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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

Giving and Getting

Giving and Getting
Matthew 6:24-34
June 22, 2014
Jennifer Browne
UUMC

What happens to you when you read/hear this text from Matthew?  Look at v. 25, especially in the NRSV translation: Do not worry about your life.  What’s your gut reaction?

It’s hard to hear Jesus say, “Do not worry about your life.”  Because…who are we kidding here?  Who is capable of not worrying?

I think most of us could say that we have many days when life feels like one worry strung after another – like lights on a depressing sort of Christmas tree. 

·        Worries at work – a colleague who’s angry at me.

·        Worries at home – a child who’s struggling.

·        Worries about heath, or the economy, or personal finances.

Prof. David Lose says, “worries attend us like bees to honey.”

It appears that Jesus’ words are just out of step with the world we live in today.  Swiss theologian Ulrich Luz that it’s possible to hear these lines and come to the conclusion that this statement, “Do not worry about your life,” could only have been written by a single guy living a carefree life on the beach in sunny Galilee.

Jesus seems to be dismissing the things that matter to us – family, work, health, security – as if they shouldn’t be taken seriously and can be completely entrusted to God to take care of.  As if we don’t need to work or prepare for the future at all; as if we should relax and let God take care of it all. 

But we all know that’s not how life works on this planet!

It’s not just each of us individually; we live in an anxious culture. 

o   Have you been to an airport lately?  Nothing raises your anxiety level like having your insides viewed by advanced imaging technology.

o   Or the news?  Kidnappings, hidden explosive devices, internet scams -- if you’re having an especially anxious day, professional advice is to avoid watching TV news.

o   Even pharmaceutical ads end with a list of possible side effects to the drug being advertised that seems longer than the actual ad itself -- nausea, vomiting, paralysis and death!

So how in the world can we respond obediently to Jesus’ teaching – his demand, really – not to worry?

Maybe you noticed that today’s passage doesn’t begin with anything about worry.

How does it start? 

 

With an assertion that we cannot serve two masters, both God and money.

 

What does Jesus say will happen if we try to serve two masters? 

 

We'll end up loving one and hating the other.

 

What is the connection between not being able to serve two masters and “do not worry about your life”?

Notice that Jesus doesn't say money is evil, or even bad, just that it makes a poor master.  Actually, the word in Greek is kurios, often translated "lord." The lord is the one who demands and deserves your loyalty, allegiance, and worship. (Which explains why it was treasonous to say “Christ is Lord” in the world of 1st C Rome, where you were expected to say, "Caesar is Lord.")

What’s wrong with giving our allegiance and worship to money? David Lose says doing so means you’ve fallen prey to the worldview that crowns money as lord: scarcity. The problem isn’t money per se; the problem comes when we make money our god.  When we make it the thing we trust for every good.

Because once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we can never have enough. Money is finite; there’s a limit to how much of it is around.  So once we believe that money grants security, we are ushered immediately into a world of counting, and tracking, and stock piling.  No wonder we worry and become anxious; there is never enough. We can never get away from holding on to what we have…or trying to get more.

The great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once defined anxiety as "the next day."  We don't know what will happen "the next day," which creates anxiety this day.  We are consumed on this day with trying to anticipate future calamities against which to protect ourselves.  Since there is no end to the calamities we can anticipate, we're always uncertain.  And because we’re always uncertain we’re also always chasing after something – some thing -- which, we hope, will decrease our level of uncertainty.  

This never works!  Acquiring things doesn’t reduce anxiety; it generates anxiety! You buy some kind of  insurance to protect you against some kind of risk, which means that you now have one more bill to worry about paying, as well as worry about the loopholes your new insurance policy doesn't cover.  

The alternative Jesus invites us to consider is to enter into relationship with God: God who is not finite – as money is – but who is infinite, and whose love for us and all creation is infinite as well. Because there is no end to this supply of love, it operates from a different "economy" than money.

When I was 29 years old, married for a few years and a graduate student at the University of Chicago Divinity School, I encountered what many women encounter at about that age: the maternal, biological clock. It’s called a clock, but it has to be analog, not digital, because it’s an endless circle of internal arguments: I’m almost 30, this degree is going to take a few years, a child will slow things down, 2 children will really slow things down…but I’m almost 30….etc., etc.

The Divinity School hosts a series of Wednesday luncheons, inviting faculty members from other parts of the University to give a short presentation about their work in an informal setting. I ended up sitting next to the speaker one Wednesday: an up and coming young female professor from the School of Social Work.  She had just come back from maternity leave after having her first child.

