He tells us, “Don’t Worry”

 

cranes-and-swansJesus tells us four times in one paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry.” How could he?!  Well, for starters, he, too, lived in difficult days…maybe the darkest.  Even still, he called God’s children to leave their lives in God’s control.  Even given the near-impossible hardships that fill our world today, he still tells us not to worry.

“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? … 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?” –Matthew 6:26-30

Be honest. Have you ever been able- in all your striving, in all your attempts- to really care for yourself or the people you love? Have you ever felt like you’d finally gotten ‘control’ of things in your life? I suspect that the answer is no.

In telling us not to worry and in comparing us to something as simple and simplistic, as fragile and vulnerable as birds and flowers, Jesus calls us away from fear and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Instead, he invites us to lay all of our lives at his feet, and to allow every aspect of our lives to be filled with his mercy.

“The Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

by Wendell Berry

As he talks about worry, I can imagine Jesus begging us to refuse to believe the world’s lie that we can be in control- of anything- but asking instead that we breathe in the safety of the God of all creation, the comfort of the God of sacrificial love, the presence of the God who goes beside us and before us.  Again and again in the Sermon on the Mount, he calls us to the most difficult task of faith: to trust.  Perhaps, as Berry seems to suggest in the poem, part of that is to really understand our identity as part of God’s creation, and not to mistake ourselves for the Creator.

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Unmasked

“Sometimes it’s best to put on a smile and nod your head.”

Such was the sage wisdom of a pastoral mentor years ago. And we all do it — put on a happy (though false) face in order to deal with a difficult situation or to hide our irritation or fatigue. Have you ever “plastered” a smile or blank look on your face to hide what you really think?

There are times when we “just grin and bear it,” but our grins can cover an inward grimace. Simply put — we often put on masks.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes us to task if we wear a mask for the wrong reasons.

He especially exhorts his disciples to unmask when serving God and neighbor. The Lord draws a distinction between genuine spiritual practices and those of the hypocrites.

In Jesus’ day, throughout the Greek-influenced Mediterranean region, “hypocrites” referred to stage actors, those who played a role. In the Greek theater, hypocrites were male (actors, remember) and typically carried a mask as tool of stagecraft.

With their mask, the ancient hypocrites could assume any number of roles they wished to project, even a woman! “Hypocrites” in Jesus’ day were literally “mask wearers” who pretended. This ancient Greek tradition serves as a theatrical symbol to this day.

Jesus makes plain that too many folks give alms, pray, and fast for show in their real lives, seeking the acclaim and applause of others. But, he says, such people, religious in appearance, or wearing a mask that hides their true motivation, like a hypocrite.

Ironically, a lot of folks today affect certain lifestyles in order to appear more “authentic”!

“Do not wear a mask!” Jesus preaches, “But present yourself as you are.” Discipleship is life with integrity, transparency, humility — unmasked and open. We no longer pretend — we are unpretentious.

When we cease trying to cover our imperfections and fallibility, when we quit pretending, we can draw nearer to Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true selves.

As we hear in Ephesians, through Jesus Christ we “clothe ourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In Jesus, we become genuine.