Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
May 25, 2008
Matthew 6:24-34 Psalm 131
Consider the lilies. It’s a lovely passage, isn’t it? “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.” Ah.
“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you—you of little faith.” Ah yes.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” And some of us start to cringe—here it comes, the warning not to be anxious. And how can we help being anxious when the news is full of the mortgage crisis and the recession (even though we’re not supposed to call it that), and gas prices are predicted to hit $5.00/gallon this summer, and companies are laying people off!
And what kind of lives would we be living anyway, if we just sat back and waited for God to provide? Aren’t we supposed to study hard in school in preparation for our futures? Aren’t we supposed to work hard so that our families can be secure, so that we won’t have to rely too heavily on our children for support when we’re old? Aren’t we supposed to take this world seriously so that we can get to work to make it a better place? Huh? Huh? Are we supposed to just kick back, have a tall cold drink, start singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” and expect that everything we need is going to fall into our laps? Doesn’t the Bible also tell us that God helps those who help themselves? Huh? Huh?
Well, actually, the Bible doesn’t say that God helps those who help themselves, though about two-thirds of Americans think it does. That’s where what some of my professors call our American civic religion diverges from Christianity. Our culture does tell us to get out there and hustle if we think we’ve got any chance of making it in this world … and that if we aren’t successful, it’s because we didn’t hustle hard enough.
But the Bible doesn’t say that. The Bible says, “Consider the lilies of the field” and “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” It’s the next line after that one that we really need to pay attention to: “Strive first for the
Okay. So we’re not supposed to be anxious, though that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to work. All right.
There’s a lovely image of that lack of anxiety in the Psalm that Ben read this morning, Psalm 131. I’ll admit that somehow I’d never noticed this psalm until I started preparing for this morning. But I have to say that it’s a keeper.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul within me is like a weaned child.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
Like a weaned child with its mother. My soul is like a weaned child.
Those of you who have had experience with breastfed babies have probably noticed something that I learned 28 years ago when my son was an infant. You cannot hold a breastfed baby cradled in front of you. Or at least not my babies. Because what do they do in that position? They start rooting around for something to eat! It’s worst with the mother, of course, but I’ve seen babies going after daddies, grandfathers, twelve-year-old babysitters …
But this is a weaned child. A child who no longer expects food when held in his mother’s arms or on her lap, but a child who finds comfort and peace in that position.
And this is a child, not a baby. In Old Testament times they didn’t generally wean babies at three months or six months and then switch them to bottled formula. No, those babies were probably nursed for at least two years and likely longer. There are references in the Bible to babies being nursed for three years, and we know that Samuel’s mother took him to the temple and handed him over to Eli once she had weaned him. I doubt Eli wanted a toddler in the temple—Samuel may well have been four or five years old.
So this weaned child that the psalmist compares himself to is not a helpless infant but a child old enough to get up and run around, to explore the world ... old enough to have chores to do: help set the table at dinner time, put his own pajamas on after his bath … old enough to want more—to bang his older sister over the head with his toy truck or grab the red crayon out of his friend’s fingers or climb to the top of the bookshelves to find the candy hidden there. This child is old enough to start worrying about whether he’s getting his share of the time with a favorite toy, anxious about getting hold of the right crayon for coloring his picture of an apple, old enough to be upset about not getting enough candy. But in his mother’s arms this child is calm and quiet. He calms and quiets himself in her lap. He knows he’s safe there. He can rest in her love.
There are things he needs to do in his world, child chores to finish and little kid connections to make. But there’s a safe place for him to rest, and a mother who knows that he needs all of these things, whether he’s scrambling after them or not.
The psalmist says that he is not trying to be king of the world—“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, / my eyes are not raised too high”—and he is not trying to run the world—“I do not occupy myself with things / too great and too marvelous for me.” But he has calmed and quieted his soul; his trust and his hope are in God’s arms.
And that’s what Jesus is saying in our text from Matthew as well: Do not worry about your life, do not think that without you the earth will not spin on its axis; do not assume that without your fretting the hungry of the world will never be fed, the soldiers will never beat their swords into plowshares, and the prisoners will never be set free. Go out and work for these things, yes, for this is God’s justice, but first sit in God’s lap. Calm and quiet your soul like a weaned child resting in her mother’s arms. There are things you need to do, yes, but remember that God’s arms are waiting there for you … and that, ultimately, the salvation of the world is in God’s hands, not yours.
We all have things we fret over. I learned a few weeks ago that I won’t be able to start looking for a call to a new church early this fall as I had been planning (thinking I’d be able to start in a new position at the beginning of the new year). Instead I’ll need to wait to start circulating my dossier until at least December if not January or February. “Oh, no,” I thought. But what if I can’t stay in my apartment at the seminary after I’ve finished taking classes? And how will I know whether to sign on for a complete semester of teaching in the spring, in case a church wants me before May? And what if, and how, and when and where … ?
And then I remembered the summer of 2006, when I was looking for a church to do my field education in and couldn’t find any place and then didn’t want to come to Summit because Bill Levering said they couldn’t pay me, but gee, that’s the only place I could find … and by January I had a part-time paid position in a church that I love, with people who are working hard to be God’s hands and arms in the world, getting amazing experience that will help immeasurably when it’s time to find a church. Indeed my heavenly Parent knew that I needed all these things.
And so now I’m practicing crawling into God’s lap and resting there; I’m practicing resting confidently in the knowledge that God knows what I need and has a plan for me; I’m practicing not being anxious over how and when and where I’ll find a church.
Yes, we all have things we fret over. Things that keep us awake at night as we toss them and turn them in our minds. Worries that keep us focused on them instead of on God. You know what yours are—I’ll bet there isn’t a person here (except maybe some of our youngest children) who doesn’t have some of those worries. And so I’m going to invite you right now to close your eyes and picture God sitting in a rocking chair and holding out those loving arms to you. Crawl up into God’s lap for a few moments now, and let God hold you and rock you. You can even suck your thumb if you want. Quiet your soul.
Let us pray:
Gracious Mother/Father God, thank you for holding us as your beloved weaned children. Thank you for calming our anxieties and soothing our worries. Help us, like confident children, to seek you first and then go into the world striving for your kingdom and your righteousness, knowing that you know what we need. Amen, and amen.