Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon for Epiphany 8A - Matthew 6:24-34

(with thanks to David Petersen, for most of these thoughts.  And Mark Buetow, for the bird poop.)

            Ongoing sicknesses.  Chaos in the Middle East.  Rising food prices and skyrocketing gas costs.  Traditional marriage under attack.  Teachers’ strikes and politicians playing games.  Plots of violence.  Earthquake in New Zealand and other natural disasters.  And that is just this week’s headlines!  Usually we can distract ourselves with sports – but these days that diversion has as many disappointments as everyday life, what with the NFL labor dispute, Albert Pujols’ contract – and the news about Adam Wainright’s elbow.  This is a very good Sunday for Jesus to tell us, “Do not be anxious about your life” and “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:25, 34).
            When we see chaos going on in our world, what we often forget is that the whole Universe should have been destroyed way back at Adam and Eve’s sin.  The Devil was probably expecting that when he worked on the temptation.  He knew Creation – and especially humanity – was God’s treasured possession, so he vandalized it.  Like a bully who spits on your cookie just so you cannot have it.    
God in the person of the Son confronts Adam an...Image via Wikipedia
            However, our Lord did not abandon us.  Even though the first humans betrayed Him, He still loved Adam and Eve.  He walked up to them despite their fear and hatred.  God let all involved know the Son was coming to destroy the Devil’s work.  The Son would take our hits, suffer the worst bullying this world has ever seen, be publicly humiliated and killed.  All so that God could give us a new cookie, so to speak; a better cookie; one that the bully cannot ruin.
            When the day’s news shows us all the ways the bully ruins things, the way chaos and disasters and death look to gain the upper hand, then we again need to consider the lilies of the field.  They no longer grow in the fertile soil of Eden, but in our broken world.  Lilies have to survive thorns and thistles, insects, and diseases, droughts and floods, animals that trample or eat them, and children that pick them.  Consider how fragile the lilies are.  Yet even though it is a short-lived glory, your God clothes them with beauty.  If the Devil really was in control and God was not, then there would be no lilies.  And there would be no chocolate, no coffee, no cars, no music, no joy and laughter and happiness.  In fact, there would be no you.  For all of Creation would have been annihilated.
            But chaos and death do not get to have their way.  God came in mercy to where He was needed.  After He was betrayed again by man on Good Friday, after they came with torches and swords to arrest Him, it looked like evil was more powerful than the Son of God at Golgotha, the place of the skull.  Yet in reality, He had walked up to them knowing their fear and hatred as He gave Himself over to their wicked desires.
Resurrection: Son of God Jesus triumphs over d...Image via Wikipedia
            Then it was finished.  He was laid to rest in the ground like a kernel of wheat, a sleeping lily in the garden tomb.  However, like a seed that sprouts, He burst out from His burial ground on Easter morning.  He had conquered death, undoing what our sin did.
            Death is not in control.  Death is dead.  Jesus lives.  And the lilies are again this Spring about to burst forth in all their glory.  They tell you that God cares for this broken world, and even provides beauty.
            “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” nor about tomorrow.  Jesus lives.  And He loves you.  Yes, that might be hard to feel that love as you suffer many things now.  The devil tempts you to waste your energy, to dwell on your sorrow, to worry about anything and everything, from the things you need, to the extra money you want.  And if he cannot get you to obsess about your own difficulties or desires, then he will get you anxious about other people’s problems.  Satan will frighten you about your kids’ future, or your country, or the poor who are always with us.  He will get you to notice all the tragedies and crimes in the news.  He will work to wear you down until you are buried under sadness, overwhelmed by the impossibility of it all. 
            Yet still Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life.”  Anxiety is unnecessary, useless, wasted energy.  Worse yet, it ends up hurting you and those around you.  Consider the lilies that neither toil, nor spin.  “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  Every time you or I walk out to our car and see a big splat of droppings on it, we can know that our heavenly Father has fed a bird.  And whether you have been trusting God and content, or worried and anxious, your Father always takes care of you.
            There is no doubt that today has its troubles.  When Jesus says, “Do not be anxious,” He does not mean that you should pretend the troubles do not exist.  These troubles need your attention and action.  Your children need help learning life’s hard lessons and bandaids for their cuts.  Your friend needs a phone call.  Those of you who are married, your spouse needs appreciation and respect.  Your animals need food and water.  Even your country needs you.  America needs your prayers and your support.  She needs you to throw away the litter, to vote for the best candidates, to watch out for your neighbors.  But these needs are small in the grand scheme of things.  Nothing to be anxious about.  They are well within your gifts and abilities.  These needs are small when compared with what you need that is impossible for you to provide - securing your place in Heaven.  That is possible only for God.  And by the death and resurrection of the Christ who says to you, “Do not be anxious,” He has restored to you the perfect world, the Paradise untouched by death.  So that there is nothing for you to be anxious about eternally.
            For now this same Lord has placed you precisely where you are.  He has given you your set of responsibilities, your family, your co-workers and bosses and friends.  And like it or not, He has even given you your President.  Sufficient for today is its own trouble.  You will gain nothing by adding to the trouble.  If you turn to bitterness, envy, or fear, the trouble will only get worse.  You are who God made you to be, where He has placed you, like a lily planted in a field to beautify the earth.  Simply respond in your place, for the sake of your family and community, as you are able.  Do not be anxious about tomorrow’s troubles.  Turn not to bitterness and fear, but turn to the Lord who keeps you close to Himself through these troubles.  Pray your prayers.  Tell people the reason you have hope in Christ.  Perform the good works He has prepared you to do.  Do not think of all the charity you could do if only you won a million dollars, but think of all that you can do now with what God has already given you.  When the time comes, vote for whichever candidate will bring a better tomorrow.  Make your voice heard concerning issues and budgets that legislators consider. 
But do not be anxious about it, whether the President is doing a good enough job, whether your children will meet all your expectations, whether the economy is down - or up.  Do what God has given you to do.  Ask His forgiveness when you fail.  The Lord will provide.  He has put you in this place on purpose, even though you may not feel up to the task, or cannot understand what God is up to.  Focus on today;
field of callalilliesImage by Darwin Bell via Flickr
 not yesterday, which has been forgiven; nor tomorrow, which is known only by God.  Rest in the certainty that Jesus lives and will always provide for you – even into eternity.  The lilies do not know what they are doing either.  They are just being lilies.  And that is sufficient for their days.
            Death is not in control.  The lilies prove it.  Neither war, nor famine or plagues, nor revolutions or Republicans or Democrats can stop the lilies.  They are not moved by crime sprees, corrupt governments, incompetent authorities, or unfaithful family members.  They belong to the Lord and He provides.  And you are worth more to Him than they are.  He paid nothing less than the priceless blood of His Son to save you from endless anxieties and silly worries and the greedy lust for money.  By that blood, He has added more than an hour to your life.  He has made your life eternal. 
The God who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds will take care of you.  So let go of your anxiety.  The Lord has claimed you in the waters of Baptism.  He sent His Son to die for you.  Your Father is not now going to quit on you.  He will feed you.  Out of the oven comes bread for the farmer and food for the eater, by the violent harvest of reaping and threshing, after the mixing and kneading and resting, and the roasting by fire.  The Lord provides.  Out of the oven comes bread that we might eat His Body and be one with Him.  He who was violently harvested on Good Friday, roasted in the fire of God’s wrath against our sin – this same Jesus is needed here by us, for our yesterday, and our today, and forever.  Do not be anxious, for death and chaos are not in control.  Jesus lives.  And he is here as the Bread of life.  Amen.

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