“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.
“Therefore I tell you, not to 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? 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life. And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, 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, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for these things and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6: 24-34
I really wrestled with this during the week, mainly because I had to get to the point where I could hear this graciously. Where I started out hearing it was in a condemning way, bringing up all the shortcomings in the places where I was trusting God, and I found myself placing a heavier and heavier burden on my shoulder. I began to feel like Martin Luther before the reformation when he was struggling with an image of God who placed heavy burdens on people’s shoulders that they couldn’t lift and then condemned them for it. I also had to reach my breakthrough moment when I could realize that God’s grace was there all along, but I didn’t start out there.
When I listened to this the first time I found myself struggling against it, my muscles got tighter as I read it, I found myself becoming a little anxious, and I honestly found myself angry at these words. I know Martin Luther said we are to “fear, love and trust God above all things.” And on one level I know I desperately have tried to live my live where I do trust God above all things, but I have to be honest—this passage is both terrifying and comforting at the same time because I find myself caught between two worlds. I live with one foot in this world and one foot in the kingdom of God. In this harsh way of hearing this I acknowledge that I live in a world where roughly 20% of my income goes to taxes, 25% goes to housing, 15% goes to other debts, 10 % goes to the church, another 10% goes to things like phone, cable, insurance and so on a good month I have 20% to spend on gas, groceries, the pants for my son who seems to continually be outgrowing everything I buy him and if there is anything left, maybe something I wanted to buy, and while there may be (and have already been) things that I’ve cut the reality is that as much as I don’t like it I am dependent on receiving a paycheck twice a month. I may not like it but if that paycheck didn’t come in, it would change a lot of things in my life very quickly. I also have to be honest that I have always been on the more meticulous side of how I dressed, and even though I don’t spend very much money on clothes each year for I try to make myself look as good as I can because I legitimately like to look and dress well. Maybe it is the time I spent in the Army and the family I grew up in, but I am still one of these people who tries to make sure my shirts are pressed and my shoes are polished, and that as much as I can, that I look good. And for whatever reason I was coming up against this text and I was hearing, “Don’t worry about how you dress” and “Don’t worry about where your next meal is going to come from” and I wanted to say back to God, “God how much more do you want?” I mean God when you called me to give up a really good paycheck as an officer in the army, doing something I enjoyed to go to for four years in seminary where I wasn’t going to have much of an income, or when I accepted first call well below the guideline for compensation for a pastor and then when I was going through the difficulties with my last call and divorce, giving up that position (even though it was killing me) and trusting that somehow it would work. I began thinking “What more do you want me to give up?” and yet that wasn’t what Jesus was trying to say to me, I was loading that upon my own shoulders. Yet, I think it is very natural for us to slip back into this image of a God who is a harsh taskmaster, who continues to demand more and more out of us, and I think this text can very easily be heard in this way and sometimes English doesn’t help because something as simple as the translation saying “you of little faith” which is hard to hear any way other than condescending, or as in some translations, like the NLT “why do you have so little faith”, but what is there is my little faith ones. It is a different tone, even though the words are the same. It may be nitpicking, but how you hear and read something matters, if you hear Jesus coming off harsh and condemning it affects the way you receive this, so much of communication is more than just words, even on paper we assign emotion to words. Yet the entire section is set within the words of “don’t worry” and when I hear this it is Jesus coming to us and saying in a comforting was, “God takes care of the sparrows and you’re more important than they are, and the wildflowers which only last a season, God cares more about you than them.”
Jesus is speaking primarily to people who are not very wealthy. Most of the people hearing this will go back to their fields, or fishnets, or households. They will plant their crops, drop their nets, bake the bread for their families, and Jesus is not telling them, at least not most of them, to abandon their fields and farms, to give up their boats and fishnets, to turn away from their families. There may be other points where people like Peter and James and John walk away from their boats, and Matthew away from his job as a tax collector, but most people will hear him, and they like his disciples will be little faith ones in the midst of the world. I think the point in the midst of this “who are you?” Ultimately we are God’s little faith ones, we are people marked with the sign of the cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit in our baptism, we are precious to God, more precious than sparrows or flowers, we are people who God has placed value on, and God will watch over us. Yet in the midst of our lives things change. I’m forty, and so I can still do many of the things I did when I was twenty, I just pay for them more. And I know there are things that if I make it to eighty, that I will not be able to do that I do now. Or maybe you lose a job, or a house burns down, or a thief breaks in and steals something precious, or you go through a divorce, or you lose a parent or a child, or something else happens in your life and it feels like it changes everything. And we invest a lot of our lives in our jobs and our relationships, but if the job goes away are you anything else? When things around us change, can we realize that who we are is ultimately children of God, people who are precious to God, more valuable than sparrows and flowers and that God will take care of us? In the times of feast and the times of famine God walks with me. I’ve been through both the experience of losing a job and losing a divorce, and in that time you don’t have to say, “this is where I’ll be six months from now.” No where you are is in that moment. We live in a society where anxiety and depression are rampant, and there is no magic wand that makes it all better, but sometimes we find ourselves living so much in the fears of the futures that may come that we lose the joy of the moment that we are living in. Or you get plugged into the 24 hour new cycle and you let it depress you, because even though the news will not tell you this, there is a lot that is right in the world. We can and will go through a lot of changes throughout our life, but in God’s eyes who we are hasn’t changed. God may not be calling us to seek these things out, but when they happen we can realize that who we are in God’s eyes has not changed. God never promises to make it easy, just possible, and we will have what we need to eat, or drink, or wear…not always what we want, but what we need.
I know when I was going through seminary, and I am a proud person, and I had to use WIC or the food pantry I didn’t like it, I didn’t like that I needed help even when it was available-I didn’t want to feel like I was somehow a drain on the system. And when I look back on that time, it was a time in my life when I had the least, but I was the happiest because I was surrounded by a community of people who were my friends who were sharing the same experience and we were all learning to trust God together.
And Jesus throughout the scriptures cautions people about money, and we hear today that you cannot serve God and money, and one of the things money can do to us is that it affects our relationships. There have been numerous stories, for example, about lottery winners whose lives were ruined because their relationships became defined by their new found wealth. Everybody wanted them to buy something for them, or lend them $5,000 or $10,000. And I know a lot of people yearn for this type of fame, but I couldn’t imagine being someone like Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift where everything you do is watched, and you can’t go to the grocery store without someone taking pictures or wanting an autograph. I couldn’t imagine being the president where you need a large security detail everywhere you go to separate you from everyone else. Yet in the midst of all the distractions it can be so easy to forget who we are, that we are precious, that God has claimed us and named us in the waters of baptism and that we are precious in his sight. Even when everything else around us changes, that does not.
Throughout this time of lent we have been talking about things that have to do with trust. Giving relies on trusting that there will be enough, prayer allows us to grow into the relationship with the loving God who wants us to come to him as loving and trusting children and it is in that communication with God that we build trust. Forgiving involves trusting, because it opens you up to the possibility that you may be hurt again in the relationship, but there is no way to continue a relationship without forgiveness, and as we forgive others we begin to understand God’s forgiveness. I talked about fasting last week, and that involves a deep level of trust, for I struggle against my most basic urge, to eat, so that I may learn that I am more than just a consumer. And we walk along this journey and God continues to shape and mold us to be people who can live in trust. I wrestle with this just like everyone else, I also have to hear for myself that I am precious and loved, I have to get beyond my own tendency to judge myself as unworthy and hear once again that I don’t need to worry, for God has called me God’s own.