(Matthew 6: 24-34; Psalm 145: 10-18)
“Consider the lilies,” Jesus said one day, and I have been doing that recently. My family enjoyed spending some time over the fourth of July weekend with my twin sister and brother-in-law near Knoxville, Tennessee.
And when we spend time together in the summer, I can always count on learning a little bit more about one of my sister’s passions in life, daylilies. She has over 150 varieties of daylilies in her yard. Now I use to think there was just that common orange variety that seem to grow anywhere, and those smaller yellow lilies that bloom in early summer along the side of Interstate 85 and other roadways.
But thanks to Dawn, I’ve had an introduction into the expansive world of these flowers, daylilies with names like Ruby Spider and New Orleans Belle, Blushing Summer Valentine, Lady Lucille and my favorite variety called Orange Vols.
Most gardeners would agree that lilies are among the most carefree and easy-to-grow perennials. And all of them produce the most stunning blossoms in bright rich colors: brilliant yellows and bright oranges, deep reds, vibrant peach, apricot, and pinks. Even ones with white blooms catch the eye against their beautiful, blue-green foliage.
They startle me every time I see them, and I think about Jesus one day saying to his disciples “Consider the lilies—how they grow; they neither toil nor spin and yet even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Poet and essayist Wendell Berry remarks, “Jesus thought he was living in a holy world. Much of the action and talk of the Gospels takes place outdoors: on mountainsides, lakeshores, river banks, in fields and pastures, places populated not only by humans but by animals and plants. And these nonhuman creatures, sheep and lilies and birds, are always represented as worthy of, or as flourishing within, the love and care of God. [i]
Jesus speaks of the birds and lilies as poetic symbols of God’s care; showing us that like them we matter. We are a valued, beloved part of God’s plan, an ongoing plan of abundance and beauty, of love and relationship, with God at the center.
The problem is that so often God isn’t at the center. We get distracted. Lose focus. We get overwhelmed with the demands all around us and before long our priorities get messed up, our loyalties divided. And we begin to live with our agendas, our worries, and wants and needs at the center.
Jesus knew this…And so we find that our passage today begins with the stark warning: “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.”
Let’s be clear, Jesus isn’t saying here that money is evil. He knows however that if money is our target and overarching focus, then God is not. Jesus knows that like so many other things, wealth competes with God for the human heart.
Here Jesus is reminding his followers that what they’ve signed up for isn’t going to be easy. Being a disciple doesn’t come with a Gold Card, or special perks and privileges.
No Jesus is making it perfectly clear that his followers need to choose which master they serve and where their allegiance will be. And then Jesus says to them, “Don’t worry.”
“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?” Here Jesus addresses the worry about survival and the basics of food, clothing, shelter.
It’s important to understand the audience here. First Jesus is talking to his friends and followers. The ones who have just left their nets and boats, family and income to follow him; To learn from him and be in the presence of this man who does miracles and seems to have a healing touch and an uncommon love and acceptance for all.
And because the word has spread about this unusual man named Jesus, others have started to gather around too. For the most part the crowds were made up of the poor. One writer describes it this way:
[Many] of the people were merchants, fishermen, artisans, and farmers. Today these are respected professions-lucrative in some cases. Then, however, these workers operated at a bare subsistence level. Also in Jesus audience were those on the bottom rung of the social ladder- beggars, cripples, prostitutes, and criminals who lived off the land outside the cities.[ii]
These are the people who first heard Jesus say, “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?”
At the heart of this message is the love of God for each person, the inherent value and dignity of each individual. “Are you not of value to God?” goes Jesus’ rhetorical question. And the answer is, yes.”[iii]
But to the gathered crowds listening, feeling valued and loved was tricky. All around them were messages telling them that they were less than nothing, expendable. The Roman Empire had the power to take them as slaves at will and the religious leaders had set things up so that the people had to continually wonder and worry about their state of ritual purity-whether they were good enough or clean enough.
And to this crowd, and to us, Jesus brings this transforming, anxiety managing message of Good news. In the eyes of God, he says, you have value, you are enough.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Be like the lilies. Be like the birds.” Rather, he says, “Look at them…Consider them.” The Greek word for “consider” here is an emphatic verb that shakes us by the shoulders and says, “No, really look.[iv]
For the flowers and birds don’t need anything to make themselves more glorious or cherished or precious in sight. By God’s design they are enough. And like them, the grace of God comes to each of us, whoever we are, and grants us worth and value and identity that far outweighs our own voice or the voices all around us that weigh in on our worth.
Friends, here the good news of THIS Gospel…As children of God you are enough. You are loved unconditionally and accepted for who you are not by virtue of what we you’ve done or not done, but by virtue of the One who loves us.
You are worth loving and redeeming and you have an important role to play in God’s unfolding kingdom. That’s what Jesus says to us. And he calls us to take these words to heart. To redirect our vision and our lives in much the same way that the lives of the first hearers needed to be redirected.
Remember this is the Sermon on the Mount, a manifesto of sorts of the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached and lived. It holds up an alternative reality-a reality that gives us life, purpose, and hope.
And to those early followers and to us, Jesus issues a call; a call to be radically reoriented in God. To turn away from the worry that comes with a life edged by the “not good enough’s, and don’t have enough’s.”
Because in the Kingdom of God-the world according to God’s righteousness, God’s justice-everyone is valued and loved. Basic human needs are met and there is an abundance; an abundance of care, and sharing, and serving, and sacrifice for others.
This is why Jesus calls the disciples-calls us-to seek God’s kingdom first. To take seriously caring for one another, to take responsibility for befriending the poor, the neglected, the most vulnerable among us. And then we would never let our friends go hungry, or sleep on the street, or go without a coat in the cold, or feel as though no one cares about them.
Jesus begins this message with the verse about money because in order to do this we have to let go of our desire to accumulate and consume. Money as a central focus can isolate and it can easily lead to a sense of scarcity. As preacher and author John Buchanan says, “When you depend on wealth or status for your salvation, there is never enough.”
Several years ago, in one of my former congregations, I came to know a wise man who always said goodbye to me at the door following worship with the words, “I wish you enough.”
It took me a few weeks of hearing this goodbye to say, “Excuse me. ‘I wish you enough.’ May I ask what that means?”
He smiled and said, “That’s a blessing that has been handed down from past generations in my family.”He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more and said:
“When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them, and keep them centered on what really matters.”
Then turning toward me, he shared the following words, blessing:
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your basic needs.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”
I wish you enough glimpses of God’s goodness and love to know that even that final “Goodbye” is not the end.
I wish you enough.
Indeed our truest and best and happiest life is in knowing that love that is more than enough.
Knowing God’s love and being claimed by it, transformed by it. And letting that love open our eyes to abundance around us, and redirect all that we are, so we can lead even more generous lives.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” Jesus says. May it be so. And thanks be to God! Amen.
[i] Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance, May, 2006, p. 135
[ii] John Petty, “Lectionary Blogging: Matthew 6:24-34,” Progressive Involvement, February, 2011
[iii] Magdalene’s Musings, “What We Need,” March, 2011
[iv] The Rev. Dr. Joanne Whitt, “Consider the Lilies,” November, 2012