(In a moment of high preacher irony, the text that has meant the most to me all my life is on the calendar for tomorrow simply because we had such an early Easter, and it may be years before it reappears as Epiphany 8, but I will not be preaching it, as we are headed to that Non-Contiguous New England State to see #1 Son graduate tomorrow morning. The famous Commencement speaker, whose presence means we will also be joined by the Secret Service, will probably not address this text, either, but it really would make a great topic for a Commencement Address.)
6:24 "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. You cannot serve God and wealth.
6:25 "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?
6:26 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?
6:27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
6:28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
6:30 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?
6:31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'
6:32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
6:34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
This is not my nature. I guess you know that, since you and your brother often refer me to the Onion headline "Area Mom Freaking Out For No Reason Again." My nature is to fling myself headlong into the multitude of possibilities for the future and to worry creatively and almost aggressively about each and every one. Over the years I've spent many hours pondering these words from the gospel, and I hope some of my thoughts will meet you where you are today. It's a collection of sayings rather loosely tied together, but that only makes it more like most graduation speeches, which try to pack a lot of advice about living into a very small package, thought usually larger than these verses. I'll try to follow their flow.
First, the passage cautions you to be clear about who you serve.
When you make decisions about your life, who are you trying to serve? The gospel gives you a choice, God or wealth, but it's not that simple, really. I would say that God stands for the things we are truly called to be while wealth stands in for not just money but the standards of the culture and the demands of other people. You are an artist, an actor. By your very nature you are counter-cultural, just as the people following Jesus were in the beginning. They walked away from what other people expected and took on a journey that led no one knew where. Discipleship begins with an impulse toward authenticity, and so does the creative life.
It sounds selfish, I fear. I remember my grandmother, when I made a choice she didn't like, saying snappily, "Suit yourself!" Her tone said, "And don't come crying to me when it doesn't work out!"
I want to tell you something different. If you're trying to please someone else, you'll end up pleasing no one.
If you're working to acquire things or status, the way you collect
prizes in a video game, you will find those achievements lack any sort
of deep satisfaction. Yes, it's convenient to have a cell phone or or a laptop, and I certainly hope the day will come when you buy your own and it's not my responsibility anymore. But if you know who and what you are serving, if you are clear about that and can find a way to live into it, the rest won't matter.
Hear what I am not saying. I am not saying the rest will come to you, I am not saying that if you follow your heart you will get the small electronics, too. I am saying that whether you have them or not will not matter if you are serving the truth of who you are, of who God made you to be.
The second lesson of this passage is "Take your time."
One of the things worry does is speed us up, getting our thoughts spinning and our feelings rising and plummeting, making us feel out-of-control when really the only catastrophe is in our minds. You are an actor, and you've studied singing, too, and you know the power of breath. Without it, you cannot do your work! Without it, you cannot take your time. Slow down and breathe. Find your center and imagine the next step in your life the same way you work through the scenes in a play.
Collaborate with yourself, including your fears but not letting them take the lead. You may sympathize with them, as you would with a weaker performer, but do not let them be the focus. Find a way to work around them, the way you work with a scene partner who cannot meet you fully. Your fears are part of you, but they are not all of you. Take your time and work with them and see if, by attending to them, you haven't given them all they needed.
Third, "Know your beauty."
When you were a baby, my mother held you in her lap and said, "He has dancer's feet." I know it's been years since you took a dance class, but watching you scale the scaffolding in "Big Love," I saw that big, graceful cat who lives within you, whose paws move effortlessly, not needing to think about where to land the way most people have to think about their feet. You have a way of moving gracefully that you probably cannot see yourself. Employ that flexibility, because it is truly beautiful.
If your body is agile, how much more agile is your mind! I am continually amazed at the things you remember and the way you form ideas and the ease with which you coordinate them. Grace, flexibility, ease, intelligence–oh! and humor! You are so funny! From the earliest times in your life you have combined an oddly driven solemnity with a wicked twinkle in your eye. You know what matters, and you know what needs a hole poked in it, and you even recognize them when they appear together. That's a gift.
Fourth, "Seek ye first."
I'm cutting the phrase short deliberately. My idea of the kingdom of God, of God's commonwealth of love, is one in which enough people have found themselves to make a better world, a world in which all people have that opportunity. Try and find yourself, even when you don't like what you see at first. Am I holy and committed or am I driven and selfish? Or am I both, one might ask? How does one inform the other? When does the good quality so rule me that it becomes a bad one? How can I nurture the seeming weakness into its opposite strength?
We are full of these opposing energies. The important thing is to know with what we are working, to become aware of the limitations and the opportunities that are simply part of who we are.
Finally, as my old favorite King James Version of this passage would say, "Sufficient to the day." Do not worry about tomorrow, or next fall or next year, my dear one. This will all sort out in time, and to put too much emphasis on them now will only take away from the beauty of this day. Your little sister, in her concert a few weeks ago, sang a setting of another text from scripture: "This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."
As your mother, I rejoice in this day, a culmination of many years of your work and my own, a snapshot of a young man about to enter the adult world, ready or not. And the truth is, we are seldom ready for what is coming next, whether or not we have worried about it. Life continues to surprise us, with amazing delights and terrible disappointments and even easily-managed transitions that we never expected. It may not feel like it's possible now, but I believe you will make the next leap of life gracefully, authentically, perhaps nervously, but most of all in the fullness of who you are today, this day, dear one, that the Lord has made.