Matthew 6:25-33; Psalm 126; Joel 2:21-27; 1 Timothy 2:1-7
We live in a world of hurt, trouble, and turmoil. At times, it seems as if, no matter where we turn, chaos reigns. This week I was reminded of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter:
In this world there’s a whole lot of trouble
In this world there’s a whole lot of pain
In this world there’s a whole lot of trouble but
A whole lot of ground to gain . . .
What is a person to do in the midst of chaos? Well. The most common responses are fear and anxiety — Be Afraid. Very afraid. And Worry. A whole lot. About Everything. And there do exist more than a few folks more than willing to stoke the fear and fan the flames of anxiety. Why? Perhaps because it is so effective and easy to do, for fear and anxiety are lowest-common-denominator motivators.
As you may know, I keep and tend white doves. I built their home several years ago, and the back wall, consisting of plywood inside and out with a 2×4 frame between, had begun to warp. This past Monday I set out to repair that wall. As I pried the inside ply sheet away, grain began to flow. There was easily five pounds of seed stashed away by half-a-dozen mice who also came pouring out — more seed than they would ever need (in fact, the lower third had clearly been there a year or more, and was useless to them). As Jesus says “look at the birds,” I say, by way of contrast, consider the mouse: “Be Alert! Stay Wound Tight! Store stuff!” Fear and anxiety are lowest-common-denominator motivators.
But fear and anxiety also consume the mind; damage the heart; shrink the soul; and shorten our lives.
All of this – the chaos, the human bent toward debilitating fear and anxiety, and the willingness of some to exploit those fears — Explains why such instructions as “Fear not,” “Be not afraid,” “let not your heart be troubled,” and “Do not worry,” appear again and again throughout God’s Word, from beginning, to end. Including the texts we have had before us this week.
Psalm 126 is a sung prayer salted with tears. Remembering past times of restoration and joy, while experiencing the absence of both, it is a prayer for help in troubled times: Do it again, God! May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!
The days of the prophet Joel were desperate times of devastation & famine brought on by a plague of locusts. God’s Word through the Prophet? Do not fear. Be Glad. Rejoice – in what? In the arrival of rain. And in God’s promise of what “Shall” be. “I will repay you” for the years of the locust (Joel 2:25) . . . “You shall” eat in plenty, praise God, and know that God is in your midst (2:26-27).
Matthew 6 — Do not worry about your life: God knows what you need. Seek First the Kingdom of God & his righteousness. God will take care of the rest.
1 Timothy – Do you want to live a “quiet & peaceable life in all godliness & dignity?” (2:1-2) Then pray in every way you know how for everyone – including (especially?) leaders and governments.
Together, these narratives convey the truth:
God, who is present always, Restores.
God is Faithful, and (2 Corinthians 1:20) All of God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ.
God, who is in our midst, knows what we need & gives all we need.
Everything is God’s, & God desires everyone – everything – to be saved.
Yes. There is a whole lot of trouble, pain, and sorrow. Chaos is. And, while fear and anxiety are the “go to” responses for so many, the Word of God calls us to very different way of living in this world: trust God. Do not fear, be glad. Rejoice! Do not worry, give thanks!
And to that we respond? “Are you kidding?! How do we do that?!”
Jesus: Change your focus from fear and worry to gratitude and prayer. In Matthew 6, he calls us to replace worry with three actions: Look. Consider. Seek.
Look at the birds (With attention. Here and now).
Consider the flowers (Here and Now — Learn the lessons they teach).
Seek First – intently – God and God’s way of doing and being.
Look, Consider, Seek. Meaning? Be Present & Pay Attention!
I believe that was what Marc Sanford was getting at in the letter he mailed to his dad just days before he was struck and killed as he walked along 5th Ave at Willamette Street in Eugene at 2 p.m. last Sunday. (The Register-Guard, 11/20/15) In that letter, mailed on Nov.11 &n received by Dad this week, Marc wrote:
“I had a dark thought last week. I thought, if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and had ‘X’ months to live, this is how I would spend my time: I would get up every day before dawn, & take a picture, just as the sun started coming up, & do the same at dusk . . . I don’t need a doctor to remind me that I could die, or be diagnosed, at any time . . . I haven’t started taking pictures yet . . . I better start taking pictures.”
Be Present and Pay Attention – it will, says Jesus, change the way we see the world and the way we live.
And to those behaviors, 1 Timothy 2 adds: Pray. For. Everyone. The Message:
The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.
He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free.
Pray for everyone. This is The Way we are called to live in this world.
This Focus on Gratitude & Prayer is brought together in Paul’s letter to Philippi:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7, NRSV
Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and author, wrote: “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” In this he echoes Jesus’ words. Instead of feeding our fears and nursing our worries, change the focus. Look elsewhere, beyond self-absorption. Cultivate a grateful heart.
Fear and anxiety are the opponents of faith and trust, so rarely – if ever – do they birth good and Christ-like decisions. Never do they show the world God’s living and live-giving way. So by the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Truth, let us choose the way of gratitude and prayer.
First, by Choosing to Pay Attention –
“Gratitude does not come easily, especially when we are caught in the grip of anxiety . . . It comes through a slow turning away from worry by intentionally stopping to find something, anything, for which to thank God . . . Take something simple and common, Jesus says, for which to give thanks: a bird, a flower, a blade of grass. Anything will do: a breath of air, a dog’s loyalty, a glass of water. It is the small step of moving out of self to notice something or someone beyond the self that matters . . . Jesus wants us to notice what is in front of us, to believe that God is present and to be thankful. There is a lot of stuff in life we are powerless to change, but changing focus is always in our power.” — Barbara Baumgarten
And, also, by Praying every way you know how (even if it’s just, as Anne Lamott offers, help, thanks, wow.) for everyone in this world God so loves. It is attentive and loving prayer – not worry; attentive and loving prayer — not complaint and criticism; attentive and loving prayer – most certainly not defamation of character — to which we are called.
Antoine Leiris lost his wife Helene in the Bataclan theatre in Paris. On Nov 18, 2015 he posted a FB tribute to his wife and challenge to her killers. It has since been shared thousands of times. Mr Leiris read out the letter to BBC News in Paris (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ-1iA-56k0) Listen to a portion of what he has to say:
“Friday night, you took an exceptional life — the love of my life, the mother of my son — but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.”
“So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost. . . Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves together again . . .”
“We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
Thanksgiving Sunday marks the end of the Church year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the year.
Looking back – This has been a year of sowing in tears. It has also been a year of reaping joy.
Looking forward – Advent will call us to pay attention again to the coming of Christ.
And Right here. Right now – We have the opportunity To Be Present; to Pay Attention; to Pray
Psalm 126 Invites a Question: What seeds are we sowing today?
What would happen if we prayed for the world with the same intensity with which we worry about it?
What might emerge as we give our attention to seeking God’s kingdom before giving energy to our fears?
Who would discover the truth of God in Christ Jesus and be saved if we replaced anxiety with gratitude?
Let us sow seeds of Gratitude.
Let us sow seeds of Prayer.
Let us sow seeds of Hope-Peace-Joy-Love.
For the sake of God’s Kingdom and the world Jesus Loves. Amen.