Memorial Service Homily, Matthew 6:25-34

 Matt 6:25-34

“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

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body more than clothing?  26 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?  27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30 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?  31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34   “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

The Little Guy and Jesus

The words we have just read are from Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount” from the gospel of Matthew.  If there are any words that capture Jesus’ perspective on life, they would be these.  Some of Jesus’ most memorable lines are here, known even to people who know little at all about Jesus otherwise.

26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns. … 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28 …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29 …yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Before he began his public ministry around the age of thirty, Jesus worked as a carpenter, we are told, like his father Joseph (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55).  Actually the term “carpenter” in those days meant builder, and applied equally to building with stone as with wood and other materials.

Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, was, in those days a tiny village – probably it had very little, if any building projects to work on.  But not far away the Roman city of Sepphoris was under construction.  It is quite likely that Jesus may have spent years of his life making the daily walk from Nazareth to Sepphoris and back each day to work.

Sepphoris has now been excavated.  You can walk down the central street, paved with the huge stones they used in the Roman era. Main street was flanked on both sides by stalls and shops as any Roman city’s central market street was.  Sepphoris had buildings with Roman style columns, large houses for the wealthy land-owners, and even a small amphitheater.

None of the elements of that city, which probably consumed most of the working hours of Jesus’ early adult life, makes its way into the images in his teaching.  He makes no references

Sepphoris
Sepphoris

to city life or city concerns, of buying, selling and commercial interests.  Rather, when Jesus stands to reflect on the meaning of life and how to live it, we hear him speak of “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field.”  You would think he spent all his time in the rural country side.

Probably no teachings of Jesus, more so than these, contribute to the popular notion of Jesus as a starry-eyed, dreamy, other-worldly, spiritual, but completely impractical, idealist.  Sure “the birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,” but real life takes hard work and lots of it.

But perhaps to be dismissive of Jesus too quickly is to fail to account for all the information, and so to mistake something deeply profound and meaningful for something shallow and irrelevant.  Could it be that Jesus consciously rejected urban imagery, choosing instead the imagery of the natural country side?  Could not his preference for “birds of the air” and “lilies of the field” rather than Roman roads and commercial districts have been intentional?

Perhaps it was the non-hierarchical flocks of birds of the air who each has enough for their daily needs and suffers under no tyranny of domination that Jesus chose precisely because of what he saw going on in the highly socially stratified Roman city.

Perhaps it was the very fact those birds “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns” that made them the object of Jesus’ reflection. Could it be possible that these were chosen as the perfect counter-point to the hoarding of surplus by the latifundia in their palatial estates, harvested by the the back-breaking, dawn-to-dusk labour of the landless peasants, the day-laborers that show up in Jesus’ parables, hired to work in the vineyards  and fields owned by others?

Perhaps it was the little guy, the person at the bottom of the heap, the one who had neither a barn nor a Solomonic wardrobe that Jesus focused his concern on.

In this way George’s concerns in life followed Jesus’.  George found himself, as his son has told me, time and again the champion of the little guy.  Watching out for the concerns of the common folk, the workers, the people whose voice was often un-heard was what mattered to him.

George came by this concern quite honestly, born the son of a coal miner. In the end, he not only provided for his own family, but also did what he could so that others could work in conditions of greater justice and fairness.  There is nothing dreamy or starry-eyed about this.  It is as this-worldly and practical as it gets.  And this was Jesus’ concern.

Some find themselves praying to the gods of the marketplace for bigger barns in which to accumulate more and more.  Some pray more modestly, “give us this day, our bread for today.”  This is the Lord’s prayer, and I believe it was George’s prayer.

Why are we here?  What is the purpose for which we are alive?  What concerns motivate us to get up in the morning and keep us up at night?  What is it that really matters?  How do we know that we have not wasted our lives in trivial pursuits?

These are the questions that come to us at each service in which we say goodbye to the one who has gone before us, not knowing who among us will cause us to gather next.

What will they say about our lives?   We cannot write the script that they will follow, but we can follow the teachings of our Lord, who summed up his vision of the life-well-lived saying:

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

George is now in a position to know fully the depth of the truth of these words.  Let us all take them to heart as we remember and give thanks for the life of our brother George.

 

 

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