Sunday, June 1, 2008

Don’t Worry, we’re having an Hanami Party! Part 2

Matthew 6:25-34 and Romans 12 (selected verses) and Job 38 (selected verses)

Today we continue our look at this radical concept of Jesus. DON”T WORRY!1

Don’t worry about food, what you wear…

Try telling that to a two year old. My nephew Henry is entering the terrible two phase according to his grandparents. They went out to eat last night at one of those restaurants that’s in-between fast food and sit down—where you order at the counter and your food comes about 15 to 20 minutes later. Well, the food didn’t come. The food of other people who had come in after the party with nephew Henry had come, but not theirs. As Henry begins to express a little discomfort and dissatisfaction with his predicament: his concerned father goes to try figure out what’s going on. People who came in after nephew Henry and his party have finished their meals and are leaving. Henry is starting to throw things and really pitch a fit, so he has to go outside, too. His father goes to check on the situation again. Finally the food comes as does the manager to apologize and offer a meal on the house. But Henry didn’t care about the free meal, he just wanted food.

Sure would be nice to live a life without worry. But do you ever feel like it just doesn’t seem possible? Other than food and clothes, our busy lives are filled with activity: Work, school, relationships, church, television, hospitals, other people’s demands on our lives.

And even during the down time our lives are filled with worry: Bills, Health, relationships, wars, natural disasters, global warming, politics, things we’ve said, things we’ve done, yesterday’s struggles, tomorrow’s trouble.

Filled lives yet, we so often feel unfulfilled! We get bored even though we’ve got so much going on: Does what we do make a difference? Does anyone even care? This can lead to resentment, and even to depression and loneliness: Does anything really matter?

We know this road and the problems that may come with worry: but we still worry.

We can imagine singing all the time “Don’t worry, be happy,” but is it realistic?

Jesus tells those who would listen: Do not worry, set your heart on God’s Kingdom first, and all these things well be given you as well. How dare he say something like that!? No te preocupes! What does it mean? Does it mean we should cut back on all the events, activities, and people that make up our lives? Is he saying that the things we do that cause us worry are unimportant, a waste of time, even useless? Don’t worry: does this mean we’re supposed to pack up our things and move to a secluded commune in Alaska…it’s cold there.

No te preocupes: Set your heart on God’s kingdom. This is Jesus’ challenge to us today.

Can we experience newness in all the things we’ve got going in our lives? Shift our center of gravity? Shift our focus from the many things to the one necessary thing. It seems like Jesus doesn’t preach a message in which we change our activities, our contacts in our address book, or even a change of pace; but there is a change that he preaches: a change of heart! Set your hearts on God’s kingdom. And with such a change in heart we may be wonderfully surprised, or perhaps surprisingly shocked at how things change, how things become new even if from the outside things look kind of the same; you still get out of bed, eat, go about your daily tasks, interact with people, lay your head down at night and sleep.

Jesus seems to be saying: When we worry, we have our hearts all over the place and in the wrong places. Don’t worry, move your hearts to the center where all other things fall into place. So let’s see if Jesus practiced what he preached. Passage from Mark 1:32-39:

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. His companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

A day in the life. So was Jesus busy? A filled life? He’s teaching, preaching, healing, exorcising demons, confronting opposition, going from one place to another. He’s like a fanatic, so driven to engage and move and preach the good news of God anywhere and everywhere. But if we look deeper at what motivated him, at where his focus was we see things are different. He did many things but was concerned about one thing: to do the will of God.

In the gospel of Luke his first words were in the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” (Luke 2:49), and his last words before the resurrection were on the cross: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Luke 23:46). Other places in the new testament we read: “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing” (Jn 5:19). Now how was Jesus able to live this way?

What was his motivation when he got up out of bed in the morning? What drove him day in and day out?

From what I can tell, there are two words that answer these questions: obedience and love. Jesus was obedient about do the will of the Father. Obedience can be a troubling word for many of us. Obedience suggests an asymmetrical power dynamic. I’m more powerful than you so you better do what I say. Obedience can imply potential threats of punishment. How many parents have answered protesting children with “you better do what I say or else? “But, Why?” Because I’m your mother, and I said so!” Is it safe to say Jesus’ relationship with the Father was different: his obedience was a total, fearless listening to a loving voice. Threats and secrets and power struggles did not exist. A relationship of mutual sharing; a relationship of radical love.

A love that includes yet transcends all forms of love known to us. The love between the Father and the Son is a love that includes the love of a father and mother, a husband and wife, a sister and brother, a teacher and friend. But it goes beyond the various loving relationships we’ve experienced. It is caring yet demanding. Supportive yet severe. Gentle yet strong. Life giving yet accepts death. This is the love—the Holy Spirit—the love, that eternally embraces and holds together the relationship between Jesus and the Father; it is this communion of love that is the center and source for Jesus’ spiritual life, a life of total focus on God’s love. And from this, Jesus activity in the world comes.

