What did you want to be when you “grew up?”
I wanted to be a doctor. There was no doubt in my mind. When I was young, I used to get tonsillitis all the time so I was in the doctor’s office far more often than most kids my age. But I got to know my pediatricians very well – Dr. Thom and Dr. Crehan. Dr. Thom was “sturdy” and Dr. Crehan was tall and rail thin and he had these big cheekbones that made him always look happy. They looked different, but they were the same in temperament. Calm, caring, trustworthy men who helped other people get better. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people like they helped me. I held onto that dream for quite a long time and even entered UCLA on the pre-med track. But it only took me until Chem 11B to realize I wasn’t going to fulfill it. It was the second midterm of the quarter and I sat in my chair along with the 200 or so other students piled into the classroom. After the instructor passed out the midterms, I opened it up and looked at the questions and realized – I didn’t know one single answer. It was the most awful feeling in the world. I must have studied all of the wrong material, but I literally didn’t know one answer on the test. So I put my name at the top of each page and sat quietly for about 30 minutes. Then I got up and walked to the front of the class to turn it in. It made me feel a little better. There was an audible sound like a gasp as I placed my paper on the desk. Nearly everyone in the class looked up and this one person looked at me with something like horror in his eyes that he wasn’t going to be the one to crush the curve THIS time. I walked out. Thankfully, we got to drop our worst grade, but I still ended up with a “C” in the class and knew that my plans on being a doctor were pretty much over.
I don’t know many people who ended up doing what they thought they would when they “grew up.”
We think about all sorts of things – being an astronaut, a movie star, or a great musician. We think about being the quarterback on our favorite team at the Super Bowl or being the pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series. But even for people who make it that far, I doubt it’s exactly what they thought it would be. It might be fun, it might be challenging, it might even be fulfilling, but I doubt it’s what they thought it would be when they were little. The reality of life is quite different than the vision we have for it. We want it to end with the phrase “and they lived happily ever after.” But when does life ever end up in such a neat and tidy bow? Isn’t each and every day filled with it’s own set of challenges? My favorite book, other than the Bible, is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The book is not only heartwarming and incredibly funny but it has a most unique ending. While fairy tale books usually end with some version of “…and they lived happily ever after,” Goldman did something more interesting. He wrote, “However, this was before Inigo’s wound reopened; and Westley relapsed again; and Fezzik took the wrong turn; and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit…” And then Goldman interjected into the story as he did for most of the book and he said, “I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.” We spend so much of our lives believing that if we only make enough money, or only achieve the next milestone, or only find the “right” person whatever that may be, that THEN we would find our own “happily ever after.” We pour so much of ourselves into these pursuits without ever wondering if perhaps, just maybe, these were the wrong pursuits. That maybe our focus should be inward and upward instead of outward. Maybe our focus should be inward and upward instead of outward.
Jesus talks about this with us in our passage today from Matthew.
If you have your Bible or a Bible app on your phone, go to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6 beginning with verse 25. Matthew 6:25. In this chapter, Jesus is continuing his Sermon on the Mount in what scholars call the “discourse on ostentation.” I just like saying that. Discourse on ostentation. Which is just a fancy way of saying Jesus talks about how it is NOT cool to put on a pretentious display just to impress others. He gives three examples of the kind of showing off he’s warning us against – giving, praying, and fasting. Giving, praying, and fasting. He tells the crowd not to give so that you get recognized for your generosity or pray so that others will admire your piety or fast so that others will notice your sacrifice, because it cheapens and demeans these actions. Christ tells them after each example, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Meaning that’s it for them. The admiration and adulation they get from doing those things is all their actions are worth. Because their concern is only of this world and their hearts are focused on this world, then their reward will also only be of this world. And then Jesus closes this talk with the passage we are going to share today. So please rise as you are able and join me as we read from Matthew 6, verses 25 to 34. Hear now the Word of God.
25 “Therefore I tell you, 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, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
Where is the focus of your life?
Is it on God or is it on other things? The issues Jesus talks about here are basic necessities of life – clothing, food, and drink. It isn’t about the extraneous things like career advancement or storing up a nest egg or building your reputation. It’s about the basics and even in the basics, Jesus tells us not to worry, not to spend our energy and time on these things but instead to “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (the things that are necessary for life) will be given to you as well.” Hard to do. I mean it seems a bit unwise to say not to worry about where you will get your next meal or if you’ll have clothes to wear. But that is the counter-intuitive nature of God. The answers we are looking for are not from the outside, but from within and above. Jesus talks about the beauty of the flowers of the field compared to the finest clothes Solomon ever wore and said that nothing he wore could compare to the beauty of those flowers. Solomon was extremely rich. He could have afforded the best, but it was still nothing compared to the beauty that God could create. And that’s where we need to dig deeper. Jesus isn’t saying, “Trust in me and I’ll buy you better clothes than Solomon.” He isn’t saying, “Believe in me and I will make you clothes better than the flowers in the field.” What Christ is telling us is that when we put God first in our lives he can create a beauty within us that far surpasses anything we could buy or make. No face lifts or tummy tucks can compare to the beauty we feel INSIDE when our first priority in life is God. Because what happens is that we stop seeking validation from the outside world and instead rest comfortably knowing that we are enough for God. When we grow in our faith enough to trust that God loves us truly and that God will provide for us ultimately, that is when we will actually fulfill our potential.
We need to live lives of INTENTION not CONVENTION.
We need to live lives of intention not convention. Meaning that we need to stop living by the standards of the world and instead live into the way that God created for us; to go against what the world tells us is important and focus instead on the things that really are important – love, life, community, and Christ. I can’t help but continue to reflect on Jeremiah 29:11 where God tells us that he knows the plans he has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. Are we trusting in that promise? Are we truly believing what God says? Because here’s the thing. It does take a certain amount of faith to be able to pull this off. It takes a certain amount of trust in God to live a life free from the worries of the world. But if we are able to achieve that, then we can achieve anything because we are not hindered by what the world thinks of us. We are not worried about what others think. And our own sense of value isn’t limited by the standards of the world, but instead by a whole different rule book that belongs solely to God. If you think you’re life will be fulfilling only AFTER something happens on this earth – like losing weight or making money or becoming famous – then you’ll always be disappointed. But if you do as Jesus says and “seek first his kingdom,” then you are on the right road to uncovering the great promise God has for your life. It isn’t easy. You will fail at times. But it is worth it.
If you’ll allow me one more movie reference.
I was thinking about the movie Cool Runnings when writing this sermon. If you don’t know, it’s the movie based on the real life story of the first Jamaican bobsled team to enter the Olympics. There was a scene between Irv, the coach who himself had been an Olympian but had cheated to win and Derice, the captain of the Jamaican team. Derice’s goal was to win an Olympic gold medal. In his mind, he believed that if he could achieve that goal, his whole life would be deemed successful so when he didn’t make the team in the 100m dash, he turned his attention to bobsledding. He was so singularly focused that he was willing to do most anything to achieve that goal including losing the essence of who he was. One night, before the big time trial they needed to pass to make it to the Olympics, Derice is sitting in his room going over the course layout and Irv comes by to see if he needed anything and Derice tells him there is one thing. He wanted to know why Irv cheated in the Olympics. And Irv tells him, “It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?” Derice answered, “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.” And Irv says to him, “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” And that’s what God wants us to realize. No amount of whatever the world has to offer will ever give you real happiness. Real happiness can only come from inside and above, not from outside. When we realize that, we are truly on the way to experiencing God’s promise for our lives. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.