Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is offering us words to live by.
“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?” (Matthew 6:25)
Each of us, in our own way, is inclined to worry. Maybe we worry about where our next meal will come from, or maybe we have the luxury of worrying if our meal was sustainably farmed. We might worry about having enough warm clothes for the winter, or if we look foolish in our clothes, if they fit right. Possibly we worry about being able to afford a gift for our loved one, or why we give one another so much stuff we really don’t need, or deep down, even want. We worry about the complexities within our relationships with significant others, siblings, children, in-laws, and friends. We worry about the drama that unfolds as we break bread together during our Thanksgiving meal and beside our Christmas tree. Will Aunt Edith be drunk before noon? Will Johnny even show up this year? Will Uncle Tom storm out, slamming every possible door on his way? Will mom live long enough to see Christmas? Will I still have a job come New Years Day? We find all sorts of ways to cope with these worries, often by over consuming and indulging. Anything that will make us feel better for a bit.
Yet, there is another way to live. We can choose to follow Jesus, the Christ, the Love that walks this earth. In doing so, we are committing to a lifetime of putting our trust in God. It’s not just a one time action. It’s a daily, sometimes hourly, conscious decision to turn our worries, our insecurities, our fears, our very livelihood over to God. And whenever we realize worry has started to drive us, we can hit the brakes, and turn our attention back to God. This is the rhythm we are called to live into. This is what it means to walk the Way of Love.
If there is one lesson Jesus is trying to help the gathered crowd understand, as he preaches his famous Sermon on the Mount, it is that God’s love for us is unconditional. There is nothing any of us can ever do to escape God’s love for us. And all we need to do, to experience the transformative power of God’s love, is to accept it. When we make that daily, sometimes hourly, conscious decision to be in relationship with God, we are accepting God’s gift, God’s love for us, a way of being that acknowledges we are more than good enough, we are worthy of that kind of unconditional love. Jesus points to the examples of God’s love for us in creation:
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our 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?” (Matthew 6:26-30).
Stories of trusting in God’s radical love and care for us surround us. In creation, we are reminded by the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. We are reminded by the stories of our neighbors; in art and literature.
In Linda Sue Park’s book, A Long Walk to Water, readers are inspired by the true story of Salva Dut, who in 1985 was an 11 year old boy that was separated from his family, in what is now South Sudan in the Second Sudanese Civil War. Overnight, Salva became one of the 17,000 Lost Boys of Sudan. Salva walks with other refugees for weeks on end, struggling to survive, as other Lost Boys and fellow travelers perished from hunger, thirst, disease, wild animals, and military attacks. During his initial journey to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he reunites with his uncle. As Salva’s body and mind became weaker, he wondered how much longer he could go on. Yet, Salva’s uncle gently pushed him, giving him small goals----just walk to that tree, now just walk to that rock. It becomes Salva’s philosophy for life, one goal, one day, one step at a time.
Later, when they were forced to leave the Ethiopia refugee camp, Salva found himself leading 1,500 other lost boys to a refugee camp in Kenya. He led them there using the same small goals that brought him this far. Eventually, Salva learns he will head to a family in Rochester, New York. He describes the strange sensation of putting on so many clothes at once--shirt, shoes, pants, underwear, and socks after years in a threadbare pair of shorts and a t-shirt. On the airplane ride, the bubbles of a coca-cola reminded him of his early childhood, when his father once brought back a single glass bottle for his entire family to sip from.
As a young adult Salva felt called to help those in South Sudan gain safe and accessible access to water, and founded Water for South Sudan. With the help of some trusted friends, including his church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Bishop Jack McKelvey, and the Diocese of Rochester, Salva began to raise funds. The publication of the book, A Long Walk to Water, helped his foundation to soar, and to date they have built 349 wells, each serving 600-750 people. All because Salva chose to trust, as he took one step at a time as a Lost Boy in Sudan, and then again as a young man, when he trusted if he kept telling his story, that eventually they would begin to bring clean water to South Sudan.
One way I try to live into the words in today’s gospel, is with a practice I began in late summer. When I find myself worked up, anxious, or unsure of how to handle a situation…When I find myself frustrated with my own shortcomings or those of others... When I am worried about a particular individual…I write a few words on the scrap paper, offer a prayer to God, and place the scrap in the paper box. In doing so...I am physically trying to take my worry and put it in God’s hands. I am trying to let go. I am trying be present to God’s love and let it wash over me. A week or two later I’ll look at the offerings. Whatever has been resolved, I give thanks to God for. If something is still ongoing, I offer more prayers of trust. It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me to let go of my worries and trust in God.
As we enter this season of gratitude, as well as, a season ripe with complexities in our relationships with others, I would like to invite us to practice a similar exercise. You each have an envelope, an index card, a piece of paper, and pen. On the envelope I’d like you to address the envelope to yourself. On the piece of paper you will see two questions:
Please write your answers on the index card, stuff the envelope and seal it. No one but you and God will ever see what you write. You’ll have 2-3 minutes, and when you are ready, come forward and put it in this basket, or signal an Usher or myself to come get it from you. In six to eight weeks, I am going to mail these to you. I hope it will be a reminder of all there is to give thanks for in this season, as well as a way to practice trusting in God. Amen.