Archive for February, 2011
It seems to me that there are two parallel universes in the corner of England in which we live, one is called Kent and the other is called Bluewater! This is not a sermon praising or denouncing Bluewater, I have actually been there, but on both occasions I found it distinctly other–world-like.
It is a place that is quite distinct from its surroundings but parking is free, it is warm and dry, there are plenty of places to sit and chat, and restaurants to eat in. There is even a place for quiet prayer and contemplation. It is a very pleasant place to be; almost good enough to live in, but of course it was designed to be pleasing. Thousands of people are attracted to go there every day to buy things; Bluewater is an icon of our material world, but we do need material things and many people from the local communities are employed there.
However, do material things make us truly happy? We are certainly happy for a while with new clothes or a new computer, but does the acquisition of these things help us to become fundamentally happy people? Are our characters changed?
The Reformer, Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”
In our gospel passage Jesus uses the natural world about him to make his point about the priorities of life. He talks about the birds of the air that freely wheel and soar around the Galilean sky, God provides for them. He is lyrical about the lilies of the field, the beauty of them, that they are more glorious that anything that Solomon could wear; and that they are part of God’s magnificent, given creation. Jesus makes it plain that these things are wonderful, they bring happiness, and if God can bring this about, what can he do for us.
Jesus’ teaching was not academic, it didn’t come from books or theory; it did come from experience. When he told the disciples not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume that he led them by example. He wasn’t always looking ahead anxiously; making the present moment of any value only because of what might come next. We use the phrase “living in the moment”, and it seems that Jesus had that ability, that skill; giving total focus on the task in front of him and celebrating the goodness of God in the here and now. Let us delight in those moments and share our delight, for happiness is highly infectious.
I find that young children are so instructive, an inspiration. Their attention on whatever they are doing is intense; their focus is complete, even if short, before going on to something else. They don’t worry about what might happen next, and despite grandparents like me spoiling them with the latest toys, they are just as happy with a piece of paper and crayons, or the box that the toy came in. They simply haven’t learned about worrying, they trust because they haven’t learned not to trust. Surely that is what happiness is about.
As adults, we know that the world is a complicated and difficult place, and that happiness is often fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow. We worry about all manner of things, – health, the family, the economy, international conflict and so on. Worry becomes part of our nature, but does any of that worry make a positive difference to us? It becomes easy to forget the simple things, how to be happy, and who to trust. We need to learn to be more childlike and to trust that God will not let us down.
Jesus wanted his disciples, his followers, us, to be happy and to know who to trust. When he urges us to make God our priority, it is important to know the kind of God that he is talking about. He is not talking about a God of doom and disaster. He is not talking about a distant God who does not care about beauty and life and food and clothes. He is talking about the creator, who has filled the world with wonderful and mysterious things, full of beauty and energy and excitement; and who above all wants us to trust him and love him and receive our own beauty, energy and excitement from him.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what to eat or drink, or wear; but he didn’t mean that those things did not matter. He does not mean that we should choose to eat and drink as little as possible, and to wear clothes that are falling to pieces. Jesus was talking about priorities, about what really matters. We need food, drink and all kinds of material things in our complicated world, but he entreats us to remember our priorities and to put God first on our list. Let us enjoy Bluewater and be happy about the things we buy there, but not to the point when it is the only way that we can experience happiness.
Of course, living totally without worrying sounds impossible to most people, some people become so addicted to worry that if they haven’t got something to worry about, they worry that they have forgotten something! Worry and stress undermine our human spirit, take us away from Christ and are ultimately corrosive. However, we are human and even if we cannot remove worry completely from our lives, we need to re-establish a balance between worry and happiness.
Today’s reading is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches his disciples extensively. He does not lay down structured and rigid laws that must be obeyed to the ultimate degree, living life by numbers and worrying whether we have forgotten a minor dietary rule. Jesus gives us guidance; he wants us to change our lives in the way that we think, the way we behave and the way we relate to other people. He wants us to be like him, to be happy with him and to share that happiness with others.
Jesus said “I will be with you always, to the end of time.” There are no conditions attached to that declaration of love and grace, no ifs or buts. Have no doubts or worries.
Let us trust in God,
Know that we are never alone and
Know that we are loved.