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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Consider the Lilies

Jesus teaches us that there is a creational rhythm that undergirds our life together. We have all we need within ourselves because God created us this way. With God’s help, we can embody this rhythm and live as the creatures God created us to be.

Vicar Anna Helgen
   Day of Thanksgiving, year B
   texts: Matthew 6:25-34

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” These words have always meant a lot to me, even before I knew it. Back in 9th grade, I picked this verse as my confirmation verse. I don’t remember what my confirmation class did with these verses, other than including them in the stoles we made out of felt and puff paint, but I know that this verse was meaningful to me. It comforted me as a teenager, and even more so now.

I’ve always been a worrier. In 5th grade I was a part of a synchronized swimming community group. As I held my breath under water and flailed my legs in the air, I’d sob with worry that my mom would forget to pick me up. A few years later, I’d worry about leaving my family for my first week away at summer camp. Now I worry about lots of things. I worry about the weather when I’m on a canoe trip, constantly assessing the clouds in the sky to see if any look ominous. I worry about my family--about their health and their happiness. And I worry about my life, too. That I can find balance and peace. That I can maintain connections with friends as they move to new places. That everything will work out.

Worry gets in the way. It lingers in our brains and tricks us into focusing on something that does not demand the attention we eventually give it. We worry about real problems, but also potential problems, creating worst-case scenarios so that we’re prepared for whatever might come our way. Ultimately, though, worry separates us from others. It hinders our relationships with God and with each other so that all we are left with is ourselves and our worry. If you’ve been there before, you know it is not a good place to be.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus tells those gathered around him not to worry about anything--not life, not food, not drink, not clothing. While these may not be our specific concerns and worries, I think we can still learn a lot from our friend Jesus.

“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Jesus invites us to see nature, to really see these creatures as they live in the world. The birds don’t stockpile their food; they receive what God gives them. Likewise the lilies don’t obsess about what they’ll look like in the future; instead they grow and bloom into beautiful creations. Jesus points us to creation because creatures like birds and lilies live without worry. They live as God created them to be!

When I worked as a canoe guide at Wilderness Canoe Base near the Boundary Waters, I learned to worry about the weather. I say learn because I didn’t know going into this job that the weather would be one of my daily concerns. I didn’t know how much space it would take up in my brain or how it would keep me from enjoying the experience of the wilderness. I came to be known as the guide who always went on trail when it was raining. And with the rain came wind, thunder, lightning, and, you got it: worry. Before I’d leave for five days in the wilderness, my friend Emma, another guide at camp, would reassure me, “Anna. You can do this. You are a canoe guide.”

Well, there I was. On another trip. Six youth, one high school volunteer from camp named Rachel, whom I used to babysit, an adult advisor, and me: Canoe Guide Anna. We arrived at a very large lake, Lake Gabimichigami. It was over a mile across and we needed to paddle to the other side to get to our next portage. Per usual, it was raining. And windy. And there were huge waves. Huge. Our canoes were already beginning to fill with water. My worry took over. I couldn’t think. I felt sick. My brain went to those worst case scenarios... My campers will surely capsize and end up in the water. Our sleeping bags and tents will be soaked. We’ll never get warm. I won’t be able to start a fire. And so on.

With the help of Rachel, the one I used to babysit, I was pulled from my anxiety and soon figured out how to deal with the task at hand. She reminded me that I was a canoe guide, that I had been trained for this, and that I had the resources within myself to get through this situation. I realized I didn’t need to worry; I could instead act and carry out my responsibilities as Canoe Guide Anna. We got our four canoes together along the water’s edge, hopped out of our boats, and walked them along the shoreline to our next portage. It took forever and I’m sure we covered way more than a mile in distance, but it worked, and no one swamped their canoe. We survived.

I still return to the Boundary Waters. And I still worry. But little by little, I have come to see the weather as simply a part of God’s creation, living the only way it knows how, releasing energy into the atmosphere as it was designed to do. And it certainly helps to go with some trusted companions on the journey, those friends who can bring you back to reality and remind you that you’ve done this before.

As Jesus invites us to look to creation to manage our worry, we are led back to our Creator, to God who provides all that we need so that we can live the way God wants for us to live and as the creatures God created us to be. I find comfort that there is a Creator behind all this--a Creator who brought all into being and guides us in our efforts to be who God made us to be. A God who cares about relationship. Not only does this comfort me in times of creational chaos, but also in my daily life.

Sometimes we might need a friend to bring us out of our own anxiety and worry and to remind us of our gifts. Sometimes it happens through prayer and other practices that lead us back into relationship with God. When worry is out of the picture, we’re able to tend to our relationships with others and especially with God. Jesus teaches us today that there is a creational rhythm that undergirds our life together. We have all we need within ourselves because God created us this way, and with God’s help, we can embody this rhythm and live as the creatures God created us to be. God made us for this life.

This leads us to rejoice. Without worry, we can celebrate each day, live completely in each moment, embrace who we are fully, and give thanks to our Creator. By rejoicing we give thanks to God: for relationship, for life, for creation, for all that is good.

Today is a good day to rejoice. It’s Thanksgiving! It’s a day to be thankful and to live in gratitude for the gifts God gives us. I am especially thankful for a warm bed, a loving family, friends who remind us of our gifts, and creatures that teach us how to live fully as God intends for us to live.

So look at the birds of the air today. Or consider the lilies of the field. And then, be glad and rejoice! For God has done great things!


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