19 Pentecost C—9/25/16
Job 39:1-8,26-30; Psalm 104:14-23; 1 Cor. 1:10-23; Luke 12:22-31
Pr. Scott Kramer
One of the headline news stories this past week had nothing to do with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The news is that Rialto has a new home! Rialto, in case you don’t know, is the baby sea otter who was found on Rialto Beach along the Washington coast. This little guy was almost dead when some big-hearted humans rescued him and gradually nursed back to health at the Seattle Aquarium. Earlier this week he was finally transferred to his permanent home at the aquarium in Vancouver, BC.
Today we’re wrapping up a month of Sundays called the Season of Creation. The first week we pondered oceans, the second week storms, last Sunday the entire universe, and this Sunday is a good fit for the story of a rescued baby sea otter because our focus is the animal part of God’s kingdom.
Over and over Jesus leads us for spiritual inspiration not so much to what is big or powerful or even religious but to what is small, ordinary and often overlooked. Children, for example: Let the little children come unto me, and do not hinder them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. And on another occasion, Unless you change and become like children you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus takes what is simple, humble, and ordinary in the natural world and says, “Let this be your teacher.” In today’s gospel reading, he offers this bit of wisdom: Consider the otters of the sea. They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Or, consider the ravens. And even the plant kingdom, Consider the lilies, 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.
Jesus leads us for spiritual inspiration not so much to what is big and powerful and religious but to what is small, ordinary and often overlooked.
And yet, I have a few questions. What does he mean when he says animals don’t have to work for their food? I saw a nature show this past week in which we were told that a lion catches its prey only once out of every ten attempts. That’s a lot of work! And what does Jesus mean when he says flowers don’t have to work for their food? Have you ever seen time-lapse footage of a plant as it emerges from the soil and sends down roots, stretches its stems and leaves, and unfolds its flowers? What about photosynthesis, turning light into food? Seems like plants also work hard for what they have!
Jesus was not big on modern science, since there was no such thing in his day! So I wonder if there’s something deeper that he’s teaching us 2000 years later that connects more with the world in which we live. How about this: Do not keep striving…and do not keep worrying…Instead, strive for his kingdom.
What, for example, might Rialto the baby sea otter teach us in 2016? Well, what do you notice about animal behavior in general? One thing I notice in animals is the same thing I notice in human babies: their ability to focus on one thing. When a sea otter eats, it really eats! When it sleeps, it really sleeps! When it plays, it really plays! I have never once seen a baby sea otter, any other animal, or a human baby watch TV, listen to music, check e-mail, talk on the phone and eat a meal all at the same time!
Most of us most of the time don’t do all these things at the same time. But we certainly do multi-task! It’s so ingrained in our society that we think of it as normal. Many of us take pride in such activity. Even those who feel overwhelmed by a to-do list might wear their busyness as a badge of pride, as affirmation and confirmation of their importance in the world, or, maybe simply as a way of keeping fear, emptiness and loneliness at a distance. If you have enough noise and activity in your life you can keep the pain away…for a little while, anyway.
Jesus instructs us to take plants and animals and children as our spiritual examples and guides. Animals and children naturally tend to be full of life and full of energy, as God created us to be. If they’re scattered or distracted, it probably has something to do with a grown-up nearby.
It is hard not to be distracted, isn’t it! Yesterday after picking up groceries at Fred Meyer I was driving home and thinking about today’s readings. All of a sudden about halfway home I suddenly thought, “I don’t remember putting the groceries in the car!” So I pulled off Rainier Avenue South, got out, went to the trunk, and opened it up. Well, the groceries were there. So I had to laugh. Here I was, planning a sermon on mindfulness, on paying attention to the present moment, doing one thing at a time, and I couldn’t even remember putting the groceries in the car five minutes before!
Do not keep striving and worrying, Jesus says. Don’t be distracted, even for the sake of a sermon! To be striving or worrying by definition means that our attention is not in the present moment or the immediate task at hand. Sea otters and other creatures in their world live with plenty of challenges but focusing on one thing in the present moment doesn’t seem to be a problem for them. What can you learn from these humble creatures? Jesus asks.
Or, we might ask, “What are the consequences of not living in the present moment, of being distracted by either the past or the future?”
There are physical consequences, as we’re aware. An article in the paper this past week featured a study showing a correlation between anxiety in men and incidence of cancer. Well, this is nothing new. We know that our bodies and physical health are not immune from stress and worry. We know that our judgment and decision-making ability becomes impaired. Even when we think we have it handled, there’s always a price to be paid for a divided mind, or a distracted heart.
If you need to strive, Jesus teaches, forget about impressing other people. Forget about packing it all in before you die. If you need to strive, strive for the kingdom of God. And if you wonder what the kingdom of God is, here’s a hint: According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is populated by children. It’s a place where lilies and ravens and sea otters are our teachers.
That kingdom is not in some far off place, in a different time. It is here and it is now. It is all around us to see and to learn from…and to imitate!