Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Consider the Birds and Lillies: A Sermon for Epiphany 8A

for the readings for this sermon click here: http://www.io.com/~kellywp/YearA_RCL/Epiphany/AEpi8_RCL.html

Isiaiah49:16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Matthew 6:28b, 33  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, . . . 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I was forging around in a drawer the other day and found a stone with a word on it.  The word was “inspire”.  It is one of those mass produced trinkets that you can pick up at gift stores.  There was a time when everyone had something like that in their pocket or purse.  A stone, a cross, a coin.  The idea was to find something that you could fiddle with when feeling anxious – a “worry stone” they are sometimes called.  Or a personal item used as a reminder of your centered self.
My daughter has a treasure box of many such items.  She also has my hands.  Whenever we are doing something together like sifting through her treasure box I notice this.  When I notice her hands look like mine, it reminds me of a movie scene from Beaches when the character played by Barbara Hershey is brought suddenly to this same realization when her young daughter points it out. “Momma, we have the same hands”.  The mother in this scene is dying and experiencing anticipatory grief and so is depressed and withdrawn.  But her daughter awakens her to notice their connections in this way.  The mother then becomes frantic and compulsory to find a picture of her own mother, a picture of the hands she has forgotten, to see if they are the same.  Digging through boxes in the attic and rummaging every drawer of the house, she only becomes calm and hopeful when she finds this picture and remembers.
That’s from one of my favorite movies.  My daughter won’t watch boring grown up movies like that.  We spend our entertainment hours watching endlessly silly movies for her age, or worse, her music.  Pop music has not changed much since I left those radio stations many years ago.  Except, I enjoyed it then and now find it unbearably annoying! 
One of my daughter’s favorite songs is about tattoos.  Jordin Sparks sings, “You’re on my heart, just like a tattoo, I’ll always love you”.  My anxiety goes up as the volume goes up and I hold back from another lecture-while-driving that goes something like, “If you ever even think about getting a tattoo, or body piercing, or anything of the like . . .”.  But then my daughter will pat me with her identical hand and I am reassured and calmed.
There is another image I am reminded of when considering lilies.  This one is from the movie Inception.  If you haven’t seen it, I’m not here to recommend it or not.  I did not exactly “laugh, cry and eat a bag of popcorn”.  Well, the popcorn maybe.  The film is well written, produced and performed, if you like that kind of thing.  But there was an image in it that I have not forgotten. 
The story is about dream thieves - men who can enter, together, the unconscious mind of a victim and steal information from him.  They learn to enter another person’s dream and they do this with the aid of intravenous chemicals and somehow all take a nap at the same time.  They increase their skills to eventually get to the place where they go deeper into the unconscious of the dreamer, a dream with-in a dream and such, and in so doing they sometimes get lost.
Now, here is the part I liked.  Each of these "extractors" as these information thieves are called, carries a "totem", a personalized small object whose behavior is unpredictable to anyone except its owner.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has a small jack, the kind a child would pick up between catching a bouncing ball.  He is the only one who knows which way it will fall when he spins it like a top.  If he can’t spin it, or if it falls wrong at the end of the spin, he realizes he must still be in a dream and not reality.  His “totem” works like a compass, at least in that he finds out if he’s lost or not.  To see how he gets out of these situations, you’ll have to rent the movie.
Jesus asks those gathered at the mount of his most famous sermon, and asks us too through the documentation of this sermon, to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  This is such a well-known verse that it is a household phrase.  Usually people will toss this one out to try to ease anxiety over financial worries.  Others say the text gets over analyzed and its original meaning lost in cultural translation – modern people just can’t hear this message like the people who were gathered at the original sermon.  We have more responsibilities and complexities in our lives than they did back then, and the like.
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says not to worry about what to eat, drink or wear.  What’s not to get about that?  That’s all we worry about in our world.  If you glance at the lifestyle headlines or just catch the ads while flipping through a magazine or watching TV, all we talk about are fashion, food and beverage.  Over in the news section we’re arguing about what to do about obesity.  More close to home, right here at these cross roads we are worried about the poor; do they have enough to eat or wear, will they stay warm through the winter?  We also worry, each of us, about our own problems be they financial, relational or physical.  Real problems.  Tough issues.  Don’t worry?
We do worry.  We are anxious about our life. This is a hard commandment to keep.  It seems that we could freeze or starve to death, or be harmed by thieves or thugs.  There really is a dangerous world out there.  There is much to worry about.
But Jesus, knowing this, says in this passage five times: Do not worry.  He did not say don’t work.  He did not say don’t see about the poor.  He did not say to engage in unsafe behavior, throw caution to the wind, sit back and expect everything to just happen for us, our way.  He said: Do not worry.
So how do we treat our anxiety?  How do we calm down?  How do you soothe yourself?  Do you sometimes lean on food?  A little “comfort food” as we call it?  I know I certainly do.  Or drink?  Or maybe “retail therapy”.  Your priest will be the first to confirm that nothing soothes the anxiety of your deacon more than a trip to Talbots!
We use food, drink and clothing, the very things Jesus says not to worry about.  We use these things, among others, to soothe our anxiety.  And this gets us in trouble.
But there is another way, and it cannot be bought or sold or consumed.  It is like that tattoo.  There is a place deep in your heart that brings you here today, that brings us each here each week, that brings us to prayer and service and to relationship with each other.  There is a place that only you can understand.  It is beyond words, nearly impossible to express.  Music is the only language that comes close to expressing it.  That place in you that knows.  You know who you are in the eyes of God and you know the overwhelming power of God’s love and you have at times felt that you would burst with the fullness of it and you have at times longed for it as if you had lost it.
Like the DiCaprio’s “totem”, Noah’s olive branch, Babel’s tower, Abraham’s ram, Moses’ burning bush, David’s sling shot, Mary’s angel, the wise men’s star, Joseph’s watchful eye, a pearl, a coin, mustard seed, water, wine & bread, birds or lilies.  All these are totems of a sort.  Each an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  Each is a reminder to look inward when feeling lost.  Each a symbol of the tattoo on our hearts.
The way to not be anxious is to remember these signs.  Like the way we remember when we feast on our Eucharistic meal, or the sign of the cross – which can be seen everywhere – but the one most visible to me is the one I remember the feel of, the one that was outlined on my forehead at my baptism, a feeling only I can touch.  This, like a coin in your pocket, even if it’s your last, will weight you down just enough to keep walking, just for today.

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