The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 22A (10/5/2008)

Anxiety

Lessons: Isaiah 5:1-7 Psalm 80:7-15 Philippians 3:4b-14 Saint Matthew 21:33-46 Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm: Exodus 20:1-4 Psalm 19

Prayer of the Day: Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Stewardship Text: St. Matthew 21:33-46

"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? 26 Look 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? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But 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? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?' or ‘What will we drink?' or ‘What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."


St. Matthew 6:25-33, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

This month, at Saint Peter, we are conducting our Fall Stewardship Campaign. The theme is ASPEN, and the focus for this five-week series is:   10/5    Anxiety St. Matthew 6:25-34   10/12   Sacrifice St. Mark 12:41-44 10/19   Peace St. John 14:25-31 10/26   Enthusiasm St. Matthew 13:44-50 11/2    Now 2nd Corinthians 8:1-16 On November 9th, I'll return my attention to the Revised Common Lectionary, with a message based on St. Matthew 25:1-13.

For the past week or so, the financial situation in our country has been a constant in the news. We all know by now that markets are facing an almost unprecedented crisis, and the leaders of our country seem to be overwhelmed with the task of trying to respond in a way that will move us forward.

News like this has a way of making us all anxious. What affect will this have on my retirement funds? What will happen to the value of my home? Will I still be able to afford a college education for my kids? Am I going to have to learn to live with less? If I lose my job, how will I be able to afford health care?

I write this devotional message from a Pastors retreat in Allenspark, Colorado. There has been no shortage of concern here about the economy. Will our members face increased job insecurity? Will that lead to strained relationships at home, and a troubled environment at church? Will giving to the congregation decrease? Will key leaders have to leave town to find work?

On top of this, comes this weekend's stewardship text from Matthew 6, and instruction from Jesus that we not worry about life. (After all, he says, life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.) He goes on to ask us, "Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?"

This is wisdom with which we can't disagree. Of course, life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. And of course, we won't extend our lives by fretting about these things. But the truth is: this world is not always an easy one for those of us who are trying to make a living. It doesn't matter whether you are a first century share cropper, wondering if there will be enough left at harvest time to feed the family, or a twenty-first century administrator, wondering how the bills will get paid if you lose your job or take a cut in pay. Either way, there is much in this world to make us anxious - much that we worry about. That is one of the disadvantages of living in a broken world.

So why does Jesus command us to live in this troubling world without worry? What is he asking us to do? He reveals that in the last verse of this text. He says, in effect, "Let the kingdom of God be your first priority, and all these other things will fall into place." Or as the old Sunday School song says it: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Alleluia."

Our human nature drives us to place our trust in ourselves. Our hard work, our ingenuity, our persistence - these are the human resources that we want to rely on for our future. But Jesus invites us to place our trust in a different source. He invites us to let our lives be shaped by a different reality. He teaches, because he knows, that God loves us deeply. And he promises us that if we place our trust in God, we will not be abandoned. God will see us through to the other side. And we will be just fine. As a matter of fact, we will be much better off, because we will be learning to trust in something that lasts forever: the goodness and the power of our loving God.

This year, as we always do, we are inviting members and supporters of Saint Peter to become tithers (someone who contributes 10% of annual income to Christian ministry). That may seem a bit frightening to some of us. I learned to become a tither in better economic times. I wasn't worried about my future or my job. Yet it was still a scary thing to do. I had never tried to live off of 90% of my income. I worried about what I might have to give up, in order to make it work.

But my worrying was for naught. In reality, I've had a much greater sense of peace about my finances since we started tithing, than I ever did before. We've gone without a few things along the way. But more importantly: I have learned to trust God more, and to trust myself less. I have learned that God does, indeed, watch over me. And the more I stay focused on seeking the kingdom of God, the more it seems that everything else is taken care of.

So if these unsettled times are causing you to be anxious, Jesus offers a solution: Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Allow your faithfulness to be your most important priority. Know that as you put God first in your spiritual life, your relational life, your family life, and even your financial life, that "all these things will be added unto you."

Our human instinct is to hunker down and behave cautiously in challenging times. But maybe this is just the time to extend ourselves, and be more generous in our support of Christian ministry. As we learn how to put God's kingdom first in our lives, Jesus promises us that we will also learn how to trust in God's good grace for all that we need in life. That is a promise on which we can rely. Amen.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What kinds of situations may have caused Jesus' first-century audience to worry?
  2. How did that affect their ability to trust God with their future?
  3. What did it mean that if they put the kingdom first, "all these things would be added unto them?"

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What worries me most about my financial future?
  2. How do these worries keep me from learning to trust God?
  3. How much will I have to give away, before I am unable to depend fully on myself (and able to start depending on God)?