Sunday, May 25, 2008

proper 3 year a

Lately E and A are enthralled with, essentially, the middle ages. A has a very fine and impressive castle, around which, aided by his blocks, he conducts long battles, building bridges for his knights to cross over on their way to battle, lining them up in formation, knocking them down unto death. E is the princess.
“I can’t sit on that chair” she said the other night, “Princesses don’t sit on booster seats”.
“Short princesses do” I said.
“Oh” she said, disappointed.
And then later “I am going into the meadow with my pets. I will be the princess of the meadow.”
All this play is under girded by fantastical fairy tails of knights, and castles and wickedness, and horses and beautiful hair. What is very clear, in this system and world view, is the person at the top—the princess, the King leading his knights into battle. Evil is overcome by good, light, and beautiful colors. Everyone is happy at the end. But descending from this beauty and privilege to the realm of normal life is tough. E’s time being princess was horribly cut short on Wednesday.
“You must pick up your room and then put all your toys away and then set the table” I said.
E pouted, “I was being a princess” she said, “And now I feel like Cinderella”.
The Kingdom of E the Princess collided with the me in my Kingdom, what I am going to call, for our purposes this morning, the Kingdom of Anxiety, not my own term, I’m borrowing it from WH Auden.

The Kingdom of Anxiety is not the dark forbidding evil that it sounds like. But it is not oriented in the pristine beauty of the clouds. It is of the earth. A subject of the Kingdom of Anxiety wakes up with an eye to the future—what am I going to do tomorrow? How will I get to the end of today? Will there be enough money at the end of the month? Did I fill out that consent form for the school? Do I have time to squeeze in the bank between these two appointments? Will that person like me or hire me or pay me the money I’m owed?
This eye to the future is fertile soil for irritation, impatience, worry. And then, the drum beat of the Kingdom of Anxiety, dissatisfaction.
Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 6 beginning in verse 24.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one can love God And Money” a better translation would be the old word, the Greek word, Mammon, the stuff of the world, all the things that you own, the things that you would like to own, the things that own you.
If you look at your text, you will see a convenient break between this verse, and the verses under it. But what is the first word in the next verse, after the break? Right, Therefore. So we will not be able to understand the comforting words from 25 on without these difficult words in 24. No one can serve two masters.
This is more than a question of loyalty, who do you love better? Or what is your greatest priority? It is a practical question, a matter of logistics. No one can serve two masters, no one can be obedient to and do the will of two different and conflicting People. You cannot wholly devote yourself to Jesus, and to all your stuff, your job, your relationships, your own plans
at the same time. You have to choose.
So, in order that you may make an informed decision, so that the choice will be clear and obvious, let us spend a few minutes looking, on the one hand, at Mammon, what I am calling the Kingdom of Anxiety, and, on the other hand, Jesus, and the Kingdom of Heaven.
As I said a moment ago, Mammon is a nice pithy way of saying ‘the stuff of the world’. Its all the things that the world says are important, all the things you can possess in the world, all the jobs by which you can earn money and prestige, and all the things, even, that you need to live—food, clothing, shelter, human companionship. So far from being the Master of your Own Destiny, the Maker of your Plans and Purposes, if you live in this Kingdom, these things will eventually be the main determining factor for you, the things that drive you and give meaning to your life. It is the Kingdom of Anxiety because needing to acquire the next thing, or maintain a certain kind of relationship, or succeed at such and such job is not the road to peace, quiet, joy and contentment. There is a very simple reason for this, all these things will come to an end. They are here for a while and then they go away. The human person was created by God to live, from the moment of his or her creation, forever. But everything else fades away. The fad passes, the car breaks down, the food goes bad, the clothes wear thin, the job eventually is over. So, if Mammon is your Master, your King, you necessarily have to keep your eye focused on the future, ready to replace what you have, acquire something new, moving on, moving up, satisfying yourself as best you can. If you are not very well off, then food may be your main consideration. But most of us are beyond that point. We’re really trying to figure out how to get that next thing, go on that holiday, impress that person, accomplish our own goals.
Pretty dismal, I think, so what does the kingdom of Heaven look like and why would we want to live there? First off, Jesus is the King. His word is law. His love is vast. But his way is also narrow. And the price of life in this kingdom is yourself. Essentially, in the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to admit that you cannot save yourself, you cannot buy or work your way to eternal life with God; that you cannot find satisfaction and fulfillment in this world or the things of this world; that you need someone to help you. And that help is Jesus. It is his work alone, and not yours, that brings you into eternal life with him. You lay down your own self—your pride, your sin, your plans—and ask Jesus to give you his life. And, I would say, in the beginning, you can come in with all your stuff, but as you go along, you’ll find that its harder and harder to carry and you don’t really need it so much, and its easier to put it down and go on without it.
