March 2, 2014
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
(revised from a homily first
posted on 2.27.2011)
The Lectionary Gospel reading for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time ends with these words:
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.” (NRSV)
This, coming as it does from Jesus, no doubt offers us wise counsel:
Live in the moment; Live for today; Face only today’s troubles.
But, one wonders how to accomplish such a noble task when confronted, for example, by a spouse out of work, or a young husband now deceased, or a little child snatched from life?
How does one continue to love and live in the moment when the stench of desperate life-events keep dragging the heart to the past?
No easy answers here.
What is called for is a strategy to combat this all-to-natural inclination to despair, a despair that allows our suffering to overshadow our discipleship. From the text we learn what is needed is both a heavy allegiance to the Master and his kingdom project, and a steady faith in the providence of the GOD who is there.
ALLEGIANCE TO THE MASTER
AND HIS KINGDOM PROJECT
The text reads:
"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
"...seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides."
Primarily, these words confront us with the question of a daily choice either to serve GOD or to serve ourselves. Perhaps from childhood, or maybe our teens, we initially chose to offer ourselves to the Christ and to the Jesus-way (Romans 12:1,2).
You know the drill, we joined a church and decided to do our best. This is well and good. But, we were sadly mistaken, however, if we believed that a one-time acceptance of this life-calling “back then” is sufficient for the moment. No, the Gospel call to follow the Christ is actually a daily call to conversion.
Daily we wake, take assessment of our lives, and then chose to take up our cross and to follow the Master...or not. (Luke 9:23) And this daily commitment to the Jesus-way is how true discipleship must be lived out, for we do not know what we will face today. We do not know what evil, what challenges and what constrictions will come our way.
According to today's text, at least part of this daily conversion experience is the question of service and worship. Will we serve GOD or will we serve mammon (riches)? If we are honest we know only too well the natural inner-forces driving us is the desire for wealth and things, don't we? We know only too well how difficult it is to keep a tight grip on the the ways of the Master by having to say no to the wily ways of a world where esteem and power come to those who end up with the most toys.
Think about it. Why do we desire wealth and riches? Is it just because we want more stuff to have more stuff? Perhaps. And certainly we are used to having and having. But I rather think we want stuff to secure us, to stave off the inevitable reality of hospital rooms and embalming fluids. That is, we easily fool ourselves -- with the deceptive help of AdMen -- into thinking our things-amassed will protect us from that certain appointment we have with death (Hebrews 9:27). Yet, in our saner moments we know this is not true; we know our actual future.
Jesus does, too. He faced the same future, yet his empowerment by the Spirit allowed him to see through the facade of wealth's deception. In today's text he calls us to the same path he followed. He calls us to put away childish lusts. He calls us to live in reality, to live in the truth of the moment, to live as an adult. He calls us to face our own demise by actually living what time we have for something important. He calls on us to chose a worthy life, a life serving his project: The Kingdom.
I think he wants us to know that his Kingdom work, which means serving him by serving others (Matthew 25:31-46), is literally the only path to humanity and a human life worth living. I think he wants us know that raising children to be Kingdom people or reclaiming people chewed up in the social machine of envy and greed and failure, for example, is indeed what enlivens life, and what makes it full and fulfilling.
To say this another way, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The church exists for others,” just as, “Jesus is a man for others.” That is, Jesus' life on earth, if it means anything, offers a sacrificial expression of GOD's continuing self-giving love for a world shattered-to-bits by hate and greed and violence, a world at war with itself. Jesus, in loving sacrifice, chose to face the shattered world and was shattered by it, leaving a powerful redemption and reconciliation for the world by absorbing the evil and hate and greed and violence. This is absorption is the cross!
But Jesus in no longer here, we are, and as his church we exist to provide the world an existential illustration of just what the Christ really means to the world, and what he really desires the world to become. You see, we now are his body; we now are his presence, and as such we must embody his love, acceptance, forgiveness and sacrifice. How else will the world know GOD's love? How else will the world know that GOD has chosen to become part of this mess, and partner with us in changing Gehenna into a livable city, unless the discipleship community lives out the truths that one need not depend upon survival of the fittest, and one need not scrape and grasp out our last breath in greed for stuff that moths eat and rust devours?
How else will the world know the truth that one need not fear the outcomes of tomorrow?
A STEADY FAITH IN THE PROVIDENCE
OF THE GOD WHO IS THERE
This leads us to the second way to combat our natural inclination to despair, a despair which allows suffering to overshadow our discipleship. Here we are asked to have faith that GOD really cares about us.
The text reads:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..."
"If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
This is very difficult. We see the grief in this weary world and wonder, does GOD really care? If so, then where is he? I mean, how are we to have any inkling of the providential care of GOD seeing the world as it is? How can we not worry about future outcomes? How can we not question:
“Will GOD really take care of my tomorrows -- what I will eat or drink or wear? I’ve lost my job and my house! What now, GOD? Should I expect you to shower down money and food from the sky, or am I pretty much on my own, surviving by my own wits?”
Jurgen Moltmann has it right, I think, when he writes:
“The question asked by sufferers themselves is not, ‘Why does God permit this?’ It is more immediate than that. Their question is, ‘My God, where are you?” or more generally, ‘Where is God?’”
Again, we are driven back to the community of the King, the church. And here I have in mind the "one another" verses of St. Paul, as an example.
The church, this discipleship community, is told to be devoted to one another, to honor one another, to accept one another, to admonish one another, to serve one another, to encourage one another, to pray for one another, to bear one another's burden, to forgive one another, and to love one another.
This one-another-ness, this koinonia shared life, is how GOD works his providential care for his people and for his world. It is this inner driven-ness within the community, which is sourced in the supernatural (beyond the natural empathic impulse), that causes us to sit in unison at the Christ's communion table and then provide food for the poor and starving who have no food and no table at all. It is this inner-connectedness within the community of faith that gives the community a common nerve that cries in unison when one cries in pain, and laughs in joy when another rejoices in victory.
Standing before the altar each week, just before I offer the bread and the cup to the people, I always pray:
“May the LORD our GOD unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
This is a prayer that we would maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace, but it is also a bold statement of fact, asserting that by the Spirit of Christ we are one and the same united heart.
Remember, Jesus is quoted as saying:
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)
GOD's providence, then, is deeply at work through this one-ness. But we only discover GOD’s providence afterward, coming through these small measures of love and the one-another care we offer as a cup of cool water in Jesus' name. GOD's providence, then, is deeply at work in the subtle, behind the scene choices we make, choices prompted by the leanings of the Holy Spirit.