This week’s readings: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Theme: “Uh oh, Jesus just said another one of those ‘I wish he hadn’t said that’ things!”
by Rev. Mark J. Suriano, United Church of Christ
Anxiety as the new base line in the symphony of life
The problem of worry is not reserved for the first-century hearers of Matthew’s Gospel. In fact, if you look around your world today (from the very personal to the very global), you may find that anxiety is the new base line in the symphony of life. We seem to be an example writ large of a people who find security in the accumulation of things tangible like cars, homes, televisions, the latest phone or gadget. But we are also an example writ large of a people who find security in the accumulation of the intangible things as well, like popularity (real or socially networked), beauty (from face cream to botox), or any number of things offered or sold whose value lies not in what they do for us, but what they make of us. We are all searching for a purpose, to be sure, and many of the things in life may have no moral value one way or the other, but to quote the old country song, are we “looking for love in all the wrong places”? And in that search, is our anxiety growing that we will never have enough, be beautiful enough, popular enough, right enough? What would happen if we opened ourselves to being radically reoriented in God, and in doing so discovered that the rest of the world also fell into place?
The question we need to ask ourselves is “enough for whom?” The God who tells us that we are more precious than the well-cared-for sparrow? If anything the Gospel today wants to redirect our vision and our lives in much the same way that the lives of the first hearers needed to be redirected. It beckons us to turn away from the worry that comes with a life edged by the “not good enough’s, don’t have enough’s” that urge us to believe that our value comes from our ability to try harder and hoard more, toward a trust in God that allows us to start from a place of “enough” and cast our gaze outward to the world as we share “treasures in heaven” through a life of generous love. Do our congregations and our people practice the art of generous love? Do we find ourselves worried so much about tomorrow, that we miss the life-giving and trustworthy activity of God today? How many of our congregations have become fretful about what we might lose if we took our gaze away from what we have to what God is calling us to? Might we find both new life in God and a new appreciation for our gifts?
Will we share the very things we need the most?
The mention of food, water, and clothing in verses 25-33 leads to another interesting parallel. While these things are listed here as items we have, need, or will be given by the God who loves and cares for us, Jason Byassee notes that they are also “precisely those things that will determine our place in the judgment. ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink….I was naked and you clothed me'” (Matthew 25:35-36). How can we fulfill the latter unless we believe we have enough of the former? Jesus’ instruction shows how discipleship has at its heart a sense of abundance in the world that, when discovered, sets people free to bring life to others. As long as we worry, we are enslaved to what we have and have put our trust in things that will corrode and rust, and that will in the end leave us disappointed. If we keep in mind that the entrance to the eternal life of which Matthew writes in chapter 25 is reliant upon our ability to exercise justice by the exercise of generous love, how would we change our lives and our congregations?
The Rev. Mark J. Suriano is pastor of Old South Church United Church of Christ in Kirtland, Ohio | provided via UCC Weekly Seeds
I was reading just the other day of money that was mysteriously disappearing from a cash register. Finally, someone was assigned to guard the register all night. Even then the money (but not the coins) disappeared. At last it was discovered that a small hole had been chewed in the back of the till. A small mouse had chewed up the money and carried it off to make a place for her young. – from the bible.org study on the passage by Bob Deffinbaugh
“Show me your checkbook, and I will be able to tell you everything anyone needs to know about your faith & discipleship.” – Claudio Carvalhaes, Professor of Worship, Louisville Seminary.
“Above all, do not make the care of future things a pretence for neglecting present duty.” – John Wesley
“The first principle undergirding the precept just put forth is found in verse 21: ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ Generally we are inclined to think just the reverse of this. We suppose that a man will first fix his heart on something and then his money naturally follows. But our Lord says that our heart follows our pocketbook. If I were to buy an old broken down car it would not at that point be a great object of my affection. But after I had spent countless hours in restoring it, not to mention a good deal of money, it would be the ‘apple of my eye.’” – Bob Deffinbaugh
Music: Be Not Dismayed (God Will Take Care of You); I’ve Got a Feeling; Someone Asked the Question (Why We Sing); God’s Eye Is on the Sparrow
Prayers: “God of tender care, like a mother you never forget your children, but comfort and quiet those who are restless and fearful; like a father you know already what we need. In all our anxiety, give us the spirit of trust; in all our worry, give us faithful hearts; that in confidence and calm we may seek the kingdom of Christ where your holy will of peace and justice has been made known. Amen.” – UCC Worship Seeds