Proper 3, Year A   10 comments

Above:  The Sermon on the Mount, from Ortesei, Italy

Worries, Arguments, and Struggles

The Sunday Closest to May 25

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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Isaiah 49:8-16a (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD:

In a time of favor I have answered you,

on a day of salvation I have helped you;

I have kept you and given you

as a covenant to the people,

to establish the land,

to apportion the desolate heritages;

saying to the prisoners,

Come out,

to those who are in darkness,

Show yourselves.

They shall feed along the ways,

on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;

they shall not hunger or thirst,

neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,

for he who has pity on them will lead them,

and by springs of water will guide them.

And I will turn all my mountains into a road,

and my highways shall be raised up.

Lo, these shall come from far away,

and lo, these from the north and from the west,

and these from the land of Syene.

Sing for joy, O heavens and exult, O earth;

break forth, O mountains, into singing!

For the Lord has comforted his people,

and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

But Zion said,

The LORD has forsaken me,

my Lord has forgotten me.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

Psalm 131 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

2 I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

3 But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

4 O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.  I do not even judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.  Then each one will receive commendation from God.

Matthew 6:24-34 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus continued,]

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?” or ‘What will we drink” or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.

The Collect:

Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence; and that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all, and especially these sweet words where He saith:  “I it am.  It I.  That is to say, I it am, the Might and Goodness of the Fatherhood; I it am, the Wisdom of Motherhood; I it am, the Light and Grace that is all blessed Love; I it am, the Trinity.  I it am, the Unity:  I am the sovereign Goodness in all manner of things.  I am that Maketh thee to love:  I am that maketh thee to long:  I it am, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.”

–From Chapter LIX of Revelations of Divine Love, by Dame Julian of Norwich (lived circa 1342-circa 1413)

I know better than to worry.  Yet I do it anyway.  Worrying accomplishes nothing productive.  It is better to plot and attempt strategies for solving one’s problems than to sit around and fret.  Yet I worry from time to time.

When I do this, I do not trust in God.  And to trust in God is to believe in God, as I use the word “believe,” as in whether one believes in God.  “Creed” comes from the Greek word for “trust.”  So the Apostles’ Creed should begin, “I trust…” and the Nicene Creed ought to start with, “We trust….”  As long as I have been conscious of religion, I have accepted intellectually the proposition that God exists.  But I believe in God only when I trust God.  And I need to believe more often than I do.

A few years ago I heard a radio interview with biologist Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.   He pointed out that, from time to time, predators threaten zebras, so the striped creatures are at risk.  But the peril is over very shortly.  Either the zebra lives or dies, but the animal does not dwell on possible worst-case scenarios.  That is why zebras don’t get ulcers.  But we humans do worry, and we do get ulcers.  We do it to ourselves.

Let us return to Chapter LIX of Revelations of Divine Love, in which Dame Julian of Norwich writes of God, who possesses characteristics we think of as paternal, as well as those we categorize as maternal:

Our high Father, God Almighty, which is Being, He knew and loved us from afore any time:  of which knowing, in His marvellous deep charity and foreseeing counsel of all the blessed Trinity, He willed that the Second Person become our Mother.  Our Father willeth, our Mother worketh, our good Lord the Holy Ghost comfirmeth: and therefore it belongeth to us to love our God in whom we have our being:  Him reverently thanking and praising for our making, mightily praying to our Mother for mercy and pity, and to our Lord the Holy Ghost for help and grace.

For in these three is all our life:  Nature, Mercy, Grace:  whereof we have meekness and mildness; patience and joy; and hating of sin and of wickedness,–for it belongeth properly to virtue to hate sin and wickedness.  And thus is Jesus our Very Mother in Nature by virtue of our first making; and He is our Very Mother in Grace, by taking our nature made.  All the fair working, and all the sweet office of dearworthy Motherhood is inpropriated to the Second Person:  for in Him we have this Godly Will whole and safe without end, both in Nature and in Grace, of His own proper Goodness.  I understood three manners of beholding Motherhood in God:  the first is grounded in our Nature’s making; the second is taking our nature,–and there beginneth the Motherhood of Grace; the third is Motherhood of working,–and therein is a forthspreading by the same Grace, of length and breadth and height and of deepness without end.  And all is one Love.

None of this means, of course, that our lives in God will be spiritual easy street.  Study the lives of the saints; many of them are martyrs, and many more suffered for the faith but did not die for it.  And think about Jeusus, and what authorities did to him.  Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount.  So does this, which is Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for int he same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So risk comes with the walk of Christian faith, too.  The details vary according to where one is and when one is there.

The reading from Matthew 6 does raise an obvious question, though, does it not?  Why are so many people poorly clothed and/or fed and/or housed?  True, some individuals will make very bad decisions, such as drug use, and wind up on the street.  But many people are born in situations where opportunities to advance themselves are lacking and basic necessities are scarce.  What good is it to have dreams and the willingness to work hard to pursue them but not to have any opportunity to follow through?  This is the reality many of our fellow human beings face daily.  These situations are of human creation, so people in power can change them.  Nevertheless, I consider these realities and detect a disconnect between them and the reading from Matthew 6.  God is very much on the hook for this one, at least with me.

If I were a dualistic Zoroastrian, I could let God (er, Ahura Mazda) off the hook by blaming the evil one (Ahriman) for such matters.  But I am a Monotheist, and so I face the theological problem of God and suffering:  If God is all-powerful, then God is responsible for everything good and everything bad.

And I ponder my daily life and detect many ways I am more fortunate than many of my fellow mortals.  Let us consider some mundane blessings:  I sleep under a good roof each night.  My car takes me from Point A to Point B.  I have indoor plumbing, and can drink the water safely.  And I always know where I will find my next meal.  Why can’t more people make these statements honestly?  God is on the hook in this matter, at least with me.

Nevertheless, I write honestly that I trust in God.  We argue from time to time, but this is consistent with the Bible, especially the Old Testament.  My favorite aspect of Judaism is that it makes room to argue and struggle with God.  And God, who is parental in both maternal and paternal ways, cannot forget us and does not cease to care about us.  The arguments and struggles, handled correctly, only deepen the relationship.  That is a grace.

Thanks be to God!

KRT

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