Do Not Worry

Matthew 6:25-3

Do Not Worry

25 ‘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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?*28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

I have always been the nervous, anxious type. As an educator, I am trained to have a plan, and a back-up plan, and then a third option. I suppose there is much to be said for that precision, that methodical mindset. This reading from Matthew reminds me that we are not meant to do everything alone. We are to trust in God’s desire to provide for us. Certainly, that does not excuse us from responsibility. What it does mean for me is to let go in those moments when I am wound so tightly around myself that I can’t think straight. Those are the moments when I am to remember that worry will not add a single hour to my life. The birds in the air neither sow nor reap, yet they are fed splendidly. The lilies neither toil nor spin, yet they are clothed more brilliantly than Solomon in all his Splendor. And we know from Scripture that Solomon’s wardrobe was unmatchable. We are reminded in this passage that God knows we need clothing and food and such. The point is that God delights in providing for us in more ways than we could imagine.

On this Thanksgiving, I strive to remind to let go of all the worry and anxiety. When I am filled with that stress, there is no room for gratitude. There is no room for Thanksgiving. The great irony is that worrying about will cause one to miss the great Thanksgiving gathering and dinner that is prepared on this day and always. When I get to nervous and anxious, there is no room for God to provide what I need. And I miss out spiritually and emotionally on the Thanksgiving gatherings.

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To Give Everything

Luke 21:1-4

21He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.3He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’


I do not want to give the impression that I discount the significance of the widow’s sacrifice in this passage.  She gives a large percentage of her income, and that should be recognized as the highest level of giving: offering all that you have is an heroic example of selflessness.

There is one detail that intrigues me even more than the amount of her savings that she gives up, however.  It seems to me that very few commentaries notice the cause to which she gives so much.  She doesn’t hand the coins to a homeless person.  She doesn’t give it to a household that provides shelter for orphans or abandoned children.  She gives it to the holiest place in her culture–the one place that she believes is closest to the creator of the universe.

At a personal level, I wonder what would prompt me to give up all that I have.  What would make me get down on my knees, filled with humility, and declare that I have found something–or someone–so wonderful that I would offer everything that I own?

The popular Christian answer is God.  God is supposed to move me to that level of devotion.

If I am completely honest with myself, however, I would admit that I cannot give up everything for God.  This is not an easy truth for me to admit, but I would not do what the widow does in today’s Gospel passage.

What would prompt me to give up everything is the guarantee of my wife’s well-being.  The safety of my family would also be enough to convince me to give up everything.  I would empty all of my savings accounts if the money would guarantee the health and happiness of my loved ones.  The critical voice within my conscience says I am selfish, even hypocritical.  I claim to be a Christian, but I am not able to pledge all of myself to my God.  Instead, I would put my loved ones first; my human emotions beat out my spirituality.

Still, I can’t help but think that there is a tiny amount of godliness in my love for my family.  Doesn’t the Bible stress over and over again the importance of family?  If I did not cherish the people I love, then would that make me an evil person?  What if we humans are designed to love our families so that we might begin to imagine the kind of love we can experience with God?  What if God exists within the love that we feel for our families?  Doesn’t that level of devotion redeem me just a little?

I am imperfect, but I do care about those close to me.  This has to be at least a starting point on the long journey towards fully understanding God.

The Coming of the Kingdom

Luke 17:20-37

The Coming of the Kingdom

20 Once Jesus* was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among* you.’

22 Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.23They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.*25But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.26Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.27They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,29but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them30—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.31On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back.32Remember Lot’s wife.33Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.34I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.35There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.’*37Then they asked him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’

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I can be a pretty obsessive and precise type of person. I guess it is the teacher in me working in higher education. We are very specific, precise people. I want to know a calendar date or an indication of what is going to happen. Our administrators want status updates. So I definitely understand the Disciples wanting a date or a sign—some indication of the coming of the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God. I would have been right there with my notepad asking for that date or sign myself. And Christ’s response, I think, is applicable at all times. We cannot know. We can only go about our business of serving God until the moment happens. And when that time comes, there will be no time for second guessing or looking back. There will be no rescheduled appointments. I think the point is not to bring out a sense of fear and panic that leads to chaos, but a sense of ongoing preparation.

