St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015

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 My clothes cupboard is so full that it’s almost impossible at times to hang up the shirts that have been ironed. It’s not that I buy a lot of clothes, but that I refuse to get rid of old shirts and pants, even when they might help others; even when I no longer fit into them.
 
Why, I wonder, do I keep them? Why, as Jesus puts it here, am I so concerned about clothes that I hoard them beyond all need?
 
It could be that I’m just too lazy to clean out the cupboard. On the other hand, it could be the impulse to hoard — to worry so much about the future that we surround ourselves with material goods in order to stop worrying about it. People do this with food, clothing, money, and jewellery, buying and storing far more than they need or could use in a month or more.
 
In short, we don’t put our trust in God, but in mammon – the material wealth that we think brings security. And we do that because, far too often, we become so distracted with the future that we neglect the present.
 
Does this mean we should only have one change of clothes and bare cupboards in our homes? Of course not. There is nothing wrong with having enough clothing and a store of food for our families. The problems begin when we begin to fret over not having so much that we don’t need to fret — of looking in a full cupboard and saying, “I haven’t got a thing to wear,” because we’re worried about what people might think about what we do have. Or of looking in a full fridge and complaining that there’s nothing to eat. As my example shows, that anxiety over the future and the need to fill cupboards full of clothing to serve one person eventually creates its own problems. We run out of space to store all of our possessions, and then what? We look to acquire more space rather than reduce our own anxieties and rely on God, and then to fill that space with more material possessions, and so on.
 
“Tomorrow will take care of itself,” Jesus says, and perhaps that’s even more counter-intuitive now than it was in the disciples’ day. We spend our whole lives looking far beyond the present. Can I get into the right school? Will this job move me up into a higher social circle? Living “in the now” has a vaguely counter-cultural ring to it these days, and it might have at that time, too. Yet living “in the now” is absolutely necessary in order to let go of our anxieties, turn our trust and love to God, and extend our hands to our less-fortunate neighbours. It’s the only way to put material possessions in their proper perspective as tools for us to live our lives, rather than traps and idols we end up serving instead of God.
The adage “You cannot serve God and mammon” is usually interpreted as a warning against excessive avarice, but notice that Jesus doesn’t address greed or the wealthy once in this teaching. Jesus is talking about a trap into which all can fall, and usually do. 
 
Jesus exhorts his disciples to avoid anxiety rather than greed. Anxiety itself isn’t a sin but it leads to sinfulness in the manner Jesus describes. At some point, the focus on the potential evils of the future drives us to hoard and jealously guard material goods. We become less concerned about loving and trusting God. Our acquisition and retention of material goods displaces God at the centre of our hearts. This has important consequences because the heart can be described as being the intersection of the will and the intellect. It is the place of our decision-making. 
 
As that happens, when we become less concerned about loving Good we become more and more sinful, turning our backs on our neighbours and placing ourselves above God.
 
In this lection, therefore, we once again have some teaching about the formation of the heart rather than an emphasis on adherence to the letter of the law. Jesus is always more concerned about the place of grace in our lives than the constraints of the law.
 
The lection begins with our Lord saying: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” He qualifies that by adding, “ what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Surely this is part of what we pray every time we say the ‘Our Father” – give us this day our daily bread. There is no mention there of hoarding for the future, but rather trusting that God will ensure we have enough for now.
 
Today, in fact as we are gathered here for Mass, Cardinal Amato from the Vatican is presiding at the Mass in Limpopo province at which Benedict Daswa will be beatified. He was martyred on the 2 February 1990 for not agreeing with the village elders about consulting a sangoma about the crop failure that year. He was the principal of the primary school in his village, so his support was vital. The people of the village dragged him outside and bludgeoned him to death with knobkierries. Here was a man who was not anxious about tomorrow – he stood up for the faith.
 
The end of the lection has Jesus repeating his instruction, “So do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” 
 
Every time we come to Mass we pray “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” We ask very specifically to be protected from all anxiety. We place this in the context of our waiting, in what we call our joyful hope, for the return of the Lord. Just how seriously do we believe that?
 
May the God of peace, who casts out all fear and anxiety, bless you in the week ahead.
 
 

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