February 27, 2011

“God’s Future is Good”

Matthew 6:24-34

I want to begin by focusing your attention on the gospel lesson read this morning.  As is my usual practice, more than a month ago I read these texts and jotted down a theme and a sermon title to direct my preparations.  I wrote the sermon title you have before you, and I noted: “Trust vs. Clarity.”  Then, I put this very meager preparation aside for a month or more.  Last Wednesday I retrieved this preparation and looked at it, and said to myself, asked myself, ‘what were you thinking?’

What was clear to me months ago is now vague.

What I remain certain of is that we are the Gentiles described in verse 32.  We are those who “…seek all these things.”  Our way of life, our culture, has taught us to seek out not only the most basic elements of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, but also every trinket and stimulus that might be added to such elementary needs.  We are not anything like those hearers (remember with me that we are still in the Sermon on the Mount) who fear for the basic necessities of life.  And yet, most of us (myself included) worry about financial matters.  It will be a modern day miracle if this Jesus is able to stop twenty-first century westerners for worrying.

The problem, biblically speaking, with this accumulation of wealth is that it essentially amounts to a kind of emotional insurance policy.  One of the great ironies of the United States of America is that we chose to put the phrase “In God We Trust” on our currency.   This portion of Jesus’ sermon makes the point that we do not trust God.  We spend most of our lives securing for ourselves material things well beyond that which we eat, drink, and what we shall wear.[1]

There is a mistaken assumption in our accumulation of goods that they, in any way, can add any value to our life.

That is not to say that there isn’t some comfort in having your basic needs met.

In 1943, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow wrote an article called “Human Motivation.”  In that article, Maslow suggested that people need to meet their need for food, shelter, and safety before they can give any attention to such laudable achievements as seeking truth or justice.

This theory demanded a linear progression through what was described as a hierarchy of needs; it began with those basic needs for food and shelter and progressed to ‘higher’ levels such as wisdom or even struggling with the ‘meaning of life.’  Maslow insisted that we move through these levels of achieving these needs, and that the most basic need to be met first.[2]

And this worry, and the effort to secure such resources that we feel we may not worry, is about our own personal situation.   Can you make that connection?  Isn’t it most likely that those who worry most about the basic essentials of life are disconnected from a larger community?

A friend of mine who is a nurse told me that she was speaking to a patient the other day, a Haitian woman, who told her that despite relatives being injured and killed in the earthquake there, she see’s God working in the event.  A bit horrified, my friend asked, “how?”  The woman said that most people she knows in Haiti have more food and better health-care now than they ever did.

For a community of faith, and that is who Jesus is speaking to, the relationship between one another is reflective of our relationship with God.  We are not expected to make our way through this life without the power and presence of God in Christ.  Neither are we expected to go it alone in meeting our most basic human needs.

Jesus is not asking us to blow off needs of our community or to live as if what we do doesn’t matter.   Jesus is sifting out the priorities of life.  Jesus is sifting out unhealthy worry

If you think for one minute that I believe this movement from focusing on our own material needs to focusing on God’s presence and power in the world around us is easy, you’d be wrong.

Instead, I think just how difficult it is.

In 1975, several years before her Nobel Prize, John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit and professor of ethics, wrote to Mother Teresa about spending a month at her House of the Dying in Calcutta. Wanting to be fully immersed in the experience, Kavanaugh asked to live with the Brothers of Charity, who like the Missionary Sisters of Charity, live a rigorous life of poverty.

“She told me she wanted me to live with Jesuits not with the brothers,” he recalled. “She said the last Jesuit who had stayed with the brothers had died,” immediately ending Kavanaugh’s desire to live the really frugal life of the brothers.

Jesus says that the responsibility for justice, economic and otherwise is never complete; especially for those who stake out a claim of serving God.  Not everyone is called to live a life of poverty,  of true and continual fasting in every way like the Brothers of Charity.  We all are responsible to be good stewards of the many gifts God has given us.  Fulfilling this responsibility is dangerous if we demand clarity.  It is dangerous because we a not prone to give generously, but rather because we are prone to withhold cautiously.  Generosity of every kind demands that we trust God.

Christians, trust is always at the center of how we will live our lives, especially our lives in this community we call “The Church.”

When Kavanaugh was there in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States. “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you will trust God.”



[1] Matthew 6:31

[2]Maslow, Abraham, “A Preface to Motivation Theory,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 1943, 5, 85-92