Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gospel Grocery Store

Salem Lutheran Church, Hitterdal, MN
Epiphany 8/February 27, 2011
Vibrant Faith Ministries Training Weekend
Matthew 6:24-34

Way back in 1988 a top-of-the-charts popular song almost ruined (for me) these immortal words of Jesus from the 6th chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel.

For a while after Bobby McFerrin’ song first came out, I had a hard time taking Jesus seriously when he declares: “therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

“Do not worry,” says Jesus.

“Don’t worry. Be happy,” sang Bobby McFerrin. “What’s the difference?” something in me wondered. Don’t both phrases convey pretty much the same meaning?

Well, as a matter of fact, they do not.

Bobby McFerrin’s catchy little a capelle ditty is just that—a ditty, a Hallmark greeting card verse set to a jaunty tune, an upbeat piece of “I think I can” sunny optimism.

Jesus’ friendly command, on the other hand, is a gracious, liberating invitation to live all of life in the freedom of knowing we are clutched and carried by the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand. Jesus’ “do not worry” grows out of believing that there is one God who is before us, behind us, beyond us, yet also beside us…one God who can be trusted implicitly—in life and in death—to do well by us, to always “have our backs,” come what may.

“Don’t worry. Be happy,” is cheerful self-talk…reverberating in an echo chamber.

“Do not worry about your life,” coming from Jesus’ lips, is drenched in the promise of the gospel. It’s like a huge check drawn upon our Lord’s very own bank account—a promise sealed by a Cross and an Empty Tomb.

So there you have it, your weekly dose of the Good News. Are you not of more value than the little sparrows, after all? Do you not mean more to your heavenly Father than the wildflowers that blossom brilliantly one minute, before shriveling into nothingness the next?

Feast upon this Word, my dear friends. Drink in this promise. May it sustain you through the changes and chances of your life this coming week. May this gospel “meal” nourish and keep you strong until another Sunday rolls around.

But what if…

…what if your worries rise up and start to choke you BEFORE next Sunday…before the calendar pops up and it’s March 6, 2011? What if this morning’s “feasting” on God’s Word ends up leaving you hungry about midweek, like the proverbial plate of Chinese food—an hour after you eat it, you’re hungry again.

This weekend your congregation (along with two other neighboring parishes) is deeply pondering that very question.

We have this one treasured hour of the week, here together, in this lovely stone-hewn church building. We spend 60 minutes every 7 days here in this place, feasting on God’s Word, splashing in the baptismal water, receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ.

But what about the other 167 hours of the week—how do we invest those hours, how do we spend that precious time?

Do we sometimes wind up fasting all week, going hungry from one Sunday morning to another-- with no nourishment to speak of the other six days?

Here’s an analogy that might help. All of us go to the grocery store every week—or someone we love goes there on our behalf. We “stock up” as my wife and I like to say—whenever “Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare.”

But we don’t eat our food in that same grocery store. Yes, I know there are some folks who pick up a package of cookies, tear it open while still in the store and start munching away… But for the most part you and I don’t buy our groceries and eat all our groceries in the same place, at the same time.

In a word, we buy food in a grocery store so that we can eat it (most of it, anyway) somewhere else—most likely at home.

What if we thought of this congregation that way? What if we regarded Salem Lutheran’s mission center as that stopping-off place where we stock up on provisions that we’ll consume the rest of the week, mostly in our homes?

So that means that, yes, in this precious hour of the week, we will bask in promises like the ones that cascade from this gorgeous gospel lesson this morning. We will shut our eyes, ponder the birds, consider the lilies and remember that we—humans fashioned in the divine image—we are of more value to God than birds or flowers.

We will eat our fill of that this morning….but we won’t “eat” it all here in this place.

We will, rather, take most of this good news home with us…like a sack of groceries that we keep stewing on, chewing on, being nourished by for the other 167 hours of the week.

Perhaps you are already looking at it that way, living your life in Christ in all 168 hours of the week.

But then again, maybe you’re not living that way. Maybe you are binge-eating on Sunday mornings, and then starving yourself the rest of the week. If so, you realize—don’t you?--that that’s neither a satisfying nor a sustainable way to live.

And that’s what we’re acknowledging here together this weekend devoted to learning the Vibrant Faith Frame—a way of rethinking “church” that recognizes how faith isn’t just taught here in our mission center building, as much as it is caught “out there” through trusted relationships with other caring Christians.

This weekend is about remembering that where Christ is present in faith, the home is “church” too. It’s about thinking of our congregation less as a restaurant and more as a grocery store—or if you prefer, a year-around farmers market—where we go to get “stocked up” for the other 167 hours of each week.

Most importantly: this weekend is about what we’re ready to do for the sake of our young ones, the next generation of disciples of Jesus Christ. Because we don’t want them to go hungry, do we? Rule #1 of parenting is: don’t let your children starve.

We want them to have food every day, the Word in their lives that other 167 hours of every week, blessings pronounced upon them every 24 hours, prayers to go with them day by day. We want to see a vital partnership between our congregation and all the households that are also “church”….a dynamic relationship of “stocking up” on Sundays and feasting on weekdays.

Because, sure as shooting, Wednesday—hump day--will roll around….and we’ll be battered and bruised, bills piled up, bad news from the wider world shaking our optimism, worries hitting us right between the eyes…..

…and come Wednesday, once again, we’ll need to eat what we’re tasting right here, right now: Jesus’ own promise that there is a way of life as free and unfettered as the birds, as cared for and bedazzled as the lilies of the field….because there is a Father who knows that we need all these things and will see to it that we have what will keep us going.

It’s as simple as this. Please take out the “Taking Faith Home” bulletin insert and look at with me for a moment. Think of this resource as sort of a spiritual “Hamburger Helper” that will help you stretch this morning’s gospel-grocery-run throughout the coming days.

I mean, don’t you sometimes get to midweek and you can’t remember last Sunday’s sermon? That sure happens to me—even when I myself was the preacher of last Sunday’s sermon.

But here on this bulletin insert, you have some easy ways to keep dwelling in this morning’s gospel lesson. If you are like me—if you have young adult children you occasionally worry about—look at the first bullet point under “Rituals and Traditions,” and read it with me right now: “God cares for your children even more than you do and is already taking care of tomorrow.”

Wow…those words are more than leftovers! That’s a promise to savor over the next 167 hours of your life. When you can’t get to sleep…when you wake up too early and start mulling over your anxieties…repeat that promise to yourself.

And if that promise moves you, why not also use the simple table grace on the other side: “Christ our light, shine upon us. Refresh us through this meal to reflect your love to others. Amen.” (Let’s be Baptists, just for 10 seconds. Raise your hand if you’re willing to use this as your table prayer at least once this coming week. PAUSE. OK, now go back to being Lutherans.)

Dear friends of Salem Lutheran, may this hour in God’s gospel-grocery-store open our eyes to behold God lives in your house (and you live with God) every hour of every day of every week.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment