The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Every little thing is gonna be alright?

May 25, 2008
Pentecost 2A, Proper 3
Matthew 6:24-34


In the name of God. Amen.

“Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear…. But strive first for the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”

That’s nice, isn’t it? Just quit worrying, because God’s going to give you every thing you need. If you listened closely to the Gospel reading this morning, you could almost hear Bob Marley in the background: “Every little thing is gonna be all right”. I guess I could just go ahead and sit down. We should probably just all go home. God will take care of everything. As the bumper sticker theologian put it, “Let go and let God.” Right?

So why am I still standing here? If it’s true that “all these things will be given to you” as Matthew has said, why are we all here? Why are we all still engaged in the process of discerning God’s will for the church? Or for ourselves?

Worry is a natural phenomenon. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another. Some of us are probably experiencing it right now. So in some ways, this text makes me angry. “Don’t worry”?? We do worry. We will worry. Isn’t it a little condescending for the writer of the Gospel to put these words into Jesus’ mouth? Would he really have told us to just stop worrying?

And remember, these words are spoken as a part of the Sermon on the Mount. They are spoken by the very man who, as the story progresses, will lead his followers into Jerusalem, and who will be brought before Pontius Pilate, and who will eventually suffer death on the cross. He is going to tell us not to worry? I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I’m buying it.

I doubt that any of us are fated for the kind of life and death that Jesus had, but even so, we have our own causes for worry. Gas prices continue to inch toward four dollars a gallon – never mind the encroaching summer travel season, we’ll still have to get to work each day. And no matter how close to retirement you are, or thought you were, the stock market continues to show signs of recession. Perhaps you are comfortable in your home, but the ever-growing foreclosure rates and the instability that the threat of homelessness creates in many people in our society doesn’t help anyone. Both in Wall Street offices and Main Street convenience stores, crime rates will rise as a direct function of the slowing economy. As savings accounts dwindle and credit lines are maxed out, people will become desperate. It always happens.

And that’s not all. Even beyond our comparatively superficial economic woes, we can see signs of disaster around the world. Tens of thousands of people have died from the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China. New Orleans still has only barely begun to recover from hurricane Katrina, and now we’re on the cusp of yet another storm season. Already this spring, tornadoes have ravaged the mid-west and wildfires are beginning to appear in Florida and California. Moreover, the yet-to-be comprehended effects of global warming continue to threaten every living creature – even us.

“Every little thing is gonna be alright?” I’m not so sure. We have plenty of cause for worry. And I’m sure you could think of more personal reasons that I haven’t even mentioned. So I hope Matthew and Bob Marley will forgive me if I don’t just blindly jump on board.
Of course we will worry. Jesus knew we would worry. Advising us against worry as he did wasn’t a preventative measure. It was a recognition that in our worrying, our energy is often misplaced.

If all we hear in this text is Matthew’s Jesus naïvely telling us not to worry, we’ve missed an important piece of the advice. Bob Marley may have stopped at encouraging us not to worry, but Jesus offered something more: “strive first for the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things [the things for lack of which you could consume yourself with worry – all these things] will be given to you.”

It’s a radical concept! Strive first for the kingdom of God – before we even consider our own needs or desires. It’s not just “Don’t worry” – he’s saying, don’t worry about the stuff. Don’t worry about money or possessions or superficial needs. If we strive first for the kingdom of God, we needn’t even worry about necessities like food or clothing. It’s counterintuitive, I know. When you’re hungry, it’s only natural to worry about where your next meal will come from. When you’re facing foreclosure on your home, it’s only natural to worry about where the next payment will come from. When you’re lonely it’s only natural to long for affection.
But what if we really did join Jesus in this counterintuitive thinking? What would it mean to strive first for the kingdom of God, instead of striving first for our own desires? What would it mean to replace all of our worries about things with an eagerness for the glory of God to be realized on earth?

Jesus isn’t telling the hungry, or the poor, or the lonely to stop worrying. More so, he is telling us – those who are not lacking – that it should not be their job to worry. We all have areas in our lives where we are lacking and areas in our lives where we are not lacking. But if we all would strive first for the kingdom of God as it can be realized in our midst, then there would be no need for any of us to worry over our human needs. The kingdom of God among us would be defined by the reality that all of our needs would be met. If I am striving first for the kingdom of God then my neighbor will never be hungry. My neighbor will never be homeless. My neighbor will never be lonely. If we spend less time worrying over my own want of material possessions and superficial comforts, and more time striving to realize the kingdom of God, then that realization of God’s vision for humanity would ensure that all of our needs would be met: mine, yours, and those of our neighbors, both here and around the world.

As we examine our lives as members of the Christian community, we must continually ask ourselves: what would it mean if we would make the radical, counterintuitive commitment to strive first and foremost for the realization of God’s vision for humanity in the world? If we made such a commitment, what worries could we allow to rest?

Could a world torn apart by war and crime be healed by people of prayer? Perhaps. A discipline of prayer yields peace in individuals. Imagine how our tolerance for unnecessary human suffering would be affected if, as a people, we disciplined ourselves to be people of prayer and allowed our actions to be governed by that peace instead of by our fears. An active commitment to peace could become as infectious as the fear it replaces.

Can the church really speak to the epidemics of anonymity and loneliness that are so rampant in our culture? I think so. When we shift our focus from corporate strategies for growth to Christian strategies for compassion community will emerge. And the light of community will outshine the darkness of solitude that perverts God’s vision for the world.

God’s vision for humanity already exists. We are not called to build it or to create it. God has already done that heavy lifting for us. But we are called to strive toward it, even in the face of all the other kingdoms of this world that might stand in its way.

So don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is going to be all right. But, rather than allowing yourself to be consumed with worry, strive instead to make real God’s vision for humanity. When you do, all the little things will fall into place. Amen.

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