Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Don't Worry. Look. Consider. Strive.: Part II of Fall Retreat Reflections

"So why do I worry? Why do I freak out?  God knows what I need.  You know what I need." (Jon Foreman, "Your Love Is Strong")

Good question.

We are conditioned to worry.  We live in a culture that promotes worry.  The expectations of ______ demand that we worry until such expectations are met.

I suggest three reasons for our worry that come from Matthew 6:24-34:

High Expectations + Believed Lies = Increased Insecurities
We may be insecure about our own identity, body image, and self-worth. We have bought the lies spoken to us by those we thought were supposed to love us, at least tolerate us.
We face daily pressures by a world bent on status and success; we pursue the myth of achievement that tells us not to love neighbor, but to outdo and outlast our neighbor.
Even if we were to "achieve" these goals, by the time we do new ones are set or the old ones are not good enough- are we ever good enough?

Co-opted Imaginations + Forgotten Stories = Confused Identities
We frame our life around narratives and marketed images that have co-opted our imaginations. We believe that we are defined by what we own, what we wear, how we look, what teams we are on, or what parts we play. We no longer are allowed to discover our passions and gifts as God has given them to us, and then use them to transform the world around us.  Instead we are given an identity and presented a portrait of who we should be, who we could be.
We pledge allegiance to these stories, forgetting that we are already stamped with an identity, the imago Dei (image of God) who live into the story of Jesus who has begun to put the whole world to rights.

Experiences of Suffering + Unanswered Prayers = Is God Really Concerned?
Most of us, maybe all of us, have experienced deep pain and suffering in some way shape or form.  We may even be in the midst of the prophetic prayer, "how long, O Lord" and we wonder "will it be this way forever?"  We cry out to God, yet things still seem the same.  We the ask, "is God really concerned?"

Then we hear the voice of Jesus:

Look at the birds of the air...

Consider the lilies of the field...

Strive first for the kingdom of God.

It is as if Jesus is saying to us:

You are made in God's image; this is your secure identity unable to be purchased or stolen.

Together you are the people of God living into God's dreams for the world.  This is your story, live into it as best you can with creativity and ingenuity.

If the same God who created the birds of the air and the lilies of the field created and called you, God surely is concerned and goes with you this day and every day...

Why do we worry? Because it is part of the real human experience.

Yet, Jesus transcends human experience and invites us to a new and transformed life. Jesus reminds us that worry is wasted energy that robs us of the ability to see who we really are, the story that we are really called to, and to embrace the God who created us and goes with us as we strive first for the kingdom- God's dreams for the world.

And this story that God has called us to, the dreams of God, the kingdom of God.  Jesus says strive after, seek after this first...


After this session we dismissed the students into small groups and later that evening they contemplated, "the kindom of God is like____?"  We not only engaged a variety of Jesus' parables, but also contemplated contemporary attestations to this kingdom.

If we are honest, we spend so much time on the death and resurrection of Jesus, as we should, only to forget that Jesus also lived for something, died for something, and rose again as the beginning of something i.e. the kingdom of God and God's future breaking into the present.

What I find most intriguing is that Jesus did not say, "the kingdom of God is," but "the kingdom of God is like."  In other words, Jesus illustrated and painted pictures of the kingdom and then invited us to enter into them...to strive first and seek them.

Jesus speaks in the present. Despite what we may think, God's kingdom is not only something that awaits us in the distant future, but also and especially God's dreams for the world inaugurated in the present, the here and now.

The Gospel of Luke says it this way, "For in fact, the kingdom of God is among you" (17:21)

Do you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear?

I think it is important to back track at this point to an earlier portion of Matthew 6.  Jesus is situated somewhere on a hillside, like any good rabbi, calm and collected, when he says, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then in this way..." Jesus proceeds to pray a rather prophetic and poetic prayer that hinges on, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."




Look. Consider. Strive first for this kingdom.

But what is this kingdom like:

The kingdom of God is like a small seed that invades these fields and provides shelter and rest for all the birds of the air (Matthew 13:31).

The kingdom of God is like leaven that rises up within a hungry world and nourishes those in need of daily bread (Matthew 13:33). 

The kingdom of God is like three churches coming together in a small town on the shores of the Bay for worship, play, conversation, rest, and laughter.

The kingdom of God is like an invitation from one high school student to another to join in this weekend of rest.

The kingdom of God is like music that resonates through a small meeting room, is sung on bus rides home, and echoes throughout the halls of schools in West Chester and New Jersey.

The kingdom of God is like:

 [The students crafted origami birds and lilies out of written prayers and confessed worries and hung them along side and all around their musings about the kingdom of God that they strive after...]
This kingdom is so real and of such great value that Jesus not only lived into it as he walked and talked, but also and especially died for it.  Even more, in and through Jesus' resurrection, this kingdom has begun to transform the worries of the world, and those that dominate our lives, into new creations of hope and peace.

Said best, the kingdom of God is like the Son of God who died on a Roman cross only to be resurrected three days later.

The kingdom of God is like resurrection. 

Strive first for this kingdom of God.  May this kingdom and the Jesus who died for it, resurrect your life into something new and without worry.

Don't worry. Look. Consider. Strive.

A Liturgy for Those Who Worry

Leader: God of creation, make us a people freed of worry and eased from anxiety.

People: We look to the birds of the air, as you provide for them so you will provide for us.

Leader: God of grace, make us a people confident and secure in out identity as the imago Dei, the beautiful image of God.

People: We consider the lilies of the field, as you made them so you have made us.

Leader: God of concern, remind us that as you have made us so you are with us, for us,  ahead of us, and by your Spirit, you dwell within us.

All: We look to the birds of the air, we consider the lilies of the field, we rid ourselves of worry and strive towards your dreams for the world. Amen

For Part I of Retreat: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2011/11/abraham-heschel-on-fall-youth-retreat.html