Don’t Worry

Genesis 1:1-2:3; Matthew 6: 25-34

(Open with Singing)

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right! ”

Rise up this mornin’,
Three little birds, Each by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou: “) –Bob Marley

Don’t worry—when we find ourselves in moments seeing the sunrise, hearing the birds, and we notice creation around us, we catch a glimpse of not worrying—for a moment.  But the freight train of life seems to barrel ahead and we miss the sunrise, we don’t notice the birds outside the doorstep.  But they are there.

Don’t worry—because we are alive…  Today, beginning with creation, God brings order from chaos.  God creates, makes, forms, shapes, and triumphs…  from nothing to something beautiful, and there is evening, and there is morning, and we are alive…

“Big bangs are not boring.  Dinosaurs are not boring.”  Oceans and mountains are not boring…  Giraffes and Elephants and stuff form the State Fair on sticks are not boring…  and the beauty today of baptizing Shanelle-Grace certainly is not boring…  And this points to God…who brings order in such immense beauty…is surely not boring…and there is evening, and there is morning, and we are alive. [1]

In all that God creates, may we not lose sight of the wonder of the first and greatest miracle, ‘that anything exists at all, and that we get to be a part of it.’  Flowing water, beautiful sunrise, flickering flame, and each of us, you and me gathered here, now…

And the beauty that from nothing…God’s artistry brings light, and planets, and water…lots of life giving water, and plants that create plants, and animals that make animals, and you and me that continue to create more of you and me…all this begetting going on…  ah…and rest.  Order.  Evening, and morning, aliveness…and it is good.

All of this…look around…as we shared in the Psalm today…God’s handiwork.  All of it good.  It’s poetry…it’s a grand masterpiece of a painting…the entirety of the order of creation, it is all good.  Sky—good.  Grass—good.  Garden produce—good.  You and me…life…breathe…aliveness…  Life…Good.

I believe this is the juxtaposition that God is speaking today in our gospel passage…  of bringing us back to the intent of the miracle of creation; the order that comes with instructions of being made in the image of God.  To be made in the image of God is beautiful.  And the dominion that is associated comes with the instruction to care for the oceans, the fish, the birds, the cattle, the creatures, the plants…every creeping thing—and  each other.  All called to nurture all of creation.  Order.  Relationships.

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the goodness, the order, the time to rest.  As God reminds us in poetry and art of bringing order from chaos, it is easy for our hearts to do the opposite; to make chaos from order.

“No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and money.”  Or from the Greek—you cannot serve two lords.  One brings order. Other brings chaos.  And it’s a tough concept.  How is the not worrying thing going for you?  Especially in this day of 401k’s, insurance policies, our drive for getting ahead…

And this confronts us right where it hurts.   Money itself isn’t bad.  Success isn’t bad. I like how N.T. Wright says it: “There is such a thing as idolatry, and we must guard against it.  Indeed, we must put it to death with pity.  But idolatry is always the perversion of something good.  Greed—worshipping the appetites and what they feed on—is the perversion of the God-given instinct for the proper enjoyment of the good creation.”[2] Looking deep within may we ask, what (or who) do we serve?  God or money?   Success? What are we making our hopes and our dreams?

Do not worry is connected to the verse that says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Where is our heart?  The problem with living in a culture that is so focused on money and accumulation of wealth is that money is finite.  There will never be enough.  To pursue wealth as lord leads to a worldview of scarcity; of holding on to what is mine; and we are participants in the game of accumulation and building walls. There is a battle within us of turning towards God or turning towards that which is not God, and the desire for prosperity competes with God for the human heart.   (As does fear—but this is a sermon for another day.)

But to go back to creation, to order, to light, sky, water, plants, animals, you, and me created in the image of God.  We begin with a God that triumphs over the waters,  life giving water.  Trusting God, our worldview is one of abundance.  To live in a worldview of abundance is to look outside of ourselves.  Rather than money that is finite, we live into God’s love that is infinite. Rather than storing for ourselves, we are emptying ourselves for the other.  To reshape, to live into a creation worldview is to trust that God will provide, and to trust that God will provide enables us to look outside of ourselves.

