Seek First His Kingdom
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, July 3, 2022
Good morning! Happy Fourth of July, my friends.
I must say this may be my very favorite scripture from the bible. It speaks to me. In the morning when I wake up, I often hear myself groaning and I’m afraid these groans betray a lack of trust that God has the final say in my life. That’s what this scripture is about. There is no real need to worry about all the little things. All those moments of second guessing and self-recrimination are more than useless! So, when I think about being anxious about all the little things, today’s scripture is a real solace.
I’m not sure if you all saw the bulletin today, but very cleverly, I thought, it was an eye chart. As you can see, my eyes need help. But today’s scripture is about the inner eye, the light of the soul. The eye turned toward God is sound, but when we are divided against ourselves, one eye is loving, the other envious and we see in double vision. If our spiritual eyes become distorted, the truth becomes false. If we cast our gaze on the problems of the world, we quickly find that we are protecting our ego against what we imagine will harm us, but if the eye is the lamp of the body, when we turn this “eye” toward God, we discover a spirit of generosity. The world cannot be made new until our inner eyes become new, a metaphor similar to the new birth of baptism. To engage with the whole visible world depends on our eyes, but we must first come to Christ to really see the world; it doesn’t matter if we are blind or seeing with our physical eyes. If our inner eye is cleansed and cured, wonder breaks open.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and mammon.” When we are faced with a difficult moral choice, our first thoughts are often the best, our second thoughts are often a ruinous parley. “I had second thoughts,” we say, and our life goes to ruin. Most of us who call ourselves Orthodox Christians, often fail to trust joyfully in God. I don’t think society’s obsession with the markets would win Christ’s blessing. When we seek excessive profits, we fail our calling to be good stewards of the earth, and we end up destroying our brothers and ourselves. When we think of profits first and people second, we fall into depression. Work and even play can threaten how we worship. We seek pleasure and we find nausea. We seek safety and we find a cowardly mind. Instead, Jesus says, “Do not be concerned about what you will eat. Your heavenly father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, so let’s not be anxious about our lives.” In the end, it is no great loss to lose a job, although it may feel catastrophic at the moment.
So, is work necessary if God is going to take care of us? Of course, we must work if we want to earn a livelihood and eat. I just said, “earning a livelihood usurps the art of living,” but our best nature requires labor. Jesus did not despise the carpenter’s shop. And I don’t think he would disapprove of insurance or pension plans either. Of course, God’s providence is not from baskets lowered out of the sky, but from the hands and hearts of those who love Him. Neighborly toil exemplifies God’s abundant providence in its whole purpose and movement. This requires a joyful abandon of trust in Him. Life can be an intimate friendship between God and us, and so we speak the truth in love. But we must face the hard fact that our standard of living and our health cannot be made absolutely secure and learn to trust humbly that God will give us everything that we need, even in the middle of a disaster. If we are concerned first and last to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives, and if we work faithfully to that end, God will provide for us. We are in his kind and competent hands. Jesus himself lived his life with that kind of trust. And we are doing the work: Just look at the chart of meals to neighbors that Mary, Jane and Mike are leading with help from the teens. They actually went 40 meals prepared to 917!
Yesterday, I shared a draft of this homily with my friend Karolina who has been helping Ukrainian refugees in Poland. She basically set up her own Good Will for clothes and other items along with a food pantry. We were able to send her a couple of thousand for her efforts, and she sent me a video of a young Ukrainian girl reciting Our Father recently. These are her reflections:
She wrote, “Today I know that when God is in the first place, everything else is in place. Sometimes we are touched by difficult experiences, and I cannot always understand everything. But I know that in life, God tests us all for a purpose. The most important thing is to remain faithful. Recently I had a very difficult experience. Some of the people we helped used our help to the very limit. Then they ended up cursing at and even robbing us in the end. After something like this, I asked myself why I was doing all this. I thought for a moment that it’s not worth it. But I know this experience was for something. You should never expect gratitude. And keep doing what’s most important. To help as long as you have the strength to do so.” We needn’t worry. Everything really is in God’s hands.
My brothers and sisters, let us not be anxious. Can we add one second to our span of life? No. We must accept that we have a set time to live, so let’s stop worrying! Tomorrow will take care of itself. Jesus Christ gave us the example of a life free of fear, and so we are invited to kneel before God in confession and surrender to His will. And that is the very best cure for anxiety. Thanks be to God.