August 4, 2019; Psalm 16 and Matthew 6:25-34
In my Bible this passage from Matthew is entitled, “Do Not Worry”. How many of you need to hear this Biblical message often and even then, it’s hard to really hear it? Raise your hands if you struggle with worry (Yep, my hand is raised!). There are certain sermons that are good to preach one or more times a year because that’s how often we need to hear them. This is one of those sermons. This is a beloved gospel passage but it’s also kind of interesting because when you peel back just the beauty of the words and break it down on a more literal level it doesn’t really stand the test of reality. I mean, there are birds that don’t get fed. There are lilies that never bloom because of drought or other factors. Furthermore, it’s good to plan ahead and lay aside provision for food, shelter and clothing. I could find other scripture that would call this active foresight, wisdom. And I’ve now just taken these grace-filled words and kind of made it all ugly. Because sometimes scripture isn’t supposed to be broken down into literal black and white blocks. And when we do take it apart in such a way, we totally miss the essence of the teaching. A large part of what draws us to this Matthew passage is the poetry of the words. Poetry inspires in the mind impressions, images, echoes that resonate within and grasp the voice of truth. If we read this passage as poetry in the manner that is intended what we find here is both censure and reassurance. The admonishment in these words is to let go of our worries, our needless busyness, our innate desire to try and control every aspect of our lives. The encouragement and comfort is that God is ultimately in charge, is looking out for us, is loving us. In the eyes of our heavenly Father, we are much more valuable than the sparrows God also cares for.
What you have on the screen back here are some more restful images from our time away on vacation. We spent time in Massachusetts, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. We had a wonderful time together and just enjoyed stepping out of our normal routine and embracing the adventures that each day presented. And we relaxed and savored the time that of course slipped by too quickly. And with the perspective of a tourist and thus more in tune maybe with life’s poetry, I was able to catch some different glimpses of life that I really appreciated. I was struck by all the simple, white clapboard churches up and down the east coast that graced the countryside looking like a Thomas Kinkaide painting. These churches were homes to active congregations. I saw far more of these simple structures than I did larger brick and mortar churches. And every time we came upon yet another one of these small churches, it made my heart happy because it felt like a calling back to a simpler time in the church.
When we went out to Walden Pond at 4:00 on a Tuesday afternoon I was struck at how many local people of all ages were coming out to the little beach to relax and just enjoy the day for a few hours. Wow, late on a Tuesday afternoon! Who has time to do something like that? Well, a lot of people evidently made the time and the spirit in that place was pretty awe-inspiring. When we arrived there, I was tired and grumpy after a lot of walking and touring in the historic part of Boston earlier in the day. But I left feeling like I had been spiritually fed. When we got to Prince Edward Island, I think all of us were struck with just the slower pace of life. Less bustle. Less traffic. Quiet. Calm. A view of the ocean always close at hand. It was lovely. It was poetic. I know many of us have gotten away for some vacation time and I’m guessing there’s a common desire to carry with us into our daily life some of the sense of relaxation and light-heartedness we experienced in our time away. We want to infuse our life here with just a little bit of that calm, that space to breathe, to be. Instead, we all too quickly get caught up in the frantic pace of our over-committed lives and we lose our grip on the stillness, on the peace, and desperate for time to ourselves we lose sight of “being” time and instead grab at wasting time moments – Facebook, youtube videos, cell phone games all come to mind, but you can fill in the blank with your own particular vice. I’m just not sure Jesus was thinking about helping us seek out time wasters when he told us to let go and “not worry”. A lot of people don’t really enjoy poetry a great deal. I don’t sit down and read books of poetry myself. It requires too much of me. I much prefer to sit down and race my way through a good novel. Much more efficient. There’s no racing in poetry. You sit with the words and mull them over, let them sink into your mind and turn thoughts this way and that, kneading and shaping old understandings into newer insights. In that way you enter into a trust relationship with the poem and its writer allowing these images to stir and capture your hopes and imagination. Poetry’s not for the faint-hearted. This is an analogy, of course. Because I think the impulse that triggers our resistance to poetry, is the same impulse that makes us resist slowing our life down and allowing space for God to come breathe into our hearts and minds. Ironically, it’s so much easier to keep our lives going at a breakneck speed and not give ourselves the time to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to work within us, stretching our minds and helping our hearts grow bigger. We protect ourselves, then, by virtue of our busyness, and when we do pause, we too often seize onto mind and spirit-numbing pursuits rather than mind and spirit growing moments of stillness where we can simply “be” in the presence of God. Interestingly, for many of us, this attempt to let our busy lives keep us from reflection, from stewing, from fear – it catches up to us at night when we are forced to be still and sleep maybe eludes us as everything we’ve tried to avoid and subdue in our waking hours comes to visit us in a tidal wave of restlessness and yes, worry. Wendell Berry, in his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”, writes about slowing down and taking time for the holy, poetic moment that I think reflects the spirit of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. He writes,
“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
I like that last line in particular. As a Christian, I would capitalize the word Grace. “I rest in the Grace of the world, and am free.” Isn’t this exactly what the Matthew passage is calling us to do? To rest in God’s grace and be free? Why do we resist? I think it has to do with trust. In order to let go. In order to slow down. In order to be still. We have to believe in the deepest depths of our being that life doesn’t begin and end with our own efforts and agendas. We have to trust that God is in control and then be still and calm enough to allow God the space to breathe into our lives and fill us with the Word. When we vacation, we slow ourselves down and I think the truth of Matthew’s passage here is able to get a better foothold in our soul. But we don’t have to go to a far-off island to make that time to savor moments with God each day. Every third image playing on the screen is a Kansas image. They are moments captured in my daily life. Some of them represent my most sacred places from the past to sit and be still with God. Psalm 16 is a poem. All the psalms are poetry. This is the poem of a person who is very intentionally making space for God in his life. He has slowed down and is in tune with his Creator and you can see in his words how he prioritizes his life and how intentional he is with his choices. This Psalm resonates with trust in God. “In you I take refuge…You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing…you have assigned me my portion and my cup…surely I have a delightful inheritance…I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me…my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure…you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” There’s another word that sums up everything I’ve been talking about this morning – Sabbath. God, in the very act of creation, carved out space, carved out time for Sabbath rest, time to dwell with God and trust in God’s provision. Time to allow the poetry of life to settle over us and nurture our hearts and minds. Time to cease from the busyness that reveals our struggle to trust fully. Time to spend with our faith family here in church, with our children, with our parents, with our spouses, with our friends, reveling in these blessed relationships from God. Time to think about the sparrows and lilies and be at one with the Spirit of God who restores and renews. I’d like to close with a poem by L.M Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables.
(“Come Rest Awhile” by L.M Montgomery)
Come, rest awhile, and let us idly stray In glimmering valleys, cool and far away.
Come from the greedy mart, the troubled street, And listen to the music, faint and sweet,
That echoes ever to a listening ear, Unheard by those who will not pause to hear
The wayward chimes of memory’s pensive bells, Wind-blown o’er misty hills and curtained dells.
One step aside and dewy buds unclose The sweetness of the violet and the rose;
Song and romance still linger in the green, Emblossomed ways by you so seldom seen,
And near at hand, would you but see them lie All lovely things beloved in days gone by.
You have forgotten what it is to smile In your too busy life…come, rest awhile.