8th Sunday after Epiphany
February 27, 2011
January of 2004 found me in Mexico City fulfilling my “Cross-Cultural Experience.” Seminary students were required to spend 120 hours in another culture. I was terrified. I was going to meet the poor and it scared me to death. I had struggled long and hard as a single parent to protect my family and preserve our comfortable middle-class way of life. Being the poor woman was my own personal nightmare, and here I was, going to see how bad it actually could be. What I found instead was another culture I knew nothing about. These women were caring, compassionate and fierce. They took care of each other and each other’s children. In Ajusco, a community that organized for its right to exist, women who worked paid for childcare by women who were at home. The salaries of the workers paid for the childcare workers to become certified, so that the facility filled a need in the larger community. I’d never lived in a small community, or seen anything like the care that these “poor” people took of each other. I came away feeling as if I were the poor one, isolated and alone in my struggles to accomplish my goals with the little I was able to scrape together.
We think that making a living is about money. But it’s not. It’s about what you trust. Today Jesus tells us that you cannot trust yourself and your ability to provide for yourself and your family and trust in God, too. You either trust one or the other. Jesus is not Bobby McFerrin, singing “Don’t worry, be happy.” He is rather claiming the promises that we hear in the reading from Isaiah and the Psalm. If you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you know that you cannot ignore mealtime. Your body is primed to feed your baby at regular times, and your milk comes in at those times whether your baby is there to feed or not. You are always managing leaks and drips, even if you do have your baby to feed on schedule. So, God says, even a nursing mother might, just MIGHT be able to forget her baby, but I will never forget that you are mine. I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands, says the Lord of hosts. I love that image. I just got another round of e-mails with those sayings that if God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it, or if God had a wallet, your picture would be in it. That is exactly what Isaiah says God wants you to know. The psalmist tells you that you can be still, you can rest in God and not worry.
C.S. Lewis says that we often think that we just add Jesus to the rest of our lives. We can leave everything in its customary place and just add the love of God to it. Like that picture you used to see of Jesus knocking at the door, wanting you to invite him into the house you are living in now. But, says Lewis, that’s not the way it works at all. Rather than Jesus coming into our house to sit in a chair over in the corner, we are moved into a new house which belongs to Jesus. He comes to dwell with us at the very root of our being, transforming our hearts, and moving aside every other concern. Suddenly we see the world differently and the things which seemed so important have changed priority.
We often think of faith as beliefs. So when we say that our faith saves us, we are thinking that if we believe the right things, we are OK, God will love us and Jesus saves us. But faith is not assenting to the right doctrines. It’s not about what you agree to, it’s about who you trust. So Jesus continues in this sermon from Matthew’s Gospel giving us the hard news. You can trust yourself and your own ability or you can trust God for what you need. When you get your priorities in order life will be sweet, you will lack for nothing of importance in this world.
Don’t you wish it were that easy? I remember the phrase from a confession, “…not as we ought but as we are able.” Our trust, our love, our money, too, we bring, not as we ought but as we are able. God gave everything to win us. Coming to share our flesh, Jesus suffered the worst the world can give: dependence on others for his food and shelter, long, draining hours surrounded by needy people, being misunderstood by his closet allies, the enmity of powerful people, arrest and interrogation under torture and a shameful, painful death. He did it all to break the grip of evil and death over us. In his resurrection, we have the guarantee that every promise God ever made to us is true. He assures us that our Heavenly Father knows everything that we need. Rest in him, says the Psalmist. You are engraved on the palms of his hands, says the prophet. Strive first for God’s kingdom and do what God requires of you, says Jesus, and everything you need will be yours.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.