Second Sunday after Pentecost
May 25, 2008
Isaiah 49:8-16a Psalm 131
I Corinthians 4:1-5 St. Matthew 6:24-36
The passage for today from the Gospel According to Matthew reminded of a story I read in a publication from the Human Kindness Foundation. The story was entitled “Living In Peace.”
In the ancient Hindu epic The Ramayana, there’s a passage where Rama, … is supposed to be made King the next day, and his people are the happiest people in the world because they love him so much. There’s a classic line in this part of the story that I have remembered so many times in my life – “Many things can go wrong in the dark night before a King is made.” How true!
And sure enough, that very night an evil influence overtakes Rama’s stepmother, and instead of being crowned King, Rama is unjustly exiled by his father and ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as a wondering beggar, enduring hardships and dangers. The kingdom is plunged into incredible grief. Now the people are the unhappiest people in the world. They cannot believe it, they don’t know how they will survive this loss. They don’t know how they will ever be happy again, how they will be able to laugh or have any pleasure while they know that Prince Rama is sleeping on the ground somewhere in the pathless forest, eating roots and leaves, enduring insect bites and having to keep watch for snakes, lions, wolves, jackals.
This is the worst thing that has ever happened in their country, the worst times they have ever known. Everyone is the kingdom is totally freaked out except for two people: Prince Rama himself, and his family’s old wise man, Vashishta.
When the king’s charioteer says to Vashistha, “Priest, the world has gone to (pot) hell!,” Vashistha calmly replies, “I see the world much the same as ever.” When someone says to Rama, “Disobey your father! Don’t go! We’ll imprison him and make you our king!,” Rama calmly says “Give up your anger. This palace or the forest are the same to me.”
That final line is the key to the Biblical passage today. Jesus calls us to contentment right where we are today. The worries of tomorrow will come quick enough after a nights sleep.
“Today’s trouble is enough for today.” That is probably an understatement for most of us. At the same time, I suspect most of us ignore it and continue to worry about the troubles of tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that.
Imagine how much less stressful our lives would be if we could live by these words. But lets face it, that is a hard thing to do. Every time we drive by the gas station we look to see if prices have gone up again. Every time we go to the grocery store we wonder how much the food for our table will cost this week. More and more people are being driven to the food bank.
And most of this focus is around the issue of our pocket book. Now it seems to me and to others that the Bible talks about money and wealth and how to handle it appropriately more than any other topic in the Bible. And yet we seem totally caught up in church with others issues, particularly the issue of sex. I wonder if it is because we are always more comfortable in dealing with issues that don’t hold us accountable – only others.
But Jesus pulled no punches in his message in Matthew today.
In this passage the Greek word for worry can mean: be anxious about, scan minutely. In my own words I might describe it as being obsessively focused. And I know that in my own life I can often have a tendency to become obsessively focused on money. Mostly likely it is because I’m such a tight-wad, but that is another story for another time.
In one respect I think God wants us to live in the moment. God calls us to be satisfied in our present circumstances. Quite often my present circumstances are quite comfortable and so for me it should be easy to do. Yet even with my comfortable circumstances I still manage to continue to worry about things anyway.
Last week I was pretty sick with a case of food poisoning. In fact, for 4 or 5 days I think I was sicker than I have ever been for an extended period of time. And while quite frankly I think I was too sick to worry about much of anything, it did get me thinking when I was in my recovery. Many people in the world have it much more difficult that I do and yet God calls them to not worry in an obsessive way about tomorrow as well.
That thought challenged me. If I have difficulty following the call of Jesus in my pretty comfortable circumstances, what about those less fortunate than me? Then I started thinking about the Apostle Paul.
Paul went through a lot in his life and was still able to write in his Epistle to the Philippians “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
I have mastered what I have discovered is an ultimately self destructive way of not worrying about the future. I simply box things off and completely ignore them. Certainly this is not what Jesus calls us to do in the passage for today. But it is a solution that has worked, in a fashion for me, for many years. I have been struggling with this particularly with respect to Emmanuel’s foster daughter Emma. A wonderful blessing who Emmanuel has recently learned he may have to give up. And I have been struggling with the painful choice of allowing myself to feel the emotional pain her absence will inevitably cause or blocking it off and refusing to think about it at all. The easy way out is to block it and convince myself I’m only doing what this verse calls me to do. But I know that is not true or healthy. And so I’m trying to work slowly through the pain.
I’m confident that the secret to not worrying about tomorrow is depending on the help of Jesus in our lives, like Paul in any and all circumstances. The secret of not worrying about tomorrow is the confidence that God loves us and that God protects us and that God will care for us. The secret of not worrying is a willingness to lay our burdens down before God.
We have a hymn in our church with the following words:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.”
Jesus calls us to that place of rest. Paul was able to find it no matter his circumstances. We need to find it for ourselves as well.