Thursday, February 24, 2011
February 27, Proper 3, "I Just Want to Do God's Will"
Isaiah 49:8-16, Psalm 131, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34
Why did you come here today? What do you want? I know what I want. I just want to do God’s will. More or less. Oh, and in ten years or so I’d like to have safe and secure retirement. I’d like to not worry about anything. And I’d also like to live a long life. "Longevity has its place."
What do you want? Personal health and happiness. Well-being. How do you get it? Can you guarantee a good life for yourself? A good job? Good pay? Good benefits? A good pension? Good investments? Home ownership? This is the kind of wealth that Jesus means in verse 24, what “mammon” means in the old translations. Not the wealth of the rich but ordinary people who are planning their finances to insure their security and their comfort. Of people like me.
So I am challenged by this gospel no less than I am comforted by it. As usual. It always does both simultaneously, it comforts and it challenges. It challenges my strategies for my comfort. It questions my patterns of control. How much can I really control my life? Who is in control? What of my life should I surrender my control of? And to whom? Do I dare surrender some of my control to you, the Christian community, this village in the Kingdom of Heaven, when I think I know more than you do? Do I surrender my control to God, when I can see so much evidence that while God may feed the birds of the air there are millions of people who are underfed.
“Do not worry about anything.” Telling an anxious person not to be anxious is useless. Telling a hungry person that God feeds the birds is an insult. Think how challenging this was to Jesus’ initial audience. Someone who’s got to go home after this and find some food for her kids, or cook a meal for her mother-in-law, or take out another loan to buy seed for this year’s crops.
There’s a lot of surplus in this gospel. There’s a lot left unresolved by what Jesus says. You could extend his metaphors to contradict him. You could find lots of examples to counter him and easily offer reasons to dispute him. Which would be pleasing because it would keep you in control. You protect yourself and your way of life against the challenge that Jesus offers here.
You need to consider this gospel as an invitation. Jesus invites you to come inside his kingdom. He invites you to live inside this village with its way of life. He invites you to the choice of serving God. You will accept his invitation, and then you will be tempted to think you can serve God and also keep control of your own security and comfort, but you’ll find you can’t do both, you’ll hate the one and not the other, and so to accept his invitation to live inside his kingdom means you have to look at your own wealth, your own middle class wealth, as like birdseed, and your security as like wildflowers, which flourish and are gone, and your comfort as nothing you own but as a mystery of which you are a steward, your own life as not your own but as a mystery you are a steward of. Do you want that? Can you abide that? That’s what it means to live inside this kingdom, that is the lifestyle of this village. He’s inviting you to make his Kingdom the priority of your life, the medium through which you get your other benefits, the medium of all your pleasures and your comforts and even your security.
Yes, choose it, yes, accept the invitation. You will find here glories and pleasures that are closed off to you when you seek your comfort on your own. You will find freedoms and liberties from which you are excluded when you seek your own control. All these things will be added unto you when you seek first the kingdom, and its righteousness. Not the things you wanted from on the outside, but the things you learn of from the inside, as the kingdom has its way with you, and you learn the lay the promised land, and you learn to speak its dialect, and you learn to use its currency. “Oh, these are the benefits of its citizenship. I didn’t know. But now I see.”
The old translation was better. Not “strive for the kingdom,” that’s not what the Greek word means, but “seek the kingdom,” seek it out, seek to find, like hide and seek, seek to see, to notice and discover. It’s not about striving and exertion, it’s about seeing and receiving, or finding and learning, it’s not about achieving but giving in, surrendering, coming in from the cold, coming in like an immigrant, a refugee, except that the frontier is in yourself, because this kingdom claims the whole territory of the world. The kingdom of heaven is come on earth, can you see it? Be as humble as a sparrow to receive it, and as free.
There’s a further invitation here as well. Not just to enter it, but to exhibit it. To serve it, to share it, to develop it, to flourish within it. Jesus calls us not to passivity but to activity, activity free from anxiety because it is free from our own self-control, it is free from anxiety because we acknowledge that our own lives are mysteries even to ourselves, and yet that we are stewards of the mysteries of our lives which are fully known to God, which means we can rest in his Lordship and control, and live our lives in freedom and creativity and beauty. In doing his will.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray that every day. The Lord’s Prayer comes in Matthew 6, just a few verses before the gospel we read today. The Lord’s Prayer is at the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, it’s the high point that it rises to and comes down from. Our gospel lesson is an implication and application of the prayer. You can pray the prayer because your Father in heaven knows you need these things. The birds get their daily food from God, so Give us this day our daily bread. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, so that we not be anxious about anything. You can manage to live the sermon by praying the prayer.
You pray the prayer to live the sermon, because living it means depending so on God, and God invites your dependence. God tells you that if you accept the invitation to live this way, God will supply you with what you need to do it. It will not be what the world thinks you need, and you will hear voices that tempt you to those other sorts of comfort and control, but God will be with you as you pray the prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the mountaintop of the sermon on the mount. When you pray that prayer, you can open your eyes, and look out on the promised land like Moses did, when you’re praying that prayer you can see the kingdom you are seeking.
So here’s the take home. To seek the kingdom is to do God’s will. To do God’s will is to see what God is doing and to do it too. To see God’s will is to learn the kingdom, and to learn the kingdom is to find out what God’s will is. God’s will is a whole way of life, a way of living in a village, a community of Jesus, which gives witness and healing to the community around it. To seek the kingdom is to see what God is doing and to do it too. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
[From MLK’s last speech:] “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Copyright © 2011, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.