Seek This First

Sunday, August 27, 2006
Rev. Scott Summerville, Asbury UMC

Matthew 6:24-34
“No one can serve two masters; for either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. [25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the 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 which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his or her span of life? [28] And why are you anxious 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 arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. [34] Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
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In the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7 we find the Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus most famous sermon. Even though he gave this sermon a long time ago, it seems that the things people worried about back then were not all that different from the things people worry about today. who is And it seems that, just like today, people tended to worry a lot.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you eat, don’t worry about what you do drink, or about your body.” Hmmm… don’t worry about your body… that seems to be a national pastime these days… how many pounds should I lose… how can I make myself look younger…I should be more beautiful…

And don’t worry about how long you’re you are going to live, he says — you can’t add to your span of life by worrying.

Don’t worry about what you wear. Here he gives this somewhat impractical advice: Look at the flowers; they’re doing just fine, and they don’t wear anything. I’m not sure how we apply that message, but in any case, he tells us to stop worrying about what covers our bodies.

Finally, he says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” That’s an odd way to end his teaching about worrying. He seems to think we will keep right on worrying tomorrow and tomorrow and the next day, which is probably true.

We need to listen carefully to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. His basic message is not to stop worrying, even though that is part of his advice. His deeper message is to tell us to start looking for something — something he calls the Kingdom of God.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness of God and all of these things shall be yours as well.” Seek the kingdom of God and you won’t have to worry about anything else. A fascinating possibility; all we have to do is find the Kingdom of God, and we unlock the secret of everything.

I’ll tell you a little secret. It’s not exactly a secret, but it’s something that you don’t often hear preachers talk about. It has to do with Jesus and his message. Students of the Bible have realized for a long time that the heart of Jesus teaching was what he called the “Kingdom of God. “

There it is right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount: he says this is the most important thing to look for, the first thing to search for — it is the key to everything: Seek first the Kingdom of God.

But here’s the strange thing: no one really knows what the Kingdom of God is. Jesus never spelled it out. He used parables to talk about it. He said it is like a person finding a lost coin and then having a celebration.

He said the Kingdom of God is like someone taking a tiny lump of yeast, sticking it into a big batch of dough, making the whole thing rise up and double in size.

He said the Kingdom of God is like planting seeds and waking in the morning and finding a field of full grown grain.

He taught us to pray daily to the Father, “Your Kingdom come.”

He said those who receive the kingdom must receive it as a little child.

He never provided a direct explanation of what the Kingdom of God is. He taught us — he teased us — with his parables, but he never said in ordinary words: this is what it is. He always said it is like this… it is like that. But just what is it?

Conventional thinking would say: the Kingdom of God is a happy place you go when you die, if you are right with God. That is one theory. But Jesus did not generally speak of death in connection with the Kingdom of God. Rather, in Jesus’ parables the Kingdom of God has something to do with the joy of discovery, the thrill of finding something that is lost, joyfully entering a new dimension of reality.

You may wish to wait until you die to go looking for it, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Don’t wait until you die to start living — that would be a shame. Jesus said, look for the Kingdom of God today, instead of what you are doing, which is worrying about tomorrow.

I’ve been preaching for a long time. I think I’ve preach more sermons and Jesus did. Even so, I can’t tell you exactly what the Kingdom of God is. I can’t even tell you exactly how you should go about finding it.

Can you imagine a TV evangelist preaching to one of those crowds of 10,000 souls, saying, “The heart of the message of Jesus Christ is the Kingdom of God, but he wasn’t real clear with us about what the Kingdom of God is, and I’m not so sure I know either.” There is not a lot of humility and religion these days. One group outdoes the other in declaring that it knows it all.

“… Do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles [that’s us] seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. ”

The only way I can talk about the Kingdom of God is the way Jesus did, with parables of my own. I invite you to look for the parables in your life; they are right there before your eyes.

Almost exactly seven years ago, a homeless couple wandered the streets of a city somewhere in China. That day, almost exactly seven years ago, the woman gave birth to a daughter. The daughter was born not only homeless but with a cleft palate. No one will ever know the names of the parents or the name they gave this child, because when their child was a month old they abandoned her at hospital. It was the coloration of the child’s skin, characteristic of exposure to the elements, that was the sign of the humble origins of her parents. Basic surgery was performed on the child’s palette, but complete restoration by plastic surgery was not attempted.

