181007 – Steep Ye First

Yr B ~ Thanksgiving ~ Matthew 6:25-33

I was having trouble getting going with this week’s message. Then one word changed and everything started to flow. And I was thankful!
A different word was giving grief to our bible study group – the word worry.

Let’s be clear right from the start: I do not think that Jesus is telling us not to have concern for things or people. We can’t care for people or be loving if we don’t feel concern for them. No, the worry Jesus is warning us about in Matthew 6 is more than just being anxious about something, he’s teaching about the dangers of being overly preoccupied with things, being absorbed by them, being obsessed with them. Care and concern are healthy, preoccupation and obsession are not.

When Jesus says “Don’t worry” he’s really talking about a general state of anxiety and disquiet that insidiously sneaks into our being and starts to run our life. That’s the real soul-sucking stuff. That’s the worry that kills. I guess it’s always been a problem or he wouldn’t have taught it, but it sure seems like we’ve got a nasty case of it today. We need this teaching more than ever!

I think you’d agree that we live in a hyper-anxious and worried culture. Why do you think that is? What fuels this feeling?
The media is a big one – you can’t turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without being inundated with doom and gloom from every corner of the world. Commercials and advertisements are constantly telling us that we’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or thin enough, or wealthy enough, or don’t smell good enough, and judging by the stuff we buy we believe them.

Then on top of that you add in the pace of life that we’ve chosen to live at. We’re always on, always plugged in, there’s no down time, our technology owns us. Just threaten to take away someone’s cell phone for a week, or a day, and watch them squirm. We are all wound way too tight.

The problem isn’t really that life has sped up and become more complicated; the problem is that we’ve lost our grounding in what’s most important.
Instead of drawing on our deep spiritual reservoir built up over years of loving God, loving people, and loving one another, we find ourselves worrying and fussing about too many things.
We can even become paralyzed by it all.

Maybe we’re in such an anxious culture because we patently refuse to follow Matthew 6:33. You know this verse by heart – we all do, but we steadfastly ignore it. Here’s the big message today:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all the rest will follow.
God first! Seek God first. Make the primary goal of your life seeking God and you’ll find the rest of it works out much better.

The trick seems to be to figure out what seeking means. But even that word “seeking” is anxiety producing! Seeking is an action verb. The NRSV suggests striving instead. That’s just as bad! Seeking, striving – “oh no, what if I’m not doing enough? What if my efforts to seek God fall short? What if my striving isn’t strong or thorough enough?” And boom, we’re right back to being paralyzed by worry again!

Remember I said I discovered one word and it all changed for me?
The word came from the Message bible translation. I want you to hear the whole passage from the Message – it’s really, really helpful.

Matthew 6:25-33 (MSG)

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?

I’ve gotta jump in here. I love that image.
The more familiar phrase is about time – can anyone by worrying add even one hour to our lives – and the problem is that we actually think we can add an hour to our lives! We think it’s just a matter of time management skills. But Jesus was talking about something much deeper.
The Message translation captures this beautifully – Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?

Add an inch to your height! Go ahead and try!

Let’s continue – verses 28-33

All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do God’s best for you?
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving.
People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Did you catch the word that moved me?
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.

Or if you like the classic language better: Steep ye first in the kingdom of God!

Steep ye first!
Steep ye first!

Seeking and striving may induce angst and worry, but steeping suggests something very different.
It’s about immersion.
It’s about lingering.
It’s about savouring.
It’s about putting yourself into the midst of it and letting it be.

Steep ye first in the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness!

To “steep ye first” is to keep God on the front burner.
It’s about awareness.
It’s about mindfulness.
It’s about being so open to God’s presence, and so expectant of experience that it feels like every single breath you take is permeated and infused with God’s essence – because it is!!!

If you are aware, and mindful, and open then you’ll approach your entire life with new eyes. Steep ye first in the kingdom of God – be aware and mindful and open – and everything will be added unto you.
Well of course it will.  How could it not be?
If you’re seeing and experiencing God in everything and everyone then how could you possibly have any room for being absorbed by or being preoccupied with worries?

Anybody been singing the hymn during this?
“Steep ye first in the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you, allelu-alleluia!”

But let’s be careful here. All what things will be added?
Is this a menu that we can order from?
Just say the magic words about Ja-eez-us-ah and you get everything you want or need?
Obviously not!

The ‘everything that is added unto you’ is not about riches, or material things, or living in the lap of luxury.
The ‘everything that is added unto you’ is the peace of mind and peace of spirit that you’re longing for.
The ‘everything that is added unto you’ is nothing less than God’s shalom.

Steep ye first in the kingdom of God and you’ll find shalom.
Steep ye first in anything else and you’ll risk having the weight of the world suck the life right out of you.
If God’s not first then ridiculous things like fashion, celebrity, popularity, possessions, success, and status will seem far more important than they ever should be.

Let’s shift this a bit.
What if instead of focusing on individuals – on you or me being the ones who are first steeping ourselves in God – we made it broader and thought about the church?
What might it mean for a church not to worry? (– you know, about budgets, repairs, etc.) If we weren’t worried about (as in distracted and consumed by) the state of our finances, for example, and instead we first steeped our churches in God’s presence don’t you think “all those things would be added unto us?”

I’ve been saying through this whole stewardship campaign that our real goal is to deepen our awareness of God’s mission, and to be inspired by God’s mission, and to hopefully encourage our passion and conviction for God’s mission.

I’ve been straight with you saying that mission takes money.

Let me also say that passion generates participation.
And conviction brings commitment.

Steep ye first in passion for God and God’s ways and it will generate participation in the mission and ministry of the church.
Steep ye first in being convicted by the life and teaching of Jesus and it will bring commitment to following in his ways and living the righteousness he modelled.

Steep ye first in the kingdom of God – steep ye first in the three great loves – loving God, loving people, loving one another – steep ye first in first things and all the rest will take care of itself.

This is Thanksgiving weekend – it’s a time that we set aside to take a break and reflect on the things we’re grateful for in life.
Sadly, some people have a hard time with this.
If your priorities are out of whack, and by that I mean that if you’re lacking that sense of awareness and mindfulness and openness toward the Holy Mystery that we name God, and if you’re not really moved to passion and conviction about the mission and ministry of God, then gratitude probably comes harder.

If fashion, celebrity, popularity, possessions, success, and status are preoccupying your life then you’ll never be satisfied, because you’ll never have enough.
But if you steep first in the kingdom of God you can “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

Being steeped in God’s Presence, becoming ever-increasingly aware of God’s kingdom which surrounds and enfolds us all, breathing deeply of the love that God fills us to overflowing with – stirs in us a deep sense of gratitude for life and all the blessings life brings. Thanksgiving indeed!

Take 10 seconds right now and silently name 5 things you’re grateful for. [pause]
Now take 10 more seconds and name 5 more things you’re grateful for. [pause]
And again, and again, and again.
You should be able to go on naming things for hours.
Everything and everyone is blessed and sacred. If you’re aware and mindful and open to God’s presence then you’ll have eyes that can see that, and a heart that can appreciate it.

And if you’re not feeling it, if you’re having trouble being aware and mindful and open, the answer is definitely not to worry or fuss or obsess about it.
The answer is to stop.
Breathe again.

Shift your attention from the stuff that’s cramping your soul, and just pause.
What you’re actually doing is praying.
Mindful breathing is prayer.
So just breathe for a while and see if you don’t start to notice the presence of God lurking in the room.
That’s what it means to steep first in the kingdom of God – to pray.

“Steep ye first in the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you, allelu-alleluia!”

Thanks be to God!