The flip side—or balancing act—of that not knowing and always being prepared is the warning that those who try to make their life secure will lose it while those who lose their life will keep it. Yikes. That is scary for people like me who always try to think ahead and be prepared for anything. You can’t. You must lose your life to keep it. For me, that means losing your life in terms of your own sense of control. That doesn’t mean you are excused from taking responsibility and planning and setting goals and such. But it does mean being prepared to give those plans over to Christ. Sometimes there is tweaking in that plans, and sometimes there is a serious restructure of the plan. In the end though, we gain our life. And it is far better than we could have managed on our own.

Compassion

Luke 18:35-43

35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ 38Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 39Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 40Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him,41‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’42Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’43Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.


One of the great ironies about human nature is that when people desperately need help, they keep silent.  Some of them are too proud to admit that they need help, and others are so embarrassed about their problems that they prefer to stay hidden from the world’s attention.

A simple example comes to my mind.  At the community college, most students lack the skills to succeed in their classes, so it is a safe bet that they all need help in their coursework at some point in a semester.  Sometimes, I will  ask a class something like, “Do you understand,” and students throughout the classroom nod their heads in an unanimous yes, but I know better.

Some instructors battle this silence by giving pop quizzes or by picking students at random to answer questions.  I prefer the less intrusive chat after class with my most silent students.  (They often sit in the back of the classroom, their eyes almost always looking down, and they never raise their hand or talk to the others around them.)

Teachers are not the only people who can recognize when someone is in a desperate state.  A priest once told me he could sense a victim’s agony just by looking at her or him, and the signs are not what one might expect.  There are usually no screams or tears.  Those who suffer rarely make a sound.

That is what makes today’s Gospel reading so moving for me.  We see a blind man become excited when he learns that Jesus is there in his home town.  The blind man is a beggar, and he is the sort of person that most people would ignore–just another suffering guy that can’t be helped.  All of a sudden, he is shouting for mercy.  Here is a man with a lifetime of reasons to scream for help, and it is clear that people are not used to such noise.  The likely truth is that most of the people there do not recognize that the blind man really does need help.

Jesus, however, recognizes what average people cannot.

It is easy to discount the entire scene as something that cannot happen in the real world.  Of course the blind man is healed–this is Jesus, after all, but what could we do to help those in need?  We can’t magically heal someone.  I do not read the Gospel scene from that point of view, however.  To me the important detail is not that Jesus heals the man.

Perhaps the most important detail here is the simplest one: Jesus listens.  He doesn’t wave a magic wand and make everything better; in fact, He doesn’t even take credit for the miracle.  The one thing that He does, however, is He actually takes the time to hear the blind man’s pleas.  While others try to quiet the cries for help, Jesus chooses to acknowledge them.

As I mention at the start of this reflection, most people in need do not cry out for help; perhaps this is because so many of their fellow humans are not like Jesus.  So often we do not listen, and just as often we do not love.  No wonder people stay silent when they need help.  Today’s passage makes me wonder how different the world could be if people were willing to show compassion in the same way Jesus does.

The Kingdom of God

Luke 17:20-25

The Coming of the Kingdom

20 Once Jesus* was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among* you.’

22 Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.23They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.*25But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.

The Pharisees ask Jesus about the coming of the Kingdom of God. They wanted a particular reference point—a date or some sign. We humans often seem to long for that kind of specificity. Certainly for me, I like having dates and times arranged on my calendar—or some particular sign to observe. But the answer Christ gives is far from providing that precise timeline or sign. Instead, Chris answers by telling them the Kingdom of God is among them. To me, that puts the perspective on them to live into that Kingdom of God right there exactly as they are. And I consider that answer applicable for all time. The Kingdom of God is not some specific time or when something in particular happens, but it is up to us to live into that Kingdom at all points in time. That Kingdom is within us. We are responsible for living into that Kingdom. So we are called to live into the Kingdom of God now and always. That Kingdom is not some far-off, distant experience but is within us to live into always.

