Praise to the Holy One (Stuff & Things)

Thanksgiving 2018, Matthew 6:25-33

Do you know which November holiday is the fourth most important? Let’s see, there’s Thanksgiving, All Saints Day, Veterans Day, and finally, #4 …Black Friday.  Perhaps followed by cyber Monday or small business Saturday.  I can hardly keep um all straight. But I’m old enough to remember when Black Friday became a thing. I was working in a small Ace Hardware store in Dubuque Iowa.  And Ace ran a flyer for Black Friday which contained what we called “freebees.” The customer would buy a certain item, let’s say a set of drill bits, for $3 and then they could send in for a $3 rebate. So, essentially, they were getting it for free.  A “freebee.”

Well, there we were, the Turkey was gone, football games were in the books, and it was now 5AM on black Friday; time to go to work.  Now, let me try to paint a picture of the scene for you. As I said before, this was a small store; if we had 10 customers in this store at one time, we were busy. Okay. When I unlocked the front door at 5AM there were at least 100 people in line. We had only two registers, so the lines went all the way to the back of the store all day long.

But that wasn’t even the most memorable part. At one point in time, I remember being in the middle of a pallet, cutting open cases of drill bits, with people grabbing them as fast I could hand them out. It was both surreal and, I have to admit, a bit frightening.

But here’s the kicker. When we sat down and ran the numbers, we discovered that we didn’t make dine one that day.  As matter of fact, we probably lost money because our regular customers, wanting to avoid the chaos, went elsewhere for their hardware needs.

Now, as we come to our gospel passage for this morning, I think my “Black Friday” experience is applicable. Jesus says, “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” My friends, worry is like that Black Friday sale. Worry causes us to scramble, to live-into the chaos; it strands us in the middle of a pallet trying desperately to make it end, to overcome the stress and the fear. But in the end, like the bottom-line of our store, we gain nothing. “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” Worry, in the end, leads us nowhere.

So, what do we do? I mean, worry is a part of life. Oh, you can offer platitudes to someone who gets caught-up in a cycle of worry; platitudes like “Let go a Let God,” or “just give it over to God” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” But in the end these platitudes aren’t very helpful.  They fall short because we are creatures that worry; it’s in our nature. And to say, “just give it to God” creates nothing but shame and guilt when we attempt to “give-over our excessive worry” and fail.

Notice that I said “excessive” worry.  Some worry is a part of life, but excessive worry is what Jesus was addressing in this passage. He wasn’t saying don’t worry about your sick child, for example. Of course, we’re going to worry about our sick child, that’s part of being a parent. But Jesus is saying don’t worry yourself sick all day because you burned the toast at breakfast. Do you see the difference? The former example, my child is sick, is natural worry while the later, burnt toast, is excessive.

Maybe think about the rule of “stuff & things.” What’s the rule of stuff & things? Well, it’s something I made up to further illustrate the difference between natural worry and excessive worry. Excessive worry is the “stuff.” When we worry about having more stuff, more gadgets and devices, more money or more power; these worries deplete our souls and distance us from God.

But worry about “things” is a horse of a different color. Things are the circumstances of everyday life. And yes, there are things, like a sick child, that cause us to worry; it’s natural to worry about things like that. But there are also things, circumstances, that lead to excessive worry. Just watch the evening news. But worrying ourselves sick over the state of our nation or the world is finally excessive.  Yes, these things are concerning, but to worry ourselves into a state of rage or apathy finally isn’t helpful.

So, what do we do? How should we respond to a worrisome nation and a violent world? What do I do if find myself consumed by excessive worry? What do I do when platitudes prove insufficient, where do I turn?

Well, I think there’s a better approach to overcoming excessive worry; an approach that’s found right here in this text. My friends, we have enough self-knowledge to realize that we cannot command or wish our worries to disappear. We have no hope, none at all, of alleviating excessive worry unless we take a step back and choose to embrace a radically altered perception and understanding of life. And that’s what Christ gives us when he invites us to consider the lilies of the field. He isn’t romanticizing nature. Instead, he’s pointing to the processes of creation that function independently of our worldly wisdom and that produce astonishing beauty. And it’s a beauty that has the capacity, if we would only look with receptive eyes and hearts, to startle us, to awake us from the dredges of worry, elevating us, into a state of wonder and faith. When we realize that existence itself is an act of God’s grace, we can then receive the grace that makes it possible for us to overcome excessive worry.[I]

That’s why the platitudes finally fall short.  They all depend upon us doing all the heavy lifting instead of letting God’s grace flow in, around, and through the situation at hand. So, healing comes, a release of excessive worry comes, not in a one-and-done platitude, but rather when we allow ourselves to enter into the process of connecting with a God who is interconnected with all things; when we accept the realization of something larger than ourselves.

And this is where we encounter our theme for today: Visible Gratefulness grounded in Service.  My Theology and Doctrine professor in Seminary, Dr. Elmer Coyler, addressed this issue in class one day. He said that good works should not be an attempt to somehow earn our way to heaven.  Instead, he said, they’re a “grateful response to God’s grace” in our lives and in our world. What an interesting concept. Instead of worrying about the little things that have happened, we’re invited by God to turn out attention outward, and live-out our gratefulness, our gratitude, even under difficult circumstances, by serving others.

And really, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Living out our grateful response to God’s grace in a visible way though service to our fellow human beings?  Paul seemed to think so.  In his letter to the Galatians he said, “…serve each other through love. All of the Law has been fulfilled in a single commandment; Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13b-14 CEB) Emilie Townes expounds on Paul’s words when she wrote, “As a people of faith we must live our lives not always comforted by the holy but haunted by God’s call to live a prophetic life.”[ii]

My friends, the prophetic life is a call to look outward; outward beyond ourselves, beyond our own worries, and engage with the world, serving each other with love. Do you want to help someone to begin the process of moving past excessive worry? Then don’t quote them a glib platitude, instead, take them to a soup kitchen, take them to visit someone who’s lonely, invite them to become involved in a Habitat for Humanity project, or whatever. Because finally, it’s in giving that we receive, it’s in loving that we truly find love, and it’s in faith, acts of faith, that we finally encounter the faithfulness of God.

So, as we come to the Thanksgiving table this Thursday, my prayer is that each of us be truly Grateful for the blessings God has given us, and even when the worries of life creep in, may they be overcome by a visible gratefulness grounded in our service to others.

May it be so and Happy Thanksgiving.

(and happy Black Friday)

Amen.

————————————————————————–

[i] Thomas H. Troeger The Possibility of Obeying Impossible Commandments. Found in Sermon Sparks (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011) pgs. 86-87

[ii] David M. Felton and Jeff Proctor-Murphy Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (New York: Harper One, 2012) Quote from Emilie Townes on pg. 171.

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