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February, 26 2017

8th Sunday In Ordinary Time (A)

Rev. Richard Eslinger

After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the churches of the “Fatherland” came to a time of crisis.  A minority of Protestant pastors refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler, instead forming the “Confessing Church.”  And their confession?  It was that of the earliest New Testament church—“Jesus is Lord.”  They took as their key Scripture the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus announces “I am the good shepherd.”  There is only one Shepherd of the flock, they insisted, and that is Jesus.  Later in the brutal course of the Third Reich, many members of the Confessing Church would be persecuted or exiled.  Others would be killed.  Still, they lived and spoke out of this Word from the Lord Jesus:  “No one can serve two masters.”

      Most of the time, we get this message about the “two masters” business.  Jesus expands on his teaching—“The servant “will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”  Yes, we agree, we cannot serve two masters.  This gospel truth is woven into the entire journey of the catechumens and they will encounter it again and again during their Lenten pilgrimage.  They will gather for the Scrutinies and the Exorcisms, be delivered the apostolic faith, and we will pray for them again and again.  Finally, at their Holy Baptism during the Vigil, they will first be asked once again to renounce Satan and all his wiles and pomp and charms.  Before they can confess their allegiance and fidelity to Jesus Christ, they must renounce the evil and darkness of this world.  “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus taught.  Our catechumens will learn this lesson well as they approach the waters of their salvation.  Of course, there are those in the world who just don’t go along with this teaching.  They attempt the doomed task of “two-master serving.”  Oh they may juggle their two masters for a while—serving an addition and also serving the public, for example.  But things unravel and the ruin is right there for everyone to see.  No, even many of those worldly folks will agree that this teaching is true.  You cannot serve two masters.

      Now when it comes to our Lord’s expansion of this teaching, when he speaks about the birds in the sky and the flowers of the fields, this seems an easy second step.  “God is the creator of all things and provides for his creation.”  That seems an obvious lesson.  I mean, if God cares for the birds and the wild flowers, then shouldn’t we set aside our worry and care?  Obviously, the answer is “You betcha!”  But there is an added complexity here, one that we may not pick up.  But Jesus’ Jewish audience for the Sermon on the Mount would have spotted it.  See, not all creation was for them a thing of romance and beauty.  Some parts were; others were deeply flawed, ugly, and unclean.  So to keep everyone happy, Jesus should have added to his teaching about the birds of the sky, “Well, most of the birds, except for those unclean crows!”  People would have smiled in recognition.  And as for wild flowers, well some were pernicious weeds while others were things of beauty.  But Jesus doesn’t pause to remove the unclean birds and the nasty weeds from his groupings.  God cares for all, all birds of the sky and all the wild plants and flowers of the fields.  Our neat human categories are once again scrambled by our Lord.  Which ought to give us pause when we hear somebody talking about some group of people as if they were all unclean crows or nasty weeds to be rooted out.  Jesus proclaims God’s providence over all his creation.  There is Divine love and care for all and, conversely, “All creatures of our God and King” should give God praise.

      But then comes the problem that really hits home.  Here we are, some of those beloved creatures of our God and King and guess what?  We worry.  We fret.  We are anxious and expend so much time and energy and wealth worrying,

 

            “What are we to eat?”

            “What are we to drink?”

            “What are we to wear?”

 It seems that every other commercial on TV or the internet is asking that we buy something to take care of these worries.  Worry closes us in on ourselves, erodes our ability to serve others.  It is even unhealthy.  One recent study has discovered that almost two out of three persons who present themselves at a hospital emergency room have worry and anxiety issues at the foundation of their complaint.  But even though this sounds very much out of character, even entire parishes can become sick with worry.  They worry over the finances, about declining membership, and they fret about changes in neighborhood or in the liturgy or, well, you name it.  All of this, as Jesus was emphasizing in the Gospel of St. Matthew, gets in the way of fruitfulness.  Maybe that is why Jesus sent the Twelve in mission, but cautioned them not to take anything along—like money or clothing.  If they did, like some churches and church folks, they would soon start worrying about not having enough.  So honest to God, we do worry, we burden ourselves with care.  And the mission of Jesus Christ suffers for it.

      The alternative, you see, is the sacramental life in Christ.  Our Lord this day, in this Holy Eucharist, will provide us with all things necessary for life and for our mission in the world.  So as we conclude the Lord’s Prayer, a brief but profound petition is added:  “protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  The two are woven together.  Only by protection from all anxiety can we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  On the other hand, burdened down with worry and care, our waiting can feel endless and mostly lacking in joy.  So that brief prayer is profound.  Jesus admonishes us to set aside all worry.  And we pray for protection from all anxiety.  But then the Lord does come, as the Bread of Heaven and the Life-giving Wine.  Right here is the crux of the matter.  How can we have worry about what we shall eat and drink?  Really, the unworthy eating and drinking at this Eucharist has much to do with the burden of care and anxiety we carry with to this Holy Communion.  And as for that worry about what we shall wear, well that question will be answered for the catechumens when they arise from the waters of Baptism and are clothed with white robes in Easter joy.  So protect us from all anxiety, Lord Christ.  And feed us with yourself so we may go out to serve you and then enjoy you with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever.

 

 

 


 

 

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