harm. He really is trying to paint a different picture to give us a loop hole out of the worry trap. Jesus knows we need the what to do more than the what not to do in order to make any sort of lasting change. The details may be a little lacking about what it looks like to strive instead for the kingdom, but the actual practice he first suggests is the way out. Watch the birds. Pay attention to the little lilies. See how everything in this creation fits together. As we notice, we might just come to the conclusion that it’s all going to be all right.
One of the most helpful things I have come across for deepening my trust in God, actually is something I’ve learned from the energetic therapy called Healing Touch. After a healer asks someone the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing they seek and before going on to the next step; the healer silently repeats that desire as if it is the prayer for the healing. And then, if the healer is doing it right, they must release that desire to the Highest Good. Literally, if a healer is doing it right, they must let go of the outcome. Who is anyone of us to really know what another person needs as they make their journey in this world deeper into who God would have them be? Who is anyone of us to really know what we ourselves need as we make our journey in this world deeper into who God would have us be? . . . We definitely can ask, and by Jesus even, in a few verses just prior to this portion of Luke, are told in fact to ask for exactly what we want (Luke 11:1-14). And then, we must release that desire to the Highest Good. Something many of us refer to as the will of God. (As in: “Thy will be done.”) A daily practice each one of us gets is to release, then wait – even if it takes nearly forever – we must wait to see how God will take what we may consider the worst garbage of our lives and somehow make a way to something new. . . . In the admonition not to worry, Jesus is inviting us to let go of our firm need to stay in the driver’s seat. To welcome the mystery of what will unfold. Do not worry means: know that God’s got this, because God’s got you – and every other creature too.
In a lot of ways, worry gets straight to the core of whether or not we trust what Jesus says – not to mention trust who Jesus is. Do we trust, what our ancestor in the faith, John Calvin, once so formally professed: that God is benevolent towards us (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, 3.2.7). In other words, Jesus asks: do you believe the God of the Universe loves us, or not? . . . How we answer that question is meant to make a difference even in whether we’re able to get a restful night’s sleep. It does not mean everything always is going to be easy or turn out the way we want it. We will experience pain in our life – it’s part of the package. In fact, it’s a gift really, though we seldom think of it that way. Pain in our body, mind, or spirit can be considered a great teacher if we turn aside for a moment to explore what message we’re supposed to be hearing from that pain. What our body, mind, or spirit is crying out for us to notice and most likely stop to change something about how we are going about life. Even if all it is is to remember: “O yes, God! I need to get back in the passenger seat to enjoy the view of where you are taking this all.”
Do not worry is not easy. A lot of us already have cut a really deep channel in our brains to go right from wonder over what’s taking place to incessant, can’t-sleep-a-wink worry. If watching the birds isn’t helping one bit. If paying attention to the wildflowers and even trying to appreciate how the seaweed just does its most helpful thing is not making a difference to stop your worry. Then, turn to the ways of the kingdom, as Jesus also tells us to do. Get out of the house to go show love to somebody. Make peace maybe through a caring gesture to someone who really has been on your nerves. Be a little more generous with your thoughts about why that person always is so mean – what burden might they be bearing that you know nothing about? Share what you have with someone who really needs it, then see how you feel after. Do these kingdom things and you might just find you sleep a whole lot better at night. You might just wake rest-full, ready to greet the first bird’s beautiful song.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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