Feast Day: Rogation Sunday
Readings: Matthew 6:25-33
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
At first glance this gospel reading is difficult to understand. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Yet who among us can avoid being concerned with putting food on the table unless they want to starve? It is a difficult passage but the verse immediately before it provides a helpful interpretive key: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”
“Mammon” here is wealth personified. In other words, you cannot be devoted both to God and to the pursuit of worldly wealth and comfort. You cannot have two ultimate goods, or two final goals, at the same time. To put an even finer point on it, one can serve God only whole-heartedly or not at all. The lack of wiggle-room here, the all-or-nothing, black-or-white, yes-or-no, may be a difficult and challenging word for you this morning. If it’s any consolation I’ve been hearing this text all week.
“Therefore,” says Jesus, “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?” In other words, in light of the fact that human creatures cannot serve two masters, cannot have two ultimate goals, give up worrying about the pursuit of wealth and worldly security. After all, doesn’t life amount to more than that?
“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says. What does it mean to worry about your life? It means to think that you are self-sufficient and that your life has meaning only insofar as you are useful and able to decisively secure a future for yourself. I think what Jesus is doing here is exposing the frailty of this way of thinking. It is no wonder that the Church has always cared especially for those people that the world deems useless: the poor, the sick, children and the elderly.
In our culture creating a meaningful life and securing your future is generally attached to material things. We possess some things but we fear losing them so we work more to gain more, to achieve more. To have something to point at and say, “Look, my life is worth this much!” And we accept this as inevitable, as just the way things are. Yet cracks have been evident for some time now. For example, we know that modern economies are creating people that are increasingly distressed, lonely and isolated from one another. But what if this isn’t inevitable? What if this is a burden that we arbitrarily inflict upon ourselves?
“Do not worry about your life…Consider 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?” Jesus invites you to quit worrying about your life and to consider how God the Father provides for and sustains the life of all things. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the bees of the hive, they do not worry, they are not anxious, they simply are, they simply receive life as gift.
Some of you need to take some time each day to consider. Some of you need to wake up each morning and before you complain you need to consider. Some of you need to stop for a moment and before you cave-in you need to consider. Some of you need to quit thinking that everything is just one big coincidence and consider.
Consider that life is a gift. You did not make it. You did not work for it. You simply are because God is. God the Father is the giver and sustainer of life. He cares for the flowers and the birds. How much more does your heavenly Father care for you?
I think of my own children who spend a total of zero minutes in the day worrying about their life. It is the job of the parents to concern themselves with putting food on the table and clothes on little bodies. Children, meanwhile, play and laugh and concern themselves with much more important things such as joy and wonder and exploration. Even as I wrote this sermon I watched my daughters fashion shields and swords out of old cardboard boxes!
It isn’t until we grow older that our view of the world begins to shift. It ceases to be a place of abundance and wonder and becomes a place of scarcity and anxiety. One of the things that Jesus wants to do is help us recover a sense of the giftedness of the world and a strong and lively sense of the goodness of your heavenly Father, the creator of the world. Perhaps this is in part what Jesus means when he encourages us to come to him as little children. Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness.
Rather than frantically and anxiously trying to add to or secure our lives by pursuing material wealth Jesus invites us to concern ourselves with a greater matter: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We might translate this, “Be seeking first,” to highlight the fact that this is an ongoing commitment, a life that is daily oriented towards God as first priority and ultimate good, for our life not only comes from God but is going to him as well.
So, it’s not as if followers of Jesus are simply to live unconcerned about anything at all. Rather, we are invited to have our lives re-oriented so that we concern ourselves daily with that which is ultimate: Do I have a sense of the giftedness of the world? Does God have my whole heart? How am I growing in holiness? Am I open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Who can I be praying for more diligently? Who is the Lord leading me to share his life-giving gospel with?
This morning Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness. He is inviting you to orient your life towards God, your heavenly Father, and make him your first priority. To be thankful and generous and full of the joy of the Holy Spirit knowing that God cares for you and keeps you now and always.