Frederick Buechner's Sermon Illustration: Neurotic Anxiety (Matthew 6:24-34)
In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.
Next Sunday we will celebrate the second Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
Here is an excerpt from Buechner's sermon "The Church," which was originally published in A Clown in the Belfry and later in Secrets in the Dark:
Matthew the tax collector and Thomas the doubter. Peter the rock and Judas the traitor. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus's sister Martha. And the popcorn-eating old woman. And the fat man in the pickup. They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other's family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the church to be. Our happiness is all mixed up with each other's happiness and our peace with each other's peace. Our own happiness, our own peace can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who, the way things are now, have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his church, tells us, to be and do. Love each other. Heal the sick, he says. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. That is what loving each other means. If the church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be. If it is not doing things like that—no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead—then it is not being what Jesus told it to be. It is as simple as that.
The old woman has gone to the movies to help take her mind off the fact that she has cancer. Cancer is a sickness that you and I don't know how to heal, more's the pity, but it is not her only sickness. Her other sickness is being lonely and scared, and in some ways that sickness is the worse of the two. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks about it--wishes she had somebody she could talk to about it or just somebody she could go to the movies with once in a while and share her popcorn with. Heal her, Jesus says.
The fat man in the pickup has a son who is dying. He is dying of AIDS. It was his wife who put the Jesus Loves You sticker on his bumper. The way he sees it, if you do not believe in God anymore, it doesn't make much difference whether Jesus loves you or not. If God lets things happen to people like what has happened to his son, then what is the point of believing in God. Raise him, Jesus says.
"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons," Jesus tells the disciples. That is the work he sets us. In other words, we are to be above all else healers, and that means of course that we are also to be healed because God knows you and I are in as much need of healing as anybody else, and being healed and healing go hand in hand. God knows we have our own demons to be cast out, our own uncleanness to be cleansed. Neurotic anxiety happens to be my own particular demon, a floating sense of doom that has ruined many of what could have been, should have been, the happiest days of my life, and more than a few times in my life I have been raised from such ruins, which is another way of saying that more than a few times in my life I have been raised from death—death of the spirit anyway, death of the heart--by the healing power that Jesus calls us both to heal with and to be healed by.