25 Sep 2022
The Gospel. St Matthew vi. 24
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore, I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
These are anxious times. The news these days is filled with the problems with wars overseas, vast numbers of new immigrants, rising gas prices, extremes of weather, international terrorism, horrendous drug overdoses, and violence in general. Families are rife with violence, and there seems a lack of even the most basic family affection. In the workplace, there is also an increase in violence and stress-induced anger and resentment. The desire for the things money can buy has encouraged people to steal and deceive and put their interests before all others. But there is really nothing new about any of this. Jesus in the Gospel today lets us know that, despite what the news may tell us or what people around us may act like, God has not changed His priorities one whit. We are still most precious in His eyes, and He is constantly looking after us in ways we can scarcely imagine.
But we can’t be at war within ourselves over our allegiance to Him. We can’t pray at the altar of money six days out of the week and at God’s altar the seventh and expect He won’t sense within us that we are trying to hedge our bets. Is it this life’s pleasures we are seeking or eternal life?
Have you ever worked two jobs at the same time? This can be a necessity for a period when you’re trying to just keep up with the payments and bills, but it’s a nasty situation as invariably one employer will want you for overtime or to fill a pressing need, and you are already committed to be at your other place of employment. Which employer gets your time may depend on exactly what your priorities are—which job really counts for you...which job has a future. The same thing is true in our relationship with God. When you see that there is a time for prayer or an opportunity to help someone, can you stop what you’re doing and go in God’s direction? Or do other needs impress you as more important? God sees what you decide and knows just how important your decision is. Do you?
We are blessed by the simple wonders of creation—of a bird’s song in the morning as we rise or the delightful picture of the first blooming flower in our garden. “The birds of the heaven” and “the lilies of the field” Jesus asks us to consider don’t have mortgages to pay and gas tanks to fill, you might say. True enough. But we are in that same creation with them and share the same loving protection of our Creator. Then, why is it we seem to be the only species in such anxiety? The truth is that when you fasten onto things in this world as possessions as “yours”, you inherit a slice of anxiety pie as well. In St. Luke 12 we see a man who has big plans for his farm—bigger storehouses so as to have more grain to sell. And just when he is ready to sit back and enjoy it, God tells him that that very night he will die. Now what good are his riches to him? It’s clear that riches won’t win one salvation. St. James 5 tells the rich that the rotting of their riches will testify against them; none of this will get them “treasures in heaven”. In fact the love of money opens us to temptations of every sort as, 1 Timothy 6 indicates. Proverbs 28:20 adds that hastening to gain riches will rob us (first) of our innocency. Innocency is the first victim. The rich man of St. Mark 10 wanted everlasting life but could not give up his wealth and went away from the Lord dejected. No, it doesn’t seem that money can buy us “love,” as the Beatle sang it, nor peace of mind.
God knows what you need. He knows better than you do. You can only see one or two steps in front of you, but He can see that the path you’ve set for your life isn’t the one that will bring you true riches in heaven. Life is really like a long walk in what often seems a wilderness like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’sProgress. Early on, we start by making our choice of pathways leading from the home of parents. Each fork in the road or person we meet is a decision place. Unfortunately, most of us have no real map but just some clues provided by parents, friends, and acquaintances. Sometimes, we are very uncertain, yes anxious, that this isn’t a very good road we’ve selected. That maybe, just maybe, we’re lost. Who will show us the way? This idea always makes me think about the old cartoon where a hapless motorist is asking a crusty old New England farmer for directions. He replies, “Boston? Can’t get there from here.” In our lives we may find ourselves in a dizzying storm of conflicting demands that sometimes has us on the brink of despair. This road, we start to think, may not be a good one or a safe one…and it may not be one leading to salvation. You could really use a map at a time like this. And that’s why we need to let God direct us. For you see, God knows the beginning and the end of every pathway. He loves you so much that He will warn you that this path isn’t the right one. He will point the way at those important forks in the road when you must decide and decide wisely. Caution: You may not get another chance! No one has promised you that you’ll be able to re-think your miss-placed steps. You may end up lost in a forest of darkness. The wilderness of life has some dark corners.
But how do you know what God wants you to do? In the wonderful Medieval story Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, the hero knight learns that there is only one way to let God point the way: he lets go of the reins of his mount, and God leads him to the sacred castle. We must likewise learn to let go of the reins in our lives especially at the critical crossroads and, through prayer for His guidance, be content to walk with God.
And as comes naturally for the birds of the heaven and lilies of the field, we must let go of the anxieties this world would put on our backs through intimidation and anger and covetousness and surrender all things to God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t plan, but we need to recognize our prayerful plans may end up cast aside if the Lord needs us on yet another pathway. It is true--God provides.
But you might say, we cannot give this sort of advice to a man whose family is starving and ill clothed. When a boy without food and without shoes was cruelly asked, “But if God loved you wouldn’t he send you food and shoes?” The boy replied, “God told someone to do it, but he forgot.” You see part of God’s plan for us is to help each other through difficult times. We are all each other’s neighbors.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Henry Drummond used to say to his theological students: “Don’t be an amphibian, half in one world, half in another”; and again, “Do not touch Christianity unless you are willing to seek the kingdom of heaven first. I promise you a miserable existence if you seek it second.” This greater country, the kingdom of heaven, to which we owe our first allegiance of citizenship will be ours when the path God has directed us brings us to His gates.
In this our Christian faith many troubles can be met and mastered. Sickness can be turned to empathy, and sorrow to insight. But mastery of life is almost impossible if we borrow trouble from the future, for by that we drain away strength from today to waste it on tomorrow in fears that may never come. God had a purpose when He divided our life into days and nights. It works well that we draw a curtain on a day before we begin the challenges of another. Bedtime is the perfect time to thank God for his gifts and the strength He has blessed us with. And perhaps much of our fear of the future comes from our sense that we have made some wrong turns in life. To kneel before God in confession and surrender is the best worry-cure. Then small problems and great crises are alike held in a warm devotion to God. Christ says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” It is His promise that “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (Deut. 33:25) Christ was committed to God and thus lived free from fear. We should do our best to do likewise. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Edwin Tompkins