“Raw Materials” Gratitude Part 4
Psalm 107; Matthew 6:25-33
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
February 11, 2018
Have you ever been to a really good buffet? Ok, I realize that may be an oxymoron, but just go with me for a moment. If you’ve ever been to one, just conjure it in your head, if not imagine. I can tell you I have been to a really good buffet before, and let me be honest with you, it stresses me out. You have to put a lot of thought into a good buffet, and I have. The first plate is the key, because what’s on that plate is going to take most of the room in your stomach and there is just no place for mistakes. You have to get that first plate right, so what goes on there is key. For me, I tend to prioritize small portions of entrée items, so that means like, one piece of fried chicken, one slice of spare rib, a small scoop of chicken pot pie, you know, whatever looks best. Then comes the issue of sides. A lot of mistakes can be made on the sides. If you choose too many vegetables, well then I don’t know what you’re doing there in the first place. And don’t even get me started on wasting room on salad. But that’s beside the point. For me, I angle for mashed potatoes first, then carrots, then I assess. I don’t waste room on bread unless it’s freshly made. Do you see what I mean, now? A good buffet is nothing to mess around with.
So here is the thing. For most of us, life is pretty much a buffet. Each day offers us a variety of choices. What will we do with our time? Where will we eat? What entertainment option will we consume? You see what I mean? We make a lot of choices in a given day just in answer to the question of “what.” And that doesn’t even factor in shopping. Oh my gosh, shopping is the hardest thing in the world, especially for a big purchase. When most of us shop, it’s like being at the ultimate buffet. And I’m talking about men and women here. Stereotypically men don’t shop as often as women, but when we shop, whether it be for clothes or a car or whatever, the question of what we are going to get becomes key. Because of our relative wealth, don’t forget pretty much all of us are among the most wealthy people in human history, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the question of what. What is going to fill this plate I am carrying around at the moment.
Now, this passage from Jesus tends to be read as something of an austerity passage. Don’t worry about food, he says. Don’t worry about clothes, he says. This seems simple enough, especially for us. Most of us have never worried about if we were going to get another meal in a day. Nor have we worried about whether the one article of clothing we owned would last much longer. So we are on board with this. Yes, we think to ourselves, don’t worry about that stuff. For people in different economic situations this passage can be particularly tricky, and sadly in its history people who haven’t worried about these things have stood and told people who worry about them daily that they are being unfaithful. That’s no good. That doesn’t help anybody.
So it comes down to this really. This passage can either leave us feeling guilty for worrying or it can leave us feeling a bit left out because of our privileged status as people who live at a buffet line. But when this happens, we miss something vital. We miss the very beginning of the passage. Jesus says something to those of us lined up at the buffet, plates in hand. He tells us, do not worry about WHAT you will eat, or your clothing, WHAT you will wear. And there it is. It’s as if Jesus looked far into the future, saw us, and added that one little word. And that word changes everything because if you think about it, we worry about the “what” all the time. “What” obsesses us.
And there is no “what” that occupies us more than the “what” of the future. What is going to happen? We ask ourselves this all the time. Think about it this way, have you ever ridden a roller coaster? If so, think back to the first time you rode one. If not, then what have you been doing with your life? Anyway, think back to that. I remember the first time I rode one, it was at six flags in Dallas, and it was called the shockwave and it had two big loops. I was terrified of roller coasters, but I was there on a church trip with my high school youth group and there were girls that wanted to ride it, so I had to be like, “oh yeah, sure, no problem.” So anyway, we are standing there in line, and it was like a 30-minute wait, and I just watched this thing over and over. Up it would go, then it would hurdle downward and up again into two loops. It looked like death. And I waited, and I worried. I waited, and I worried. Then we got into the car, finally, and the ride started. I have no recollection of who the girls were that were with me, but I must have really wanted to impress one of them. And then it starts, and guess what, the ride itself was fine. Everything happened so fast, I had no time to worry. We were up, then we were down, then we were upside down, and then it was over. It was that anticipation, that thinking about it, over and over and over, that caused all the problems.
This is the “what” that gets us most, and it is the one Jesus gets to at the end. Don’t worry about tomorrow, he says, there is enough to worry about today. In other words, don’t worry about what is going to happen. So, now, let’s think this through. If we aren’t supposed to really worry about what we eat, or what we wear, or what happens tomorrow, then what are we supposed to worry about? Well, the kingdom of heaven, of course! And here is where Jesus sets his disciples free. Strive first for the kingdom of God, he says, and then all these things will be given you as well.
If you want to talk about gratitude, then here it is. Over and over again in the Gospels Jesus sets us free; free from worrying about how we will fill our plates, and instead invites us into the work of God in this world. This is a gift because it not only reminds us that we are invited into the abundance of God, but Jesus’ words also remind us that we are collaborators in the kingdom work happening during our lives. But here is the catch, we cannot be full collaborators if we are always worried about the “whats.” We simply can’t serve both masters.
And I know from my own personal experience that when I can let go of the “whats” in my life that I am at my best. When I can get myself to the point where I really don’t care about what I’m going to eat or what I’m going to wear, or, on my best days, what is going to happen. In those moments I am set free from obsessing about myself and my eyes are opened to the work of the kingdom which has fallen to me in this life. This passage is not about feeling guilty, it is not about deprivation. No. This is all about freedom. Jesus has shown us, us modern, materialistic, what-obsessed Americans, the pathway to freedom. And if we are to think seriously about things for which we are grateful, then there can be nothing greater than this, that we worship a God who knows what we need so well, that our needs become freedoms. What a gift. Amen.