A sermon by Kevin Gore,
St Mary’s Iffley, February 19th 2017
Through the written word and the spoken word, may we hear the Living Word, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” If I had to find a saying of Jesus that I am guilty of not only breaking, but flagrantly, this no doubt would be at the forefront. I would think, in fact, that in today’s world many of us do a lot of worrying about tomorrow. Sometimes that worry is spent in the right places, and sometimes it’s spent in places that do us no good. Jesus is telling us to let go of putting so much energy into some of these things…but that is so very easier said than done.
I know a thing or two about worry. I’ll admit to feeling a bit more anxious than the average person…though I like to think of it as detail oriented. I admit to checking the BBC news app on my phone when I wake up in the morning to see what my country’s new President is up to. Then there are all the moving pieces of the ordination process, and the mountain of social justice issues to tackle, the epidemic of homelessness, hunger, and difficult access to health care that I’ll be returning to. And don’t get me started on the time I spend color-coordinating my shirts and trousers. The point is that in some ways I fail, time and time again to not worry. In the midst of this, there are two things I know. The first is that Christ admonishes not to get wrapped up in trivial concerns, and the second, that living into the Kingdom of God is all about a struggle no matter how many times we stumble.
It is important to distinguish, amongst the myriad things I’ve listed so far, that some of those things ARE worth spending energy on because they are how we, as Christians, as faithful members of the body of Christ DO actually strive to live Kingdom values. And then there is the aforementioned color coordination. There are things that we should spend our energy on, to invest our time in. Today’s particular Gospel reading comes from a small portion of Matthew’s telling of the sermon on the mount… a basic ‘how to’ guide of living Kingdom values. But it can be confusing for us, living in a modern, Western society very far removed from a limited-goods culture of honor, shame, and barely surviving that Jesus is speaking to. There are times, and in fact some commentaries I have come across, when this passage is used to underlie an idea that we shouldn’t worry about anything, because God feeds the birds and clothes the lillies. But in reality we have bills to pay, houses to keep, families to clothe and feed. This kind of commentary falls short to offer us application to our life and the realities we face.
So how should we take this? Well, my reflection on this is that Jesus is pointing us to the things in life that are worth our energy. There are Kingdom values, both from the sermon on the mount and elsewhere throughout Christ’s teachings that tell us where to concentrate ourselves. In all of these things, love, compassion, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, is our faithfulness to God. We strive to live according to Christ’s example, we teach others the same way, we hope for the Kingdom which is to come, we spend our energy in pursuit of these things, and we make sure that they are what matters in our life. We cannot be consumed by the stress of trivial things, but then again, we’re pretty good at that.
We have to know that we will try, stumble, and fall, and when that happens, we get up, brush ourselves off, and try again. God may feed the birds of the air that don’t store up grain for the winter, but we know that life isn’t always simple for the smallest of creatures. There is still struggle, there is still pain. We are not exempt from that even when we do live out these values to the best of our abilities or when we stop our worrying. So it is important for us to always bear in mind how our Gospel reading ends: “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” The usual disclaimer follows that this does not mean you quit planning anything in advance. However, the challenge is to focus on living the Kingdom values today and only today.
I am particularly reminded of this as we are a mere ten days away from the beginning of Lent. In Lent it is often an espoused practice to give up something or take on a beneficial practice for those forty days. I have known many people who are very ready to explain to me what their Lenten practice started as, and when they failed to observe it, and thus up on it. My challenge to those of you who pursue this way of observing Lent is to take one day at a time, and much like any other way in which we live out our faith, if and when you stumble, you let go of the worrying about tomorrow, and you do not abandon your faithfulness, even in this small way. Letting go of the worry about living into the Kingdom, of following Christ into the radical unraveling of life as we are comfortable with, can quite easily and very quickly become overwhelming. That is why we take one day at a time, “Today’s troubles are enough for today.”
Today, tomorrow, every day: strive for the Kingdom of God, yearn to live out the values that Christ teaches us. Live them out day by day. Do not be discouraged when you fail, but let the worry of struggling through them tomorrow remain in tomorrow. I am reminded of arguably on of the most beloved of prayers from the New Zealand prayerbook. It is a prayer for night, and so is a bit out place in our ears in the morning. But it starts out:
“Lord it is night. The night is for stillness, let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done; let it be.”
That is how we embody our faithfulness to not worry. We acknowledge what has been, what has not been, and then we let it be. My challenge to you today is this: Live the values of the Kingdom of God today in the best way that you can, and do not worry about the inconsequential pieces or those that come tomorrow. Have faith, have love, and have hope.