Can we be part of this intimate community? IS this something that we seek for ourselves? I get a little nervous about this kind of relationship. I get nervous about intimacy and sharing…It’s a wonder I’m even married.

But at the same time, I’m drawn to this kind of love. This kind of radical obedience, this focus on the one thing and from this one thing comes all of the other things.

So we have to ask ourselves: Are our lives destined to become like Jesus’ Life? This gets tricky. I mean: sometimes I think about Jesus and the way he lived his life I think, no way. I can’t be like that, it’s just kind of one of those things far out there, eyes on the prize but never getting there. Sometimes I look at the way Jesus lived his life and because I’m such a miserable sinful human being I’ve got him singing a theme song: “You can’t touch this.” Besides, things are different now than they were then, it’s not realistic to be like Jesus right?

Do we feel this way about our relationship with Jesus sometimes? Why? What was Jesus’ life for? He came to live in obedient love and to show anyone and everyone a better way, the way of love; life lived in tune with God’s Spirit. And he invites us to follow, follow him to our true home, where we can be who we really are. Follow me, is what he says, not “you can try to follow, but you probably won’t be able to keep up.”

Everything that belongs to Jesus was given to disciples (Jn15:15). All that Jesus does we can also do (Jn 14:12). In God’s kingdom, NO one is a second class citizens; no one is an illegal immigrant, we are given all rights and privileges. And Jesus wants us to be where he is: He prays in John 17: “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you… may they be so completely one that the world will realize…that I have loved them as much as you loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.” Jesus became like us so that we might become like him. And this means a radical transformation of everything in our lives because of a total transformation of the focus of our lives.

We are converted, every day, perhaps suddenly or through a gradual transformation. It involves an inner experience of oneness. It is a life in which we are totally transformed by the Spirit of love. Yet, again, it is strangely a life in which everything seems to remain the same.

What twitches at the bottom of the ocean? A nervous wreck. When I was in high school I was a nervous wreck. I was pimple faced, my voice cracked, skinny, scared of girls, unsure of myself. I could pretend that I wasn’t this way and try to act tough, but deep down I was so self-conscious. After graduation, going off to school was a good thing,

I was able to grow-up a bit, but really, it was when I went off to school that I began to experience my relationship with God in new ways. I grew closer to God, and fell more deeply in love with God. And things began to change. I found I didn’t worry so much about the clothes I was wearing or how other’s perceived me. Well, I still worried about what girls thought of me, but even in relationships I began to trust God more. I still did what I was doing before: I studied (kind of), played soccer, hung out, volunteered and worked, but I was focused on something different and everything began to become different. I was reminded of this this weekend by a picture of me and three highschool friends our senior year. One of my friends in the picture and I were hanging out three or four years after graduation and she said to me…Topple, you seem different.

I don’t know what it is but you just seem to have more confidence. She knew me as the nervous worried wreck!

I am no great example but I have experienced this gradual transformation of a worry filled life to a less worry filled life. To live life in the Spirit means that everything is different, but it doesn’t necessarily mean everything that we start doing completely new things. A lot of people think that deepening our relationship with God means that we have to leave our families, our jobs; that we have to give up social or political activities, or abstain from literature and art because we’re too busy praying all the time. Some changes in our lives may in fact grow out of our spiritual life, and for some people radical decisions may be necessary.

But the spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. “What is new is that we have moved from the many things to the kingdom of God. What’s new is that we are set free from the compulsions of our world and have set our hearts on the only necessary thing. What’s new is that we no longer experience the many things, people, and events as endless causes for worry, but begin to experience them as the rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us.”

When we shift our focus to the center: our conflicts and pains, our tasks and promises, our families and friends, our activities and projects, our hopes and aspirations, no longer appear to us as things we have to do and wear us out, but rather as affirmations and revelations of the new life of the Spirit in us. “All these other things,” which so occupied and preoccupied us, now come as gifts or challenges that strengthen and deepen the new life which we have discovered. We know things don’t get easier or that our pain suffering will end. But our attention is no longer directed to the “more or less.” What matters is to listen… Listen for the Spirit and to go obediently where we are being led, whether to a joyful or a painful place. Poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness may continue to be part of our experience. They may even be God’s way of purifying us. But life is no longer boring, resentful, depressing, or lonely

because we have come to know that everything that happens is part of our way to God.

But this leaves us with a difficult question: “Is there a way to move from our worry filled life to the life of the Spirit? Must we simply wait passively until the Spirit comes along and blows away our worries? Or are there ways we can prepare ourselves? Is there anything we can do? Well, let’s take a look again at this next week.

In the mean time continue the Hanami Party, and Bird watching hikes as we gain better focus on the one thing, the kingdom of God.

1 I use Henry Nouwen’s Making All Things New as a teacher and an outline for this sermon series on Matthew 6:25-34.

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