|Monday, February 28th, 2011||
The Eighth Sunday of Epiphany
The Reverend Nina R. Pooley
Sermon Preached by the Reverend Nina Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Yarmouth, Maine
Sunday, February 28, 2011 ~ The Eighth Sunday of Epiphany
Life is more than worry
My dad recently retired, again. This time for good he says. I believe him (sort of). My sister and I were relieved, he had been working long hours and seemed overcome with anxiety most of the time, when he wasn’t completely exhausted.
He retired in June, and then he packed up his house in Frederick and moved down to his little place (in a retirement community near Hilton Head SC). All the while as crazy with worry about the details of the move, as frantic and overwhelmed as he had been while working full time. He had deadlines for unpacking this and that – he was never going to get it all done. His neighbor stopped him one day and gave him a hard time – you’re retired, relax. You unpack the boxes when you decide to unpack the boxes. Stop worrying, life is supposed to be different here.
Funny thing is, some people in that retirement community figure that out and some never do. It’s almost like we’re hard wired for worry…and if today’s Gospel is any indication, our worrying isn’t new to this time or this culture – though I personally believe we’ve perfected anxiety to a state of being in a way that few other cultures have.
We worry. A lot, and often. Some of us move from one worry to another without taking a breath… until we can’t sleep for the anxiety and then we worry because we’re not getting any sleep.
Jesus is trying to show his disciples that we aren’t actually hard wired for worry – that isn’t God’s intention for us or for any of God’s creatures. Look at the birds of the air or the lilies of the field.
We bring worry on ourselves and somehow it’s tied into control, as if we could change anything by worrying – can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? In fact we’re such worriers that we know the opposite is true. We’re such a stressed out people that we have studied the effects of stress and now know pretty conclusively that stress actually contributes to a variety of life limiting diseases – like heart disease and obesity, hypertension…great, add stress to the list of things we have to worry about.
Jesus is telling his disciples that life is more than worry – they should have a little more faith and strive for God’s righteousness and let God take care of the rest. That might work for some simple fishermen in the first century, sure. Life is more complicated now, our worries are more complicated, so we can dismiss all this as just beautiful language and move on. Except we’ve just admitted that stress is a huge factor in our lives and our culture so maybe we have something to learn after all.
What do we worry about? Most of us don’t worry about having enough food to eat or having clothing to cover us and protect us from the elements. (We might worry about having any food in the house or having the right clothes to wear for an occasion, not the same thing.) What are our big worries? What are our small worries?
How about the weather and traveling safely – don’t we as Mainers spend an awful lot of time worrying about the weather?
And our health – as often is related to the weather. We worry that we’ll slip and fall, or that we’ll have an accident and get hurt. Or that we’ll get ill this in this the season of flu and cold.
What other worries do we have? We worry about our families, our kids, our jobs, our friends…but we worry about lesser things too, like keeping our house clean, or being better organized, or what others think of us.
The point of Jesus’ conversation with the disciples is don’t worry about your life such that you are consumed by worry, or overly invested in the ‘stuff’ of life. Life is more than the day to day anxieties we tend to get bogged down in.
And then Jesus reminds them and us what we are to spend our time and energy being invested in instead. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
Keep your life in perspective and work for God’s righteousness, and God will take care of the rest. What does working for God’s righteousness look like? Where do we begin?
If we look around at today’s troubles, really look – it’s overwhelming. What are the troubles in our world today?
In New Zealand they’ve suffered another earthquake (which scientists are calling yet another aftershock from the quake last September), and at the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch, the bishop is asking for prayers for those he fears are trapped in the rubble of the church’s tower which collapsed.
In Libya where the oppression and violence is entering its 14th day, and the number of people hurt and killed are currently unknown, and may never be known. And the end is not yet in sight.
In our country we watch as protestors and governor collide in Wisconsin over a difficult economic situation and who should bear the burden of their state budget woes. In Maine we’re facing similar issues of state budget cuts and policies, so we aren’t immune from these particular troubles ourselves.
