Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2014
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

 

Let us Pray: Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Today's gospel reading from St. Matthew includes some very puzzling phrases. "Be not anxious for your life" is one. What does this really mean when Jesus says it? "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" is another. These words get our attention. So do these words: "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat..." As if we could forget food, one of our main preoccupations. But, as with all of Scripture, it is sometimes a mistake to point to a single phrase and expect to find all of God's wisdom contained within it. Scripture gives us the spiritual food we need, especially when we include all the pieces. The entire canon of Scripture, consumed and inwardly digested, is necessary to our spiritual growth. It is the best balanced diet there is. Scripture feeds us in ways that we need to be fed. Be not anxious...Easy for God to say. But what about us?

 

 

How do we relate to St. Matthew's gospel message when he talks about anxiety and evil? In seminary, when we take classes in preaching, we are taught to bring in contemporary examples to explain certain passages from Scripture. Because it is God's world, the examples are everywhere. But whenever I read this particular gospel message, I wonder where to find that perfect example, that absolutely precise story that will illustrate this challenging message. Well, the only perfection comes from God. We know this, but we do our best to reach for that goal of perfection. And this can cause us some anxiety.

 

But while I was meditating on this gospel message, I got a little help from Derek Jeter. For anyone who doesn't know, Derek Jeter is the shortstop for the New York Yankees. Yes, one of those hated Yankees. He is just days away from retirement. He will spend his final hours as a professional baseball player at Fenway Park playing against our beloved Red Sox.

 

 

Derek Jeter has been much in the news lately. He is regarded as a true gentleman athlete, a man who has avoided the pitfalls of drug abuse and many of the other temptations that have destroyed the reputations and lives of his teammates. One can, overlooking for the moment that he is a member of the unmentionable opposition, certainly admire his character. In one brief interview, he answered a question that I remembered for its perception and its theological insight. He was asked this: "You have said that baseball is a game of failure. What did you mean by that?"

 

 

And Derek Jeter went on to explain that when a batter fails to hit the ball successfully seventy percent of the time, he is regarded as an excellent batter. A seventy percent failure rate! If you achieve that lack of success, you are a potential Hall of Famer.

 

 

He went on to explain that, during his career, he had to let go of his failures and simply play the game, to do his duty as best he could. He never achieved perfection. In baseball, as in life, that is an impossibility. But I also was taken by the fact that he seemed perfectly fine ending his career, letting go of all the trappings of a successful career.

 

 

The purpose of this gospel message, taken as a whole, is to point us to the real goal of our lives. We cannot hold onto the things that this life often so richly provides. Whether it is youth or money or fine clothing or a World Series championship each year, all these will disappear. It is a fact. Much of human life has to deal with giving up things. The wonderful objects of this world. And many of these things are wonderful. But if we allow them to rule us – to become our masters, we will be separated from God.

 

 

Jesus tells us not to be anxious. How, we wonder, is this possible? We have needs. But he tells us to get our priorities clear. Seek the Kingdom of God. After all, when every object we have known is no more, when we have left behind all that we will ever own or wish for or worried about (including our lives), the Kingdom of God will be there still. God will be there.

 

 

It is hard to be a human being. Life is hard. Life is a challenge. We sometimes face enormous difficulties each day. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." What can this mean? Jesus wishes us to know, not that the world is evil, but that the fears and anxieties we face today are simply imperfections in His world; they are brief, passing problems that will be forgotten in time. Even the most difficult of days will eventually be forgotten. That which is of God will survive.

 

 

St. John Chrysostom reminds us that Jesus refers to mannon as a "master" not because it has a will of its own, but because of the often miserable condition of those who let it rule their lives.

 

 

When we seek the kingdom of God first, sincerely and with loving hearts, all else is given to us. This doesn't mean that we will necessarily become rich, famous or become perfect in all that we do. But it will give us a rich perspective on our own lives, lives created in the image of God and surrounded by God's grace.

 

 

Jeremy Taylor, the great Anglican divine once wrote two companion volumes. They were called "The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living" and "The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying." These two books have much in common. The theme that runs through them both can be summed up in this phrase: "Yes, life is full of worry. But focus your minds and hearts on God." I think Jeremy Taylor had this passage from St. Matthew in mind. And the great Fourteenth Century mystic, Julian of Norwich, said: "All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well." I think she had this passage in mind as well.

 

 

And Derek Jeter? I can well imagine him saying, after a particularly unsuccessful road trip: "I missed the ball seven out of ten times. What a failure! Life is good. It is very good indeed."

 

Let us Pray: O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and ruse our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.