Let us quiet our minds, and open our hearts, as we listen to words of prayerful blessing from the Earth Gospel by Sam Hamilton-Poore:
Today, tomorrow and always,
may we stand beside you, O God.
May we sit beneath your branches,
may your wisdom grow within us
so that our faith may bear fruit
for those who hunger
and our hope provide shade
for those who despair.
As leaves transform sunlight into food,
may Christ’s love transform
everything we say and do,
giving life to others
and purpose and meaning to our own lives.
We pray this will be so.
(Earth Gospel, Sam Hamilton-Poore, pg.158,
adapted, Upper Room Books, 2008)
Beginning last Sunday and carrying through until Thanksgiving, our worship focus is following the five points in the United Church Creed that begin with the heading, “We are Called to be the Church”.
It is good to be reminded that our calling as individuals and as a church encompasses many aspects of our spiritual formation and reaches out to the world around us. The “We are Called to be the Church” section of the United Church Creed reminds us that we begin with thanksgiving and celebration for God’s faithful and loving presence and that we are called to: live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice in our words and actions, and to have at the heart of our ministry together Christ’s life and ministry that we diligently seek to exemplify in our own lives and in our life together as Christian community.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus tell his disciples not to worry about the basic necessities of life such as food, drink and clothing. Jesus points to the natural world as an example of God’s generous provision and abundance, “Look at the birds of the air”, Jesus says, “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns” and yet their needs are provided. Jesus further asks them why they would worry about clothing when they can see that the lilies of the field are clothed in glory and so why, he asks, wouldn’t God also clothe them. The fact that Jesus tell his disciples numerous times not to worry tells us that is exactly what they were doing. I imagine some days the disciples’ stomaches were satisfied and other days perhaps not so much. I can see how this kind of life could be fraught with anxiety and worry about where their next meal would come from and if their clothing would be warm enough to protect them when they slept outdoors. And, yet, Jesus says to his disciples don’t worry – just focus on God and everything will be alright.
The first line of today’s reading begins, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”. When we hear a passage that begins with “therefore”, we know immediately that there is a statement or argument that precedes it. In this case, what comes immediately before today’s reading is Jesus firmly telling his disciples that, “No one can serve two masters…[and that] you cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)
Those who followed Jesus, while he walked on this earth, did not have an easy life. These first disciples gave up the security of their homes to live a kind of nomadic life travelling from place to place with him. They lived a communal lifestyle, sharing what they had with each other and accepting food and hospitality from others along the way. They learned from Jesus that God’s commonwealth was present, here and now, and that it needed to be lived into reality in the everyday actions of loving kindness, justice seeking, and faithful adherence to a way of life guided and focussed on God. They were expected to trust that God had been faithful and steadfast in the past and would continue to be faithful and steadfast in the present and the future. It was a life very much centred in God and focussed on the present moment.
I don’t believe that Jesus wanted his disciples to suffer and be deprived of their daily needs. The prayer that he taught his disciples asks God to “Give us this day our daily bread”. The Way of Jesus was a life of prayerful reliance on God and a commitment to respond with gratitude and service.
The entire story that we heard from Matthew’s Gospel today culminates in the key lesson that Jesus wants his disciples to embrace.
Jesus says to his disciples that if they are to strive for anything it needs to be to “strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness”. Again he tells them that they should not worry about what they will eat, drink and wear. And, to quell their fears about their daily needs he adds, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
In my reading this week I found an interesting comment about today’s lesson from Matthew’s Gospel:
Jesus is not preaching a prosperity gospel here; nor is he preaching a life of passivity, waiting for God’s blessings to shower down. Rather, he is inviting people into God’s realm, where priorities are clear. The focus in God’s realm is not how…[much] people have, but where their hearts are. Our participation in God’s realm is not about things…but instead is about God and God’s vision for all of creation. In God’s community, people look after each other and share what they have; people take what they need and leave some for others. In God’s community, people think about their neighbours, even as they think about themselves. This is where the miracle of God’s care for God’s people is discovered. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pgs. 406-408, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
I think this is in effect what Jesus was saying to his disciples – Set aside your preoccupation with worrying about things. God’s spirit works within the hearts of good people everywhere. You will share what you have of your wisdom, your time and your talents with others and others will share what they have with you. In this way, everyone’s needs will be provided and we will be heralding the dawn of a new way of living together which is God’s domain.
This is not always an easy way to live. I admit that in personally striving to live a life of Christian discipleship I sometimes get caught up with worrying about things over which I have no control. It seems to be human nature to do this. I worry about my children and grandchildren. I worry about our church and all you dear ones who are part of this wonderful and flawed community of faith. I worry that our house in Nelson has not sold and about the financial burden this creates. I worry – but not constantly. What helps dispel my worries is beginning ever day with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of life, love and faith. I ask God’s help in setting aside my fears and trusting in God’s faithful presence. I offer my gratitude for all the challenges and opportunities that will present themselves during the day. And, I pray that I will be rooted and grounded in God’s love so that love may be reflected through my words and actions. This gets me through the day – most days. And, when my own faith and trust in God’s persistent and life-giving presence falters I lean on the faith of others to carry me. That is the key, I think, to the Gospel lesson for today. Trust in God. Trust in God’s presence working within yourself and others. Live with generous gratitude. Give what you can and receive what you need. Live abundantly. Love abundantly.
And so, on this day and in this place, we remember that we are loved and blessed, that we each have a special place in God’s Creation, and that we are called to respond with faith and hope to the daily opportunities and challenges of our life together.
Therefore we …
as surely as the sun,
as certain as the moon,
as solid as the earth,
knowing that we have a place
within God’s unfolding grace.
(Earth Gospel, Sam Hamilton-Poore, pg.137,
adapted, Upper Room Books, 2008)