Sermon given at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 27 February 2011
27 February 2011 at 11:00 am
The Venerable Dr Jane Hedges, Canon Steward and Archdeacon of Westminster
Readings: Genesis 1-2:3, Romans 8:18-25, Matthew 6:25-34
Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear, your Heavenly Father knows you need all these things.
My immediate reaction on hearing the words of today’s gospel is to say: that’s all very well, but if I don’t worry about the practical things of life such as buying groceries and clothes and looking after my family, will these things really just be provided?
Well, of course they won’t and in a sense it would be quite irresponsible not to worry about tomorrow.
But, my initial reaction to these words of Jesus shows a misunderstanding of what he was teaching the crowd 2000 years ago, and of what he wants us to hear today. So what is the message he is trying to convey here?
This particular passage of St Matthew’s Gospel is part of the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of profound and important sayings of Jesus recorded in
Chapters 5 – 7 of St Matthew’s Gospel.
These don’t give us a set of rules for the way we should behave; they rather, encourage a particular attitude to life itself, where our faith in God lies at the heart of everything we are and do.
Jesus was incredibly perceptive about human nature. in the sermon on the mount he uses a number of analogies to teach his followers, and in doing so he strikes right to the heart of many of their weaknesses ~ and indeed of ours too!
And so, for example, he sees how quick we are to criticise the shortcomings of others, without paying attention to our own, conjuring up an amusing picture with his question: “ Why do you try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, when there is a great log in your own?
He sees how most of us are inclined to want revenge, when someone wrongs us; how we like to get our own back. And so he says: I say to you, do not resist an evil doer … if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.
Then today’s gospel shows how he sees that human beings have a tendency to worry about small and trivial things.
This is probably an even greater problem for us in the 21st century than it was for the people in the 1st.
We worry about all sorts of things; especially about the way we look ~ what shape we are, how tall we are, whether we’re going bald or grey, and whether our clothes are alright.
In telling us not to worry, Jesus isn’t encouraging us to be totally irresponsible; rather, he is saying:
Don’t get too pre-occupied with the little niggles of life, because there is no point in fretting about the things which are beyond our control.
We won’t be able to make ourselves taller, by worrying about being short; we’re not going to stop our hair falling out by worrying about it ~ indeed we’ll probably only hasten the process!
Instead, Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves the big question: do I really believe that god made me and cares for me and sustains me?
Today’s Old Testament Lesson from the book of Genesis can help us as we reflect on this. Although never written to be taken as literal truth, this story nevertheless takes us to one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith:
The belief that however the world came into being; it is God who’s behind it all. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is and he has made us to be like him ~ made in his image; to be creative, loving and dynamic, so that we can have a close relationship with him.
Every time we say the Creed, we affirm our faith in this God; the God who made us and knows us intimately, the God who saw all that he had made and said, “Behold it is very good”.
But we can’t quite leave things there, because as we look around at our world today, it is not very good! We live in a world where people suffer through the actions of others, often being the victims of violence, cruelty and injustice; where people go short of the basic necessities of life ~ food, shelter and health care; and where people are killed and injured in natural disasters ~ as we’ve seen just this week in the earthquake in New Zealand.
So where does that leave us as we try to live our lives, having a faith in a God who supposedly made us and cares for us, when a lot of the time it would appear that either he doesn’t care, or he is not in control?
There is no easy answer to this, except to say, that it is often the people who suffer most in our world who express the strongest faith in God; and also, that we can come to terms to some extent, with things going badly wrong in our world, if we accept that this is the price we pay for our freedom; and that god himself suffers along with us because he gave that gift to his creation.
Then if we turn to today’s New Testament lesson from St Paul’s letter to the Romans we perhaps gain some further insights there.
St Paul in his writings clearly sees God as the creator of all things. However, he also elaborates on how things have gone drastically wrong between god and his creation, and in particular with human beings.
Yet Paul, in the passage we read this morning sees everything and everybody as being on a journey, moving towards perfection. He talks about the creation groaning and being in bondage, but moving towards something glorious, therein giving us hope.
So today’s readings present us with some profound questions about the way we relate to God, and at first sight might seem to offer some rather unrealistic pictures of god and his care for us and the world.
But the predominant theme running through all of them is that of trust. They all celebrate the overarching and under girding love of God.
Discovering this love sets us free and gives us a real sense of security which can enable us to meet and cope with the inevitable stresses and strains of living in a world where there is a mixture of good and evil, because our roots are firmly fixed in what is greater and more profound than anything else.