A Wrinkle in God’s Hand
Isaiah 49:1-16a Matthew 6:24-34
8th Sunday after Epiphany February 27, 2011
God knows you. God knows all about you - your likes and dislikes, when you are feeling happy, when you are sad, when you are angry and when you are sick. God knows what you need and when you need it, whether it be comfort or nourishment or a shoulder to cry on. God knows you better than anyone else could ever possibly know you. Maybe God even knows you better than you know yourself? Now there is a thought. The image that has stayed with me most persistently in this morning’s readings is that of us being inscribed on God’s hand. That is pretty personal, to know that God cares enough about us to do this. Wherever God goes, we are there, carried as a reminder that we exist. We are loved. We are alive. We simply are. Awhile back, a colleague and I were talking about communion and how we liked to celebrate communion in our churches. The details of that conversation are fuzzy at this point, except for one aspect. I remember that he spoke of taking the time to look at each person’s hands when he served them the bread. He said he could tell a lot about a person from their hands - whether they were worn or smooth, old or young, soft or rough - all of those things told him something about the person whose hands they were. This makes me wonder about God’s hands and the thought that all of us are somehow written on God’s hands. We are all a part of who God is, a part of God’s identity. But this is not just a matter of course. It is more than just the way it is. The fact that we are inscribed on God’s hands is an intentional act on God’s part. It means that God has taken us on and intends to take care of us throughout our lives. The Isaiah reading stands as a testament to this care-taking, quoting God as saying; “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.” With God on our side, watching out for us, all will be well. No matter how difficult things have been, the rough patches will smooth out eventually, and we will discover that we have survived. We made it through, thanks to God’s help and guidance. The final images given to us in today’s reading from Isaiah are ones that may come as a surprise to some folks. In them God is compared to a nursing mother as well as a pregnant woman. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” Most mothers, we would agree, could never forget their child, and yet, just in case the example is still a little precarious for us in terms of feeling safe and protected, Isaiah quotes God as saying, “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Wow! That is pretty powerful, if you ask me.
And now comes the second part of this morning’s pair of readings. Matthew’s gospel calls into question our commitment to God. “No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” So if we say we want to serve God, but we hold onto our fear of not having enough money or food or whatever else we think of as necessary to life, then are we really serving God? What is our level of commitment? Do we really understand what Jesus is talking about here? Serving God cannot be a hobby. It can’t be something we do when we have a little spare time, or if we have a free weekend. Serving God has to be done full time, or it will cause problems for us. If we attempt to serve God on the side, then we will end up giving short shrift to something in our lives; and it will most likely be our faith. The examples of other things we could serve, aside from wealth, are different than we might have expected, however. It is interesting too, because I think we often do focus on the choice between serving God or serving wealth.. But Jesus talks about the fact that if we even worry about things, this shows we really do not trust God to provide for us. If we worry about our clothes or about having enough food to put on the table, we are selling God short. We are showing that we don’t trust God to take care of us in these kind of tangible ways.
Two of the people I know who trusted God totally in these terms were a young couple who were in graduate school when I met them. They lived on a very small income. I think the woman took care of children in their home while the man went to graduate school. He might have been a teaching assistant as well. They made very little money, as you might imagine, but they had a system that told me everything I needed to know about where they put their trust. Paychecks were divided into envelopes marked for groceries, rent, clothes, school supplies, and whatever else they might have needed. But the envelope that impressed me was the one labeled “tithe.” This was the 10% they set aside to give away. Each month they sat down at their tiny kitchenette table and counted out the money in that envelope and decided how to give it away. I was there visiting them one afternoon as they were doing this, and I have never forgotten how excited they were to be giving something away as a gift to someone who needed it. These two people who had so little, were thrilled to be able to share what little they had with others.
Maybe we think we can trust God with the spiritual aspects of our lives, and with the things that seem to be out of our hands anyway, but we are not as comfortable trusting God with the things that we deem to be essential to our physical survival. We usually take care that we can pay the bills first, before considering how to give away a portion of our income. When it comes right down to it, we really do not want to mix our religion with any other part of our lives unless we really have to. If all is going well in our lives, then we are happy to keep religion in its own safe compartment, separate from the everyday aspects of life. If we or a loved one are sick or if something in our lives takes a bad turn, then we might draw God into the mix by praying for healing or understanding, but if all is well, we seem to think God doesn’t want to be bothered with us…or maybe it is we who don’t want to be bothered with God?
Remember Isaiah’s claim that God has inscribed us on his hands? I would venture to guess this God is quite willing to become mixed up in our lives. This God is willing to do what it takes to be present to us when we are in need, but at other times as well. This is a very personal God, who refuses to let us go wandering off without at least trying to bring us back home. Matthew’s gospel does not promise that every day will be sunny and calm if we align ourselves with God. What he says is that if we get our priorities in order, if we set our sights on the concerns that God would have us focus on, then all of the other things that we think are so important will most likely fall into place. Either everything will work out just fine, or we will be able to put our concerns into perspective so that we better understand what is important and what is not. An underlying message in this gospel reading is the fact that we simply do not need to be as consumed with worry as we generally are. “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” We don’t need to run around trying to think of things to worry about. If our faith in God does nothing else for us, it ought to at least allow us to live our lives with a bit of trust that, as Abbess Julian of Norwich said, All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Not that everything will turn out just how we want it to, but that we are inscribed on God’s hands and heart in such a way that our suffering is noticed. Our needs are noticed. We are held in love, this day and every day. Amen, and so shall it be.