Ordination of Nathan Roberts. Scripture passage: Matthew 6:25-34
I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was too vivid to forget. I was at home, minding my own business, when the doorbell chimed. When I went to the door, a grocery delivery person stood there. He held out to me a white paper bag of apples someone had sent, like the kind you would get at an orchard or grocery store. Except the bag was only half full.
Who in the world would send me a bag of apples, and only half full? While I was trying to figure this out, I looked inside the bag. There, tucked beneath one of the apples, was a slip of torn notebook paper. I reached into the bag and pulled it out. Unfolding the slip, I read the one line on it, written there in pencil. “Maybe this is all there will be.” At that moment, my alarm went off and I was startled awake. What?? A half bag of apples, and “maybe this is all there will be.”
I had that dream more than ten years ago, during the fall budget season at the first congregation that I served. It came when we were trying to imagine how we might address a five-figure deficit in the church’s budget for the next year. I was swimming in these numbers, a sense of scarcity, and worries about the viability of the church when I went to bed. I woke up to a half-full bag of apples and those words: “maybe this is all there will be.”
Is there anyone here, with any history of church whatsoever, who has any experience with such worries for the future?? I’m certain that you’ve been there many times before, Nathan. How many times in the co-founding and functioning of Daylight School in Kenya did you look at the income numbers against the salary needs for teachers and food? How often have you navigated worries about the future in the operations of First Lutheran’s after-school ministry with community youth? Perhaps in your learning about White privilege and intercultural connections, perhaps in your teaching and leadership with others by these values, everything has gone without worry and without concern. But I’m guessing there have been many times when you’ve had some sleepless nights, and perhaps your own fever dreams. Anyone who is part of the tenuous project of progressive Christian community in twenty-first century America knows how many occasions there are for wonder about the future.
And yet, here is Jesus, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, speaking as though directly to our conditions and our worries. Okay, perhaps we’re not folks worried about our next meal, something to drink, or what to wear. In our best ministries (and following your lead, Nathan), we are in relationship with those who know these worries directly. But the ecclesial versions of such concerns are worries about offerings or expenses, about building repairs, community engagement, and “where are the young families at”? Jesus points to the birds of the air—see how God cares for such vast congregations, and they have no endowment funds! Consider the lilies and the grasses of the field, and how well they operate even without a functioning property committee! How much more, Jesus says, will God take care of our concerns if we release worry and entrust them to the One who knows our every need?
When we release worries over our churchy food, drink, clothing, and bodies, we have more energy then to do the work of Christ, to seek the kin-dom of God. I’m reminded of my friend Beth-Ann, who noticed something at her church’s Good Friday service earlier this month. She described to me how at the service, they carried in a giant heavy cross and in between prayers hammered three 9-inch nails part way into the cross. Then the congregation was invited to come to the cross one by one. Nearly the last of the 200+ people coming forward was a mom carrying a small boy. While they were close, this little boy tried to pull one of the big nails from the cross. Beth-Ann remarked how, “with so many people approaching the cross that little guy was the only one who tried to end the pain.” That’s what it looks like to seek the kin-dom of God, to try to end the pain when we encounter it in the world. That is the righteousness of God, and the loving justice we are called to in the church. In the worries I can imagine about the liturgy, the volunteers, and other worship concerns of that night, let us not forget to do what we can to pull out the crucifying nails.
Nathan, you have been called by God to such healing, compassionate ministry. You have been equipped for such service with training and experiences throughout your youth and adult years. Today you join colleagues and church worldwide, adopting the yoke of faithfulness to Christ and responsibility for this call. With us, you will continue to know the temptation to worry. So I commend to you the exhortation of Christ: “do not worry”, so that we can seek first the kin-dom of God and God’s righteousness. If it helps, when you reach the end of the day and are about to sleep, consider repeating what Pope John 23rd is reported to have prayed each night: “Dear God, I’ve done everything I can today. But it’s your Church, and I’m going to bed.”
There are still times in ministry when I’m more aware than ever that the bag of apples is only half full! And the slip of paper said, “Maybe this is all there will be”! But I am learning that there is another way to read that slip of paper. It begins by emphasizing the first word. Maybe this is all there will be. And maybe not. Because God is still speaking, still touching hearts, still moving us to believe in the hope of new life. Because the power of Christ is not dead in a grave, but risen from the tomb, and calling us to remove the nails as well. Because the Holy Spirit did not just blow in ancient times, but is among us in right-now times. Do not worry, Jesus tells us. Maybe this is all there will be. Or maybe this is just the beginning. I like them apples. Thanks be to God!