Sermons

Sun, Feb 19, 2017

The real world

Sermon for Harvest Thanksgiving
Series:Sermons

In a sense, I grew up worrying about life.

From the time that I was thirteen––

after my parents separated––

Dad’s every waking moment seemed to be filled with worry.

He was worried about what people would think––

at a time when marriage break-ups were still quite uncommon.

He was worried about how my brother and I were coping.

He was worried how much he would have to pay mum by way of a property settlement.

But, more than anything else, he was worried about day-to-day finances.

He was worried about how we would survive;

how could he afford to keep us in a good school…

let alone send us to university;

how could he afford to buy clothes…

food…

and the households items that needed to be replaced;

how could he afford to maintain the car…

let alone help my brother and me to get one in a few years time;

how could he afford to pay the rates and taxes, the phone and electricity.

Dad’s worry developed into a fanaticism.

Everycent was counted.

Nothing was wasted.

He would scour the shelves of the supermarkets for specials…

and items that had been marked-down…

always looking for a bargain.

He wouldn’t buy any new item of clothing.

Everything came from Op-Shops––

except for underwear and socks.

He would constantly stop the car…

if he happened to spot something on the road that he thought might be useful…

or that he thought he could do up and sell…

to the point that our house began to resemble a junk-yard.

My dad was consumed with worry about life.

But, in reality, it began long before he and mum separated.

It probably stemmed back to his earliest years––

growing up in the depression…

followed by the German occupation of Holland…

when occupying troops confiscated all of the primary produce…

and a poor, peasant family like Dad’s sometimes had only a couple of loaves of bread to last them a week;

and Dad was sent out to work at thirteen to help support the family…

to help them to survive.

Worry is a deeply ingrained trait in my family.

All of which makes today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel both poignant and pointed…

 

“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”.

Don’t worry because God will provide.

Don’t worry because God does care what happens to us.

Don’t worry because God will look after us.

Whatever is happening…

whatever difficulties we might face…

put your faith in God and everything will be okay.

That’s what this reading seems to be saying to us, doesn’t it?

But life isn’t like that.

Sometimes it’s hard not to worry.

Because, in the real world, people of faith do go without.

Some do go hungry.

Some lack the basic necessities of life.

And some of us have had our fair share of hardship, pain, and grief…

regardless of how much faith we have had…

or how faithful we have been.

God isn’t like that––

some all-controlling force or cosmic puppeteer.

God doesn’t just make everything right.

The image of a controlling, providing, intervening God may have made sense…

within the primitive worldview of the first century…

but it doesn’t make sense today…

given what we know of our world.

So, how do we make sense of this reading?

Is there anything here that speaks to us, today?

 

Perhaps the first thing to notice is to whom it’s actually addressed.

And it’s not addressed tothe average first-century peasant…

struggling to eke out an existence…

at the utter mercy of the elements…

never sure if they would be able to put food on the table…

or make their threadbare tunic last another season.

We know it’s not addressed to the average person in the first century…

because of how the reading began:

“No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth.”

It’s immediately following that that Matthew’s Jesus says…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry…

Peasants were worried about survival, not wealth.

So the injunction not to worry is addressed to the wealthy and well-to-do…

to those for whom wealth, and its accumulation, was a concern;

to those who had considerable possessions and disposable income…

and who sought to acquire more possessions and wealth.

And yet, despite their prosperity and privilege––

or, perhaps, because if it––

they were constantly worried about what they might eat…

or what they might wear…

when they threw a lavish dinner party and invited all of their socialite friends.

After all, that’s what the ancient aristocracy did all of the time.

They were constantly feasting and dining and dressing up to do it…

competing with one another in conspicuous consumption…

judging one another by what they wore…

what food or wine they provided guests…

who and how many they could invite.

In light of that, the injunction not to worry about clothes…

or food and drink…

is an injunction not to focus on their position in society.

In other words…

don’t worry about trying to keep up appearances…

don’t worry about trying to impress other people…

don’t worry about your public image or your social standing.

If all of your thought and energy is being expended on how you look…

and what others think of you…

and if you assume that that provides you with a sense of worth…

or a purpose in life…

then you have got it fundamentally wrong.

Our meaning in life––

and our worth as human beings––

is not to be found in the things that we own nor in the image that we project.

 

And isn’t that a message that still needs to be heard…

in our rampantly commercialised and consumerist society––

with its drive to acquire more and more…

bigger and better…

and more impressive?

Whether it’s the houses that we own and the suburb that we live in…

the cars that we drive…

or the latest piece of technology that we own:

the drive to compete––

the drive for status––

is alive and well.

So, too, is the worry about ensuring our standard of living…

and our abundant economic security…

regardless of the impact on the global community as a whole…

and on its most vulnerable members.

 

So…

today, as we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving…

those of us who live in the comfort of an affluent society need to hear these words again.

We need to be reminded constantly…

that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions…

our stressing over our self-image…

or our competing with one another over our social-standing.

Instead, we’re called to a fundamentally different attitude and way of life.

We’re challenged to shift our focus…

to measure our worth in God’s eyes;

and then to look beyond ourselves––

our needs and worries.

And if we did, we would discover that…

in a sense…

God does in fact provide sufficient resources for everyone to be fed…

and clothed…

and housed––

if only we would just learn to stop worrying…

and to distribute it more fairly. 

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