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Preacher: Revd Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner
Title of sermon: Don’t worry
Date/time/service: Sunday 20th February 2022 – 4pm Choral Evensong
I’ve always felt there’s a slight contradiction in our second reading tonight. Jesus tells his hearers not to worry about tomorrow. One example he gives is to consider the grass of the field. Grass which flourishes today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven. I think if I was the grass I might be a little bit worried about tomorrow!
It’s always easy to say ‘don’t worry’, especially when the worry isn’t ours. Sometimes something makes us anxious and we seem to have little choice but to worry. The people of the Ukraine, and the rest of us, understandably worry about what tomorrow might bring. In the past couple of years in our world it seems that there has been no shortages of things to worry about. Shortages of other things – from toilet rolls to petrol – but a never ending supply of anxiety.
For me the sense of our second reading relies on its relationship to the first reading. In Genesis chapter 1 huge things are taking place. A barren and lifeless world is blessed with light. Water appears and then dry land rises out of it. Over the course of time vegetation appears, great beasts of the sea, animals and birds, and then, late in the day, human beings are created. All this activity of creation is crowned on the seventh day with rest. Just when the story feels as though it’s about to begin, with Adam and Eve set in the garden, God stops. Everything stops. There is rest. Shabbat.
It is this rich cast of creation to which Jesus looks when he tells us not to worry. The birds matter – and without worrying about it, they are fed. The flowers of the field have great colour and vibrancy and splendour – but these aren’t things they think about. This is simply what is.
For Jesus worry is what robs us of the moment. Today we live in a world that can appear driven by worries about what to eat; what to drink; what to wear. A whole advertising industry runs on our dissatisfaction with the things we have. Using all the arts of human psychology and appeal, we are encouraged to be unhappy with what we have and to aspire for something new; better; bigger; richer.
Our culture of dissatisfaction comes with a cost for all of us, perhaps especially the young. It is impossible to think that there is no connection between image-based social media and the lifestyles and anxieties of younger people. Too often it is believed that ‘image is everything’. Both directly and indirectly we are encouraging people to be dissatisfied with how they look and to buy the things that claim to improve our appearance. It is true that this has always been a part of life, but there can be no doubt that it is entering into our lives in ever more subtle ways.
Thankfully there is a counter narrative to all this hype. People whose appearance doesn’t fit with the dominant standards of beauty are challenging views and attitudes. However, the pressure to conform to accepted ways of looking continues. In truth we can all feel anxious about fitting in, looking the right way and wearing the right things. It’s part of human nature – but also a part that the advertising industry knows and exploits. You tend not to sell very much if your main message is that people are fine as they are.
Time and again Jesus spent time with people who didn’t fit in. Whether it was healing the servant of an enemy officer or being touched by a woman who was haemorrhaging, Jesus kept company with the outsiders. This welcoming and including is a hallmark of the Gospel and a challenge to the usual ways of doing things.
One of the most exciting things about the Church is that anyone can join. There’s no threshold of beauty or intelligence, skill or ability. All it takes is a response to the invitation of Christ to ‘come and follow me’. All that should make us fit in, is the response to that call – we don’t need to be anything else to claim our place in the Kingdom.
Little wonder that our Gospel carries the assurance that we don’t need to worry. In contrast to all the striving and restlessness of trying to fit in, Jesus tells his hearers to be still and reflect on the beauty of the world in which they live. A world in which birds and flowers are simply ‘themselves’, being what God has created them to be – giving no thought for tomorrow.
In our age, we know that there are things which require preparation and planning. Most of us can’t just get up tomorrow and assume everything will be fine. But I think there’s a difference between preparation and anxiety. We need to commit our plans to God as much as the worries of a particular day. We need to find our ‘sabbath’ in the busyness of life so that we can remember that we are in God’s hands.
As we draw nearer to the start of Lent it might be a good idea to spend some time praying about God’s acceptance of our lives. To be reminded that we are loved and wanted and to reject the idea that there is some further level of acceptability we need to achieve. To be still and know that God never rejects our difference; our uniqueness; our life.
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