Reflection ~ September 10, 2017
- Sunday, September 10, 2017
- By The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
Based on Matthew 6: 24-33
When I was approaching this morning’s readings from Matthew’s gospel from a prayerful perspective, I came across a poem I received when I attended the Bethlehem Retreat Center near Nanaimo earlier this summer.
It was a poem my spiritual director suggested I read after she encouraged me to reflect on the same reading from Luke’s gospel in Chapter 12.
What I noticed was how much more calmly I found myself reflecting on this reading back in the summer as opposed to how that feels now that we are entering into full swing here at Knox.
A cautionary tale then!
The reading sounds like this:
“Consider the lilies of the field, the blue banks of camas opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down and be washed by that beauty abate if you knew their usefulness?
How the natives ground their bulbs for flour, how the settlers’ hogs uprooted them,
grunting in gleeful oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you-what of your rushed and useful life?
Imagine setting it all down-papers, plans, appointments, everything-leaving only a note:
“Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I’m through blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten, the camas lilies gaze out above the grass from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake.
Of course your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory will not be arrayed like one of these “Camas Lilies” by Lynn Unger
These were some of the meanderings my preparation for this morning’s reflection took me.
Let us pray: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry in response to your word for us from scripture be acceptable in your sight this day. Amen.
As I come to retirement, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the varied ministry settings I have served over these last ten years now.
In that thinking, I’ve come to notice a few characteristics each holds in common.
All of the congregations where I have been in ministry have had less than 100 active members.
All of them.
All of them have been what we call ‘family sized’ churches.
All of them have been about the business of Sunday morning worship, outreach and hospitality to the local community first, then the national community, then the international community.
All of them have been struggling with an aging demographic, shrinking attendance, and a growing awareness of not being relevant to the wider community.
All of them, though seeing themselves as friendly, hospitable, and transparent, have had trouble attracting newcomers.
All of them have been in conflict with the courts of the wider church-the courts we currently refer to as Presbytery, Conference, and General Council.
All of them, have felt themselves at some risk for being shut down because of these things.
In all cases, though I am usually only about 10 years younger than most of the participants at church, I have found myself increasingly acting as a bridge between the older folk and the few younger folk who do attend.
In all cases, people talked about wanting to change, BUT, were really too busy with longstanding programs to test out new ideas or new programs.
United Church folk are a busy, task-focused hard working lot, aren’t we? It seems we are bound together more as the Martha’s of the bible than the Mary’s. We do, however, need both!
All this ruminating brings me to this morning’s reading from Matthew’s gospel.
It’s the one that changed the life of St. Francis of Assissi, that medieval saint who gave up all the trappings of his inherited life to go and become himself in nature with his companions: the sun, the moon, the earth and the sky, and its natural inhabitants, the animals.
St. Francis was thought to have figured out quickly that being in relationship was more important than focussing on buildings or bank accounts.
Being in relationship with the Holy through Creation was more important to him than all he’d been taught to believe up to that pivotal moment in time when he heard these words attributed to Jesus:
“Therefore, I tell you not to worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”
Here at Knox, we might be inclined to sluff this off as pie in the sky thinking.
After all, worrying seems to be embedded in our DNA.
Some of us here worry so much about so many things we could or should be doing, even in the context of worship that we aren’t able to hear what St. Francis heard which was this: We are all precious in God’s eyes!
Regardless of what we might find ourselves caught up in doing, WE are precious in God’s eyes!
It is hard to accept this good news, isn’t it?
But then we hear Jesus’ voice in the reading offers this timely and cautionary question-
“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Indeed, hard medicine for us to swallow as ones who revel in busy-ness and task completion.
Looking back to the reading, we hear Jesus remind his listeners to rest in knowing that God will cover the basics because we are of more value than even the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
“Therefore,” he tells them, “Do not worry about tomorrow’s troubles. Today’s troubles are enough for today.
Choosing to be Christian means that we are called to be about something different than life in the secular world would suggest.
Strive, instead, Jesus tells us to be about the building up of solid, trustworthy relationships.
Be a slave for the building, not of buildings, but of God’s kingdom.
Be a slave to the mending of fences both in side and outside the church.
After all, child’s play is for children.
As mature followers in the Christian Way, we are called to something quite different, are we not?
So turn off your cell phone.
Close your eyes.
Be present to this very moment.
Open yourselves to God’s healing and holy Presence.
And turn to God, the God who knows all our frailties, all our woundedness, all our foibles, and all our fears.
Trust that in the mess of our similarities and in all our differences, we are still cherished and loved just as we are.
Like the lilies of the field, and like the birds of the air who neither toil nor spin.
Oh, and if you’re so transformed by these blueprints for living from Matthew’s gospel; if you’re so changed by this good news, that you feel compelled to run out and preach this good news or if you need to go and be lovely in the fields, we will understand. And we’ll be waiting to hear how it all went.
Blessed be and may it be so. Amen.
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