How do you like the wonderfully ambiguous sermon title? I pulled it from one of those bulletin bloopers.
In speaking to his disciples, Jesus tries to teach them not to be preoccupied with fretting, but to seek what truly matters. It’s more than `don’t’ worry, be happy’ as sweet as that little song may be. It doesn’t mean stick your head in the sand and trust that God will just take care of it all, but to live our lives in the context of God’s presence, focussing on justice and compassion.
Our precious world is in a mess, in large part due to humanity’s relentless addiction to consume without replenishing, protecting, or heeding the warning signs that we have gone way too far.
Friday night, Jim & I watched the documentary `This Changes Everything’ based on the book by Naomi Klein who talked about how, over the last 300-400 years, the story we have been telling ourselves about the world has changed and brought us to the brink of global collapse. Somewhere along in the early 1700’s western thinkers decided the earth was not our mother to be cherished, but our slave to be exploited.
The words from Joel 2:21-27 which say `Forget your fear, my beloved land… forget your fear, you beasts in the field…” sounds like something many are yearning to hear today.
How can we turn this around? How will we live with respect in creation? When will we acknowledge that, along with the refugees fleeing civil (or uncivil) war, they are also fleeing lands that are burning up – summer temperatures of over 50 C, Lake Chad, which is the life-blood of four African nations, now only 5% of what it was in the 1960’s due to overuse and global warming.
See what I mean, “Don’t let worry kill you – let the church help”. I’ve likely depressed you all, and have you wondering what this has to do with Thanksgiving!
The gospel reading, as set out in the lectionary starts with verse 25 “That’s why I tell you…” Well, hang on a minute, you can’t start a story with “That’s why I tell you…“ So I went back to the previous verse which says, “You can’t give yourself to God and money. You have to make a choice.”
I was at an all candidates meeting on Thursday night, and during the closing remarks, one candidate asked, “Do you want to keep more of your money in your pocket?” I admit I cringed inside. Really? Is that the best we can do? Is that our bottom line as Canadians? Keeping more of our money for ourselves?
As long as we serve wealth we will be worried, and lives will be out of balance, and one group of people will be laid off of a job, and others in the company will receive big bonuses. Or indigenous people will be displaced, their livelihoods destroyed, their water polluted in favour of mining that will make someone else wealthy.
More of your money in your pocket works well if you follow the logic of Cain who rhetorically asks, `Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, Cain, yes you are! Yes, Juanita, yes you are too! Our faith tells us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbour as our self. And that basic rule is at the heart of every great religion. We just have a hard time living it. Even me. That desire to claim stuff as `mine’ can be insidious – a wee story:
Several years ago when I was living in Williams Lake, I upgraded my vehicle from a little old Nissan Sentra sedan to its bigger cousin – the Nissan Pathfinder. I bought the newer, bigger vehicle from some folks in the congregation, so naturally they trusted me to take the vehicle and sign all the papers, and then it would be mine. I drove the Pathfinder downtown to transfer insurance and arrange payment etc., and I worried that something bad would happen to it while it still belonged to the other people. `Oh please don’t let someone run into me while I am caring for this vehicle that doesn’t’ belong to me.’
Then, as soon as the papers were signed and I was the proud new owner of a Nissan Pathfinder, I worried that something bad would happen to my nice new vehicle!! Isn’t that astounding! I so easily slipped into a mindset of what I was getting, that I was somewhat possessed by my possession!
It’s hard to be grateful for all God has freely given, when we feel we own everything. And it worries us! If we own stuff, we have to protect it, guard it, patent it, insure it and make sure no one else gets it. I’m not saying we should be irresponsible, but we get the message over and over that we are not good enough as we are, and we don’t have enough. That is not the gospel talking. That is not the word of Jesus. And it’s hard for us to even notice the lilies of the field, when we’re worried, that someone’s going to scratch the paint on the Pathfinder!
I was driving that same Pathfinder several years later, when I was in the process of a nasty divorce, and was about to be seriously economically reduced. I remember ranting to God as I drove down the road, when another part of the gospel of Matthew came to me, which I paraphrase as, “Shake of the dust Beloved: travel light.” Suddenly, there in the Pathfinder alone, I started to laugh – maybe all I had left was my vehicle, but it had a great stereo and a good heater. I was going to be ok.
Don’t worry about tomorrow meant I needed to live my life fully in the present, trusting that God would be with me through it all. And for that eternal presence I am grateful.
What we focus on, increases in influence in our lives. If we focus on our lack, we will feel resentful of others, competitive in unhealthy ways, and perpetually dissatisfied. If we can look at our lives, even the wounded parts, with tenderness, if we can look at our world as our cherished mother, not a slave to serve our insatiable appetite for more, if we can look at each creature, each person as a unique and precious being, our energy will be freed up to seek God’s justice, to see beauty everywhere and to live our lives in gratitude. May it be so. Amen.