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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 49:8-16a, Psalm 131:1-3, I Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34

Some people are pessimists; others are optimists. It’s entirely possible that most of us are some mixture of both. One way of distinguishing pessimists and optimists is whether they live expecting good things or bad things to happen to them as they progress through life. Again, realistically, most of us probably expect some of both.

Another way of looking at it is to ask whether life is a tragedy or a comedy? Christianity unmistakably portrays life as a comedy, i.e., in the end, good wins out over evil. It doesn’t bury its head and deny the existence of evil and destruction, but the power of life and good overcomes, even when sometimes the cost is great.

Stripped of all the mythology and stories, the carefully articulated theology, etc., the good news of biblical faith is the we can trust something good at work to overcome all that besieges us along the way. At the heart of Christianity is a cross where the power of love does not succumb to the forces that try to destroy it. Some may see a crucifixion as a tragedy; this particular crucifixion (and others like it?) is, in fact, a comedy. Some have described it as God getting the last laugh. That’s why Paul can speak of it as “foolishness,” the kind of thing fools and jesters use to stir laughter when the realities around them might suggest despair.

I believe that this week’s lectionary readings can all be seen as expressions of that comedic love which says, “Life can be trusted. There is something at work in life that makes it possible for us to keep on living in hope.”

Perhaps one of the most comforting images for human beings is that of a mother nursing a child. It is no wonder that Mother Mary has drawn the adoration of many. I realize that some mothers fall short of the ideal, some even bringing intentional harm to their children, but the image of mother’s comfort and care is one most of us cling to.

It’s there in the reading from Isaiah. It contains a variety of images of God’s comfort. “They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching winds nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them . . . Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.” (Isaiah 49:9-10, 13)

The words were addressed originally to a people taken captive, offering a vision of the possibilities head of them. Central to the vision is the image of a mother. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?,” the people cry out. God replies that his love is even greater than that. “Even these”—even the best of mothers—“may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (vs. 15) And then these strange words: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hand.” (vs. 16) I bet you never thought of God as having a tattoo. At least one commentator compares this to the lover who has his beloved’s name tattooed on an arm (or who knows where?) as a constant reminder. Isaiah’s message is that we can trust someone who loves us that much. That kind of love will overcome anything. Just as a child born into a sometimes dangerous world is, in the best of circumstances, surrounded by a love that wards off such danger, we, who live in that kind of world, are taught optimism when many think pessimism is more appropriate.

The Psalm also speaks of being “calmed and quieted . . . like a weaned child with its mother.” (Psalm 131:2)

The reading from I Corinthians focuses upon being judged as to whether or not we are “trustworthy” stewards of “God’s mysteries.” (I Corinthians 4:1-2) Paul has probably been criticized by some in Corinth. He declares that he doesn’t care a whit about the judgments of human beings or their courts. (vs. 3) It is only God’s judgment that matters to him. (vs. 4-5) In terms of this blog’s theme, one might say that life can be trusted because it is in the hands of a God who can be trusted to judge fairly, out of love. We sometimes speak of trusting someone with our lives. That’s a lot of trust. There probably are few if any human beings who fully merit such trust. Every morning, though, optimists who see life through the lens of Christ, step out believing that we live in a universe where love rules. If we, or anyone else, are going to judge life and the actions we take in it, we do so in the context of “God’s mysteries” (vs. 1), and the Lord, “who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (vs. 5) We can trust life because built into its purposes is the promise that “each one will receive commendation from God.” (vs. 5)

Finally the Gospel lesson, continuing through the Sermon on the Mount, has Jesus telling us to trust one day at a time. “Be not anxious” were the familiar words with which some of us grew up. The New Revised Standard Version of our pew Bibles, says, “do not worry.” (vs. 25) We are not to worry about life, food, drink, clothing, etc. (vs. 25) Easier said than done, isn’t it? As if worry could be commanded away. Ultimately it’s a matter of trust.

The argument in these verses asks us to notice how much abundance there is in nature without a lot of worrying. It teems with birds and animals, nutritious plants, and gorgeous blossoms. (vs. 26 & 28) Jesus asks whether worry will extend our lives. (vs. 27) There is evidence, in fact, that it does just the opposite. Don’t worry! Trust the powers of life that are at work in all things. They come from a trustworthy source “the heavenly Father” who knows what we need. (vss. 30-32)

The reading from Matthew ends with the instruction to live one day at a time. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (vs. 34) While trusting must be placed in a cosmic framework, it is to be done day by day. Taking the next step is always an act of trust. Our faith assures us that the next step is undergirded with a generous and trustworthy love. Life can be trusted!

Note that it doesn’t say there will be no troubles. Look at verse 34 again. There are things to worry about today. There will be troubles tomorrow. Trusting is about moving ahead anyway, because we know life is ultimately a comedy. The cross does not depict a life without struggle, but a life in which good and love overcome every setback, major and minor, we may face in that next step.

Verse 33, perhaps the key to this entire section, says, “But strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The way I memorized it was, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” It was sometimes misinterpreted to mean, “If you just do the right thing you’ll have everything you want, maybe even get rich.” It needs first to be seen in the context to God’s knowing what we “need.” It’s not about everything we might want; it’s about our basic needs for survival being covered. More importantly, though, it’s about keeping our focus upon doing what is right each day and trusting God for the rest. Instead of being pessimists who are worrying our lives away, let’s be optimists who are more intent on moving ahead one step at a time that cowering in fear of judgment.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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