Today is one of those Norman Rockwell days. We pull out old family recipes, we gather in the kitchen to cook and share in reminiscences. We watch the Macy’s parade, hoping to sneak a glimpse at The Rockettes. We map out which football games we will watch. The table is set in festive ware, and the food is not only delicious, but also brings back the memories of so many other Thanksgiving meals. We smile, laugh, and our hearts are full of gratitude. This is the day that the Lord has made.
Or at least that is how we always fantasize Thanksgiving will look. Instead, we have been scrambling around, making sure we have all the ingredients we need, trying to figure out what to serve to Cousin Sam’s vegan girlfriend. We worry that Uncle Fred will be as rude and obnoxious as he always is, and whether the kids will get too impatient and cranky before the meal begins. We worry that the turkey will be dry or that the recipe that we entrusted to our sister will not be as good as Grandma’s. We struggle to find just the right outfit that is flattering enough for pictures, but comfortable enough for the full belly we will have after the meal. And quite frankly, having finally mostly recovered from the Hurricane, we have barely had time to turn our thoughts to Thanksgiving, and our nerves are a little frazzled.
So as we rush into Church today, our minds full of to-do lists and worries of the day, what do we hear from Jesus? “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?” Jesus scolds those who are gathered for that very human experience of anxiety, implying that their worries are rooted in a lack of trust in the God who can just as easily care for birds and lilies as God can care for them.
I have always had a love-hate relationship with this passage. I discovered this passage as a teen, and have returned to the passage time and again when I felt the waves of anxiety crashing over my head. The passage is oddly comforting and frustrating at the same time. The passage has a way of making me feel guilty about my anxiety – as though I should be ashamed of my worries and concerns. I can almost hear the scolding tenor of Jesus, like a nagging mother. But like most mothers who know best, the words are simultaneously comforting because I know that they are true at the deepest levels of my being. I find comfort in these words because they force me out of the mire that is usually self-imposed, and turn my heart to where my heart belongs – to God.
Luckily, we are in good company. Our modern consumerist society does not make us as different from those in Biblical times as we might think. Clearly those following Jesus stressed as much as we do about putting food on the table and the latest clothing styles. In fact, this fear is present throughout scripture. How many times have we heard that command, “Fear not.” “The order not to fear is perhaps not only the most reiterated in Scripture, but also the least obeyed.”[i] What Jesus sees and why Jesus scolds is because Jesus knows that those anxieties pull us away from the work that God has given us to do. When those doing God’s work get distracted by their worries and fears, they have little time or energy left to actually do God’s work. This is what Jesus is trying to communicate – to redirect energy from that inner storm of worry, fear, and anxiety, to the productive work of God’s kingdom. For, as Jesus explains, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Worry pulls us inward – which is completely the opposite direction that the Church sends us after every Eucharist.
Today, instead of letting myself wallow in guilt or seeing Jesus as a scolding parent, I will think of Jesus as a great yoga instructor. In yoga, one of the primary goals of the practice is to clear your mind. Any good yoga instructor will admit that you cannot clear your mind by willing your mind to be clear. Thoughts and distractions will continue to invade your practice. The trick is to acknowledge the thought, and let the thought go, returning your focus to your practice. Uncle Fred worrying you? Release the fear from your body. Perfect Thanksgiving meal weighing on you? Let go of the anxiety from your mind. Rowdy children and messy dishes stressing you out? Free your heart to love without limit. These are the words I imagine Jesus, the yoga instructor, offering us today. Today is not really about any of those things anyway. All of those things – food, loved ones, and rest – are gifts from God: the same God that desires for you to do the work of seeking and serving Christ in others. The rest is gravy! Amen.
[i] Jason Byassee, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. A, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 406.