Sunday, October 07, 2012


Matthew 6
‘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.

I like the internet, I truly do.

I like being able to think of something (what’s tomorrow’s weather?) and having that information in the time it takes to press a few keys or fish the phone from my pocket. I like having access to a vast storehouse of information, things I wish I knew, or things I knew but have since forgotten.

I like that new things appear and others disappear in a matter of months. Remember MySpace? Or Geocities? Or Bill Gates? Then someone will refer to the “blogosphere” or the “Twitterverse” and I don’t know whether to be delighted or appalled.

And just when I am overwhelmed by this marvelous new age of information and integration, I fall upon another cat picture, or a cat and a dog together, or two cats, maybe sleeping, in the sink, with that sleeping cat face. Then I think we should scrap the whole thing, and return to a time without cat pictures. Then it hits me, an image from the most popular poster of my childhood. No, not the Farah Fawcett one, the other one, the one with the kitten hanging from a tree branch, with the words “Hang in there, baby.”

According to Wikipedia, the “Hang in there, baby” poster was first published in 1968 and was soon everywhere, even presented to Vice-President Spiro Agnew in an effort to stop him from quitting. It didn’t work. Oddly, the internet wouldn’t give me the publisher, photographer or the name of the cat. At least not in the 90 seconds I set aside for research.

This morning I’m going to argue that Jesus said “Hang in there, baby” in Matthew 6, but not in so many worlds. No, there are no cats in Matthew 6, but there are birds and lilies and a lot of anxious questions like “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”

But before I get to the hidden cat in the hidden tree in the passage, I want to point to a bit of context. The passage that Douglas read this morning is more-or-less the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sermon, and like all good sermons (so I’m told) that has three points.

The first point, found in Chapter 5, might be summarized as “live not as the world lives.” Unexpected people are called blessed, such as the poor in spirit, commandments are extended (you read ‘do not murder,’ and I say “do not be angry with your brother or sister’) and in the end we are given the hardest instruction of all, ‘love your enemies.’

The second point, most of Chapter 6 and some of 7, could be summarized as “think how it will look.” Giving, praying and fasting should all be done in the most subtle way possible, and the same with wealth, and worry, and the way you judge others. All of these are framed as ‘do these things in secret, or simply, or with an eye to how others regard you.’

And the last point, most of Chapter 7, is about entering the Kingdom, something at may as simple as knocking on the door, or as complicated as following the narrow path and doing the will of God in heaven. And when you figure it out, it is like building your house on a rock, always a good thing.

In all, it has to be the most challenging sermon in history: Reject the way the world lives and live differently, live differently but don’t make a big show of it, and remember that the path of life is narrow and the gate is a really tight squeeze. And it may be the second point, our point for today, that is most challenging of all.

The first challenge of ‘think how it will look’ or ‘don’t make a big show of it’ is the extent to which we think we should do the opposite. Shouldn’t we lead by example? Shouldn’t our life be a testimony to God in our life? Shouldn’t the outward expression of faith be a good goal in a secular world?

Yes and no. We should give to the needy, but not to build ourselves up. We should pray for others to hear, but nothing showy or wordy, just something dignified, like the Lord’s Prayer. And we should do as well as we can in life, but not to the point that mammon replaces the Maker of All. And we should worry, because the world is worrisome, but we shouldn’t turn that worry into theatre.

Wait, preacher, you may argue, the passage says pretty clearly, ‘don’t worry.’ “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.” Yes, that’s true. And it gets even clearer, clearer than the popular favourite ‘consider the lilies.’ It is the knockout punch of the passage, the message that you hardcore worriers should have tattooed somewhere visible: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

So it’s about worry, but it also about outward appearances, meaning the way we express our worry to an anxious world. So forget the tattoo, and focus instead on giving the impression you have no worries, because that may help everyone in these anxious times.

I should tell you that every other time I have preached this passage I did it as a straight-up ‘don’t worry’ sermon. I would sing a little Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t worry, be happy”) or Bob Marley ("Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right.”) and even talk about hypertension, which is like being tense, but hyper about it, which is bad.

But now I see that the message ‘don’t worry’ has a context, and the context is ‘you will do these things whether I tell you to or not, so do them, but don’t make a fuss.’ Or ‘do them, but don’t appear to be doing them,’ or ‘do them, but don’t do them where anyone can see you.’

Or ‘Hang in there, baby.’ You see, the reason the kitten hanging from the branch is so timeless is that we should worry, and the kitten should worry, because it’s hanging in mid-air! But a poster with a dangerously dangling feline that says ‘don’t worry’ would make no sense. You’re in a tight spot, so we say ‘Hang in there, baby.’

Or consider the lilies. Or look at the birds of the air. Hanging there, from a branch, worry won’t save you, but lilies might, because they never worry, nor the birds of the air. You can overcome your natural inclination to worry by pondering the lily advice, even as you continue to worry.

Prof. Van Doran, famous mentor to Thomas Merton, when teaching Don Quixote, would say to his students: “One of the lessons of this book is that the way to become a knight is to act like a knight.”

And Jesus, also famous mentor to Thomas Merton, would say the way to becoming a non-worrier is to stop worrying. Or at least hang in, because there are challenges enough in life without meeting every situation with worry.

We live, of course, in an anxious age. Perhaps our age is no more anxious than any other age, but we have better worry-enhancing technology. We don’t have news, we have ‘Breaking News,’ we don’t have a snow storm, we have snowmageddon, and every crisis is the worst crisis since the we began to record crisis’s.

Can’t turn off CNN? Consider the lilies! Tempted to wrap the kids in bubblewrap? Consider the lilies! Checking your balance online every single day? Consider the lilies! Anxious you are too anxious? Consider the lilies!

So live differently, and don’t make a big show of it (worriers), and follow the narrow path, with lilies and birds, and a Kingdom to seek. Amen.


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