The time and place not to worry
A sermon by Revd Sally Hitchiner
Readings for this service: Genesis 1:1 – 2:3, Romans 8: 18-25, Matthew 6: 25-end
We all worry – in twenty years in pastoral ministry I’ve not met a single person who lives worry-free.
For some worry is their primary struggle in life that no one outside of their bodies can understand. Some even carry deep wounds from hearing the church say that there’s a simple solution to worry, we just need more faith. Before we start I want us to be crystal clear. This is not about having more faith.
Jesus loves worriers but he hates worry. Worry consumes existence. How much time have you spent staring in the mirror trying to work out what to wear, staring at a shop counter worry about which one to buy, staring at a computer screen worrying about what to write? How often have you felt unable to move because of worry? Worry consumes life. How can we escape?
We need a new focus – one of the most powerful devices in film making is called the Focus Pull. Once you know about it you’ll start seeing it everywhere. The camera is focussed on something in the for ground and suddenly shifts to something further away without cutting the take. We start seeing a man smiling, holding a coffee then in the same shot zoom in to see that a tiny bead of sweat forming on his clenched hand. It’s a powerful way of guiding the viewer’s thoughts.
Jesus isn’t promoting a zoomed-out world view here. He’s not saying things don’t matter. He is advocating a zoom in… a focus pull to look at the very heart of every molecule. When we worry it’s not that we’re thinking too deeply, it’s that we’re not thinking deeply enough.
We need a focus pull in our lives. Directing our attention both to what the things we are obsessing about are really made of.
In a previous parish I served there was a guy, I’ll call Peter. Peter had cancer 25 years ago. Chemo was very hard but he made it through. One month later he got the result of his post treatment tests and he found that his cancer was back, as bad as before the treatment. Peter was a doctor so that day he knew he was going to die. That was his worst day.
The next morning the hospital called and said there had been a mix up. A lab technician had mixed up the results with a patient who hadn’t started treatment yet. Peter was actually cancer free.
Because Peter was a doctor the hospital asked if he wanted to call the lab technician in so he could yell at him. “Yell at him?” Peter said “I want to kiss him.” That day was Peters best day.
That day he was risen from the dead. He could raise his children, he could grow old with his wife. That was the best day Peter ever had. Outwardly what did he gain? He didn’t win the lottery, he didn’t get promoted, he didn’t become famous. He just got another day to do the same things he did every day. That’s all. He ate the same breakfast, kissed the same wife goodbye, drove the same car to the same job. Only now he knew, there is nothing ordinary about ordinary. He lived that day like a dog! Grateful for every little thing. Experiencing loving and being loved. The change was not the life. The change was his focus, he had experienced a life defining moment.
The ordinary is not ordinary… it’s not unimportant. Even what seems disposable to us, every flower, every fibre of your clothing is packed full of more meaning than you and I have space in our heads to hold. Every molecule is not just a thing… but a created thing. Created by a person. That Person is God… not just God… Your Heavenly Loving Parent. Want to live in that world?
We need a focus pull onto what the things we are worried about are really made of.
We are also called to live the resurrected life now. The Kingdom of God.
Worry doesn’t just make us miss the heart of things, it makes us live in the future
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus calls us to locate our lives in life beyond worry, one day at a time.
We all live at the intersection between the past and the future.
All of us can live in the past, where we remember things with gratitude or regret.
All of us can live in the future, where we anticipate things with anxiety or hope.
Jesus calls us to label our past “faith” – faith that God holds all the things we have done and all the things that have been done to us. They are not running wild, they are held by God.
Jesus calls us to label our future “hope” – hope that God will continue to create enough for us.
Jesus here is calling his friends to live in the present. To stop looking beyond God who stands infant of us here and now and to refocus. The word we use for refocussing on another person is love. Loving and being loved.
Christians say that “Faith, hope and love remain but the greatest of these is love”
The Kingdom of God is now. Not just that we don’t have to wait till we die. The Kingdom of God means living in the present.
The thing that makes all the difference in the world to your past and to your future. The thing that means we can live this life that Jesus is talking about where we have the focus that the rest of creation has on the here and now… is that you and I have been baptised. And if you haven’t been baptised would you like to be? You can join our faith course meeting after the service and join in our next round of baptisms in a few months.
Baptism is an outward physical sign of an inward spiritual grace. In theory everyone should be fully immersed in the water, even babies. If you look our font from before this church building was built in 1726, is quite deep as it had to be possible to fully immerse the baby in the water. The Anglican church still technically only permits the sprinkling of water onto the child or adult’s forehead as an allowance for health reasons… it just so happens now everyone feels a cold coming on at the mention of it.
Whether it’s enacted or just symbolic the idea with baptism is that we mark that you have died. Your body goes fully under the water and is immersed to symbolise your burial. You are cut off from this life. Then you are raised from death to live new life, eternal life. Live in the Kingdom of God as Jesus puts it here.
Martin Luther experienced his moments of deep anxiety, perhaps today we’d even call them panic attacks as attacks of the devil. He would feel surrounded by an onslaught of all the things he had done wrong and all the things that might happen that would destroy him and all he held dear. Maybe it was the devil, I don’t know. The interesting thing to me is that his response wasn’t to make a plan of how he could fix things, how he could handle any eventuality, he landed on a habit that was much more powerful. He would pray or write it in chalk on his desk… sometime shout it… “I am baptised” except in Latin “Baptizatus sum”. I’m not sure if saying it in Latin helps but whatever works for you.
Recalling his baptism gave him the focus pull. He does not live in the paradigm of survival of the fittest and dog eat dog. He lives in the paradigm of God’s Eternal life.
We can do this not only as individuals but as a church. In a couple of week’s time we are launching a new campaign seeking to bring us all into a closer engagement with our church, including our material need. Not because of worry but because if you love this church, if you worship with us then there shouldn’t be part of the church that you are not invited in to.
The orders of service in your hand, the music and administrative provision for each choir member to sing for us so beautifully, the flowers at the alter, the candles and coffee. All these things should not be distant to us, they also shouldn’t be the obsessive focus. They are filled with the attention of our Eternal Heavenly Father. They matter because God cares for them, and how much more does God care for us?
Ultimately we are not alone in our worry because these words of Jesus’ are not merely good advise. They are tried and tested words. Tried and tested in the desert of temptation where he was tempted to make bread where God had called him to live without “Man does not live by bread alone” he cried drawing on the words of others in scripture to avoid the physical for the sake of the spiritual. And tried and tested in the garden of abandonment “Let this cup pass from my lips, but not my will but yours be done” when he embraced the physical for the sake of love.
Give yourself a focus pull.
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We have a father who feeds birds and dresses flowers.
Through your baptism, your body has already died and been resurrected and now you live a life that is marked not by what has happened to you in the past or what might happen to you in the future but by eternity.
Your past is held for you by your Heavenly Father in faith, your future is held for you by your Heavenly Father through hope. You dwell here, now in the present, held by that same heavenly Father in love.
… I wouldn’t worry.