Jesus said, “but if God so clothes the grass of the field—which is alive today--and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, will God not much more clothe you—O you of little faith.”
Punctuation. All of us who spend any time writing know that punctuation is pretty important. Periods and question marks help to define a sentence. Commas help separate out a list so that each item is distinct. The colon lets you know that what follows, links to what went before. The semi-colon can link two different ideas in one sentence. And then there is that other piece of punctuation grammar that is overly used by many, and rarely used by the best writers, but often used to great effect—and I refer here to the dash.
Most of us are old enough to remember the comedy routine that Victor Borges does, where he reads from a text and verbally adds in all the punctuation. A period sounds like (puuut). A question mark sounds like (keee-punt) and commas and so forth—it’s a hysterical routine.
Whenever I encounter a dash—Borge’s sign for a dash was (feeest)—whenever I encounter a dash in writing, I assume that the writer wants us to pause for a moment.
Or, maybe there was a remark missed and a moment is needed to recall it. And then the text carries on after a bit of a pause.
Now the books of the Bible were written without punctuation. The texts we read today have punctuation added by translators and editors over the centuries and very infrequently is the dash used. But we had one in today’s lesson in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel.
The presence of the dash in this sentence leads me to think that the editors and translators must have thought that Jesus took a short breath at that moment, or that someone in the crowd said something or responded in some way which has been lost in the intervening years.
Now, I have a theory about this particular verse, and let me read the sentence again with this particular punctuation—and I won’t try to do it like Victor Borge—and see if my theory holds any water. Jesus said, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field—comma--which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven—comma--will God not much more clothe you---now here comes the dash---O you of little faith.”
Now here’s my take on this: This text comes from the Sermon on the Mount and in fact it’s 78 verses and almost two chapters into that Sermon. We can imagine the crowd of people sitting around Jesus listening—a crowd made up of Jesus’ followers—his disciples—and lots of other interested people—probably mainly peasants if we take the present Biblical scholarship seriously—and they would be taking in what he is talking about in this sermon. He talks about blessings and curses, about praying and religious practices, and as they are listening they might be agreeing with some of his ideas, they may have questioned some others and maybe even disagreed with some. Then he comes to the part that was just read to us this morning [in our gospel lesson]—about not worrying about your life—what you eat and drink—and how you’re clothed—and he makes the statement that God will take care of you. We can imagine his listeners thinking about that and when he comes to our text about the clothing of the lillys, and will God not much more clothe you—dash (here’s the dash) and I think maybe a few, or maybe a bunch of those listening were saying “no way” “no way “ -- and Jesus says “O you of little faith.” And as usual, Jesus has got us.
Ordinary North Americans don’t believe one bit of this part of Matthew’s gospel. We say, “no way” to these ideas of Jesus almost every day. We worry about our lives—about what we eat—about what we drink—about how we’re going to be clothed. Most of us no more trust God will take care of us than we trust that the government will take care of us.
Like Jesus said, we’re people of little faith. He’s read us right and his words continue to challenge us at the primary level of our being – the level where the question is “what is it that we care most about?” In these tough economic times, where lots of people struggle with providing the basic necessities of life, what concerns people these days is sheer survival. Making ends meet. Putting some money away for the future. Paying the rent. Paying the Visa bill. For lots of people these are pretty primary concerns. And increasingly in our community, and certainly throughout the developing world, there are the poor-- for whom the middle classes survival concerns seem actually to be like luxuries.
There are increasing numbers of homeless people. There are people who are hungry on a daily basis. There are people who cannot find work because in this downsized world—corporate profits and unemployment are both soaring.
Around the world if you took a quick trip—we would see refugee camps—children who are in need but have no access to nutrition or medical care. We would see child labor and prostitution. Corrupt regimes that keep people under control with military power. We worry about our lives. And it’s a good thing, too. And we’re people of little faith --we care only about our survival.
But Jesus’ words, spoken in all likelihood to a peasant audience, call us to be people of great faith whose hearts and minds are focused on deeper realities. His words call all who hear into a solidarity with the poor--those who have little option but to trust in God. His words call all who hear to solidarity with the earth and the cosmos, because like the lilies and the birds and the grass we human beings are part of God’s universe. To quote the late Carl Sagan, we are “star stuff”—you and I are an integral part of the universe. And Jesus’ words call all of us in this fragile earth, our island home, to the work of a divine intelligence who holds all things together and has made the world so wonderfully diverse and populated with all kinds of people.
So what are we saying here today? In the best tradition of the Judeo-Christian heritage there is important wisdom here to share-- that the whole earth and all her creatures are the work of a divine intelligence, that the universe is the creation of a power so vast and so strong, that we can barely utter its name. Lives here are part of a much larger and greater calling. We are called here to help mend a creation and to repair it and join in with the Creator in a mighty work. This is the same Creator who in a particular time came among us, and told us not to worry, but to trust and to focus our lives on God’s life--and everything else would follow.
Lot’s of people hearing this will say “no way” and have little faith, but every now and then, it all comes together for some.
So I have one request: bring the world here. Bring the world to whatever Christian community you belong to.
And there’s one more request. Bring your life here. Bring your worries and anxiety here. Bring your hurts and pains here. Bring your illness and your wellness here. Bring your thirst for justice here. Bring your whole self here [there] and discover the One who gives his life for yours. The One who is the pulsing heart of the universe. The One who calls you to a great faith. The One who meets you and tells you that you are loved and that you are a part of all of God’s life-- and the One who calls you to share in the work of saving the world-- as you give your life to others.
In a few moments we will join in a part of the liturgy we call the Great Thanksgiving. It is when we join our voices with all creation, with the whole universe, and it models the way we are to be in the world. Thanksgiving. We believe this so strongly that we call our every Eucharistic liturgy just that--Thanksgiving.
So whatever faces you today, whether you are worried or anxious, or rejoicing in the gift of family and friends, whether you’re concerned about justice and peace in the world, whether you are sorting out your life—[make this great Thanksgiving your thanksgiving]. Give thanks to the God who is at the heart of the universe—at theheart of your very self and who calls and invites you into a great faith that the world may be changed and creation may be repaired. May God’s holy name be blessed and praised.