Thanks to all who have been following this blog. You can find additional sermons and blogs, as well as information on my recent books at www.markwhittall.com. ReInvention: Stories from an Urban Church was published in 2016 and can be purchased from Wood Lake Publishing. ReImagine: Preaching from Real Life will be released in September 2017.
For Mark's most recent sermons and blog posts please go to www.markwhittall.com
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I find it a challenge to take the Sunday readings and gospel and figure out how to make them relevant for us today. Jesus was after all, speaking to people of a different era, living in a different culture some 2000 years ago.
But not today. In today’s gospel it is as if Jesus is speaking directly to us, to our time and place. “Do not worry,” Jesus says. And he’s speaking to us. There’s a lot of worrying going on in our world, in our community. So much so that one in nine of us will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in our lives. It is the most common of all mental illnesses in Canada. We worry a lot, to the point where our worrying can overcome us. Not only, as our gospel reminds us, can worrying not add a single hour to our lives, but it actually has the opposite effect. Excessive worrying is a risk factor for heart disease, suppression of the immune system, digestive problems and short term memory loss.
What’s going on here? Why do we worry so much? It’s not because we’re bad people. In fact if anything it’s the opposite. We want good things in our lives, we want good things for those that we love, for our families and friends. Parents worry about their children not because they’re bad parents, but because they’re good parents. But somehow, we’re afraid that we may not get all these good things that we want in our lives and the lives of those around us, and so we worry. Where are we to turn?
Martin Luther once said that a god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, says Luther, is really your god.
What do we trust to provide us with the good things of life? For many of us in our world today, we turn to money. We trust that by accumulating wealth and material possessions and earning power, we will be able to provide ourselves and our families with the good things of life.
This week I was helping my daughter Michelle pick Grade 11 courses for next year. In order to help guide the selection, the school provides a web site with various questionnaires that you can fill out that will help you narrow in on what courses you should select. So we started to go through the web site, and one of the first questions was the following: How much money do you want to make when you start to work?
Our society trusts in money to give us the good things of life. In Canada we spend over $7 Billion a year on lottery tickets. That’s roughly the same as the total amount of charitable donations each year in Canada. It works out to over $200 per person. And why do we buy lottery tickets? Well, you’ve seen the ads on TV. It’s because if we get lucky and win, we can have all those good things that we wish for.
We trust in wealth to get us the good things of life. But let me let you in on a little secret. It’s not working for us. We live in one of the wealthiest communities in this city, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, at a time when there is more wealth in the world than there ever has been in history. And still, we worry, if the statistics are to be believed, we worry more than ever. What’s going on?
Jesus said, “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.”
Note what Jesus is not saying here. He’s not saying that we don’t need stuff. We do need things, we do need food and clothing and shelter and so on. God knows that we need these things. And Jesus is not saying that wealth is a bad thing. He knows that we use money to pay for food, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the question he’s asking is, where do you put your trust? Who or what are you willing to serve? Who or where do you turn for the good things of life? Do you turn to God or to wealth?
It’s a choice between two worlds, the world of scarcity and the world of abundance.
Let me try to illustrate. Suppose we believe that wealth can supply our needs. Then having this $20 bill is a good thing. I can buy stuff with it. But notice that one of the characteristics of this $20 bill is that if I have it, you don’t. And that’s good for me, because if there’s something that I need or want that costs $20, I’m going to get and you’re not. You see, having money as our priority sets us up as competitors. And it sets us up as competitors, competing in a world of scarcity, where there’s not enough for everyone to have everything they want. And if that’s the case, I start to worry about my competitors, and I start to worry about not getting enough.
However, suppose I trust not money, but suppose I trust God to provide me with the good things of life. And suppose that by trusting in God and entering into relationship with him, I receive, for example, the gift of peace. I become a more peaceful person, living in harmony with others, worrying less. Tell me, how does that affect you? Do you get less peace because I have more of it? Not at all, God still has lots of peace to give you, and my peace is something that I can share with you. In God’s world, when I have something, you get more of it too. This is abundance, not scarcity. When I trust God to give me the good things of life, the truly good things of life, things like peace, love, joy and compassion, then not only do I receive them, but you get them too!
Sure, sure, some of you are thinking. Peace and love are all good, but I’ve still have to eat! I still need a house to live in. I still want a pension for my retirement.
That’s true. And that’s exactly where Jesus makes us a promise, one of the most incredible promises that has ever been made. God knows you need that other stuff, he tells us, food and clothes and so on.
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Make your priority the kingdom of God, put your trust in God, act justly and the rest will be taken care of.
This is the promise that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel. Do we believe it?
No, we don’t believe it. It sounds too good to be true.
But are you really ready to give up on such an amazing promise so easily, without even giving it a try? Do you want to stay in the world of scarcity and competition, do you really want to keep turning to wealth as your provider, and worrying about whether that’s going to work?
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.
Hard to believe? Don’t think it’s realistic? Then, here’s the challenge I’m giving you this week. Give it a try. For this one week, starting today, make the things of God your priority. Put your trust in God, seek to know him, strive for righteousness, enter into relationship with him, in prayer, in action. And see how it goes. See whether you can learn to have faith in God and worry less. See whether you get more or less of the good things of life by seeking God in your life. See whether your understanding of what the good things are changes over the course of the week.
It is the greatest promise that we’ve ever been given. Give it a try this week. And then I want you to report back. Send me an email, give me a phone call. Comment on this blog. Tell me what it’s like to trust in God’s promise, to see the world through eyes of abundance and not scarcity. Maybe it will be hard. Maybe it will be easy. Maybe it will make a difference in your life, maybe it won’t.