Strive by not Striving

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
8th Sunday of Epiphany Sermon – 8:00 and 10:30am
Based on Isaiah 49:8-16a, Psalm 131, Matthew 6:24-34

Sermon Text:
When we lived in Orlando,
sometimes Jackie and I would take the kids
to this state park just outside the city,
called Wekiva Springs.
It was truly a paradise,
with towering palm trees,
and vines and lush growth,
flowers and green plants
all surrounding a cool spring,
out of which flowed a meandering stream.

In the hottest days of summer,
those steamy central Florida days,
where the temperature is always 96 degrees,
and the humidity is an oppressive 90%,
this spring would always
be 70 something degrees,
so when all the backyard pools
were like bath water,
and even the ocean had become
to hot to swim in,
the spring would offer some refreshment.

This week when I was praying
with our Centering Prayer Group,
I had an image of that spring
come into my mind.
Specifically, I was sitting by the source,
a little pool where the spring
bubbled up from underground,
before it flowed away in the stream.
Some of my worries were
gathered around me,
in bright yellow innertubes,
they drew my attention
away from the beauty around me
like the people who come to the spring
for recreation.

I realized as soon as I saw them,
that I could just let them
go on down the stream,
and I could stay by the spring,
and be refreshed.
Even that image went away,
going down the stream,
as do all images and thoughts
in centering prayer.

But when we opened our eyes,
the refreshment
was still real,
even more real in fact.
I had no idea, when I discussed that image with the group,
that the passage from Isaiah
was so directly related to my image,
since before our silent prayer
we had been focusing on the gospel for today.

But Isaiah does say
in today's reading from the 49th chapter,
“who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.”

On the way home from work the day before,
I was hearing about the turmoil in Libya,
and all around the middle east and north Africa
and the uprising there.
I felt compassion for the people,
striving to deal with their problems of today,
and the past few decades
But then the newscaster said something like,
if this turmoil affects the world oil supply,
this could unsettle the economic recovery
we have been experiencing.

Isn't that always the way it goes these days?
There is always something going on,
and as if that were not enough to be concerned about,
we are encouraged to worry
about what might happen next,
the problems that could result,
are worse than the problem at hand.

And of course, when we have little children,
like little Blake Beale,
who we will baptize today,
we worry about them,
what kind of world are we raising them in?
Will they make it,
what problems will happen during their lifetime?

Jesus is speaking directly against
that kind of thinking,
for it was prevalent in his time as well.
When will we ever learn?

Can we by worrying add a single hour
to our span of life?
Someone mentioned to me,
that studies recently have shown,
that worrying will definitely not add an hour,
but can actually take away from our life span.

For me the worry often expresses itself,
in what I will eat.
But for me even that is not good.
I'm trying to loose weight,
and get healthier again,
but when I think about what I will eat
it's not about hunger,
as would be for most of the people
in the world,
and as Jesus probably meant
for the people he was speaking to...
those people are worried about where
their next meal will come from,
or if they'll have to be hungry.
But my thoughts about what to eat,
is really about stress, boredom,
or emotional eating.
When I worry about what I will eat,
I'm distracted from what is really going on,
distracted from really living.

Other people do similar things with
worrying about what they will wear,
it's not that they're thinking,
“if I don't wear
something warm,
I will die of exposure.”
It's more that they're worried
about looking fashionable,
or wearing something
to express themselves in some way.
But that worry distracts them from life.
It distracts them from living.

What kinds of things do you worry about,
that distract you from life,
distract you from living?
Jesus asks us not to strive
for these things,
because they make us miss out on life.
And he is all about showing us,
the way to abundant life.

He tells us not to worry,
but his statement is not,
like that song that was popular in the 90's,
“Don't worry, be Happy.”
Remember that one?
It was a happy song,
and it was very popular,
some fans could have even
been called followers,
but its message was quickly criticized,
because it is so easy to say,
but not so easy to do.

Jesus gives us much more than simply saying,
don't worry.
He tells us how to keep from worrying about
everything that prevents us
from living abundantly.

He says,
“strive first for the Kingdom of God,
and his righteousness,
and all these things
will be given to you as well.”

The paradoxical thing about that,
is that striving for the Kingdom of God,
is most often about not striving,
or at least, not striving the way the world
teaches us to strive.

Striving for the kingdom,
is done the way that we read
in the psalm today,
and the way we practiced it
in the Centering Prayer group.

The psalmist says,
I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother's breast,
my soul is quieted within me.

While the world blares around us,
we are to still our souls.
As we promise today,
to raise Blake Beale to know Christ,
we might take a lesson from him,
and every baby in our church,
who often cuddle so sweetly and peacefully
on their parents chest
we could learn from them,
about being still in our souls.

This kind of quiet,
where we find the Lord
guiding us by springs of water,
is simple,
but it requires commitment.

Stillness flies in the face of the busy life,
that the rest of the world requires of us.
But stillness requires commitment
to take time everyday
to seek the kingdom of God.

Time to do nothing,
and even to think nothing,
which is so counter to all the stuff
we have to get done.
But it really works,
and it helps our other work be more effective,
and our lives more abundant.

This week make time to be quiet,
and to let those worries,
those thoughts,
those concerns,
flow down the stream,
as you sit beside the spring
of the water of life.
Start with 20 minutes each day.

You can do it with images,
and meditations,
as Mary Lee is so good at leading,
or you can do it without images,
but in silence,
as we practice in Centering Prayer.
But I find that this silent time with the Lord,
is the only way that I can be freed,
from the worries,
that otherwise consume my life.

Taking time each day to still your soul,
and make it quiet,
helps you to be present to the moment,
and to seek the Kingdom of God within.
When you do that,
you will find that all of the things you need,
are given to you as well.

That's what Jesus wants us to know,
today, and everyday.
As you think about the water of baptism,
the water we will pour
over Blake Beale today,
remember your baptism,
and make a commitment to meet God,
by that spring of water,
the fountain of living water,
flowing within you
and every baptized Christian.
Make your own commitment to strive
first for the Kingdom of God,
and to strive by not striving,
but by commitment to spend time in quiet,
each day with God.


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