Monday, March 7, 2011

Eighth Sunday of Epiphany, Year A, 27 February 2011

Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry…”

But Jesus, you don’t understand! There’s so much to worry about! And life is complicated…much more so than it was then, there, in that part of the world, in that time of history.

Or so we’d like to think—that it was much easier then, much less complicated, they didn’t have all the things we have to worry about. No, but they had worries enough.

The “therefore” in this Gospel passage is the hinge. There’s a transition in that moment. Jesus has just been speaking to those who listen to him and saying “You cannot serve two masters.” No slave can be loyal to two sovereigns—they will either love one and despise the other, or they will be devoted to this one and hate the other; they will be going back and forth and back and forth and make themselves sick. That divided loyalty gets you nowhere, except spinning in circles.

For this reason—therefore—do not worry about these things, because that worry will only distract you.

You cannot serve God and wealth. The word “wealth” in this passage is an Aramaic word, “mammon”—some of us may remember that word in the older translations—it is sort of a personification of “Stuff.” When I moved to Georgia from New Jersey, a hundred and fifty boxes of books went on the moving van. And I looked around my library this week, as I was preparing this sermon, and thought “Now, come on.” And yet three more arrived from this week.

We may have a problem.

For someone else it may be shoes. Or hats. Or—who knows what? But this notion that Stuff, somehow in and of itself, is salvific, that by having enough of IT, whether it is money or degrees on the wall or cans of tuna fish in the pantry or whatever—that in and of themselves those things have the ability to save. They do not.

And Jesus is not condemning Stuff as such. This is the same Jesus of whom it is said: “For God so loved the world, that he sent the only-begotten One…not to condemn the world but that…the world might be saved.” That’s not just the good people, or the smart people, or the people who seem to have gotten their lives together, that’s the World, the created order itself. And before that, in the Beginning…God created, God created, God created and God said : It is good, it is good, it is very, very good. We have as our first reading this morning the passage from Isaiah that ends with this striking image: “I have carved you on the palms of my hands.” (Preacher touches his own hands, then gestures to the cross hanging over the altar)

And there in the window, the Hand of God, reaching to create the proto-atom—which is also the proto-Adam. All sorts of images at play, in this place today.

So Jesus is not speaking against creation, or the created order, or any of the stuff in it. But he is saying something about how it is to be valued. This passage, like all the passages we’ve been reading the last few weeks as our Gospel lessons, from the Sermon on the Mount, all say the same thing, they are all pointing in the same direction, which is about re-orientation. It is about recognizing a different set of values by which the Kingdom of God is enacted in this world.

“Metanoia”—turn around, you missed your exit on the freeway, you don’t want to go to Columbia, you want to go to Atlanta. Turn around!

It’s not all about us, for one thing. Look with me in the prayer book, Psalm 24 on page 613.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it; the world and all who dwell therein.
For it is he who founded it upon the seas, and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
They shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and a just reward from the God of their salvation.

The earth is the Lord’s. The earth is the Lord’s. We are stewards, we have opportunities to share these good things and to use them, but they are not ours by possession. And this language of “purity of heart” reminds us of an earlier moment in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. That dividedness, that “trying to serve two masters” is the antithesis of purity of heart. This is not a moralistic quality, it is an intention. “I’m going this direction, I’m going to do this thing, my heart is set, my mind is made up, my intention is clear, here I will go.” No turning back, no turning aside. The slave who attempts to serve two masters just ends up seasick and spinning in place.

One thing is needful. One heart, one loyalty, one mind, one intention.

It’s not that the stuff doesn’t matter, of course it matters. Jesus is very clear: Your heavenly Father knows you need food and clothing and shelter and all of these things. But “you” is collective: This is “y’all”…it’s not just about my needs on a given day, it is about the needs of the world. And how it is possible for me to have much, and share with someone who has less, who has need of some books. Or some shoes. Or some food, or a place to sleep.

Hospitality to the stranger, and comfort for those who are lonely or sick or in prison. And when you go out of church this morning, when you walk out those doors, and you are confronted again with those windows in the narthex, down at the bottom: Drink for the thirsty and food for the hungry, clothing and shelter and freedom for the prisoners—remember, and take heart. For this is the Kingdom of God come among us, and of which we are called to be agents, stewards, servants, God’s ministers in this world.

May it be so for us;
May it be so among us.

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