Stumbling Blocks of Faith: Hurry Scurry

Matthew 6:25-34
November 18, 2012

“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? 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? And why do you worry about clothing? 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? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

            Years ago the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said something that’s not only deeply profound psychologically, but also theologically, biblically, and spiritually. He said, Hurry is not of the devil. Hurry is the devil.”

            I can’t think of a better summary of our passage for this morning than this one. Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In essence, Jesus is saying, “Slow down. Remain calm. Don’t get caught up in ‘what ifs.’” Don’t be in such a rush to do this and that because when you do, you create the conditions in which we become easily pulled off of our center in God.”

            Still, the problem is that we do worry, and we worry about so much: We worry that we won’t get there on time, that we won’t have enough time, that we won’t finish in time, that we won’t start on time, that we won’t end on time, that we’re running out of time, that we aren’t scheduling enough time, that nobody appreciates our time, that we can’t be in two places at the same time, that people demand too much of our time, and that everyone around us—from kids to work to friends to church—demand too much of our time.

            We are a worried bunch, and how we respond to the demands on our time determines the extent to which we not only worry, but in the end the extent to which we are open to God.

            There’s a way of life that Christ calls us to that has to do with how we use our time, but it is incredibly hard for modern Americans. We Americans are the busiest people in the developed world. Studies consistently show this. And almost as an underscoring of this point, when I got up this morning I found an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that read pretty much like a background study for this sermon. The op-ed piece, “Relax, take a vacation, be more Canadian,” written by Charles Kenney (a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development), says that Americans work the hardest and have the least amount of leisure time of any country in the developed world. His statistics show that we are marginally more productive as a result, but our long hours significantly reduce our ability to do well in the other parts of our lives such as family life and personal life. I would add also, our spiritual lives. We may consider ourselves to be a Christian nation, but in a lot of ways we violate Christ’s teachings to become more balanced and centered.

            We've created an Americanized Christianity that isn't able to see how non-Christian we often are. We've created a Christianity that sees success as having to do with quantities such as wealth, size, and popularity, rather than with qualities such as centeredness, generosity, and love. We've created a Christianity where what seems to matter is how busy and productive we are. For example, you remember the phrase, “idle hands are the devil’s playground”? I don’t think that this phrase really reflects the view of our passage for today. In fact, I think this phrase would be more apt: “centered, praying hands are the angel’s playground.”

            A large part of the Christian faith has always been about taking time reflection, prayer, contemplation, and for activities that slow us down so that we can think about life and about what matters. This does not mean that we're not allowed to be successful, productive, or active. It means that were called to root our success in first listening to God. And the fact is that when we are always in a hurry, we can't listen to God very well.

            One of the things I’ve been talking about in our mystics class is a way of life that has been lost among modern Christians. It’s a way of life grounded in prayer, contemplation, and centering as a foundation to our doing. It’s the kind of life Jesus lived. When we think of Jesus, we tend to think of him as being incredibly busy. He was always going here or there to heal, teach, preach, or do. He traveled miles and miles to do his ministry. It seems like he was so BUSY,… except he wasn’t always. Because we read the gospels with American eyes, we miss the fact that Jesus took a lot of time for rest, reflection, and recreation (with the emphasis on re-Creation).

            After he was baptized by the Holy Spirit, he didn’t go off on a work junket. He went into the desert, which, in the ancient Jewish tradition, was a place for fasting, prayer, and centering in God. He was constantly going off to a place to pray before and after preaching, teaching, and healing. In fact, some of the most important things he did were in the process of going off to pray. The sermon on the plain in Luke takes place because Jesus is going off on his own to pray, and turns around to preach to folks in order to get them to leave him alone. Imagine that,… preaching to get people to go away. He walks on water after the disciples take off without him when he was off on his own to pray. When he faced crucifixion, he went off to the garden to pray. He was able to let go of his worries because instead of rushing off to do something, he wandered off to pray.

            Gordon MacDonald, a well-known evangelical preacher, said that he learned the lesson on centering and prayer as the foundation for work when he visited Switzerland thirty years ago. While hiking in the meadows he noticed farmers cutting grass for hay with scythes. They would but for ten minutes, and then sit down for five minutes. They consistently repeated this pattern. He wondered, “wouldn’t they be more productive if they just kept on cutting?” He got his answer while talking to another farmer. They weren’t wasting time. When they stopped, they were sharpening their blades and restoring their bodies. They were actually more productive by stopping than they would have by continuing.

            In a similar way, our taking time for centering restores and sharpens us for the rest of our lives. But we worry that this time is unproductive. I discovered how true this is through a story a friend of mine told me. He’s a Lutheran pastor, and he said that early on in his ministry he had a practice if starting his day with 30 minutes of prayer in the church sanctuary. One morning the secretary interrupted him while he was praying, and told him that one of the members wanted to speak to him. The pastor told her that he’d be done in ten minutes. The secretary came back and said that the man was insistent that he be met NOW. The pastor said that he told her to wait for another 5 minutes. The man was so upset with the pastor that he brought it up as an issue at the next church council meeting, telling the council that they needed to do something about this because the pastor “should pray on his own time. On church time his responsibility was to be available when members needed him.” My friend learned his lesson—pray at home. But that’s an awful lesson to learn, and one that’s not rooted in the gospels, nor in our passage for today.

            The Christian life isn’t about busyness, it’s about openness, and we cannot be entirely open to God if we are too busy. That’s the whole point of Sabbath. The ancient practice of taking a Sabbath day was to have a day where absolutely no work is done. They ancient Jews took it a bit overboard, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath because technically it was work, no matter how miraculous it was. Still, there was an understanding that we need time for centering to make sure that we are grounded in God.

            We are called to be active, but to be active with a base—a foundation. This foundation is time spent in rest, reflection, and recreation. Do you have this kind of foundation?