This transformation turns us back towards God, and we can see that we are connected and we better live as we are called to be as church.  As church, we live as community—a communal element where we care for one another, and in turn, we are cared for ourselves, not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.  Do not worry…about clothes, food, how you look…it is something for us to work towards,  something to long for.  To work towards this, we begin to see that our desires change, our needs change, and we find what is most important—relationships.  I am moved this week to be part of a community that shares both in the celebration of life of our dear friend, Sandy Scheibe, and the joy of baptizing Shanelle-Grace.  Sandy helped teach a thing or two about not worrying—but about looking outside of ourselves.  A brother-in-law shared that being with Sandy, she had the gift that could somehow make a bologna sandwich taste like a steak dinner.

A  man traveled from Michigan for Sandy’s memorial service and came up front to share that as a young man, he struggled with addiction and was going through hard times.  His life was chaos.  But Sandy didn’t see him as addict, or as disposable.  She saw him as a beautiful child made in the image of God—and she reached out by loving him. This, friends, is what it is to turn towards God—to live into creation.

Today we celebrate baptism.  It is beautiful, but may we take this seriously.  That uniting God’s triumph over the waters in creation, God’s triumph of reaching out to us when we feel so far away from God, and God’s triumph from the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan to a cross.  Today, in Jesus baptism, we are making a promise and may we not take this lightly.  A promise we make with Shanelle-Grace and Glory, and Charles, but more…a promise that we make for all of those baptized—that  we will care for, and nurture, and be there when no one else is.  This my friends is how we can strive for not worrying—that together, we can make the road by walking and living as the kingdom of God.  Amen

 

 


[1] Brian McLaren, We Make The Road By Walking: A Year Long Quest For Spiritual Awakening, Reorientation, and Activation (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 3-4.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins e-books), 212.

To Study or Not to Study?

God’s presence in our lives: what does that mean? Is “God’s presence” just another “churchy” phrase….or something vital?

Let’s look at one way to open our lives to God: study.

There is an old joke about defining a Presbyterian: a Presbyterian is a Christian with a college education. While that is not fair to our non-Presbyterian friends, it does point to studying, to education, as a major focus in our Presbyterian tradition.

–Presbyterians have a rich heritage of founding colleges and universities, having high educational standards for clergy, making learning experiences for children, youth and adults a priority in a congregation.

Yet there is a good reason NOT to study present in today’s scripture reading: Paul is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ…religious leaders are resisting him…the story is in the Book of Acts: 17: 1-11.

     –READ  Acts 17: 1-11

There are two ways to study: the first is the way of the religious leaders shadowing Paul.

–These people are certain Paul is wrong because Paul does not agree with them…they think they already know what is true….all necessary study has been done.

The second way to study is seen in the Bereans: they were willing to study, to “examine the scriptures,” question.

Both the religious leaders and the Bereans were knowledgeable about scripture….the issue
isn’t how much they knew…it was how they approached studying.

–The religious leaders say we already know the truth…end of story.

–The Bereans were open to considering there may be something more to learn.

When people ask me sometimes, are you liberal or are you conservative or progressive….I just say, “Forget all those labels; I am just right!”

–Everybody thinks they are right…most of us try to avoid being wrong, to avoid even appearing to be wrong.

–We say all humans are fallible, but when it gets personal….to the beliefs we hold, the politics we follow….I can’t think of anything I’m wrong about!

–Being wrong is embarrassing, being wrong is scary. So why is study often not helpful?

–Because when we are convinced we are right, when we have decided this is what scripture says because this is what I believe it says, guess what we find every time we go to scripture to study?

–We find out that we were right….because we seek out those stories, that saying, this scripture or that writer that supports us: “see, I am right.” If that is the way we study, DON’T waste time studying…. don’t sign up for one of the studies offered here.

Kathryn Schulz has written a challenging but illuminating book “Being Wrong.”

–She reminds us everybody thinks they are right…and when somebody disagrees with us, Schulz says we often go through 3 levels of response.

