Thanksgiving Propers Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
Preached on Nov. 22, 2015
This past Tuesday, I was restless, agitated and very anxious. Terrorist attacks in Paris had prompted an e-mail to my brother in Atlanta, just to make sure that he had not been traveling there now. He was, thankfully, stateside. The shut-down of Washington College in Chestertown concerned me—for the students, staff and faculty, and for our friend Darcy Williams, who is the priest in charge at Emmanuel Parish there. I walked out of the Admin Wing door on the 6th Street side, and spotted two Laurel City Police cars with lights flashing, as they had stopped someone. Not one car. Two. Several nights earlier, I had noticed that the streetlight across from my house had been out for two weeks—making me realize just how dark that part of the street now was at night. Anxiety filled me, and made me jumpy.
I told Pat, and her response was, “Well, maybe you should pray.” This stopped me in my tracks, then I laughed and said, “Oh, THAT! Yeah, maybe that’s the thing I should do.” So I did pray, although I’m not sure that calmed me down much. But on Wednesday evening, I decided to make an apple-pear-cranberry crisp out of some fruit I had bought. As I was peeling apples and pears, I suddenly realized that I was praying for situations in the world, for the students in Chestertown, for Jacob Marberger’s safety, and for his parents, who must have been out of their minds with worry about their son’s welfare.
It occurred to me that doing a mundane task and praying while I was doing it was rather Benedictine in nature, and I was feeling much more centered as I did it. My mind moved from these situations to parishioners and friends who are ill. Then to family members I love. On and on. There may be no end to unrest and violence in the world, but it seems that there is also no end to God’s peace, God’s love, God’s comfort.
It is way too easy to get caught up in the anxiety and fear of this world—and that is amplified by the constant barrage of media. Yet the gospel today shows us that what we experience today is no different than what people experienced in Jesus’ time. However, it is important to note that although Matthew includes these words of Jesus within the Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s version makes it clear that Jesus is not talking to people in general, but specifically to his disciples. Disciples Jesus is sending out two by two, telling them not to take a staff—which would help protect them—to take no extra clothing, and to stop and stay with complete strangers who are hospitable.
These disciples are, understandably, concerned. Will they be safe from predators or thieves along the road? Will they have a place to sleep, out of the elements? Will they go hungry or will someone give them food? Furthermore, what if they are not able to heal people or what if some synagogue throws them out when they preach this Good News of God?
Jesus reminds his disciples that all will be well. God is in charge. God will provide for them. In so many words, Jesus says, “Hey guys, take a deep breath. Stop. Sit down on this big rock in this beautiful field. Look around. See these beautiful birds in flight, birds of all colors and sizes? See these exquisite lilies, soon to be mowed down by someone threshing grain? Who created these creatures, this beauty? God did.”
“The birds of the air. . .are fed by God even though they neither fret nor plan, and the lilies of the field, gloriously and colorfully clothed. . .have never touched a needle and thread. If God takes care of the birds and the wild flowers, Jesus promises, then God will surely take care of us.”
For the disciples and for you and me, this issue boils down to trust. Do we trust that God is with us, no matter what? No matter what? Perhaps we, like the disciples, need occasionally to be reminded to stop. To sit down. To take a deep, deep breath. To look—really look—at the things God has created.
One commentator on this scripture passage has noted that “the verbs look at the birds of the air and consider the lilies of the field are, in Greek, very strong verbs. They mean to suggest more than a casual glance; they invite us to study and to scrutinize the carefree world of nature. Jesus commands us to look, really look, at a world where God provides freely, and lavishly, a world where anxiety plays no part, where worry is not a reality.”
A world where worry is not a reality. Really? For those of us who specialize in worry, that sounds laughable, doesn’t it? But we can be intentional about switching the tapes in our heads and bodies. Pat’s reminder to me on Tuesday to pray was helpful. So was peeling apples and pears. So was getting in my car and seeing the index card that is always there in plain sight: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It is good to stop, breathe, and ask myself, “Is this a situation I can change?” If the answer is yes—even if it is a small thing I can do—then I do it. For example, I texted Darcy in Chestertown to see if she was safe. Yes, she was. If the situation is not something I can change in any way—i.e. the situation in Parish—then I say, “Okay, God, you’ll have to be in charge of this one. Please send your angels to comfort people, to heal, to be your reconciling and loving presence in the midst of great fear and deep woundedness.
Of course it takes some intention to stop, to breathe, and to go through this prayer. Is this something I can do something about? If so, what? If not, let go. Let God. The very process of figuring out whether this is a thing I cannot change, or a thing I can change, is, in itself, a bit of wisdom. Slow down. Look. See in a new way, from a new perspective.
Jesus began these sayings in Matthew with the statement that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve God and wealth at the same time. You cannot give God a lot of time and energy if you are trying to stockpile money and fill your home with stuff. Jesus is trying to tell us that whatever we think is important is what defines us. What do we focus on? Getting more money? Finding a better job? Saving for college or retirement? Worrying whether we will be able to pay for heat this winter? Worrying. . .worrying. . .worrying. . .Or maybe we are just trying to stay afloat—just pay the bills on a timely manner. Yet at day’s end, did worry about any of this make one bit of difference? Probably not.
It is only if we hold earth’s treasures lightly, focusing instead of God’s provision and abundance, that we are truly free. That means we don’t focus on worry so much. Instead, we, trust that God will take care of us. God will provide. It might not look the way you had hoped, but God will provide.
Someday, my earthly body will be gone—and so will yours. I will be a memory, perhaps my name etched on a tombstone or a columbarium niche. My hope is that at the end of my life, when I take my last breath, I will have loved well, and been loved well. I believe that to be true—even now. I also hope and pray that in some small way, I will have made a positive difference—in some peoples’ lives, in the life of the parishes I have served, in the Church, and in the larger world. Will I have been faithful and trusting, able to leave my anxious self behind? Will I have, instead, been able to take in, and share, the peace, love and abundant provision of God who created me, God who sustains me, God who loves me beyond the boundaries of time?
My prayer, my unending prayer that cycles through and around and in me, is that the answer is yes. May it be so for you as well. Amen.
 Thomas G. Long, Matthew, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 75.
 Ibid, 75-76.
 Serenity Prayer