Second Sunday before Lent

Introduction and Call to Worship “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” We give thanks and praise that in this service the God of all creation comes amongst us and makes himself known in the simple sacrament of bread and wine. Today’s Readings First Reading Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 God creates the world and everything in it in six days and rests on the seventh. Second Reading Romans 8:18-25 Paul compares the “sufferings of this present time” with the “glory about to be revealed”, not only in creation itself but in Christian faith, hope and experience. Gospel Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus compares the serenity and beauty of creation with the anxieties which can dominate our lives and our outlook on life. Instead, he urges us to “strive for the kingdom of God”. HOMILY And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 5:27) Life, both physical and spiritual, is so often described as being on a journey which is a helpful way for us to approach today’s readings. We start off with the familiar poem of Genesis, that beautifully introduces us to the complementary structure of God’s eternal love for the world. And then, as we continue on this journey charting the development of humanity, there’s a real sense of joy, wonder and dependence upon God’s bountiful love, which is captured for future generations to reflect and meditate on the poetic words of the psalms. Next, we are invited to fast forward a few thousand years as the realities of life slowly start to emerge. Our letter to the early community of Rome reveals an honest reality, a corrosive undercurrent as humanity slowly moves away from a life built entirely upon God’s foundation, as earthly matters begin to filter through and start to overshadow those fundamental questions of life. Raising concerns over everyday practicalities of life was not something purely contained to the citizens of Rome, for, as can be seen, it had clearly become a prominent and ongoing feature of humanity, which is why Jesus directly addresses this subject in today’s Gospel account. So, as we begin to unpack our Gospel we see, as with so many of his parables, Jesus once again using everyday items that both his original followers and also future generations would automatically be able to connect with. On this particular occasion he builds his teachings upon two essential items of our existence - food and clothing. Not dissimilar to today, Jesus is under no illusions that some in this world have plenty of food while many don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Likewise, rather than merely being garments to protect us from the elements, he realises some in this life wear their clothes as a way of advertising their social status and wealth to the world. He is not dismissing the importance of food and clothing in our day-to-day lives rather, like loving parents, instinctively wants to help nurture the children on the best path available to them, Jesus uses this moment in his earthly ministry to reassure humanity that we need to refocus our attention towards God and spend less of our precious time worrying about things unnecessarily. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, Jesus builds upon the rich heritage of scripture by inviting the crowd to think about how the creative narrative of Genesis boldly declares that God is the primary source of all life. Given that God’s power is so immense it can create life, it surely makes perfect sense that God will also provide us with everything else needed to keep body and soul intact, especially as we are all made in his image and likeness.

Next, Jesus turns his attention towards the attitude of birds. Yes, they work hard providing food and shelter for their families, but they don’t seem to be constantly worrying about the future which they can neither see, predict, nor change. Yes, it’s important to be sensible and have an eye on what the future may have in store for us but, if we rely solely upon our own good management, we are not allowing much space for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to show us God’s plans for the future. Humour is always a good way to get others to listen and Jesus had this in abundance, so don’t let anybody tell you the Bible is dull, dry and boring. Verse 27 says, ‘Can any of you add a cubit to your height simply by worrying about it?’ Granted, this may not initially sound as good as one of Fr. Damian’s one liners but, if we bear in mind that a cubit was about 18 inches, we can start to see just how pointless Jesus is trying to say it is for us to worry about things we will never be able to change. Next, to drive home his message that it is such a waste of time for us to spend our lives worrying so much, Jesus looks across to the lilies growing in the fields, who had a very short life span, for as soon as they had finished flowering they would be gathered up and used as fire lighters to warm up clay ovens when women quickly needed to do some baking. And yet, despite all this, Jesus tells the crowd that the splendour and beauty of these plants was beyond the impressive robes worn by their rich ancestors such King Solomon. Suddenly the penny starts to drop as the crowd realise, if God spends so much time and energy lavishing breath-taking beauty upon a flower which was literally here today and gone tomorrow, it stands to reason he will never want us to be hungry or cold due to a lack of food and clothing. The next argument Jesus presents against the foolishness of worrying is, if I am honest, an uncomfortable teaching for us in our inclusive, multi-faith world, to proclaim. Worrying, we are told in this passage, needs to be viewed as a characteristic of pagans as they believe in the actions and moods of unpredictable gods. Whereas, by sharp contrast, those who have come to know and accept God as their Father, need not worry about the future for the God of Heaven does not display his power through acts of anger but rather by acts of kindness, beauty and love. This nicely feeds into Jesus’ next observation. When humans have the courage and conviction of their faith to freely let go of their set control and set their hearts and minds on the pathway to develop the continuing growth of God’s Heavenly Kingdom here on earth, priorities will change in their lives as their former worries and concerns of this world will gradually fade into the background. This, for me, makes our final verse in this Gospel much more palatable. When we accept Jesus in our lives the day-to-day challenges of the world don’t suddenly disappear, but the beauty of this passage is that we don’t need to worry about what life may have in store for us, either today or tomorrow because walking with the Lord means exactly that, we have somebody there to share the load, which is as relevant today as it was over 2,000 years ago when Jesus first told the crowd, ‘Please don’t worry.’ SUMMARY 1. Psalm 8 speaks of a created world in which human beings have an important place. 2. The creation groans and travails; natural disasters do happen and things can change. We need to be alert to change and challenge, ready to help others whenever and wherever there is need. 3. Jesus seems to suggest that everything will be all right if we try not to worry too much and trust, which can be easier said than done. 4. Therefore, Jesus is urging Christians to put God at the heart of everything. The Lord’s Prayer can help us centre our lives on the Lord. 5. We need to practise the daily discipline of putting God first.

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