Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, February 28, 2011

“Worry Not But Seek Ye First:” Prescription for Abundant Living


Work hard; get rich; hurry, worry and bury”---that seems to be the epitaph of our modern society. Many of us who live in New York, “the city that never sleeps “understand this so well. Just visit Manhattan and you will know what hurry means. A friend of mine who hails from Seattle came to New York City for the first time and said, “Just watching the New Yorkers run up and down the escalators at Grand Central, made me tired.”

Not only that we hurry a lot; we also worry a lot.  A story is told of a young man fresh out of business school, being interviewed for a job. The interviewer was a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself. "I need someone with an accounting degree," the man said. "But mainly, I'm looking for someone to do my worrying for me."

"Excuse me?" the young accountant said.

"I worry about a lot of things," the man said. "But there is one thing I don't want to worry. It is the money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my mind."

"I see," the young accountant said. "And how much does the job pay?"

"I will start you at $90, 000," the man said.
"Ninety thousand dollars!" the young accountant exclaimed. "How can such a small business afford a sum like that? Where do you get the money?"

"That," the owner said, "is your first worry."
In today’s gospel (Matthew 6:24-34_, Jesus addressed the crowd “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat and or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap or store in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…And why do you worry about clothes? Look at the lilies of the fields; they neither toil nor spin and yet not even Solomon in all his splendor is dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass, which is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more would he clothe you?”

I believe Jesus does not want us to be lazy and not work for a living. It does not mean that Jesus wants us sit idle and wait for blessings to drop from the sky. Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness. Both the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to apportion the gifts of talents and wisdom and looks and intelligence and all things necessary to equip and empower us to live life to the full. But our worry gets on the way.  Worry is not only a killer of the body but also a killer of hopes and dreams. Worry is one of the causes why we can not reach our peak performance, why we can not achieve our maximum potential, why we can not realize our dreams.
I remember years ago about my experience of climbing a mountain. We were having a Clergy Retreat in Sabah, (Malaysia) and in our free time ten of us, younger clergy, decided to climb up Mount Kinabalu. About half-way to the top, three gave up and discontinued the climb and a little three also gave up. Only four of us kept climbing on. I felt quite proud that I lasted that long. But as we moved further up, there was a fog that covered the way and I could not see the mountain top anymore. So I began to worry. What if the top of the mountain is really still far off? My body was already aching and my feet were hurting, would I still be able to move on? And even if I finally reach the top, would I have the strength to come down? Because of this worry, I decided to give up and joined the other six who were going down. Only three persisted in going up the mountain top. When we, the “losers” returned to home base, tired and disappointed, we were amazed to see our three colleagues who went to the mountain top, already there. As a matter of fact, they had already taken a shower and looked fresh and well-rested. We asked them how in the world were they able to return ahead of us when we saw them going up to the fog-covered path and we did not see them come down the mountain, and this is what they said: “The fog was only a few meters thick, and the summit was only less than a mile---Oh what a beautiful sight! We felt like we’re on top of the world! And how did we come down so fast? Well, there at the summit, was a cable car (which the miners use) and we hitched a ride down!”

I was so flabbergasted!  My worrying did not help. I missed the chance of a lifetime to see the world from on top of Mount Kinabalu! 

Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Do not worry about tomorrow…”
I believe worry is related to fear and fear paralyzes us or prevent us from reaching the top. Peter, at the call of Jesus, was already walking on water but when he saw the waves, he got scared and began to sink. Martha was worried about a lot of things when all that was needed was to be with Jesus. It was her sister Mary who had chosen the better portion by sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from his ways. The apostles worried about feeding the five thousand when all that was needed was the five loaves and two fish from a Jewish boy.

Rosa Parks, the girl icon of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, figured in a celebrated case by standing up for sitting down in the front seat of the bus reserved for the whites (during America's days of segregation). In one of her TV interviews years later, she was asked if she had ever thought that her standing up for equality might be be taken as a test case by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and she said, "It did not occur to me and I did not think about it at all. In fact, had I thought of it too much, I might have gotten off the bus."

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Isaiah 43:1-2 and it says, “Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you walk through the waters I will be with you; and when pass through rivers they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned, the flames will not consume you.” 

Literally, we seldom go through fires or through raging waters but virtually we have challenges and problems that sometimes threaten to overwhelm us. That would be the time to comfort ourselves with the assurance that we have a Savior who is the same yesterday, today and forever, whose love and faithfulness never change. This is the time that we need to assert who we are, children of God, and “wonderfully made” in God’s image.

In Christ “we can do all things” and “we are more than conquerors” because the God who created us, also gives us the resources to triumph over our circumstances. Moreover God promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us. “Can a mother forget her nursing infant or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

Spiritual activist and writer, Marianne Williamson puts it this way:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented], fabulous? Actually, who are not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children. Do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In the Gospel Jesus gave us the antidote to worry and fear and it is summarized in this phrase, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” The key to life abundant is the kingdom of God, but where is the kingdom? It is right here inside of you. The kingdom of God is within you. 

The key to seeking the kingdom is not going far but going deep; not in looking down but in looking up; not in scatter-brain but in being focused. Another spirituality writer and nun, Sr. Joan Chittister said, “We are by nature, spiritual foragers, seekers after grails. We look constantly for laurels and trophies cast in the crystal of time or the stardust of eternity. We are all on a quest for something. The distinguishing questions are: For what am I seeking and who am I as a result of my quest?  But the grail we seek is God alone. We must seek God in the right place, and that is within the sanctuary of the centered self.” (The Illuminated Life: Wisdom from the Seekers of Life).

So worry not, fear not but seek ye first…live life to the full, smile a lot, laugh often, love much---and dance like nobody’s watching.

Sermon of The Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara, St. Michael & All Angels, Seaford, NY in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, 2/27/11. Post your comments below.

(Note: Photos of Mt. Kinabalu from http://www.wikipedia.org/ and http://www.backpackingmalaysia.com/)

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