8th Sunday after Epiphany – Year A

Who here remembers the song Don’t Worry Be Happy? I would sing some for you, but I fear the replacement costs for the stained glass windows would be a bit more than we can afford!

Brothers and sisters in todays Gospel passage Jesus is almost reciting those words to us – Don’t worry be happy – he is telling us that God is in control. That God is faithful and He calls us to be a people of faith.

Before we dig too deep into our Gospel for today we should set the scene a little by understanding the context of what Jesus is saying here.
 We are picking up part way through chapter 6 of Matthews Gospel – this is right in the middle of the sermon on the mount which is recorded over chapters 5-7 of Matthews Gospel. The sermon on the mount is a collection of teachings or saying from Jesus teaching his followers about how they are called to live as members of God’s Kingdom.  The most famous part of the sermon on the mount of course is the beatitudes – so much so that people often make the mistake of thinking they ARE the sermon.  The truth though is much much more is covered.
So as we pick up our reading today it is important we understand that it is part of a larger narrative – of Jesus teaching about how we are called to live as his followers – it is not said in isolation.
That is important as we look at where our reading begins – Jesus talking about the eye being the lamp for the body.  This saying needs to be taken in the context of what has preceded it for us to truly understand it. Jesus is not here picking on blind people and saying that they are doomed. Rather in verses 19 to 21 which precede this statement he has just finished saying: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [1]
You see Jesus has just finished explaining to his followers that they need to have there focus on the Kingdom of God – not on earthly desires and wealth.  He wants them to direct there gaze not to storing up earthly wealth but rather to God – for where there treasure is, there is where there heart will be also.
It is then he says those opening lines from todays Gospel 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [2]
So you see Jesus isn’t talking about physical blindness – rather he is using the eye, and light and darkness as metaphors for the spiritual health of a person.  If your focus is all wrong – if your eye is unhealthy and gazing towards the wealth and wants of this world rather than God’s Kingdom, then you are shutting out the light – if you are directing your gaze towards the world instead of God, you are looking on darkness rather than light – and so it is darkness that will fill you rather than the light which is God.
That helps us then make sense of the next verse doesn’t it: 24 “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.[3]
If we were to read these opening verses of todays Gospel account without understanding the context, we could be forgiven for thinking that it was a bit strange for Jesus to jump from talking about blindness to money and masters.  That is why it is so very important for us always to seek to understand the context of what we are reading in the scriptures.  We can very quickly get ourselves lost and confused if we just pick random bits and pieces of scripture to read and remove them from their context.
But what does it mean now for Jesus to say we can’t serve wealth (mammon) and God? Well it flows into the next section of our reading where Jesus explains to us how we need not worry about what we need.
Faith is fundamentally a matter of trusting God, leaning on God—not just believing that God exists but believing that God actually is a caring parent and a trustworthy deliverer, and that this care and deliverance is for me, for you, for everyone. Jesus says that God feeds and clothes the animals, even the birds of the air and the grass of the field are fed and clothed; So if God cares for them, why would we doubt his care for us? 

The truth is though, that when it comes to our own wellbeing, there is an competitor for our trust,  there is another way we can seek to get all we need, and that is “mammon” which our bible has translated as “wealth”. But what Jesusis referring to here is not people having great sums of money, or even mere money at all, he is talking about people  having a money-centred approach to life’s basic needs: having a strictly material outlook.
He is talking about the danger facing people whose gaze has been averted from the kingdom – and so they are unhealthy – they are being consumed by darkness.

We cannot, Jesus says, have it both ways. We cannot at the same time (1) trust ultimately in our own ability and striving for material wealth as the foundation of our wellbeing and (2) Also trust ultimately in God as that same foundation. There can be only one ultimate foundation, only one ultimate trust. So we must continually choose which of these we take to be the true bedrock of our lives, our own efforts for wealth  or God’s care for us. Our choice will determine who we are serving – either God or Mammon.

This does not mean, of course, that Christians should stop looking to provide for ourselves. If our ultimate trust is properly directed toward God’s care for us, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to seek to provide for ourselves and our family – it just means we do so from a position of trust ultimately in God to provide rather than in our ability to acquire wealth. However, something else is ruled out, namely, “worry”. If we truly are under God’s loving, personal care, if God truly does and will provide, then though we may and should work and “strive,” in the end our own efforts are not the source of our well-being. In truth, God is taking care of that, no matter what circumstances may come and go – Look at the birds. Consider the lilies. They do not worry, and neither should we.

Lets be clear here though, Jesus is not preaching a prosperity gospel in which we get magically rewarded with wealth and prestige just for believing right as some heretical preachers proclaim; nor is he preaching that we should be passive observers waiting for God’s blessings to shower down.

Jesus offers a choice: Mammon or God. If we choose wealth as our priority, we can expect great highs and devastating lows – and ultimately if our gaze stays focussed there instead of on God eternal darkness. If we choose God, in good times and bad (and there will still be bad times) we have no reason to worry. The point is that God is faithful. 

“Don’t worry, be happy” can sound shallow, unrealistic. Jesus tells us and we know that the life of faith is not without its issues, and challenges. There are struggles and heartbreak as well as joy and jubilation. The point is that when we focus on God rather than our own wants and desires, when we focus on living out God’s call on our lives, we don’t have need of worry. We can trust that all is in God’s hands, and we are assured that we can handle whatever happens, because God is in control.

Brothers and sisters all of us at times struggle with worry and anxiety. We worry about losing our homes, losing our jobs, not having enough for retirement; caring for our children until they reach adulthood; worrying about them more when they are adults.  We as Anglican Christians in this diocese have found ourselves worrying over the last few years over the diocesan finances and our ability to survive and thrive as a diocese into the future – yet God is faithful and we are seeing light at the end of that tunnel.

The poorest among us, fret over having adequate shelter, food, and water; finding a decent job; taking care of their families; having enough money to survive. The point is all of us—rich and poor, privileged and unprivileged—have genuine reasons to worry, even though we know worrying won’t change anything.

Jesus understands this; this call that we find in our Gospel today is not based on some unrealistic utopian view of the world. What he is telling us is that no matter what we face God will not leave us without support, He is telling us that God is faithful and that in times of struggle and fear and doubt we can lean on our heavenly father. We can face life with all its uncertainties with the assurance that we are not alone—that God hears, sees, and cares about us and all the things we face in this life.
Brothers and sisters we can say to each other “Don’t worry, be happy,” because we know that God is with us, and we never walk alone.
The Lord be with you.

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 6:19–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 6:22–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 6:24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *