Transfiguration A, February 26,2017

February 27, 2017

In God We Trust

Matthew 6:24-34

 24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.[a]

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[b] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[c] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[d] and his[e] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I was in a hurry last Tuesday morning when I needed to get my sermon text and title to Shirley, and I looked at the wrong liturgical calendar to see what the reading should be for today. Today is what the liturgical world recognizes as Transfiguration Sunday, but I chose a reading from the eighth Sunday of Epiphany. I’m guessing I’m the only liturgical geek in the room, and being liturgically confused has little impact on anyone other than a preacher, but it sort of messed with my preaching sensibilities. I could have ignored what I told Shirley and preached on one of the traditional transfiguration stories today, but there are rarely eight Sundays after the Day of Epiphany before the beginning of Lent, so we rarely read this particular passage of scripture, and I really like these verses. Consequently, I’m happy to have made this mistake. We can still call this Transfiguration Sunday, which is always the Sunday just prior to Ash Wednesday, but we aren’t going to read the story of Jesus going up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John and hearing how he became dazzling white along with Moses and Elijah.


We read that passage last year, and we’ll read it next year, but today we get some additional instruction from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Like much of that sermon, what he has to say in this particular portion isn’t exactly easy to follow, but I think we can all agree that there’s something deeply comforting about these words. While it’s hard not for us to be anxious about many things and to have an inordinate amount of concern about our personal finances, I think we are all here today because we want God to be the one master we serve, and we want to live with a profound sense of trust in our one good master.


We are here because we believe Jesus to be the one who not only points to the path of true life, but who also enables us to travel on that path. Sometimes that path seems so clear and wide. Sometimes we know that we are beloved children in the hands of a loving God and we have complete trust that we are capable of serving God in all that we do. Sometimes we know exactly what Jesus Christ has called us to go and do, but then we get out of bed and things start getting complicated.


At least this is often my experience. In an instant I can go from feeling like I’m living in harmony with God and my neighbors into a situation where I’m confounded by my choices and distressed by what I choose to do. I don’t run in to this particular delima as often here as I did at my previous appointment, but a day hardly ever passed at my church in Little Rock where I didn’t encounter a relatively desperate person who needed something from me. I knew how to say no, but I tried not to be heartless about it, and it was a difficult thing to balance.


Here’s a case in point: one afternoon as I was about to leave the church I noticed that someone had set up camp in the back stairwell of the church – complete with a plastic curtain hanging from some pipes that stretched across the stairwell. This person had turned that small stairwell in to a bedroom. He had propped a piece of a palet up in a way that made a bit of a bed and there was a dirty foam pad on top of it along with some blankets. It wasn’t a nice bedroom but clearly this person had made a nest of sorts.


I didn’t like people sleeping outside of the church and I had made that clear to a number of people. I didn’t think it was safe for anyone involved – people inside the church or outside. I hated that people found themselves in such difficult circumstances that they felt like their best option was to sleep on our stairwell, but I just didn’t feel like that was a good solution.


This person wasn’t on hand for me to hear my rationale for why this wasn’t a good thing, but I decided to send that message by throwing the entire encampment in our dumpster – our locked dumpster. The only thing I left was the most significant article of clothing which was a rather heavy jacket. I didn’t feel too good about it, but it wasn’t a dangerously cold day, and there was a lot of daylight left. I’m not saying that’s what Jesus would have done, but it’s what I did.


I was a little anxious about how this person may have reacted to what I had done, so when I got to the church the next morning I walked back to that stairwell to see if they had left me any kind of message, and I was surprised to discover that the camp was totally reassembled and occupied. I was stunned by what I saw because as I say, I had put the entire encampment in our locked dumpster, and it was still locked.


I was both flustered and indignant and with as much authority as I could muster I announced to that sleeping man he had to wake up and move on and that I didn’t appreciate him turning our stairwell in to his bedroom. I heard a respectful apology come from behind the dirty plastic curtain, and as he began moving I went inside the church.  But I really couldn’t believe what I had seen.


The very things I had thrown in that locked dumpster had reemerged and the lock was still in place. Along with my confusion and indignation was also some curiosity, so I went back out and invited the guy to come inside for a cup of coffee. If nothing else, I wanted to know how he had gotten in that dumpster.


So he came in and over a cup of coffe I came to see him as a real person who had fallen on hard times and he came to see me as someone other than the jerk who had thrown away his stuff. His name was Don and he and I became pretty well aquainted with one another. Don was an incredibly resourceful person – with one of his skills being locksmithing. He had actually picked the lock on our dumpster.


What I experienced with Don and with many other people who found themselves living on the streets of Little Rock was the way in which God’s grace often abounds in the lives of people who don’t really have anything other than their wits and their trust in God. On one level, Don and people like Don have an existence that’s not unlike the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. I know in Don’s case, it wasn’t the life that he set out to live, but a couple of unfortunate events landed him without a home, and he had found a way to stay alive – both physically and spiritually.


I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned over my years in ministry. Peace of mind and inner security aren’t dependent upon having a well stocked pantry and a thick financial portfolio. Sometimes incredibly poor people have profound inner peace and sometimes very wealthy people have great anxiety about their circumstances. Certainly not having adequate food or medical care or housing is a terrible burden for many people and I don’t want to diminish the suffering that such situations create. It’s not unreasonable to be distressed when you don’t have access to such essential resources. And I hate that there are so many people who go without the things they need to fully blossom as the people God created them to be, but lack of access isn’t the only thing that keeps us from becoming fully formed in the image of God.


Many of us aren’t as troubled by what we lack in resources as we are by our lack of clarity about who it is we primarily serve. As surely as some people suffer from the problem of not having enough, some of us suffer from problems that come with overabundance. Many of us don’t worry about having enough to eat and drink and wear – we worry about having the right things, and making the wisest investments, and going to the best places. I don’t think any of us would want to trade the problems that come with having too much for the problems that come with having too little, but we don’t need to be unaware of the way in which our souls can be threatened when our bodies are comfortable.


Jesus is telling us not to worry, but I don’t think anyone has ever been able to stop worrying because they were told not to worry. In fact being told not to worry can become an additional source of anxiety when you find yourself unable to do what Jesus has instructed us to do. But it probably isn’t possible to simply quit worrying if there’s something you are worried about. But I think there are things we can do to live with less worry.


Sometimes the thing we are worried about is actually something we can do something about, and instead of worrying about it we need to get off the sofa and do something about it. I can testify that I can spend more time and energy worrying about something than it would take to actually address the problematic situation. I think we often consider worrying about something to be a good alternative to dealing with things, and that is rarely the best option.


But there are those things that come along in life that are simply out of our control. Many of the troubles that come our way just don’t have immediate solutions. Often we are helpless to fix the very real problems that invade our lives, and that’s often when we come to discover what it really means to put our trust in God.


Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and I guess some people learn to do that without first seeking those forms of security that the world can provide, but it’s often when we encounter situations that money can’t fix or there is no money to provide the fix that we discover the riches of heaven.


We have gathered today because we trust in this wisdom that Jesus both taught and embodied. Jesus didn’t just tell us to place our trust in God. Jesus showed us what it looks like to trust God. It’s a challenge for us, and there are no guarantees that we won’t have to break in to a dumpster to retrieve what we need to get us through a night, but he didn’t just want us to be comfortable. Jesus wanted us to know the joy of ultimate security – which comes to those who trust in God.


Thanks be to God.





4 Responses to “Transfiguration A, February 26,2017”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thompson, You hit home with me again, God bless you.

  2. Earl Jones Says:

    Mo, Really one of his best, really hit home with me.

    Earl Jones 501-944-1860 PO Box 2547 Little Rock, Ar. 72203 Look to the future, because that is where you’ll spend the rest of your life. George Burns


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