The Sunday Sermon: October 11, 2020 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
Life Is Delicious
We have a week “in-between” this morning – in between World Communion Sunday and our Day of Witness (with all the preparation that included) and next week when we start our Stewardship season, whatever that will look like this year! This week we focus in on … this week.
So, I begin this morning with a Zen Buddhist wisdom tale that I’ve shared before. My files say that I shared this in a sermon during the first summer I was the Pastor here. That was 12 years ago. I’ve used it to illustrate “life” since then, I think, but in any case it’s a fairly memorable story. And in any case, “life” has changed dramatically enough since we last shared this bit of wisdom, so it’s time again:
There was a man who was traveling through the mountains when suddenly he found himself being chased by a huge hungry tiger. So he ran. He ran and he ran until he came to the edge of a cliff and he could run no further. There, with nowhere else to go, he looked down and caught hold of a thick vine growing out of the ground and swung himself over the edge. Above him, the tiger growled at the edge of the cliff. As he tried to think what to do next, safe from the tiger above, he heard a sound from below. Looking down, he saw another tiger waiting for him at the bottom of the vine. Just at the moment, two mice scrambled out from the cliff side, crawled onto the vine, and began to gnaw at it. The traveler could see they were quickly eating through it. And then … right in front of him on the cliff side, a smell caught his attention. As he focused in, he saw a luscious wild strawberry! And, holding onto the vine with one hand, he reached and picked the berry with the other, popping it into his mouth. Ahh … how delicious! (“The Wild Strawberry,” Zen)
Pray with me …
The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way, in the words of Jesus from chapter six. Listen for the Word of God. Read Matthew 6:25-33. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
With all the tigers that linger in our past and all the tigers that lurk in our future, even with the mice of our present that gnaw in the corners of our mind, we are told “not to worry”, and called to embrace the goodness of creation, the promise for our lives, right here and right now. Re-eally? Even this year, 2020?!
I’m going to bet you that without the story you just heard (and for some, maybe even with it!), the word “delicious” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing life today, our lives today. I mean, after we hear it, we know we’re supposed to think it, to treasure life and the present moment. But do we? Can we? Is it … delicious?
We admit every time we get together to worship, that we separate ourselves from God by not living in God’s world on God’s terms. In this week’s scripture reading, God’s “terms” include appreciating the here and now. We aren’t doing that so well, with a bit more justification this year than years past, perhaps, but that just means that more than ever the Christian gospel news of “God’s powerful resolve to overcome our separation” is even more essential.
Jesus of Nazareth, we confess, comes and teaches us that life is delicious at every moment in every time. He teaches us this by leading his life in full obedience to and trust in … God. Our own salvation we profess is in a life so lived. And yet …
Even one of the most beloved passages of all scripture, Matthew 6:24-33, we find irresponsible. I mean, we know it’s not true even that all birds are fed and all lilies reach their fullest beauty in this world, let alone all humans. It is not the case that invariably all things necessary to life are added to those who “seek first the kingdom of God,” and that careful planning can avoid disasters, natural and self-inflicted. That’s a sermon you’ve heard too many times, so let’s cut to the chase. This teaching is not about our predicament – which changes always, but about God’s promise, which is sure and certain and constant no matter what predicament we’re in.
In our frenzy to provide ourselves with so much in excess of our basic needs, we have fallen out of touch with the true breath of life. From our insatiable desire to acquire, hoard, worship and live in God’s world on our terms we wander around East of Eden forever. How do we get through, get back, let go, breathe deep, live, love? As hard as it is, we begin by paying attention to the strawberries right in front of us.
In the Buddhist faith, the tradition from which the first story I shared comes to us, it is most often called “mindfulness.” In our traditional Christian teachings the process of development and growth, the journey we should be on, is called “sanctification,” or “growing in discipleship.” It is part of God’s creative action in the world and as we sanctify our lives, we pay close attention to them – now. We seek to nurture ourselves, others and our community so that we may then help others to live in God’s world on God’s terms.
A sanctified, mindful, and purposeful life is a powerful influence and it comes mostly from not doing anything, at least nothing “frantic.” It comes mostly from slowing down, and letting go, and giving up, and giving over; from living life and not just waiting for it to “start up again”; from noticing and getting in touch with the mystery of God and God’s creation in everyday life, in ordinary life.
Could that be a more powerful call in this, our “COVID-political-racial-personal-what-could possibly-be-next” time?! Far too easily we wait for the future to “get better.” And even more stubbornly we look at the past to remind us what things should be like.
We think that “the way things were” is the way things should be. But that has pretty literally never been the truth. We learn constantly, whether we change because of it or not, that we have been wrong about “the way things were” more often than not! We were wrong about the world being flat and the earth being the center of the universe; we were wrong about the continent being uninhabited when we arrived and about any scriptural justification for slavery; or the voting rights of women and the civil rights of all, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, political party, or any other division we’ve created to “order” our societies.
The way things “were” in our human constructions has almost never been the way they should be. So now, let’s not seek “to return to normal.” Let us
now seek first the Kingdom of God. To live fully is to turn from our own invented ways of well-being that always, always, serve those in power, and to seek ways of incarnating God as Jesus did, of living in God’s world on God’s terms. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you. Ahh, life then … delicious.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 11, 2020