Readings: Is 49: 14-15; Mt 6: 24-34
I. A Story
Once there were three missionary priests working in a large refugee camp in northern Africa. The land had had no rain for months; war ravaged the countryside, sickness and death stood side by side with the emaciated men, women and children of the land.
The refugee camp was large; food supplies had stopped; despair was all around for there was only enough water to last one more day. The priests decided to gather the people together to do the only thing the people could do--pray to God. The first priest stepped forward and said, "Let us pray for rain by first recalling God's great love for us. In the Gospels Jesus says to us, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food?" Just then, a starving child whose belly was the size of a large dry stone dropped to the ground. His mother began to wail--"He is dead, my son is dead." The priest was speechless and stood staring at the mother cradling her dead child.
The second priest quickly stepped forward sensing the panic of the people. "Let us continue to pray for rain and for this unfortunate child by continuing to recall God's great love for us. In the Gospels Jesus says, 'Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?' And just as soon as he spoke those words, a sparrow, one of the few left in that land, dropped dead from the sky at the feet of the dead child. The second priest stood speechless, not knowing what to say. God himself seemed to be contradicting the very words his Son spoke.
The third priest lifted his eyes to heaven and said quietly, "We are powerless Lord, and we doubt--send your Spirit to loosen my tongue so that I may speak words of hope to these people of despair." And the priest stepped forward and cradled the body of the child in his arms, and placed the sparrow on the child's chest, and he spoke, "Let us continue to pray for rain, and for this unfortunate child and this tiny sparrow by continuing to recall God's great love for us. It is said that Jesus our brother as he was dying on the cross looked at his Mother and his friend John and said as he bled from the cross, 'Why are you anxious? Consider the lilies of the field. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the flowers of the fields, how much more will he take care of us. So do not worry. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God, and everything else will be given to you.' And then he bowed his head and died." A sigh ran through the crowd, and one by one they dropped to their knees and lifted their arms to heaven in surrender to God. And as each knee touched the parched earth, a sound of thunder was heard in the air, the sun dimmed, and a gentle, cool wind blew through the camp. It was said that just before the soft rains fell, each person felt embraced by that gentle wind and knew the presence of God.---O yes, the child and the sparrow. I do not know what happened to them. But I heard it said from many who were there, that even as the rain washed down her face, the mother smiled and opened her hands to let a white dove fly into the sky. Some say it was the spirit of the child. They say the dove hovered over the crowd, and that the mother's smile was more beautiful than the lilies of the field.
II. We are the Lost
A. Down deep we are an anxious, worried people. Our burdens sometimes seem more than we can bear. Defeated by our weaknesses, brought low because of our mistakes, or even harmed by things out of our control, we are afraid. Each of you take a moment to look into your hearts. We are lost in our own anxiety, our own worry.
B. And the more we worry and are anxious, oftentimes the more we neglect God. This Gospel is wrong we say, God does not seem to be caring for me. But the paradox is, unless we believe in a higher power than ourselves, we will stay lost. There is always something stronger in this world than ourselves waiting to oppress us or conquer us--a bad habit, another enemy, etc. Only God can give us meaning; only God can save us from the awful mess we sometimes find ourselves in. And the only way we can experience his saving love is to trust in what Jesus says today. Jesus is not really telling us that if we believe in God, our bank accounts will stay full, our love lives will be happy, our health will be good, or that we will always be wearing the best designer clothes. What he is saying is that trust in God will save us and worry and anxiety will destroy us.
C. Many of us say this is not true, that we know many people who have trusted in God and lost everything--jobs, friends, wealth. But I say to you, those very people prove my point and the point Christ was trying to make. In the Nazi holocaust, millions of Jews and Christians were put to death. Others suffered unspeakable tortures. Dr. Victor Frankl is a psychologist, himself a victim of the death camps, who did a study of the survivors. many of them, he said, found meaning in their suffering. It was not their pain that taught them, it was their belief in God that saw them through their trials. They did not have enough to eat, enough to wear, enough medical care, but they survived because they trusted that God would never leave them alone. Others in the camps who did not have contact with God, could not feel his presence in their lives, died in despair. Those who believed had hope, and it was their hope that enabled them to live. Did they cry out to God in anger? Perhaps yes. Just like we might sometimes. Just like many Jewish people said 2600 years ago as the first reading tells: "The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me." But the Jews who believed in God then and those of us who believe in God now hear the voice of God saying, "Can a mother forget her baby, or a woman the child within her womb? Even if the unthinkable happens, I will never forget you."
D. To trust, we must surrender to God and say, "I cannot make it on my own God, you must carry me now." Far from being a pie in the sky Gospel, I think the truth of it is known only by those who worry and are anxious and who make the leap of trust. Trusting God doesn't mean no pain, no suffering--but it does mean we will live forever.