Good morning, Christ Church!
While we await the official announcement, there is certainly a growing sense of anticipation as we prepare to welcome our next rector. We know that the Search Committee has made their recommendations and the Vestry is now in the process of finalizing a call. Thus, this is a very exciting moment for all of us. The time has come for our congregation to enter into the next chapter of our mission. We look forward to the leadership of the person who the Holy Spirit is bringing to us. This will, in the near term, include figuring out how we can best begin to come together again in small and safely distanced groups for worship and for ministry while continuing to develop the wonderful opportunities we have discovered in all the technology now available to us. Patience will continue to be a great virtue!
As one who has experienced what it means to be on the “other side” of a call, I can share with you that it is bittersweet. On the one hand, you are saying goodbye to a community that has meant so much to you. You have laughed with these sisters and brothers, you have cried with them, you have celebrated with them, and you have mourned with them. They have become your family and as a result it is hard to say goodbye.
On the other hand, you are really, really excited. Obviously, there has been, in both the invitation to explore the possibility and the ensuing conversations with members of the Search Committee and Vestry, the confirmation that this is the community to whom God is now leading you. New opportunities are the seeds of renewed hope, and that is a spiritual boost that we all need to have at various points in our pilgrimages. I believe that this is especially true in our world’s present circumstances. It will be so good to have someone and something to look forward to and focus on, a point of real orientation in the midst of what seems to be a constantly disorienting flow of news and opinion!
At the same, we must accept with grace the reality that we still have questions, questions that only the coming months will answer. Such questions, if we are not careful, can become distractions that lead us into worry and dis-ease. Today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount has much to say on this subject, both about that anxiety and the one remedy that God offers us each and every day of our lives. As Jesus makes abundantly clear in this passage from Matthew 6, the only grace that will redeem us from such anxiety is trust.
Finally, now that welcoming the next rector is close at hand, I have decided that it is time to bring these weekly reflections to a close. I will submit the last one on Monday, September 14th. Please know that I have thoroughly enjoyed writing them. It has given me something to think and pray about each week in the midst of these strange days. That has been a great gift and I thank you for that, and for your time and your consideration. I also want to again thank Laurie Gethin and Jennifer Baker Howard for doing such a wonderful job getting them up and ready for posting each Monday. There is no question that I would not have been able to contribute in this way without them!
Faithfully in Christ,
“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…”
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
“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.”
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
(Matthew 6:25; 27, 30; 33-34 NRSV)
For all the grace and power we have already experienced in this discourse on discipleship, it is in these verses that Jesus reveals the cornerstone of the Christian moral life. We can spend our entire lives pondering all that is written in both the Old and New Testaments. We can take the plunge of baptism and commit ourselves to following Jesus wherever he may lead us. We can dedicate our time and talents to the work of our congregations. But unless and until we are willing to put our complete trust in Christ’s love, and with confidence daily commit ourselves entirely into God’s care, we will never in this lifetime be fully free.
I can attest to this fact. I come from a long line of worriers. And I suspect that I am not alone. There is deeply engrained within us the need to take charge and be in control. And if that control alludes us, if things do not turn out exactly as we want or desire, then all manner of uncharitable thoughts and feelings take hold, thoughts and feelings that have little or nothing to do with the Good News. This, my friends, is not genuine discipleship. Actually, it is a tendency toward self-idolatry. It means love for others has been replaced by worry about oneself. It is why Jesus so often has to remind his disciples that they have such “little faith.”
Personally, I believe that this is why we have seen such an increase in people suffering from anxiety, fear, rage, and depression over these last six months. Yes, we were fully aware that there was a great deal of division and brokenness in the world prior to the arrival of COVID-19. But at least we were still free to move about the country and continue to do those things that conveyed some degree of normalcy, and thus, some sense that we were still “in control.”
That is not now the case. We do not know what the future holds, other than it will almost assuredly not be as it was at the beginning of the year. In this sense, we more closely resemble “the birds of the air” and the “lilies of the field” in this passage from Matthew than we realized. Each day is precious and sufficient in and of itself. The birds and the plants make the most of the gifts God has given them for that moment, soaring through the skies and producing such beauty that human artistry can only attempt to imitate. Inherently, their lives are entirely dependent on the God who created them and they respond in accordance to God’s care by simply being what they were created to be. They are in all their vulnerabilities entirely free, free as God intended, and not consumed with worry. That is the nature of trust.
And, as Jesus says, if the God who has given such freedom to all living things also loves us, how much more are we invited into this very same freedom? Trust the Creator because the Creator loves you and will care for you day by day. That is why God has sent his son. Trust, and do not be anxious about anything. Don’t fixate on that which you cannot control, including the length of your days. Instead, live for this day and let each day represent a celebration in trust.
This might sound naïve to some. And with no disrespect intended to Bobby McFerrin, I don’t think Jesus is simply advocating a philosophy of “don’t worry, be happy.” Our trust in God is not an invitation to passivity. Instead, he teaches us that a life built upon trust does have meaning and purpose: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Being created in the image of God, as we human beings believe we are, we are called to use this trust to strive for God’s kingdom right here and right now. This is not about our being in control. In fact, we may lose it all in the process, including our very lives. Instead, this is about living in such a way that others might see and discover the infinite freedom of trusting in God. The prophet Micah once said, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” I think that is a great verse to remember at the beginning and the end of each day entrusted to us. Don’t worry. Just remain focused on doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. There is no room left for anxiety when this becomes our daily vocation.
Fish got to swim. Birds got to fly. Flowers must produce their blossoms. And like the rest of the created order, we must entrust to our Creator all that we are and all that we have while we continue to strive for the in-breaking kingdom of Jesus Christ. That is not naive. That is the Gospel.