The last time I preached on this subject was at my daughter Marina’s graduation from St Andrews University. I had been invited to preach by the Chaplain, delighted that someone would take some of the burden of preaching at all the graduation services. He was always on the look out for some graduating student whose father or mother was a vicar!
To prepare, I asked Marina what was the angst amongst her cohort of students. And she said that they were concerned about whether they would ever have fun again. They were facing years of hard work in their chosen professions.
So I decided to preach on this passage and entitled it, relying on a song, by Lily Allen ‘Don’t be taken over by the fear’.
And of course that title appeared in the service sheet for her graduation service….
on Brexit morning. Don’t be overtaken by the fear….
The acting Vice Principal said that he had never paid so much attention to this scripture before as he did that morning as he started to think through the consequences for his university and him personally of the UK withdrawing from the EU.
So that was 24th June 2016. Now we face the outworking of that decision of the British people. In March next year….very soon. A decision which will have a profound impact:
On everything that we produce: from agricultural products to financial services
On everything that we consume: food, clothes, everything
And on everything that keeps us feeling secure: our investments, the value of our houses, our pensions….
Will we face mounting queues of lorries at Dover?
Will food prices soar?
Will house prices collapse, creating negative equity for numerous people with mortgages?
There seems to be a lot for us all to be worried about: Every reason for consternation
Every reason to be taken over by the fear…
But can I suggest an antidote?
The one unchanging centre point of everything. The solution for fear about the future: Jesus Christ.
Getting to know Jesus Christ and being dependent upon him is the antidote to the fear.
And Jesus says in the scripture we have just read ‘don’t worry’. He says look at the birds of the air consider the lilies of the field. God provides for them and he will provide for you.
Theologian Michael Green says that worry is ‘practical atheism’. So if we are believers in Jesus Christ we should not be worrying….
But it is quite difficult for us to contemplate that we should be fully reliant upon God, 12000 years of history argues against this. You see about 12000 years ago, we human beings moved from being hunter gatherers to being farmers. This is known as the Neolithic revolution. In a way, you could see our past as hunter gatherers as a Garden of Eden. A time when humanity needed to be and would have been….entirely dependent upon God: would the antelope stand still long enough for us to spear it? Would the berries still be on the trees when we went to look for them? Nothing was stored. Everything was hunted or gathered: Everything dependent upon God: What God did for us that day would provide food for us that evening or not….Just like the birds of the air…
With the introduction of agriculture, there came the harvest which we celebrate today. There came storage of food stuffs. There came exchange and money. There came civilization…..and religious ritual
But to some extent, there was a loss. Full barns meant reliance upon what man had worked for, but a loss of dependence on God.
But even so for thousands of years there was still the fear that the harvest might fail…would there be enough food to feed everyone throughout the winter?
Remember until 1954 only two years before I was born, we had food rationing in this country. A good domestic harvest was a cause of considerable celebration.
Our harvest festival celebrates getting that harvest in….What a relief!
Thank you GOD!
Do we feel that relief? Unless you are one of our farmers; probably not
Perhaps with globalisation, we have travelled to the extreme end of that trend upon which humanity has been travelling for 12000 years – a trend away from dependence on God for our daily food to dependence on what we have stored in bigger and bigger barns as we have got better and better, more and more efficient at producing food, manipulating nature and transporting what we want around the world to the extent that we entirely take it for granted that Waitrose, the Coop and Aldi shelves will always be full of the food that we want, regardless of season.
We are complacent…even though our food always delivered just in time. Perhaps most of us have lost any sense of our dependence upon successful harvests because of our global efficient distribution systems.
Even though, in 2008 Lord Cameron of Dillington, a former farmer and chief of the government Countryside Agency was reported as speculating that we are only ever ‘nine meals away from anarchy’. That three days of no supplies, even no supply of one commodity like petrol and we would have a total collapse in society. And yet many of us are completely complacent about being able to get food whenever we want it.
But maybe Brexit will in some way rebalance things and help us to learn the importance of relying on God for our harvest; for our food production. Perhaps Brexit will lead us to be more focused on celebrating a successful harvest and being grateful for our domestic farmers.
Jesus would say that we need to replace our complacency not with worry but with dependence on him. Perhaps a Brexit crisis will be the most important thing that has happened to this country from a spiritual perspective in living memory…
Because Jesus says 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?
Because our value, our happiness, our joy should not be dependent upon what we can or cannot get at Waitress but on Jesus…
We should replace our consternation, we should replace our complacency, with confidence…
Michael Green tells a story about a 14th century German mystic called Johann Tauler which encapsulates what Jesus wants for us his disciples.
One day Tauler met a beggar. ‘God give you a good day, my friend,’ he said. The beggar answered, ‘I thank God I never had a bad one.’ Then Tauler said, ‘God give you a happy life, my friend. ’‘I thank God’, said the beggar, ‘that I am never unhappy.’ In amazement Tauler asked, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well,’ said the beggar, ‘when it is fine I thank God. When it rains I thank God. When I have plenty I thank God. When I am hungry I thank God. And, since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases him, pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?’
Tauler looked at the man in astonishment. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am a king,’ said the beggar.‘Where, then, is your kingdom?’ asked Tauler.
The beggar replied quietly, ‘In my heart.’
25 “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? 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.