The first stage is we think the person who disagrees with us is just uninformed….they don’t know enough…so let me enlighten you….you obviously don’t know the facts…let me explain this to you and then you will be right, too.

Sometimes, despite our great explanations, they shockingly still don’t agree, so we move to a second stage.

–They are not just uninformed, they apparently are stupid…they don’t have the mental faculties to grasp it….so we pity them…maybe it was their upbringing…so let me speak in one syllable words you can understand…let me explain this, for I am right.

If they still don’t agree with us, we move to a 3rd stage: they are dangerous, they are trying to sabotage all that we know that is right….they are enemies.

The Jewish religious leaders following Paul had moved to stage 3, saying he is an enemy:Paul is not just uninformed, he is not just dumb, he is dangerous, evil, he is our enemy….he threatens what we KNOW to be truth!

–They do what we too often do: we make the other person the enemy because he or she is wrong….has to be wrong because I am right!

Sadly, that is happening even in our Presbyterian community: we have turned disagreement into enemy-making….all too many people think they have no need to study further because they think they know the truth….and that those who disagree are so evil we cannot be in the same group together.

Schulz’s 3 stages are also seen in our national, political life.

–The last time you disagreed with someone about politics, which category did you use:uninformed, just dumb, dangerous enemy?

The key is, if we don’t have humility, if we can’t say “I may be wrong, what I know may be incomplete”—then study is useless: close the book, don’t participate in learning.

And what is the essence of humility?
–It is knowing we are human, fallible…it is knowing deep within us that none of our convictions, however deeply held, are infallible. For the religious leaders, what Paul said couldn’t be right, because he didn’t agree with what they think is right…and they thought their views were the views of God.

The Bereans looked at the same scriptures and said, there may be more here, there may be more light yet to break forth from God’s word, from God’s creation.
–What we know may be true, but incomplete, or maybe there is another way of thinking.

Christian life, Christian renewal and transformation imply change…that something we used to know is not all there is to know…that even what we hold most dear may or may not be of God.

–So if we can’t come seeking what is yet to be learned, close the book, don’t study.Don’t study if you can’t come with humility….and don’t study if you can’t come with curiosity. Isn’t that what the Bereans did?

–There may be more….we haven’t put it all together yet…so they questioned, studied to find something more.

The point of study is not to be right, the point is to grow in truth….in the way of him who did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped….but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant…the point of study is to follow Jesus of Nazareth who opens to us this mystery which we call G-O-D….who is, in the words of  my favorite benediction, behind us, beside us, above us, below us, within us, and always showing us the way.

IF we study with humility and curiosity, our world begins to open up….and as we change,there should be evidence of something like love, joy and peace, patience, kindness and goodness, gentleness, self-control. If this is not happening, try a different way of experiencing God’s presence….try service or prayer, for example.

Study is one powerful way of sensing the reality of God in our lives, IF we come to it with humility and curiosity, with expectancy of what God is yet to do with us.

Thanks be to God!  Amen!

 

The Rev. Dr. Jim Brasel
Spirit of Life Presbyterian Church
August 24, 2014

This is a Human Issue

If you have not yet watched, please watch and listen.  This is the story I referenced in church on Sunday morning. It is easy to bring our own bias and filter, but the events at Ferguson this week are spectacles and hearing aids for us to better see and hear of a history of discrimination, oppression, and racism in our country.  While I agree in the full context of listening to the story about this being a human issue, the human issue is deeply rooted in racism.

“And what does the Lord require of you?  To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Micah 6: 8

This Is My (Our) Son

From a mom at SOLPC:

This is my son. He loves to play with Transformers, trains and Hot Wheels. He loves the color orange. He loves to eat anything sweet. There is nothing he likes more than swimming or going to the park. He likes church and Sunday school. He is so excited to start kindergarten. We think he is the smartest kid we know.
He’s funny and tries to make friends with every kid he meets. He loves his family and his cousin Jacob. In 8 years he will be a teenager and, here in America, that means he will start to be seen as a threat and dangerous just because of his skin color. Don’t let that happen to my son. He deserves so much more. This has to stop.