I don’t remember a thing she said in her presentation, but I will always remember what she said when I asked how she managed juggling motherhood with her profession: love is not a zero-sum equation. Love is not a finite quantity that runs out if you give it away too widely.  Love grows the more you give.

The parent of more than one child knows this to be true: you don’t divide your love for the first child when the second one comes along.  The love grows with the arrival of the second – you have more love, more than you possibly could have imagined before. Love doesn’t work like money.  The more love you give away, the more you have. Love – most especially God's love -- cannot be counted, tracked or stockpiled.

When you live in this kind of relationship of love and trust, you've entered into the realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment. Suddenly, in this world -- Jesus calls it the "kingdom of God" -- not worrying actually becomes an option.

Some of you know that last week Pastor Bill and I, plus our Annual Conference delegates Don Jost and Sara Cardinal, plus many others from this congregation and MSU Wesley attended the West Michigan Annual Conference of United Methodist churches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. 

This year for the first time I had an official role at Annual Conference: I was chair of the Worship Planning Team.  Either fortunately or unfortunately, this year’s keynote speaker and teacher for the 4 day gathering was Marcia McFee, a nationally-known expert on worship.  Which meant – in my mind at least – that worship had to be better than excellent, it had to be perfect. 

“Anxiety” hardly begins to describe it.

The result was that I can’t tell you much about what else happened at Annual Conference – the presentations, the legislation, the debates.  Over the next few weeks you’ll be hearing and reading about those things from Don and Sara and possibly others.

The worship services came and went.  They were not perfect.  But the Holy Spirit showed up anyway and made them what they were supposed to be.  Nevertheless, my anxiety didn’t calm down until the final service, the Ordination Service, on Saturday afternoon.  The Bishop usually preaches for that service, and she did a fine job.  In her sermon, she included this song by Peter Mayer, called “God Is a River.”  She used the song to talk to the 6 candidates for ordination…but God was talking to me:

In the ever-shifting water of the river of this life

I was swimming, seeking comfort; I was wrestling waves to find

A boulder I could cling to, a stone to hold me fast

Where I might let the fretful water of this river 'round me pass

 

And so I found an anchor, a blessed resting place

A trusty rock I called my savior, for there I would be safe

From the river and its dangers, and I proclaimed my rock divine

And I prayed to it "protect me" and the rock replied

 

(Refrain)

God is a river, not just a stone

God is a wild, raging rapids

And a slow, meandering flow

God is a deep and narrow passage

And a peaceful, sandy shoal

God is the river, swimmer

So let go

 

Still I clung to my rock tightly with conviction in my arms

Never looking at the stream to keep my mind from thoughts of harm

But the river kept on coming, kept on tugging at my legs

Till at last my fingers faltered, and I was swept away

 

So I'm going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends

Acclimating to the motion, and a sense of being led

And this river's like my body now, it carries me along

Through the ever-changing scenes and by the rocks that sing this song

 

(Refrain)

 

God is the river, swimmer

So let go

 

It's hard to let go of the rock you hope is your anchor.  It’s hard to let go of the belief that security comes from money, or the things it can buy, or achieving a perfect worship service.  It’s hard to let yourself trust in the world of abundance that Jesus proclaims, to sail upon the currents of God’s love like a raft on a fast-flowing river.

 It has always been hard for human beings to do that.  That is why Jesus died – not to somehow pay off our sins (that would make sense only in the world of tracking and counting and stockpiling) but because the powers of the world were so invested in this idea of scarcity that abundance was nothing but threatening to them.  Scarcity creates fear and fear creates devotion to those people or things you think will protect you.  (Remember the advanced imaging technology?)

Abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom. Rather than step into the river of Jesus’ world of abundance, the religious and political powers of Jesus’ time remained committed to keeping the power they derived from the fear born of scarcity, and they put him to death. 

But God doesn't operate from scarcity; God operates out of abundance. Even in response to the crucifixion of God's Son, God did not and does not, keep track, or look for payment, or hoard power with which to destroy the offenders.  Instead, God resurrects: the ultimate act of abundance.  God creates something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life to the dead, inviting us – tugging at us – to let go.

God is a river, not just a stone

God is a wild, raging rapids

And a slow, meandering flow

God is a deep and narrow passage

And a peaceful, sandy shoal

God is the river, swimmer

So let go.

 

 

 

References

David Lose. “Picture This.” Posted February 20, 2011. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1522

Richard Beaton. “Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34.” May 25, 2008.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=87

John Petty. “Lectionary Blogging, Epiphany 8.” Progressive Involvement, 2011. http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2011/02/lectionary-blogging-matthew-6-24-34.html

Peter Mayer.  “God Is a River.” Midwinter. MP3. Blue Boat. 2005.