Event Name Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Second Sunday before Lent 2017
Start Date 19th Feb 2017 11:15am

The Reverend Mark Birch, Minor Canon and Chaplain

It is hard work having the weight of the world on your shoulders. Many of us, I am guessing, carry concerns that go far beyond our personal responsibility, or indeed our power to do anything much about them—worries about our health, or that of our loved-ones, worries over money and job-security, worries over a nuclear-capable North Korea, not to mention other political time-bombs whose effects remain impossible to predict.

If others share our worries, then at least we are reassured that we are not alone and that it isn’t madness to worry about these things. But sometimes (often?) we are told that we should stop worrying; with airy reassurances that everything will be just fine. If someone tells us we look like we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders then it lands on us with a degree of censure; that we shouldn’t be worrying about these things because it makes other people uncomfortable or irritates them. Worriers are not always welcome.

So when Jesus says, in today’s gospel, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow’, what tone is he using? Is it a, ‘Pull yourself together; get a grip; everything is going to be just fine’ kind of tone? Well, not exactly; he acknowledges that every tomorrow will bring its own worries—and that today’s trouble is quite enough for today. He isn’t saying that there is nothing to worry about, but that we would be better not to multiply our worries beyond what is actually in front of us, at any given moment, on this given day.

Certainly, Jesus says, we need not worry about our life—what we will eat or drink—or our bodies—what we will wear. Birds and lilies don’t worry about such things, and neither need we, because we are of value to God, and God will provide these things.

But what if God doesn’t provide? What if we find ourselves in need, homeless, impoverished; or sick, in body or mind, where even eating and drinking might become difficult, impossible, pointless? What then?

St Paul knew a fair bit about human worries; his life was no picnic as we discover in the Acts of the Apostles and in his letters. So when he says ‘I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us’, this isn’t airy platitude or pious fantasy—this is born out of both his experience and his faith.

St Paul knew how futile, how useless it feels to worry and to suffer; when you are no good to yourself, nor to anyone else. The creation was subjected to futility, he writes, and implies that it is human folly and disobedience, represented in our ancestors Adam and Eve, that is at the root of this futility—a futility which has then infected the whole creation. It may seem harsh to lay all this at our human door, but a moment’s self-reflection or a brief survey of the news headlines will remind us that this is not such a crazy thing to say, and, more importantly, if the futility is not of our making, then it must be intrinsic to creation, which is to say, it must come from the Creator—and if God subjects us and all creation to futility, then futility is all we can hope for.

But this is not God’s will, St Paul insists. God’s will is to set creation free from this futility by setting us free—by obtaining the freedom of the glory of the children of God. This freedom and glory is what is shown to us in the death and resurrection of Christ; in the dying and rising signified in our baptism and celebrated in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. The sacraments of the Church rehearse, enact and communicate this freedom and glory to us.

But it isn’t just for us; there is a whole cosmos to be set free; a whole creation, a world full of people, to be brought to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. As Christians, we have not just the world on our shoulders, but the whole cosmos, just as Christ carried the weight of the world’s futility along the via dolorosa, to the hill of Calvary, in order to win its freedom.

In our suffering, in our worries, we carry something of that weight of futility on behalf of the world; like Christ, with Christ, in Christ, we carry it in order that the creation, of which we are a part, might be set free; that it might die to futility and rise to glorious liberty.

St Paul imagines the creation itself groaning in its longing to be free, and knows that rather often our prayers are little more than inarticulate groanings, for we don’t know what to ask, especially when life is hard; when worries are overwhelming. We carry the weight of a groaning creation, but that same creation waits, as Paul puts it, with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, but that same world, in its groaning, is also urging us on. Our destiny and the future of the creation are inseparably linked, as any good environmentalist would remind us. Our longing and the longing of the cosmos are properly aligned.

This is indeed, something worth worrying at, if I may change the use of the word slightly. Not worrying over the superficial, though important stuff of food or drink, or clothing, or careers and power and wealth. Strive first for the kingdom of God, said Jesus—bear the troubles of today as faithfully, as courageously, as hopefully as you can—through them we will become part of God’s work in Christ, to bring everything to that freedom and glory which is God’s desire and purpose.

The Genesis account of God’s creating work suggests that human beings mark the climax of divine creativity—the creation of a being in God’s own image and likeness. We are given God-like dominion over the world, and the creation sustains us, according to God’s gracious providence. But the end, the goal of creation is rest, Sabbath—sharing God’s rest which is a resting in delight over the good earth that he has made.

The story of futility breaking-into this story comes not very much later in the book Genesis, but salvation history, the coming of Jesus, suggests that God’s desire—to rest in delight over his good creation—remains unchanged, and is the kingdom for which, in this life, we worry and strive, on our own behalf and on behalf of the world. Yet even now, in the midst of this world of worry, we are called, in George Herbert’s words to ‘sit and eat’; to anticipate that rest, that end of all our striving, suffering and worry, in this Eucharist, which is the sign of the kingdom for which we hope, for which we wait, for which we are made.

Thanks be to God.

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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