Subject: Financial Advice in These Troubled Times
I read recently that if you bought $1000 worth of a certain stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49. If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the nickel/aluminum deposit, you would have $79. It is therefore financially prudent in these troubled times to drink heavily and recycle.
The Country is stressed.
The truth is we are troubled.
We are anxious.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells his hearers and through the Evangelist Matthew us not to be anxious. Here on Sunday we can say to ourselves, “isn’t that nice but who is he kidding. He has no idea what I’m dealing with. This Sunday and we talk about things like that at church but Monday is coming and I have to face the next week with things very fragile and uncertain indeed.”
We are anxious and sometimes we don’t even know why we are anxious – we just are.
A family just moved into a new town. They had two little hyperactive little boys that just terrorized the teachers at their previous school. The nearest school in their new town was a Catholic school. They weren’t Catholic, but they decided to send their two boys there anyway, hoping that the Nuns’ strict discipline would help the boys straighten out. It was to no avail.
One day, the younger of the two got caught for a not-so-minor infraction, for which a Nun grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and hauled him off to see to the head Priest.
The head Priest glared at him and, hoping to instill a healthy sense of shame and guilt in the boy, said, “Don’t you know, that no matter where you are or what you do, that God is always there, always watching you? God is everywhere. He’s at your home, here at school, wherever you are, He is here, whether you are naughty, nice, good or bad, He is always there watching you!”
He continued in this vein for some time, and then asked the boy, “Now, where is God?” The boy just shrugged. Again, the Priest asked, “Where is God?” Again, the boy just shrugged. By now, the Priest was getting upset, and pointed at the boy and asked, “WHERE IS GOD!” The boy looked around, under his chair, dropped his head down, and shrugged once more. The Priest was furious by now, and yelled at the boy, “Go Home! Get your mother, and bring her back here with you!”
By this time, school was already out, and all the other kids had gone home. The boy ran home, where he found his older brother playing outside. “Get in the house…we’re in big trouble,” he said, pulling his brother inside the house and into a closet.
“What is it? What did we do?” asked the older boy.
“God is missing,” said the younger brother, “and they’re blaming us!”
Given the universal existence of anxiety we learn various strategies of coping. We are taught to give ourselves to the pursuit of success so that we can live our lives happily and free of anxiety. That seems good to us until we achieve what counts for success only to realize that we are no more secure and that the rat race continues only at a faster pace.
In the first century the Rabbi Hillel said, “the more possessions, the more care, the less possessions the more care.”
Jesus said, “I tell you, you can quit worrying about your life, about what you will eat or what you will drink, or about you body, about what you will wear. Isn’t life more that these things?
“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Here we find the subtle key. “Do not borrow worry from tomorrow, there is plenty today.” Paul gives us another nudge in the right direction in his letter to Corinth, “I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but that I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time.”
How can Paul talk like this? How can he be so loose and unconcerned? Is he special and privileged? Is he just full of himself? He has learned something we must learn.
The Gospel of Jesus the Christ is, as Robert Farrar Capon puts it, an end to accounting. Religion is the attempt by humans to find God, persuade God to love them, and then to placate God to keep God’s favor. By that definition Christianity is not a religion. The Good News of God in Christ is that religion is over. We need not look for God; God has been looking for us. That is the point of Jesus after all; he is God. The important thing to know is that God is like Jesus!
We can’t earn God’s love. God loves us and God’s love is a gift. We can’t lose it and we can’t earn it. Our single part of the equation is to accept it AND then live as if it’s true ‘cause it is!
Thus we are free from the ultimate concerns facing humanity: death hand her posse: futility and decay.
Does this mean that we have no responsibility for our behavior or that our freedom is license to do as we please without care for any other concern? No, of course not. But what it does say is that as Frederick Dale Brunner says in his work on Matthew that we are in it for the long haul with a “quiet, steady seeking of God’s kingdom and righteousness. He goes on to say, “The “his” of the sentence HIS kingdom AND righteousness – is an important word and applies to both nouns: his kingdom AND his righteousness – which means, happily, that both the sought-for kingdom and the sought-for righteousness belong to the Father and are thus his to give.”
God will give us what we need to keep moving.
Augustine: “When he said that the one is to be sought first, Jesus clearly intimates that the other is to be sought later – not that it is to be sought at a later time but that it is to be sought as a thing of secondary importance. He showed that the one is to be sought as our good, that the other is to be sought as something needful for us, but that the needful is to be sought for the sake of the good.” [Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount.]
The stuff of success is not evil, just not of supreme importance. When our priorities are correctly ordered then all is well. We can relax.
Notice the words of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading, “God says… Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” I occasionally write on my hand to remind myself of something when I find I have no paper. This is a habit my mother deplored. Write not upon your body – it could lead to tattoos.
It apparently runs in the family as Jesus, the Son of God, wrote on his hands with the nails of the cross lest he forget us. Written in blood is our name. He has the scars to prove it, an everlasting reminder the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
So relax, be of good cheer, do good work, forgive each other for Jesus’ sake for He has set us free from death, hell and the grave. To him be glory now and forever to the end of the ages. Amen.