What does this look like day by day? Well, most of us, upon becoming Christian, do not run out, like St. Francis, and give everything we possess to the poor, although that would be an option. If you’ve been to my house, you’ll notice that I’ve obviously not done that. And God doesn’t ask most of us to. But, as you walk with Jesus, and pray, and read your Bible, and listen to his voice, he will bring issues to your attention—I want you to let go of your anger toward that person. Put it down, and go on without it. Or, I want you to help this person out. I know you don’t feel like you have enough, but I will provide for you. Or, I don’t want you to buy that new car right now, I have other plans for your money. Or, I want you to give a full tithe to the church. Or, I want you to give up your favorite tv night and go to a Bible Study. Or, I want you to trust me with the people in your life and not try to solve those problems yourself.
Its not that you don’t have material possessions, its not that you are not surrounded by people you love and who love you, its not that you don’t work very hard at your job and here at church, but rather, that all those things, all those relationships, all those works are made captive to Christ, are brought under his rule and authority, that in dealing with them, you consult him first on every matter, however small or great.
Why? Because he is the King. Because he is Eternal, unchanging, from before time, because you were created to be in a relationship with him and follow him. And he will never fade away. He will never leave or forsake you. He will never let you down. He will never leave you hungry and cold and without work to satisfy your hands. That’s what he’s promising today. But you have to make a choice.
Supposing you make this choice, this morning, for the first time. Supposing you’re here, and you’ve had enough of seeking after the things of the earth, you’ve found they don’t satisfy you, and you want to enter life in the Kingdom of Heaven? What do you do it?
Look down at your text, verse 33. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you. Seek, look, put down everything else you’re doing or worrying about and look for Jesus. If you seek him, you will find him. He promises, right here. Come to the rail this morning to pray and ask him to come into your life, to fill you with the Holy Spirit, to provide for you, to give you eternal life, to forgive and cleanse you of your sin. And then come talk to me or Matt after the service.
And for those of you abiding in the Kingdom of Heaven, take a moment to evaluate the quality of your Christian life this morning. Anxiety or Worry, for the Christian, are a way to gauge, not your salvation, but whether or not you are letting the world, the things of the world, determine the order and quality of your life, whether or not you are dabbling in the Kingdom of Anxiety, or letting Mammon be in charge again. Are you frustrated, careworn, anxious, worried? Then you need to take the trouble to leave that behind and seek again the Kingdom of God, the righteousness of Jesus himself. If you look at yourself and find this to be the case, then look at verse 26, to the solution to this problem. Look at the birds of the air. Verse 28 Consider the lilies of the field. If God takes the time and love to care for the least of the things of this earth, his own creation, how much more will he care for you, for whom he was willing to give his own Son, his only Son, whom he loves to die to bring you to eternal life. Therefore, do not be anxious. You cannot add even a single day to your life through worry. God has already provided for you, today, and all the days of your life, giving you those good things he knows you need. When you come to the rail this morning, open your hands to receive them, and leave all that other stuff behind.

3 comments:

The Rev. Summer Gross said...

Anne,
Wonderful sermon. This is exactly what I've been learning about lately...
At our church, I have a group of women studying the Linda Dillow book, Calm My Anxious Heart about anxiety and contentment. Love it. We have a bigger group coming to study than ever before...moved out of our home to a coffee shop...the subject resonates with a lot of women.(and men besides.)

And, it looks like Emma would love one of our favorite books, "The True Princess" by Angela Elwell Hunt, a wonderful children's book about what interior beauty looks like.

Glad to see you'll be posting again, I've missed the laughs.

Summer

The Rev. Summer Gross said...

By the way, do you guys have an altar call? It sounded like it from the sermon. When do you do it? Love to hear a post about the why and how.

Summer

r said...

Woo! Sorry I missed that one- nice work! We've had three visits from JWs since I've been here, to keep life interesting. One of them was surprised I could find books of the Bible (where did I learn all that?) and the others that I could make "a good cup of tea!" :) Apparently it's not a universal talent amongst Americans. ;) Miss you all very very much....

It's been raining for three days now, and I'm beginning to suspect I've missed summer altogether!

Lots of Love,
~R