The Strength Behind Forgiveness

Luke 17:1-6

17Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’

5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.


First, I will open this reflection with a brief story:

The large department was like most corporate offices.  A number of low-level workers who processed reports and led workshops occupied small cubicles on the main floor.  A handful of mid-level managers had small offices near the cubicles, close enough to watch over the workers but far enough away to give the impression that they were part of a higher class of employee.  One large corner office was the workspace of the top-level executive, a position that everyone else dreamed of earning some day.

One of the newest cubicle employees lusted over that corner office with more intensity than everyone else.

Her name was Debbie.  She came to work dressed in bright colors, and she made it a point to speak up at every office meeting so that the managers had no choice but to notice her.  Still, she could tell the journey to the executive position was going to be a long one, too long for her patience.  She wanted the power now, and there was only one way she could imagine getting it.

One of the mid-level managers always kept his office door open when he stepped out for a break.  It was no effort at all for Debbie to sneak in, hack into the manager’s computer, and play with the department’s accounts.  She didn’t delete money–she was no thief–she simply wanted to mess up the accounts enough to create the impression that the manager did not know how to balance a budget.  Of course, the top executive threw a fit when he saw the accounts, and after he demoted the manager to a cubicle job, our Debbie offered to fix the mess and save the day.

The lie helped her move up, but the promotion did not bring her joy.  The higher salary didn’t erase the fact that the money was obtained through someone else’s pain.  Each day she showed up to work, she had to walk past the cubicle of the ex-manager that she framed.  The guilt ate her alive, until one day she could not take it anymore and she walked up to the poor man and told him the truth.

“I messed up the budget accounts to make you look bad.  I destroyed your life, but now I am asking for your forgiveness.”

If you were the one framed by Debbie, would you forgive her?

Jesus advises his disciples to forgive people who sin against them, but He is clear that forgiveness should only be given when the “offender” repents.  Sometimes it is easy to forgive someone who has done wrong, but forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you is a different matter.  A deep wrong causes intense pain that does not go away for a long time, so to forgive the person who causes that level of pain requires more strength than a human could dream of possessing.  Sometimes the wrong is so terrible that forgiveness is impossible . . . yet Jesus says, “if there is repentance, then you must forgive.”

No wonder the apostles beg for Him to increase their faith.  Such a capacity for forgiveness is emotionally impossible, but they have God to call on for strength.

We have God to call on for strength.

There are actions too difficult for humans to perform alone, but the truth is we are never alone.  There is a source of strength that we can access when tasks prove unbearable, a bottomless pool of energy that never dries up, not even during long periods of drought.  This energy is what enables us to do incredible things, and it is what gives us the capacity to forgive.

The Word

John 1:9-18

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him.12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth.15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’)16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,* who is close to the Father’s heart,* who has made him known.

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He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him. For me, that idea of the world coming into being through Him, and He was in the world, is filled with one of the greatest Christian mysteries. He came down to what was his own. And His own people did not accept Him. The passage goes on to say all who receive Him receive the power to become children of God. In that great mystery, we are born not of blood or of the will of the flesh, but of God. I have always been fascinated by that dynamic of being born of blood and flesh—a genetic connection—and being received in a spiritual connection. The main point for me is not a genetic link that may or may not exist, but the choice to remain connected is the greatest bond.

The English scholar in me also can’t help but love the image of the Word becoming flesh and living among us. As an English major, I have always known the extraordinary power of words. Once released, they can never be revoked. Words can heal. Words can comfort. Words can hurt. And once spoked, they can never be revoked. You can clarify. You can make amends. But once spoken, words are there forever. And they are intimately connected to emotions at the deepest level. Words are power. It is particularly thrilling to me to see the reference to the Word becoming flesh and living among us. That ultimate power of the Word is the choice to become flesh and to live among us. With that message, how can anything related to words not be ultimately good?!

The passage also strikes me in the idea that from His fullness, we have received grace upon grace in relation to law. We have the law through Moses, and we have grace through Christ. We had the law, but ultimately we have grace and truth. The two must work together for ultimate good. Through that process of the Word becoming flesh and living among us, we receive grace and truth, and He is made known.