So another life came to be among the billions of lives that have come to be on the surface of a small planet circling a small sun in an average sized galaxy somewhere in the middle of everywhere.

In the current edition of the church newsletter, I have placed an article written by a scientist, V. V. Raman. It is a brief article, simple and profound. It is one scientist’s attempt to speak of the relationship between science and religion. He says this about science:

“Science assumes that the external matter and energy aspect of the world — from which the human brain is formed …….is primary. From the scientific perspective, we are inconsequential glitches in the stretch of cosmic history. We emerged through random processes and we will disappear through astral fading, if not through colossal blunders of our own.”

Yes, indeed, we are inconsequential glitches in the stretch of cosmic history… from the standpoint of scientific observation.

A little girl deposited in a hospital by her homeless parents somewhere in China – a human being could hardly be a more inconsequential glitch in that. The child was adopted by an American woman a year ago; now she lives in New Jersey. She goes in the summer to Ocean Grove and attends the summer program put on by the Methodists. She had never met Methodists before.

When she was adopted her new mother took her to a hotel swimming pool. She had never seen a hotel or a swimming pool. Fortunately her mother spoke Chinese. Her mom asked her in Chinese, “Can you swim?” The little girl answered, in Chinese, “Yes!” Her mom got into the pool in chest deep water and held her arms open. The little girl immediately jumped into the water where her mother stood. She went straight to the bottom like a rock. She came up spurting and gasping. She did not know how to swim. She had never been swimming before, but she had been willing to surrendered herself to the moment in total trust of the woman who had come to be her mother, after five years waiting in an orphanage. Total trust. Total trust of one being for another.

The same scientist, V. V. Raman, tells us that science is not the only perspective for seeing the world. He goes on to say:

“From the religious perspective, consciousness is primary, because all the light and color, beauty and magnificence of the world are only in human heads. The symmetry and fragrance, sweetness and melody are part of the universe only because of us. Without consciousness there can be no poetry or mathematics, no art or science. We are the ones who light up the universe and detect or infuse meaning and majesty in the world. Without us, planets and stars, waves and vibrations would be cast in one dark, dismal abyss, unnoticed and unsung for all of eternity.”

An intriguing thought: “ We are the ones who light up the universe and detect or infuse meaning and majesty in the world….”

Are we a bunch of inconsequential glitches in the universe, or are we the very beings who notice and light up the universe with our awareness and our wonder?

Two weeks ago, I was walking along the sidewalk with a friend of mine, heading toward the beach at the Jersey shore. Walking between us was a skinny little girl, seven years old with straight black hair. Every now and then she would say, “Swing me! Swing me!” She would grab my left hand and my friend’s right hand, and pull hard as we raised our arms and lifted her high off the ground, her legs kicking, as she cried out, “Higher! Higher!” From time to time, she would try to hitch a ride. “Pick me up! Pick me up!” she would say.

I would lift her up and she would smile a big smile — this happy child. Her face was radiant, beautiful; signs of a cleft palate still visible, but that does not seem to bother this little girl.

How strange it seemed and wonderful: this little being, this meaningless glitch in the universe, an anonymous package left on the counter in a hospital on the other side of the planet, now says to me, “Pick me up!” and gives joy to my life.

In her eyes, and in her joy, and in the strange improbability of our coming to know one another, I think I see it: the Kingdom of God. But I couldn’t prove that.

Scientist will never discover the Kingdom of God. Science looks upon the external matter and energy aspect of the world. The Kingdom of God is not an external thing of matter and energy.

From the scientific perspective, we are inconsequential glitches in the stretch of cosmic history. From the scientific perspective we can probe the outer limits of the universe and never find a place called the Kingdom of God.

From the Jesus perspective, we are perpetually anxious, and we can choose to remain perpetually anxious, or we can choose to be seekers of something mysterious and knowable only to the human heart: the Kingdom of God.

Those who seek first the Kingdom of God in the inconsequential things of everyday life are those who will come to know what the wise scientist meant who said:

“ We are the ones who light up the universe and detect or infuse meaning and majesty in the world. Without us, planets and stars, waves and vibrations would be cast in one dark, dismal abyss, unnoticed and unsung for all of eternity.”

I wish I could tell you exactly what the Kingdom of God is… if I knew exactly what it is….

but then you would not need to look for it yourself.

So keep looking.

Peace to you.

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