In our local community, we worry about those who struggle with the dangerous weather, those who are shut-in, those who are living on the economic margin – for whom each day is a struggle to secure enough food and enough fuel to keep warm through this long winter.
Today’s troubles are certainly enough for today. More than enough. We don’t need to look too far out front or behind us. We have enough before us right in this day.
Yet the Gospel is clear – don’t worry, don’t be overly anxious. Work for God’s righteousness, and God will take care of the rest. But where to start? There’s so much need out there. And yet… it’s important to start, isn’t it?
One of Mother Teresa’s most famous quotations: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." So what are you doing? What are we doing to work for God’s righteousness?
I want to share a string of small stories:
Alexander, Carmen’s son recently documented a trip organized by a group of Emergency Medical Technicians who went to Haiti to train people in Haiti to respond to the cholera outbreak.
Willson Moore grows gourds every summer and sells them to benefit his favorite charity.
Channing and her friend Jen are making duct tape creations for their classmates and teachers at Harrison Middle School, and all the proceeds are going to the Brunswick Animal Shelter, so far they’ve raised over $70.
Our own Alicia Oulette who works at Gritty’s, keeps a Quarters for Haiti jar on the bar counter there. I think it takes some guts to put out a jar for charity at a bar and then work behind the bar and answer questions about it. Alicia acts like its no big deal. The other night, there was a music playing at Gritty’s and when he heard about the jar, he put all his tip money in at the end of the night. Providing over 140 meals for children in Duni, Haiti. Because of jar in a bar, the courage to put it there, and a man who saw an opportunity to do a little good with the tips people gave him that evening.
We got a call in the office about a month or so ago from a young man who needed money to put gas in his truck so he could drive north to visit family. The story included someone sick in a hospital, I think. He gave his name and his cell number. He was willing to wait for an hour (so I could finish what I had right in front of me and get to the bank and then the gas station.) Finally I met him at his truck, parked on Main Street. The truck was a mess, both men were very friendly. I shook their hands and then gave them a gas card and a very small amount of cash to cover the tolls and a couple cups of coffee. They were grateful. One asked me which church we were – looking up the street at the huge structures before us. And I explained that we aren’t on Main Street, that in fact we’re one of the smaller churches in Yarmouth. Wish we could do more, but this is what we could do for them. His answer – you were the only ones who would talk to us. And the only ones who helped. And it really helps. I don’t know if they were really going to head up north to visit a sick family member – but I do believe that their situation was dire and they were in need, and all they got from us was part of a tank of gas. And its not up to me to 100% certain, I can leave that up to God. What I do know is that it mattered to them that someone responded - and who knows what that might have felt like at that moment?
Small stories, small ways to meet great needs. What does it matter, really? It may matter a great deal more than we know. Consider what we hear in the Old Testament this morning, as Isaiah is comforting a people who are in exile, who are afraid they’ve been forgotten by God – God will not forget you – God is like a mother nursing her child, how could she forget her child? And in the words of the Lord, “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”
What if a small act is enough to restore or uphold one person – so that they know they are not forgotten? One small act that says, God will not forget you, I will not forget you. One of my favorite poems is this one by Shel Silverstein:
Love: Ricky was “L” but he’s home with the flu, Lizzie, our “O,” had some homework to do. Mitchell, our “E” prob’ly got lost on the way. So I’m all of love that could make it today.
Work toward God’s righteousness, however we can, in big ways and in small ways. And God will take care of the rest. Be lights to those in darkness, hope to those who are lost and in despair, a small help to those struggling…and it will matter more than we will ever know. You and I may be all love that could make it today. But we will strive for God’s righteousness and God will take care of the rest.
And a funny thing happens when we strive for God’s righteousness, when we immerse ourselves in work for those in need, whose worries are overwhelming. We might address some of their worry, we might change their situation a little. And be a living reminder to them that God has not forgotten them. Along the way, we forget to be anxious about our own stuff for a little while. And when we come back to it, to those worries that seemed so huge, our perspective has changed. We realize that our life is truly more than worry, and somehow in there God has taken care of our worry as well.