Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
James V. Stockton
God provides. Beneath all the theology and mystery that enrich the message of the gospel, the simple truth that God provides lies very near the heart of the Good News of God’s Love for all.There’s a story about a woman, living alone in her simple home, and her landlord, the man from whom she rents it. Bertie is an elderly woman; no spouse, no children, with very little by way of fixed income. Bertie contents herself to live with only her most basic needs met. She is pleasant, though. Poverty has taught her the simple beauty of God’s creation that many others around her pass by and ignore in their hurry to their next appointment or obligation. Mitch is Bertie’s landlord. He is not a bad sort, but he does find Bertie a curiosity and a pity.
One day Mitch stops by to collect from Bertie her rent money, ten days past due. “I’m sorry,” says Bertie as she hands Mitch her rent. “I was hoping I’d be able set aside a bit more before I had to pay my rent. It didn’t work out like I’d hoped, but God will provide.” Mitch looks around her bare bones abode. “What’s your God providing, Bertie?” he asks. “You don’t have anything as it is. You’re giving me your last dime, and I’m guessing that you don’t even have anything left to eat.” Bertie smiles at Mitch. “God will provide.” “Good grief!” Mitch shakes his head. “‘God will provide!’” mimicking Bertie. He shakes his head, and leave.
God’s provision. The idea can seem to be that Jesus is calling his followers to suspend their concerns, their concerns about anything, really; about everything. ‘‘Don’t worry about your food. Don’t worry about your clothing. Don’t worry about tomorrow.’ It’s as if Jesus is inviting people to cast their cares aside as though completely insignificant. And the implication, then, is that the people who have a care or a concern, the people who are worrying about something, are not just people of ‘little faith,’ but are people of no faith at all.
That said, it might be interesting to find out: Are you worrying about anything? If so, don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Don’t be afraid, you of little faith. So, just raise that hand.’ And of course, few people are going accept such an invitation. It isn’t an invitation to bring one’s ‘troubles and woes’ to Jesus. It’s rather more of an invitation to open oneself to criticism and judgment from others for the so-called ‘sin’ of worry and concern. It is an invitation, then, to denial; denial of one’s true feelings, denial of one’s true thoughts, and thus a denial of one’s true self. As such, it is an invitation to a dangerous and unfaithful exercise in false religion. For it is an invitation to deny to God the offering of the fullness of one’s being, in body, mind, and spirit. This is not the invitation that Jesus makes to his followers.
I read about a couple tourists visiting Israel. Kavanagh and McDuff have come over from Scotland to see the Holy Lands. Arriving at the Sea of Galilee, they learn that a boat ride across the lake will cost them fifty dollars apiece, and they are aghast. “Why, back home, we have some of the most beautiful lochs in the world,” cries McDuff. “And a fellow can cross them for but a few shillings.” “Ah, but sirs,” says the guide, “this is the lake that Jesus walked on.” “Small wonder, that,” says Kavangh. “With what you’re charging to take a boat across, I can see why he went on foot.”
With Jesus having ascended to heaven the disciples now know the presence of God by the power of the Holy Spirit among them, within them, and around them uniting them to God in body, mind, and spirit. They do in their own day what people like us do today; they recall his teaching and seek its fullest meaning for the worries and concerns of their lives and of the lives of those around them. And because people worry, Jesus is clear: ‘No one can serve both money and God,’ he says. And while the meaning may be apparent, yet we will do well to ask why Jesus would tell his followers, of all people, this bit of wisdom. ‘Don’t worry about your life,’ Jesus says. And again, the meaning and its application are broadly relevant. But there are insights available to us when we question why Jesus is telling this specifically to his followers.
His disciples now are right where he knew they would be. They have become the leaders of a movement that is beginning to catch fire. Jesus knew when he was among them that some day the disciples would gather the attention that accompanies offering to people the love of God and the dignity of being a child of God. And Jesus knew that this attention would bring with it temptations to capture and use this attention for purposes that would be less than godly, gracious, and true.
The rulers of the Temple, who governed the religious worship and practice of the people, would one day order the apostles of Jesus to cease their spreading of the good news of God’s Love for all. They would threaten the disciples with punishment. They would offer to leave them in peace if only the apostles will agree to ‘behave.’ People would offer the disciples money and rewards to share with them the privileges of leadership and the more spectacular gifts of God’s Holy Spirit. The disciples would face the temptation to restrict the sharing of the Gospel to none but their own people, to none but those whom they themselves deemed worthy, and none but those who could pay for it in return.
And so it is important to Jesus that his disciples remember, that all his people remember, that you and I remember, that God provides.
Bertie is alone in her simple home. Her rent is paid for the month. Now she must content herself with a glass of water and some salt-crackers from her pantry. “God, she says aloud, “I know that you provide. “I’ll be careful not to worry about myself too much,” she continues. “And I’ll just rely on you not to worry about me too little.” Worry wouldn’t be quite the word to tell what Bertie feels. But whatever concern there is, underneath it lies a simple trust that God provides.
Choosing to serve God above all else is first a choice to serve something other than oneself. It is a choice well represented by those whom we remember on this holiday weekend, who chose to serve their country and the defense of others rather than serve themselves alone. It is the choice that transformed the first followers of Jesus into leaders of the Church and servants of the Gospel of God. It’s the choice that is set before every follower of Jesus since then, set before many times over, every day, set before you and me still today.
Inside her home, Bertie is eating when she hears a sound, a thump as something lands in her fireplace. Bertie investigates and finds pound sack of potatoes! Instantly she hears a thud at her back door. She rushes to see. Opening her back door, Bertie finds a grocery bag with two frozen chickens inside. She is speechless. Suddenly there is another thump at her front door. Rushing to open the door, Bertie finds several sacks this time, with bread and milk and eggs and canned goods. Berite is filled with awe and amazement. “Thank you, God!” she cries.
“Good grief, Bertie!” Mitch is laughing, as he comes out from around the corner of the house. “I brought you all that. And here you’re thinking God just dropped it out of the sky!” “Thank you, Mitch,” says Berite. “Thank you. And thank you, God!” cries Bertie again. “I couldn’t imagine that you could use this man, but I always knew that you would provide.”
Today, tomorrow, the next day and every day, the choice set before us is to trust that God provides. It is a choice to trust the simple truth that lies near the heart of God’s Love for us, and of God’s Love for all. It is the choice to raise your hand before family, friend, and neighbor and say, “Yes, I’m worried; so, help me to remember, please, that God provides.” It is the choice to fold my hands, and to tell God, “Yes, I’m worried; and yet, I remember, and help me to remember, Oh God, that you do provide.” It is the choice to stretch out our hand that those around us, that they may discover that God provides through you and me. God’s Love provides.
And so may Almighty God remember not what we deserve but that which God has entrusted to us; and as we have been summoned to the service of the Gospel, may God make us worthy of our call; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns One God, now and for ever. Amen.