Series: October 2023
Speaker: Rob McClellan
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Actor Sam Neil, known for such movies as Jurassic Park, said this recently about having a rare form of cancer, “I know I’ve got it, but I’m not really interested in it…It’s out of my control. If you can’t control it, don’t get into it.”Part of me bristles at that response. What do you mean you’re not interested in what you can’t control? Try harder to control it! Have you tried a vegan juice diet? What about goat yoga! Have you considered goat yoga? Then I realize I’m more worked up about Sam Neil’s cancer than Sam Neil. It dawns on me that his approach may be better than mine. He’s getting treatment, he’s in remission, why worry? The Dalai Lama once said, “If the problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it is not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.”
I taped the words of Jesus from Matthew 6 just inside the doorway to bedroom room in my college apartment. “Do not worry about your life…” (v. 25). I was a worrier, someone who stressed out about school. I wanted Jesus’ words there to remind me every time I went into or out of my room that I was grounded in and assured by something bigger. Do my piece; don’t worry about the rest. Admittedly, those words were an aspiration not a description, and I know I am not alone in that. We are a worrying people. I started to collect statistics about anxiety, but it was too stressful. Help us Jesus.
It may seem as though the various parts of this passage have nothing to do with one other—storing up treasure, the eye as the lamp of the body, and not worrying. There is something illuminating about holding these sections together, however. At first, it sounds counterintuitive: Don’t store treasure up on earth and don’t worry about tomorrow. You might argue storing up things for tomorrow is exactly how you guard against worry. Jesus is not critiquing meeting your basic needs, even if he warns against worry. He says God knows you need food and clothing. Jesus is talking about not heaping up treasures. He’s talking about excess, selfishness, and wastefulness, for heaps of treasure will only invite thieves and rust. So often what we’re chasing when we chase treasure is actually right here, and it is enough for today. Jesus warns us about storing up treasure right after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, when he instructs us to seek after dailybread. I don’t have to quote the statistics around happiness and wealth to you, the ones that show that once your needs are met and then some, happiness doesn’t go up with increased wealth. I have been around plenty of wealth in my career and it isn’t usually surrounded by markedly less anxiety.
It’s right to point out that some money demands are real and not only frivolous. Barely a week goes by that I am not presented with a “Go Fund Me” drive for someone’s medical bills, including people who are fully insured. This week, the father of one of my son’s soccer teammates died in a car accident. The surviving family has had to take to the internet not just provide for the kinds’ upbringing, but to help pay for the father’s burial. We live in a society in which some people cannot afford to die. Others reach elderhood with no resources to get the care they need. Not every person who is unhoused, underhoused, or underemployed likes it that way. I get angry at how society is broken…but Jesus’ society was broken too, maybe more so than ours, and yet still he taught, “Do not worry.” Work for a more just society—that’s part of what seeking first the kingdom of God means—but do not worry.
Seeking leads us to Jesus’ teaching about the eye as the lamp of the body. In the ancient world, people didn’t see seeing the way we do. To them it wasn’t about perception, but projection. This is referred to as the “extramission theory of vision.” Rather than taking light in and interpreting it, they believed the eye projected light out into the world. Plato, the Greek philosopher, described the eye as having a fire. Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, said that the eyes “reach out” with a light that emanates from within and, crucially, that light affects the objects it reaches. If your eyes are healthy, you are and the world around you will be more so. What you seek therefore matters, and you cannot seek after or serve two masters. Jesus says pick, God or wealth (vs. 24) because those two visions create two incompatible worlds.
Jesus is trying to shift our focus. He tells us to look outside. That’s literally what he instructs us to do. Get outside yourself. Get outside. Look at the birds. Look at the flowers. Look at the grass. It’s worth examining what we spend our time looking at. We don’t have an extramission theory of vision. We understand that we take in our surroundings and our brain processes it. What are you taking in and how much? Do an inventory. As I have said more than once, we have more access to suffering than we have ever had without proportionate ability to alleviate it. It creates a divided self, which cannot stand. How are you finding balance—staying informed enough to engage responsibly and act compassionately but not inundated to the point you’re unable to function?
Jesus says, to look at the birds, the flowers, the grass. God provides for their needs, how much more will God do for you? Answering that in the affirmative requires faith. It implies a daring trust because we have already named times when people’s needs aren’t met. Jesus is assuring us that somehow at the heart of our existence there is provision. The psalm from today sings, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…though the mountains tremble” (Ps. 46:1-3). God will be there even at the heart, especially at the heart of turmoil. This cannot be explained, only experienced, and it takes practice to lean into it this trust. The Quakers have a lovely phrase that helps – Way will open. Way will open. If you’re patient, tuned in, slowed down, and quiet enough, if you pay attention a voice will come, a way will open. The Quakers are expert in making quiet, but don’t think of quiet exclusively in terms of absence. Quiet is about making a space for a different voice, a way to open. What is the culmination of that Psalm? “Be still and know that I am God” (v. 10). The line is not directed at the people, but to the shaking earth, to destructive chaos, for chaos can be creative too.
Don’t add your voice to destructive chaos; join in God’s quieting of it. I shared last week my observation of all these pastors rushing into the public space to throw their two cents in on what is happening in Israel and Gaza, as if they assume what the world needs is their voice, as if they will have what has eluded others for generations. The hubris. I don’t mean to question their intention, nor that moral leadership is in demand. What I question is whether their voices are helping. How many times have people rushed to speak these past days only to find out the facts weren’t what they appeared. Yes, sometimes silence is complicity and sometimes silence is our responsibility so that when we exercise the great privilege of speech, we offer something that actually helps.
How do we stay rooted in a place that’s helpful, positioned where we can see the birds, the flowers, and the grass, the provision that lies at the heart of the moment? There is the literal practice of sitting outside; I recommend it. Then there are metaphorical ways too, practices we can take from our tradition and others that help ground us in Spirit. Worship. More than one of you remarked last week on your way in that you had turned off the news to come here. Right instinct—stay informed, not overwhelmed; ground yourself in the pews as much as the news. Do this throughout the week too. Build in worship time to pray, to listen, to study, to have conversations, touchstone moments that put you back into place. Trusting in God’s provision, that a way will open, and live compassionately out of that center. Whatever ritual works for you is worth adopting.
Rabbi Leider, formerly of Kol Shofar, once wrote about the Jewish practice of hanging up a mezuzah. A mezuzah is a rolled up portion of the Torah. The portion reads, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). That is to be the person’s focus, strength, freedom, and supply. The mezuzah is to be affixed to their doorposts and gates. Leider said it was important to her to put up the mezuzah even when she relocated for just a year because she knew wherever you dwell, for however long, we need that grounding.
What will you fix to your doorposts of your home and your heart to remind you where the real treasure is?