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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It has been the dream of every child in America for the past 50 years too one day go to Disney World. So it was not so surprising that a little girl was thrilled when her father took her to the Magic Kingdom for the first time. She headed straight to Space Mountain one of Disney’s most well- known rides where the roller coaster weaves up and down inside a darkened mountain. The dad worried that the ride would be too scary for his little girl, but she insisted. And to her delight, they rode it twice. The surprise, however, came several years later when they returned to Disney World. The daughter, now older, again dragged her father to Space Mountain. As they stood in line, the dad could see her studying the signs that warned about the ride’s speed. “Dad,” she said, “I don’t think I want to go.” The father then asked her why she would be so nervous now when she had enjoyed herself so much the last time. She replied, “This year, I can read.”
Perhaps we are all a bit like that little girl. The older we get, and the more we read, the more questions we have about what can happen next, and the more anxious and fearful we become. It is certainly true of the on-going pandemic. We read of the rise in infection rates and breakthrough cases, and even though we trust the vaccines, with everything we hear and read, it can make us all turn into hand wringing hypochondriacs. Of course, it’s not just Covid. It’s so much of life. Anxiety has always been a part of our human nature. We wonder: How will I pay for the mortgage? Who will take care of me when I grow old? Will I have the strength to live tomorrow well, wisely and even joyfully? And so we worry. Often, our fear of unknown tomorrows prevents us from enjoying today. In our most anxious moments, we wish we could share the simple faith and hope of Elizabeth Cheney in her poem, “Overheard in the Orchard.”
Said the robin to the sparrow, “I should really like to know…
Why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so?!”
Said the sparrow to the robin, “Friend, I think that it must be,
they have no Heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me!”
Fear is not new. Throughout scripture, angels and prophets are sent proclaiming the good news, “Do not be afraid.” It is a message that God’s faithful people should be shouting from the rooftops. We have a loving Father watching over us. Of course, that does not mean being careless or ignoring good practices, nor should we be piling up fear and worries on top of each other. One thing is certain, none of us will succeed or survive on our own. People of faith need to do better, and we need to take it to heart Jesus’ words, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.”
So how do you and I cast aside our own fears and place our trust in Jesus and his comforting presence? And how do we set an example of that faith for others? This morning, let me share with you two phrases drawn rom scripture that you can read over and over again and not grow fearful and weary. The first is a portion from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Consider the lilies of the field,” or as voices are wont to say these days. “Look at the science.” The second is a verse from the creation story in the book Genesis. “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
It must have been a beautiful spring day on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus first preached his Sermon on the Mount. Looking over the shimmering blue waters, the crowds could see the white sails of the fishing boats bobbing among the waves. “Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus said, “Look carefully and examine closely the lilies of the field. King Solomon in all is glorious finery, never wore clothes as beautiful as the lilies of the field. Jesus also said. “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sew nor reap nor gather into barns but your heavenly Father takes care of them. Are you not more valuable than them?”
In life’s anxious, fearful moments, look at the science, and be a positive, hopeful witness. One who trusts in their heavenly father, doesn’t have to have their own way and condemn their neighbor who sees and experiences the world differently. A confident, trusting believer appreciates the gift of creation and the ultimate promise it proclaims, and leaves it at that. Now some might argue: Can Jesus truly teach us serious lessons about life and our relationships with others with whom we disagree by examining the lilies of the field and birds of the air? Surely this must be wishful thinking.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl described his own examination of the wild flowers. Frankl was a psychotherapist who was imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, and survived to write about his experience. In his book, he described the afternoon in one of the camps when the men had tramped back several miles from their work site and were lying exhausted and sick and hungry in their barracks. It was in the winter, and they had marched through a cold, dispiriting rain. Suddenly one of the men burst into the barracks and shouted for the others to come outside. Reluctantly, but sensing the urgency in the man’s voice, they stirred themselves and staggered into the courtyard. The rain had stopped, and a bit of sunlight was breaking through under the lumpy, leaden clouds. And it was reflecting on the little pools of water standing about on the concrete floor of the courtyard. “We stood there,” said Frankl, “marveling at the goodness of the creation. We were tired and cold and sick, we were starving to death, we had lost our loved ones and never expected to see them again, yet there we stood, feeling a sense of reverence as old and formidable as the world itself!”
My friends, “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?
Let us turn now to the creation story in Genesis. God had just formed man from the clay and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” There is a wonderful, descriptive saying in German, “Ein Mensch ist kein Mensch.” This may be translated as, “One person is not a real person,” or “A person alone is not a person at all.” You see, from the very beginning of creation, we were intended to be in relationship with other people. You and I need active relationships to be truly alive and real. That is especially true of members of the Church, the body of Christ. Not one of us, when we are alone and on our own, can be the people God intended us to be. No, not even the most pious, and religious can be truly faithful to God on their own. We simply become anxious and fearful people who cannot believe there is a loving Father watching over us.
Tony Campola, a sociologist and pastor tells the poignant story of a young deacon who was waiting for the call to duty. The poor young man didn’t know what he was supposed to do. One day his supervising pastor said to him, “I have a group of young people that want to go to the old folks home and put on a worship service once a month. Would you drive them there and at least do that?” The deacon agreed.
The first Sunday the deacon was at the old folks home, he was in the back with his arms folded as the kids were doing their thing up front. All of a sudden, someone was tugging at his arm. He looked down and here was this old man in a wheelchair. He took hold of the old man’s hand and the old man held his hand all during the service. The next month that was repeated. The man in the wheelchair came and held the hand of the deacon. The next month, the next month, and the next month. Then the old man wasn’t there. The deacon inquired and he was told, “Oh, he’s down the hall, right hand side, third door. He’s dying. He’s unconscious, but if you want to go down and pray over his body that’s alright.”
The deacon went into the room where there were tubes and wires hanging out all over the place. The deacon took the man’s hand and prayed that God would bring this man from this life into the next and give him eternal blessings. As soon as he finished the prayer, the old man squeezed the deacon’s hand and the deacon knew that he had been heard. He was so moved by this that tears began to run down his cheeks. He stumbled out of the room and as he did so he bumped into a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as his daughter. She said, “He’s been waiting for you. He said that he didn’t want to die until he had the chance to hold the hand of Jesus one more time.”
The deacon was amazed at this. He said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, my father would say that once a month Jesus came to this place. ‘He would take my hand and he would hold my hand for a whole hour. I don’t want to die until I have the chance to hold the hand of Jesus one more time. I kept on telling him that in the next life he would have a chance to hold the hand of Jesus.’ He said, ‘Oh no, in this life he got to hold the hand of Jesus.” When Tony Campolo told the story he said, “I don’t know what you think Christianity is about. But it is ultimately about this—that you become Jesus for somebody.”
My friends, do not be anxious about what you read today, Our loving heavenly Father is watching over you. But be aware that trusting in God doesn’t make tomorrow’s troubles disappear. The burden of an ailing mother, the financial uncertainty of the future, the doctor’s pessimistic diagnosis, the struggles with your prodigal son, the questions of your long- term employment, may still be there tomorrow, and the day after, and the pandemic will continue. Do not heap tomorrow’s anxieties on top of the burdens of today, so that life seem meaningless and hopeless, so that you can not be Jesus to somebody. Instead, let today’s troubles be sufficient for today, and trust that your loving heavenly Father who provides for the birds of the air and clothes the earth with beauty is always near. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.