Deuteronomy 11: 18-21, 26-28 + Psalm 31 + Romans 1, 16-17; 3:22-28 + Matthew 7, 21-29
The Gospel advice not to worry has always struck me as being a bit unrealistic. There is always plenty to worry about. Some of it we make up. Some of it we cause. Some of it is very real. A parent whose 16 year old child is not yet home at 11:30 pm has plenty to worry about. A single parent with two children and two jobs living hand to mouth month by month has plenty to worry about. Even the very people who heard these words for the first time from the mouth of Jesus Christ had plenty to worry about in a country occupied by a foreign power when most hours of every day were spent finding enough food to get them through the night. As I sat with this Gospel which seems at first to suggest that we should never worry about what we are to eat and what we are to wear, I began to wonder how I would preach this text to someone in refugee camp or in many parts of Africa. In reality, there is only a small part of this world where people can open the closet and find plenty to wear for the rest of their lives or a freezer to open and find enough to eat for the rest of the month. This is complicated, and consequently it is easy to brush off as idealistic and just a pious wish. We’re all worried about something, and this world is full of anxious people living at the brink of disaster. For far too many in this world, every day is that disaster.
It occurs to me that the secular culture in which we find ourselves today makes it all the more difficult to reach into this text and find the light of the Gospel to illumine the darkness of these anxious times. Too much of our behavior continues to suggest that we really do not understand nor trust the Providence of God. The message drummed into our ears and into our heads these days is: “You can lead a perfectly happy life if you just get enough money and buy enough stuff.” There is no mention, no thought or even a hint of God being involved. It’s all about me, my power, my comfort, my privilege, and my opportunities. Thinking all the time that there might not be enough to around, I have to be very guarded lest anyone come who might want the same thing. Then, having managed to get it all, I must now guard it all. To this think and in the face of this behavior, the Gospel is proclaimed today by you and me as God’s holy and prophetic church.
Nowhere does this Gospel suggest that we should not save and contribute to our 401K. Nowhere does this Gospel propose that we not care for and provide for our children; their health, their education, their food and clothing. We have a responsibility to care for our children. The reference to the birds of the air does not suggest that we throw ourselves upon others expecting them to keep the bird feeder full while we sit around all day singing in the tree tops! What this Gospel does suggest and strongly propose is that there is only one Master, and keeping that in mind as we go about our days may allow us to make more sense of who we are and what we are doing. Flowers wilt and the die. Some only bloom for a day, and most for only a season. Houses fall down and burn down. They blow away with the all the stuff in them, and happiness goes with it if that’s all you have. The only way to hang on to happiness and hope is to remember at all times that everything comes from the Creator including the people with whom you live and work; and that everything must lead us back to and keep us in a right relationship with that Creator. If it does not, we shall be empty no matter how much we have, and we shall be very, very alone.
When we step back from whatever does worry us and think about the worry itself, it is always about the future, a preoccupation with the future. Concern about what diseases, tragedies, pains, losses, or privations tomorrow may bring is debilitating, and it leaves us with no joy. As a result, the gift of today is completely lost, and so is the gift of tomorrow as it become today.
I think that Jesus is simply prompting us to remember the daily feedings of the manna in the wilderness. Or perhaps he is just reminding us of a line in the prayer he has just taught his followers a few verses earlier: “Give us this day our daily bread.” That petition is both a reminder of who provides, and that today is what matters. When lived rightly, today will become tomorrow which is the essence of Hope for us who choose to live in and remain in a right relationship with the God who cares for us enough to share our very flesh and blood, life and death, suffering, joy, pain, and love.