SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV'D DAPHNE B. NOYES AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY

Do not worry about your life. Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Why do you worry about clothing? Do not worry, saying, What will we eat or what will we drink? (Mt. 6:27)

Are you a worrier? If not you, perhaps someone in your family, or one of your friends, has taken on the role of worrier. For those of us who are designated worriers – and there’s at least one in every crowd – these words of Jesus, drawn from his extended, eloquent sermon in Matthew, may be challenging, confusing, even confounding.

On the surface, this approach may appear to be identical to that in singer Bobby McFerrin’s popular, relentlessly cheerful little tune from 1988: “Don’t worry, be happy!” Repeated ad infinitum.

Is this what Jesus is preaching? Blind optimism? Apathy? Is he advocating a total disregard of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that over time inevitably target each one of us, and those we love? When the bills are overdue or baby needs a new pair of shoes or a job is not found, or is lost, and it’s time to pay the rent; when we are in conflict with those we love the most; when we feel assailed on every side; when trusted institutions seem to be crumbling around us; when we feel powerless to effect change in the world or in our lives—don’t worry!? Is Jesus living in the real world?

Yes. And no. Yes, he is living in the real world, in that he is the word become flesh, the son of God sent to be born, and live, and ultimately to die as one of us.  And no, he is not living in the real world, for the very same reasons.

Matthew does not document the listeners’ response to these words. But I suspect some who heard them were wondering how on earth not to worry about the necessities of everyday life. Today, two thousand years later, I suspect that many of us who hear these words are wondering exactly the same thing.

In fact, we may believe that not to worry about the current state of affairs – in the world, in our nation, in our communities, in our families, in our hearts – not to worry about these things is not only insensitive but borders on irresponsibility at best, insanity at worst.

But as we continue, the climactic verse of this sermon snaps all else into focus.

Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness.[1]

“In Matthew seeking the kingdom and seeking justice are not two distinct quests: he wants to say that there is no authentic search for the kingdom except in a quest whose immediate goal is justice.” [2] Rather than denying the reality of worries, Jesus asks us to examine and re-align our priorities. How are we to do this?

• First, by enlarging our vision of the world. Yes, we each have our own cares and concerns.  But in this, we are not so unique. Tangible human needs such as food, clothing, and shelter are universal.  
• Second, by honoring the interconnectedness of all God’s creation manifest in the presence of God that permeates each molecule and each moment of our lives.  “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb to haven, you are there. If I make the grave my bed, you are there also.”[3] 
• Third, to be to be mindful of each moment. To live in the gift of the present, even as we acknowledge the past and anticipate the future. Jesus is telling us: Be. Here. Now.[4] Or in his own words, Abide in me.[5] 

Re-aligning one’s priorities is as necessary as re-aligning one’s tires after an endless winter of dodging iceslicks, puddles, and potholes. Our spiritual realignment must be done regularly - even faithfully - to keep us on the right path.

Where does that path lead? In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus continually points us in one direction: Kingdom of God, kingdom of God – a kingdom shaped by righteousness and defined by justice. This is the very kingdom of which the prophet Isaiah sings:

I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

This kingdom is not only promised, but possible. It is inevitable, but not easy. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to the earth will rise again.”

Jesus, the ultimate truth, was pressed to the earth only to shatter the gates of hell so he could retrieve those locked in darkness and rise again.

Truth pressed to the earth rose 235 years ago when courageous believers set off in tiny wooden ships across a vast and stormy sea in the hope of finding a place to “worship without fear.” Truth pressed to the earth rose again as the movement to end slavery gathered force, driven by those who had a vision of the Kingdom of God as a place where there is no longer slave or free.[6] Truth pressed to the ground rose again in the Civil Rights movement of the last century, when little girls on their way to elementary school were protected from spitting spectators by armed soldiers. When despite fierce dogs and powerful firehouses, bombings and murders, believers in the kingdom of God prevailed on the streets and in the courts to make America be America for all her people.

Truth pressed to the ground rose again in Iran, in India, the Soviet Union, in Berlin, in South Africa; it continues to rise in Egypt, in Libya, and countless other places around the world.

When an irresistible force, such as of Kingdom of God -- meets an old immovable object like human frailty or arrogance or mistrust – something’s gotta give. And this is where we come in. As followers of Christ, each one of us carries a piece of the truth. Although that truth may be pressed to the earth by ignorance or selfishness or fear or hatred, it will rise again – it will rise again as we participate in bringing God’s steadfast love, God’s chesed, to the world. The kingdom of God is not up there, or out there, it is in here – in our hearts and souls.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring troubles of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Mt. 6:34)

Here we encounter God’s gift to each one of us: the opportunity, today, now, to strive toward the Kingdom. To face prejudice and injustice and suffering and confront it with truth, compassion, and love.

So if it’s in your nature to be a worrier, or if it’s a skill you’ve picked up along the way, ask God to help with your spiritual re-alignment, to help shape and share your vision of the kingdom. None of us can do this alone. We must have open hearts, open minds, and open hands to follow the One who, at each Eucharist, puts his life in our hands.

Amen.


[1] “This is the climactic verse of the whole chapter. The ultimate goal of all our activity must be the highest value, the kingdom of God, which is here defined as justice (cf. Rom 14:17 and Matt 6:10.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p 646

[2] Dupont, Béatitudes 3.297, quoted in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

[3] Ps 139:6-7, BCP p 794

[4] Be Here Now is a 1971 book on spirituality, yoga and meditation by the Western born yogi and spiritual teacher Ram Dass. The title comes from a statement his guide, Bhagavan Das, made during Ram Dass' journeys in India.

[5] Jn 15:4

[6] See Gal 3:28 passim