Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We start by listening to a well known teaching from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. As we listen to this teaching, we can imagine how it sounded to the disciples whom we are told had left family home, and livelihood to follow Jesus. We can also think about what it meant to the early church where people were disowned from their families for being part of the Jesus community and were choosing voluntary poverty.
You’ll hear the phrase, God and Money. In older renditions, this is translated as God and Mammon. Mammon meant more than money. It also meant property, as in real estate as well as material possessions. So in the phrase God and Money, money is really a symbolic term for much more than bank accounts.
We listen to words that were challenging and comforting hoping they will touch us in the same way today:
No one can serve two superiors. You will either hate one and love the other, or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and Money. That’s why I tell you not to worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Isn’t life more than just food? Isn’t the body more than just clothes?
Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet our God in heaven feeds them. Aren’t you more important than they? Which of you by working can add a moment to your lifespan? And why be anxious about clothing? Learn a lesson from the way the wildflowers grow. They don’t work; they don’t spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in full splendor was arrayed like one of these. If God can clothe in such splendor the grasses of the field, which bloom today and are thrown on the fire tomorrow, won’t God do so much more for you – you who have so little faith?
Stop worrying, then over questions such as, ‘What are we to eat,’ or ‘what are we to drink,’ or ‘what are we to wear?’ Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. Seek first God’s realm and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you besides. Enough of worrying about tomorrow! Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.
Yes, today does have troubles enough of its own!
I was sent an image this week of a child careening down a slide but the surface of the slide was a grater, like for cheese or zest. The caption was, “If 2020 was a slide.” Yes, today does very much seem to have troubles enough of its own!
Many problems assail us these days. And there are so many commitments and loyalties and desires that compete for our attention and resources. There are considerations about money, family, work, relationships, community involvement. There are competing world views, values, perspectives, agendas, and ideologies that vie for our attention and loyalty. We have the world wide web keeping us informed but also keeping us distracted and divided. We can feel pulled apart, torn, conflicted.
And, yes, all this produces stress, anxiety, and even paralysis. We may just feel stuck, mired, pulled in and pulled down, sinking.
While our particular circumstances are unique, these dynamics are not new. Clearly people were divided and pulled in different directions by competing loyalties in Jesus’ day and before.
The perspective offered by Jesus echoes the classic Jewish teaching: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That is first and foremost. God is the center. The compass. The grounding. And everything else orients around that. Everything is woven together by that conviction, held in balance, put in perspective, by that sole commitment and conviction.
In the lesson we heard, Jesus refers to the birds and the wildflowers of the field. They are part of nature which is designed to sustain them. Plants thrive and grow because there is soil and sun and water provided for them. Nature is innately programmed to support life. With this imagery, Jesus reminds us that we are part of an environment in God intended to support and sustain life. We are part of a reality that promotes our well-being.
When we accept God, however we may conceive of God, as the ground of our being, and the ground of reality, we are not controlled by outer circumstances but by inner conviction. We may have many different ways of imaging God, Divine Love or Spirit or Ground of Being, but when our lives are centered on this force, this reality, we live fully and freely. We are not bound, constricted, confined, suffocated, or overwhelmed. We are free.
And in the teachings of Jesus, we see that this conviction, this reality, is maintained then just as it is today – through connection to the faith community and by spiritual practices.
The faith community embodies the care and nurture promised by Divine Love. The faith community is life sustaining, like soil, light, or water for a plant. It gives us what we need to stay centered in God/Love. It helps us to stay focussed in our loyalty and devotion. It helps us to bring our convictions and our behavior into closer alignment. It helps us to find joy and meaning and purpose in God-centered living, living for others, giving ourselves to the common good. The faith community is key to discipleship. Jesus’ ministry was about creating beloved community, the realm of God, heaven on earth, among people, here and now. We need each other for stability, for stamina, for discernment, for comfort. So being part of the faith community is core to sustaining a God-centered life.
Another component to maintaining our grounding in God is spiritual practices. Jesus is portrayed going off alone to pray again and again in the gospels. And he is known for fulfilling the religious obligations of his faith tradition – celebrating the holy days, attending weekly gatherings, etc. We hear of Jesus quoting scripture. Today there are many ways that we can incorporate spiritual practices into our lives that help us to sustain a God-centered life. There is prayer, worship, scripture reading, the sacraments. Maybe you have a devotional book next to your bed to read every morning when you awaken. There is meditation and spiritual direction to help ground us. Music can be an important component of staying God-centered. Maybe you wear a cross to remind you of your faith. Maybe your phone reminds you to breathe – that, too, can be part of a spiritual practice. Maybe tending your garden is a spiritual practice that keeps you grounded in God. Maybe you are up each morning to watch the sunrise and that provides spiritual centering for you. Prayers before meals and before bed can be part of our spiritual practice. All of these things and many more, are things that we build into the living of our days that can help us to stay grounded in Divine Love.
Here’s something that has become a grounding spiritual practice in my life: Every morning when I get up one of the very first things I do is to put away the clean dishes in the dish drainer. This mundane task of creating order reminds me to create order in my life and keep my life centered in Divine Love. With the dishes stowed and the cupboards closed, and consideration of my heart being properly aligned, I begin my day. After that, well, I try to do my best. It’s often a mixed bag. But there will be more dishes the next morning.
If we were in church, there are many hymns and songs we could sing that remind us of being grounded in God. A song we sang at camp comes to mind:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And God’s righteousness.
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Ask and it shall be given unto you.
Seek and you shall find.
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.
We do not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God.
So simple and so true.
In this time of extreme challenge, to maintain our grounding and to flourish and thrive and be who we are needed to be, we need to rely on our faith community and our spiritual practices to keep us focussed, centered, and grounded.
When we orient our lives around Divine Love, when we let ourselves be pulled by that force, like gravity, giving us a center, and an orientation for our lives, we find our highest good, we can fully flourish, we can live without anxiety and worry. We can live in trust and authenticity and integrity.
Yes, we are facing a pandemic, a global recession, and a pivotal turning in the movement for racial justice. Oh, and there’s global warming threatening the world as we know it. Yes, we are experiencing upheaval, and pain, and uncertainty. Yes, our lives are complex and our challenges are daunting. This is the time to remind ourselves of our fundamental grounding in God, in Love, in Being. We are part of a larger reality and we are here to be fully alive, fully present, and fully flourish.
We listen to wisdom from Mathilde Boutle, a 19th century French wife and mother of 5 who later became a nun. She tells us:
“I sought you… in all things beautiful, and in all things I found you. I sought you at the hands of all creatures, and they all replied: Behold, God is here.”
Like the birds, like the wildflowers, like Jesus, and like so many people of faith and courage throughout the ages, may we live our lives grounded in God. Amen.
As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)