Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not To Worry

In the volunteer work I do with Home Works of America, we involve teens and adults in the repair of homes for low-income elderly homeowners. We close our repair sessions in prayer with the home owner and the volunteers together. We call it a House Blessing, and part of it is the reading of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Sometimes as we read this aloud in the presence of a mix of prosperous middle class teens and adults and one or more individuals living in poverty, I think, “This is crazy.” I have that thought because the home owner is very often in a bad situation because somebody didn’t give any thought to tomorrow, even about something so simple as fixing a water leak that over time has rotted a bathroom floor, and that many of the volunteers are in very comfortable positions because somebody did give thought to tomorrow with respect to education and savings and investment and other worldly things or even about an other-worldly thing such as Christian education.

In one particular case I was having such thoughts when the reader got to verse 33 which begins with “but” and which seems to be the key point Jesus makes. I thought, “OK, the point is not to completely drop all thinking about and planning for the future. It is to seek God first and be sure that serves as the context for the planning. It’s a matter of priorities.” I’m not saying that is the definitive word of truth here. I’m just saying that is the thought I had.

Later at home I looked at this passage and decided that we err in starting with verse 25 because the first word is “therefore,” which is a clear signal that what follows can be understood only if we know what the “therefore” refers to. In this case, the previous verse is:

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Then we get the “therefore…do not worry” followed by the “but seek first…his righteousness.” I guess Jesus’ point was that if we get our priorities right, the things we seek will be different and we will live lives of peace and joy free from worry about tomorrow. OK, all who have their priorities correctly established according to the words of Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, please stand! The rest of us can then join humbly in the closing prayer we use at the house blessing, the “Our Father,” in which we say: “Forgive us our trespasses.”

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