Proper 3A RCL—St. Andrew’s Church—May 25, 2008—Edie Dolnikowski In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. During the past few months I have been reading one of my favorite trilogy of novels—Mary Stewart’s retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of Merlin. In these books Stewart portrays Merlin as an ordinary person with a few extraordinary abilities that allow him to appear more powerful, mysterious and brave than he actually is. One of his greatest assets is the gift of foresight. Every so often, at times he cannot predict, he receives a clear vision of events unfolding in the future. Sometimes these visions of the future direct his course of action in the present day. Usually, however, they merely provide a vague assurance that things will turn out the way that they are meant to, which encourages him to continue the work of serving his king. One of Merlin’s most important visions, which he received in his youth, showed him how he would die—a man of extreme old age entombed in a cave. Disturbing though it was, this vision served him well whenever he encountered any kind of physical danger. Though he might suffer pain or serious injury, he knew that he would not be killed in a sudden attack; he would not be crushed by natural disaster or destroyed by human treachery. Thus he could face every challenge without apparent fear. Companions and opponents alike marveled at his bravery. Only he knew that he was not brave at all; he did not need to be brave because his life was not at risk. And while he admired the real bravery of others, who lacked his gift of foresight, he did not hesitate to use this gift to advance his own interests, at the expense of others when necessary. I imagine that many of the people who flocked around Jesus during his earthly ministry thought of him as a Merlin-like sorcerer. He performed astonishing miracles, uttered strange predictions and carried himself as one who had no fear of civil authorities, religious leaders, lepers, demons, even the devil himself. Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel passage only accentuates his otherworldly qualities. “Do not worry,” he said, “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? . . . And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? . . . So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” That is easy for you to say, Jesus’ listeners might well have thought. You who can make the blind see, and the lame walk, can proclaim that today’s troubles are enough to worry about because you are confident that tomorrow will come. The hidden fear that burdened most of them was that tomorrow might not come; or worse—if they could not resolve today’s problems, tomorrow’s problems would just compound the load. They did not know what the future held. They dared not assume that the food, drink and clothing they worked so hard to acquire today would still be there for them tomorrow. They clung to the security these things seemed to offer even when they longed to believe what Jesus promised them—that possessions could not save them. Only God could save them. Jesus offered his teaching about possessions in a time and place that resembles our own circumstances in many ways. Jesus’ original audience—people living in first-century Galilee—were not facing serious, destabilizing economic conditions. Most of Jesus’ followers were poor by our standards; but they were not suffering from famine, plague, earthquakes, floods or any other direct threat. The main source of their anxiety was a vague sense of growing political instability. The reigning political and religious establishment was unpopular—some would say hopelessly corrupt. Roman imperial forces were hovering, waiting for an uprising that would justify a full-scale occupation. Jesus’ listeners were aware of what might happen. Jesus himself predicted political and social upheaval as well as the economic dislocation that always follows such disturbances. Not only were they worried about tomorrow—they had every reason to be worried about tomorrow. Jesus’ response to their fear was more reasonable and more compassionate than it might seem at first glance. Jesus did not try to sooth them by saying, falsely, that there is nothing to be afraid of, that everything will turn out fine. Indeed, he attested that there is enough trouble just in contending with the challenges of today. His urging them not to worry did not arise from his own sense of superiority or magical powers; it grew, rather, from his belief that God loved these people and wanted to help them through their difficulties. Jesus believed that the life God gives us is very long. It lasts for all eternity; and in comparison to eternity, the portion of our lives spent in fragile human bodies is fleeting, however long and hard it might feel as we move through it. If God cares enough about such ephemeral creatures as the birds of the air and grass of the field 2 to give them what they need to thrive, how much more does God care about humankind, made in God’s own image, filled with God’s own spirit, and intended to be in fellowship with God forever? From his perspective of deep faith, Jesus understood that worrying about the future has unhealthy effect of impairing our ability to solve the problems of today. Fearing potential poverty in the future, we hoard our possessions today, which can disrupt a fair distribution of resources to all God’s people. Fearing social, political or economic unrest in the future, we respond warily to calls on our generosity today, even though today we have plenty of the things that are needed to alleviate suffering, confront injustice and achieve reconciliation. We have plenty of these things, not because we have acquired them through our own merit but because God freely gives them to us. And God expects us to use these resources—now!—not wait and see if someday, conditions seem to be improving, such that we feel less anxious about sparing a few of them. According to Jesus, God gives us everything we need to strive for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. If we invested more time and effort in attending to this work today, it may just be that we would not have to worry so much about tomorrow. Two thousand years have passed since Jesus offered this teaching and we still fail to accept his wisdom. Despite the abundance we enjoy, we still hold onto our possessions as a way of coping with our anxiety about the future. And there are many things making us anxious right now: the rising cost of oil, the health of our ecosystem, the natural disasters in Asia, the wars raging in the Middle East. On this Memorial Day weekend, as we honor the painful sacrifices our citizens have made to protect us, we wonder if the human thirst for violence will ever end. What can we do to solve all these problems? How can we keep our worries from paralyzing us? Jesus tells us what to do, just as he told the Galileans who sought him out for help in the first century. The steps are clear, though the process is hard. First, we must divert the energy we expend worrying about what might happen to us tomorrow toward helping our brothers and sisters who are suffering today. Second, we must seek comfort not in saving possessions but in serving people. Third, we must remind ourselves continually that God loves us and wants us to succeed in the life of ministry to which he calls us. Finally, we must have faith that every trial we face on earth prepares us for everlasting fellowship with God because we are citizens of God’s kingdom and agents of God’s righteousness. How do we accomplish the huge task that Jesus sets for us? How do we transfer our natural tendency to worry about tomorrow into a desire to serve God today? The best way, it seems to me, Jesus says, is to develop the habit of remembering every day that God longs to comfort, heal and save us. To encourage us in this discipline, I offer this prayer written by a fellow Christian worrier, the theologian Henri Nouwen: “Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Why do the many little things I want to do, and the many people I know, keep crowding into my mind, even during the hours that I am totally free to be with you and you alone? Why does my mind wander off in so many directions, and why does my heart desire the things that lead me astray? Are you not enough for me? Do I keep doubting your love and care, your mercy and grace? Do I keep wondering, in the centre of my being, whether you will give me all I need if I just keep my eyes on you? “Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself. You even offer me more than I can desire. Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil. All I can do is show myself to you. Yet I am afraid to do so. I am afraid that you will reject me. But I know—with the knowledge of faith—that you desire to give me your love. The only thing you ask of me is not to hide from you, not to run away in despair, not to act as if you were a relentless despot. “Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple, quiet rest. Do I ask too much too soon? I should not worry about that. You will let me know. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.”* * From The New Book of Christian Prayers, ed. Tony Castle (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1987), pp. 107-8.