Sunday, February 27, 2011

Clearing the clouds away, living in the moment

I preached at the 8 am service today and Bishop Ted Gulick will be with us preaching and conducting confirmations at the 10 am service. The readings for today are Isaiah 49:8-16a, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34. Below is my sermon from the early service:
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“Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal.” Amen.

Stop worrying.
That is the central message we hear this morning in the opening prayer and in the gospel of Matthew.
Today we reach this crescendo in the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus admonishing us “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”
God clothes the grass in the field so God will clothe you and I.
So stop worrying.
I must admit to you, though, that you can tell me to stop worrying, and I will try, but that won’t stop me from waking up in the middle of the night and worrying about my mother’s health, worrying about Lori’s injured knee, worrying about the visit of a bishop to this parish in about an hour – and worrying about many of you.
You may as well tell me to sprout wings and fly as tell me not to worry.
Maybe one way of interpreting this gospel lesson is to suggest that those with tremendous faith don’t worry about anything, and those with little faith are big worriers.
Maybe.
But I am reasonably sure that many giants of the faith were pretty good worriers. And if you look around the gospels a bit, you can catch Jesus worrying, for example when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while waiting to be arrested. The gospel (Matthew 26:37) says he “began to be grieved and agitated.”.
I think even Jesus worried.
But in telling us not to worry, is Jesus being callous about those with very little other than their worries?
It is all well and good to say “don’t worry” about where you will get your food and clothes if you have food and clothes.
As we know, much of the world lives in extreme poverty and has good reason to worry about basics like food and clean drinking water.

The markers of extreme poverty – malaria, dysentery and respiratory infections – account for 30 percent of the deaths in low-income countries, according to the United Nations World Health Organization.
All of that is preventable.
So is Jesus telling the poor, don’t worry, be happy?
I don’t think so. Throughout the gospels, Jesus offers over and over comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable.
So what is Jesus getting at with this “don’t worry” idea?
Look at the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the “beatitudes,” the blessings for those are poor, hurting, grieving. Everything now in this life, Jesus says, is wrapped in those blessings.
You are blessed. You will be comforted. You will inherit the kingdom of God. It is yours right now, look in front of you.
But to see it, we need to empty ourselves, and push the clouds away. We can’t do that by hoarding all of our stuff, and our stuff is more than just material possessions.
What clouds are you carrying with you? It can be resentments, anger, unmet expectations, ambitions, perfectionism – or worries.
We can suffocate by clinging to ways that no longer work, or endlessly wishing that something would have turned out differently.
We can try to rewrite the past, but the past is stubbornly resistant about that. Or we can try to bargain with the future, but the future is stubbornly resistant about that.
We can only live right now.
Worry won’t bring back the past, and worry won’t bring the future any closer. All we can do is live now, today, in this moment.

For me, one of the hardest practices I have ever tried to learn is living in the moment, truly living right this second.
This past week, I caught a glimpse of how to do that right here. We have been hosting PACEM, an organization of churches that has banded together to take turns being a homeless shelter for women living on the street.
We give them a safe place, a hot meal and a bed for the night.
I spent Wednesday night upstairs while the women slept on cots in a Sunday school classroom. It was a quiet night.
I was up at 5 am to make coffee and I got a chance to chat with a few of the women.
None of them have very much, and all of them are struggling with a host of personal issues and difficulties.
Yet they all found moments of laughter, moments of joy.

This was my second sleep over here for PACEM. I stayed here the night after Christmas. One of the women told me the next morning she had received a call in the night from her 24-year old son who she had not seen since he was four.
She hadn’t seen him because she’d been in prison all this time. She said the call was the greatest Christmas present she’d ever had.

I was struck by her courage, and the courage of the others, in just living one day at a time.
What did I learn about how to live right now? Prune whatever is getting in your way, clean out the attic, discard whatever is weighing you down.
Lighten your load and lighten up, don’t take yourself so seriously. Find a way to laugh – laughter will blow away the clouds.

It is in the emptying, the letting go, the small moments of joy – the laughter – that we can see God in front of us, God under us, God surrounding us today, in this moment.
And so we pray: “Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal.” Amen.

1 comment:

Will said...

Indeed, as much as we would all wish to the contrary, none of us is guaranteed the next 5 minutes.