Matthew 6:25-34 (The Message)
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to God than birds.
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think God will attend to you, take pride in you, do God’s best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how God works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
[John Shoos will sing Let It Be.]
According to Wikipedia, the Beatles were formed in 1960 and were international stars by early 1964. I was born in early 1964. When I was born with a full head of dark brown hair, the nurse in the hospital said that I looked like one of the Beatles. My mother was not pleased by the comparison. Since popular music wasn’t played in my household, I didn’t know much of it as a young child. My first memory of singing Beatles’ music was in junior high school, when my hippy choir director taught us a Beatles medley. I remember it ended with “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, we hope you have enjoyed the show.”
I knew nothing of the controversy surrounding the Beatles. I thought my parents didn’t like them because my parents didn’t like much of anything secular. I didn’t know that John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. I didn’t know that at one point they recommended enlightenment via LSD. Over the years I’ve learned more about them, become familiar with more of their music, but I still wouldn’t say that I’m a big fan. So why did I decide to continue my “The Gospel According to…” series with the Beatles this week? Well, while we were in Cherryfield on the mission trip, I took my phone and speaker to the worksite. When I chose the playlist, I forgot to hit “shuffle” when it started so the songs played in alphabetical order, by artist’s name. After Adele, Aretha, and the B-52s came . . . the Beatles. Yep, that was the great inspiration for my sermon. (Don’t you just love the way the Holy Spirit works?!)
So I downloaded a book called, interestingly enough, The Gospel According to the Beatles, though the author takes a different approach to the subject than I intend. The author, Steve Turner, talks about the artists’ spiritual journeys, and about how their work came to be meaningful in other people’s journeys. He points out that the Sgt. Pepper album was the first pop album to include the lyrics to all the songs on the cover. He writes: “The lyrics thus acquire the stable, fixed status of sacred text, which can now be pored over and studied with the kind of Talmudic intensity that the Beatles knew their fans possessed.”
He also points out how the era contributed to their popularity. He writes: “The sixties were a time of great spiritual turmoil. Long-standing sources of stability—Enlightenment rationalism and traditional religion—were being questioned. Rationalism, the idea that everything could be worked out by the human mind and that progress was inevitable, had no place for the inexplicable. The result was an over-mechanized, over-organized society characterized by conformity, where the imagination was devalued. In its revolt against this, the sixties generation, like the Romantics of the nineteenth century, celebrated the irrational, chance, dreams, hallucinations, and the primitive. . . . The Beatles were skeptical and even dismissive of the church, yet many of their core beliefs—love, peace, hope, truth, freedom, honesty, transcendence—were, in their case, secularized versions of Christian teaching.”
There are several songs that represent this perspective to me, but one of them is definitely the song John sang for us a few minutes ago: Let It Be. In spite of its ridiculously redundant lyrics, the message of the song—and the event that inspired it—are meaningful. Here’s the story in his words:
“One night during this tense time I had a dream I saw my mum, who’d been dead 10 years or so. And it was so great to see her because that’s a wonderful thing about dreams: you actually are reunited with that person for a second; there they are and you appear to both be physically together again. It was so wonderful for me and she was very reassuring. In the dream she said, ‘It’ll be all right.’ I’m not sure if she used the words ‘Let it be’ but that was the gist of her advice, it was, ‘Don’t worry too much, it will turn out OK.’ It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, Oh, it was really great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song Let It Be. I literally started off ‘Mother Mary’, which was her name, ‘When I find myself in times of trouble’, which I certainly found myself in. The song was based on that dream.”
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Those words reminded me of two scriptures. The first was Mary’s response to the angel who told her she would give birth to a son. She said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” But I think the closer meaning is our reading from Matthew 6 about not worrying, not fretting, not being anxious. I think it’s Matthew’s equivalent of Let it be.
A quick search through my sermon files suggests to me that I’ve never preached on this part of this chapter. It always used to feel so Pollyanna to me. So “Don’t worry—be happy!” In other words, out of touch with reality. Besides, it doesn’t feel true. I do have to worry about financial things. I can’t just wait for God to buy me stuff. I can’t depend on God to pay my bills and provide my food. And do I really believe that all of my life is in God’s hands? That everything that happens to me is God-ordained? That it’s all to fulfill some grand plan? No. I can’t believe that for myself because I can’t look at you and say those things. When you come to me with your burdens and anxieties and worries, I can’t say to you “Don’t worry about it because God takes care of the wildflowers so God will take care of you!” Some of the things you come to share with me are huge. I would never quote this verse to you, as it would belittle your pain.
Yet I keep thinking about the Serenity Prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Maybe that’s what this passage of scripture is about. Maybe that’s what Paul McCartney was talking about. Making peace with what you cannot change.
Then again, that can be a copout. “I can’t change the fact that our country is holding people in concentration camps. I can’t change the fact that people seeking asylum are treated like criminals. I can’t change the ICE raids happening this weekend. So I guess I have to accept them.” No! That’s not serenity. That’s cowardice. Just because we can’t do something alone doesn’t mean we can’t do it together. The Serenity Prayer calls us to let go of what we can’t change by worrying.
I chose not to read the NRSV translation this morning because the NRSV uses the word “worry” 5 times, and the paraphrased The Message uses it only once. You see, it’s not ultimately about not worrying. It’s about remembering that God is there, that God cares, and that you are already clothed in beauty. And I think it’s also about letting go of what doesn’t serve you well.
Cris Williamson, a folk singer and songwriter, has a song called “I Learned to Let Things Go.” The beginning of the song is about seeing an old love, and a letter full of rage that she will never send because she has moved on. She has let it go. Then the song goes on to say:
By years we’re worn to tolerance, through tears we’re forced to grow.
With halting pace, I reached this place. I learned to let things go….
Some danger, though, in letting go too early;
as much or more in letting go too late.
But those, like me, who cannot see the difference have to wait.
I could only wait.
A sadness ripe with yearnings which dangle unfulfilled
will call for pointless leaping until the feet are stilled.
The smoke of dreams beyond my grasp concealed this cold tableau.
I can believe it’s for the best I’ve learned to let things go.
Yes, in my wisdom or defeat I’ve learned to let things go.
Let it go. Let it be.
But there is one more level of meaning in the Beatles song of that title. After singing of his mother’s message to let it be, “Next he lifts the listener up and out of his own life, soon he is singing about all the broken hearted people in the world, people who hate each other or are at war.
Although they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see there will be an answer–Let it be.
This time the words ‘Let it be’ mean ‘let it happen; —let some new world, a happier and more peaceful world, become a reality.”
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be.
For the problems in our lives. For the problems in the world. That there will be an answer, we pray.
 Turner, Steve. The Gospel According to the Beatles.