Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving, Year A, 2008
Sunday, October 5th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 6:25-33
Do not worry. How easy it is to offer this platitude when there is so much to worry about. The very suggestion not to worry seems to undercut the reality of the stress, pain or fear that we might be experiencing over any given crisis. How many times has a friend or loved one told you not to worry about someone or something and you have wished that your friend, well-meaning as they are, would simply go away? The well-meaning friend hopes that in offering this counsel will alleviate your worry, and perhaps even alleviate their own worry about you and everything that you are facing. Yet, such counsel and advice is often taken as the counsel of Job’s friends, as not really helpful advice at all. For to worry is to be a person invested in the world and invested in the stuff of life. I must worry about my children when I send them off either to kindergarten or university. I must worry about the safety of our schools and streets. I must worry about an aging parent whose health is declining. I must worry about a friend in financial need. Don’t tell me not to worry.
This week has been a week of financial worry for many who have invested in the markets, or for those who have pensions heavily invested in these same financial markets. This week has been a worry for those south of the border who have homes and houses on the line. There is cause for worry for many folk. We have cause to worry for the places in the world that are torn apart by warfare and strife. We have cause to worry for the poorest amongst us in the world who go without the basic necessities of life on a daily basis. We have cause to worry about our young men and women overseas. We have so much too worry about.
To deny our worry would be to deny a piece of ourselves and to deny a piece of our humanity. If we are to live with any authenticity we must admit that we do indeed worry and not push it down inside of us and pretend that we have some kind of superhuman resistance to it. Similarly, I believe that as friends to those who find themselves in crisis, we should resist the urge to tell others not to worry, when there is indeed cause for worry. Rather we should stand alongside those in their angst and offer them companionship and love as they authentically struggle with the challenges and worries that they encounter along life’s road.
Thus, these words of Jesus -- “do not worry” -- are difficult for us. Should we even take them seriously? Are they actually a realistic admonishment? Should we consider that they apply to others who have better resilience to crisis than you or me?
I suppose that more important than, “Do not worry,” is the comforting reality of Jesus’ abiding presence with us. As I have said so often about St. Matthew’s Gospel, it is a gospel about the enduring presence of Christ in our lives. The text begins with the fulfillment of the prophecy about the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, literally, God with us, and concludes with Jesus’ promise to be with us always even unto the end of the age. Having “book-ended” his Gospel in this way, I believe that this promise of presence is the key that we must constantly use to unlock Matthew’s text. To this end, I think that this is what this little story is really about. In the midst of our worry, in the midst of crisis, in the midst of sadness, in the midst of fear, in the midst of loss, Jesus is with us.
Jesus is with us not as one who negates our worry or angst but as one who helps us bear it on the road. Thus, when we look to the birds of the air or the lilies of the field we come to understand that God journeys with the whole created order through the seasons. As it is with us, so is it also for the Earth: for the earth, there are good seasons and bad. There are times where there is too much rain, or too much snow, or too much heat… but shall we say God has abandoned the Earth? There are times when the harvest is plentiful and there are times when the harvest is sparse. Shall we say that God has abandoned the wind or the sky or the earth or the sea? The seasons cycle through their days and yet comes another dawn, a new morn, a new sun and a new moon, new growth, and yes, so too again will follow the withering of the grass and the falling of the leaves and the sleeping of the earth. But as God attends the seasons of the Earth, so too, he attends the seasons of our lives. He is with us as joy is birthed and he is with us when death brings sadness. He is with us as we fall in love and with us when love is broken. He is with us in the brightness of our mornings and in the deep frightening stillness of our nights. He is with us always.
Do not worry. This phrase then takes on a new meaning because our counselor is not merely a well-meaning friend offering platitudinous counsel, but a companion who shares our fear, knows our pain, tastes our burden. In the crucible of our lives he lives and moves and has his being. And in his crucible is our burden lifted, carried, and redeemed in the sight of God.
We do not know why we face certain kinds of suffering in this life. And while these sufferings may feel like they are put upon us, let us never forget that our God is the one who helps bear the burden and lift our suffering and worry from us. Let us never forget that we are not left alone, or comfortless, or companionless.
Do not worry. This is not the counsel of a well-meaning, but wrong-headed friend, but a promise. It is a promise – a promise that our worry is never ours to bear alone; a promise that whatever suffering we face is a suffering that will be shared by the one who hung for us on the tree of life; a promise that dark though the road may be, Jesus will ever be a light to our feet and a lantern to our path.
Worry does not go away simply because someone tells us not to worry. Our fears and worries dissipate only when another helps us carry them, and lift them from our shoulders. Let us therefore embrace the reality of our worry, the reality of our fear, the reality of our struggle, and the reality of our pain and angst, for it is in embracing the reality of our lives that Jesus extends a hand to walk with us. It is in facing the reality of our lives that we are offered not empty words of consolation, but a promise of divine friendship, which is the gift beyond all measure and a harvest more bountiful than wealth of riches and gold.
Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.