SERMON 2/27/11 Epiphany 8A
Matthew 6:24-34 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?’ or `What will we drink?’ or `What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 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.”
Jim was his name. Under the surface of a calm demeanor, the helplessness and desperation revealed in his eyes, immediately drew you into a broken heart. The four years of the unimaginably difficult life he had led, was beginning to show. The first inquiry about his situation was “Where do you sleep Jim?” “In the woods . . . I take a piece of cardboard, put it on the ground and cover up with a blanket,” he responded. “In the winter it’s terrible . . . I nearly freeze and in the summer … the heat saps my energy,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how much longer I can live this way,” and with that statement, the hope was quickly fleeting from his face. “I worry what will happen to me … I worry if the police will ask me to leave my camp sight, I worry if I will be killed or injured by someone who wants to take my blanket,” again with tears and desperation in his eyes. “What about the shelters Jim, is there a possibility of getting in there,” was the next question. “There are only a few beds available each night in both counties,” his eyes drooped and a sigh of frustration emerged.
“Is God the answer for me,” he asked. “Is God the answer to this situation I am in,” he asked. There was no perfect answer to his question, and no answer that would give him help on this particular night. There was no response that would give him a warm place to sleep, a meal to nourish him, and the dignity that all children of God rightfully deserve. “Is God the answer for me?” On the way home to a warm bed and a hot meal, Jim’s words rang loudly in my head. Jim is one of the nearly 3,000,000 people in the United States, the nearly 15,000 in Sarasota and Charlotte County who live every night on the streets.
Consider for a moment how much comfort and hope today’s gospel could have for Jim. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” For Jim, who did not even have food, drink, and no more than the clothes on his back, we must wonder at the kind of life he lives. Jim’s question was “Is God the answer for me?” “Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, God cares for them and takes care of them.” Jim is certainly of more value than birds and lilies; it says it right there in Matthew’s account of Our Lord’s teaching. Yet for Jim, all he has is the street, the woods, the desperation, and the brokenness.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?’ or `What will we drink?’ or `What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This passage might mean that we really have no reason to worry as long as we trust in God. In other words, God will take care of us. That may be true, and it may have been true for many of us throughout our lives. However, we are not mere spectators in the journey of life. We have a part in God’s care plan and it requires us to participate, to respond, and to act. The scripture says that we are to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In God’s care plan, we must act to care for and support not only for ourselves, but for others as well. That is what the Kingdom of God is really all about.
We get this kingdom of God and righteousness thing mixed up sometimes. Some folks see righteousness as some type of holiness and piety that helps separate those who are sheep and who are goats, those who are good and whose bad, or those who are in and whose out. Righteousness is not religious piety but right relationships with God and with neighbor. We discover what right relationships should look like when we re-examine our Baptismal Covenant.
This covenant represents the promises that were made for us at our baptism, those we renewed at confirmation, and those we renew on particular Sundays throughout the liturgical year. Two of the last questions we are asked in the covenant is “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We respond, “I will, with God’s help.” Our very identity as followers of Christ, our very Baptism, grounds us in the ministry of striving for the kingdom of God, to participate actively in God’s care plan for all of creation, and we can do that ministry only with God’s help.
As Christ followers, we promise to love our neighbors, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of others. On a night facing the woods, the streets, the lack of basics, Jim asks us, “Is God the answer for me?” The answer is a resounding, clear yes. Our faith in God is the answer. The world suffers and by taking up the ministry of reconciliation and healing given to us by Our Lord, the church responds, “I will with God’s help.” This answer means that we will overturn the systems of injustice and bring about changes that will insure the dignity of EVERY human being.
Many of us may have studied Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs. One of the highest needs for human beings is the need for dignity and self-esteem, under that is the need for love/friendship, under that is the need for physical safety, and finally at the bottom of the needs ladder is our need for the basics of life (shelter, food, clothing). In other words, before one can satisfy the need for dignity and self-esteem, we must have satisfied the need for love, safety and the very basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. Dignity and self-esteem only emerge when the other needs are met first. Our baptismal promises remind us that we who are striving for the kingdom of God, who promise to strive for justice, who promise to respect the dignity of every human being, must actively participate in every aspect of God’s care plan. There is an old saying that goes something like this, “Where the world’s greatest needs and our individual and corporate spiritual gifts meet, that is where ministry happens.”
As Jim turned and walked out the room, headed to the woods for the night, the apparent powerlessness to help this child of God was overwhelming. Then suddenly, looking around, I noticed that the room in which I was standing, was warm, dry, filled with food and clean water, and unoccupied every evening of the week. What a shame that we were unable to offer him this space, to give him a respite from the cold, the loneliness, the desperation. What an opportunity to share the bounty of God in a way that brings dignity, restoration, and healing to a broken world. Jim’s words still ring loudly in my ears, “Is God the answer to my situation?”