Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” – Matthew 6:25-34
In the early 1980s Central Union had an interim minister named Dale Turner. I know many of my fellow congregants remember him. What many of us found impressive about Rev. Turner was how he memorized so many poems with several stanzas with which he would pepper his well-crafted and inspirational sermons. Many of us admired this kind, elderly, retired minister from Seattle so that when he challenged the congregation to memorize the Sermon on the Mount, we jumped at the chance. Rev. Turnerʻs belief was that whatever you memorized became a part of you. I loved that idea since I was a lover of words from a young age. I had taken a year leave of absence from teaching to be home with my newborn son so I had time to devote to the challenge. The reward for meeting the challenge was, after you recited the scripture, dinner with Rev. Turner. Every day I walked with my open Bible perched on top of the stroller. I was determined to learn these wise words of Jesus and have dinner with Rev. Turner.
Chapters 5-7 of Matthew is a fairly large chunk of scripture, 2,548 words in the Revised Standard Version, to be exact. About twenty of us were up to the challenge and joined Dale for dinner in the spring of 1983. Dale shared that it tended to be 10% of a congregation that stepped up to the challenge and Central Union was no different than his other congregations. He shared that one of the youngest people to ever memorize those wise three chapters of Matthew was around ten years old at the time. His name was Bill Gates.
Since the ministers have given me a chance to write a devotional I decided to delve into a section from the Sermon on the Mount on worry which is an emotion that is so prevalent in these uncertain times. I find the word worry less worrisome than the word anxiety. Something about the X and T sounds in there and four syllables – it just seems more serious than worry. As a kid I remember parents being worried or concerned but not anxious…if you say the words out loud you’ll see what I mean…In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus encourages us to not worry about what we eat or drink or clothing our body. Life is more than food, he says, and the body more than clothing. He goes on to have us notice the fact that birds don’t do much but God takes care of them, so why don’t we have faith that we’ll be taken care of too? He says the “lilies of the field” are beautiful and “…even Solomon in all his glory” was not as beautiful. Jesus says we have little faith if we worry about what we eat, drink, or wear – that God will take care of us if we seek God’s realm first. This makes me wonder what it means to seek the kingdom of God and I find myself turning back to Micah where the instructions are clear on what God requires of us, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Is that the same as seeking his kingdom? So how am I doing or aiding the cause of justice? How do I behave if I love kindness? And – how do I walk humbly with God? Does the fact that I worry, especially with three young grandsons, about the present state of our state, our country, and our world mean I don’t have faith?
I used to encourage my students to ask questions of themselves, of others. Although I am no longer young, an excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, helps me feel better about not having answers to those questions I’ve posed – at least not yet… Rilke cautions his young protégé to: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” My hope is that we’ll all be able to keep the faith that we’ll someday live “some distant day” into the answers about today’s uncertain times.
Written by Marion Lyman-Mersereau