February 25, 2011

His Wonders to Perform: A Sermon About Providence

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 11:08 pm

Psalm 131
Isaiah 49:8-16
1 Corinthinans 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Melancholy“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matt. 6:34). That is from this morning’s gospel reading. I begin this sermon with a true confession. No preacher likes to preach on lectionary readings that betray his own special weakness. When I saw that this morning’s lectionary contained the verse I just read to you, I was seriously tempted to preach on a different text. As a small child, I was labeled early on as a worry wart. My report cards had comments like: “Bill is a good student, but he is too serious for a third grader.” Some time during my undergraduate years, I graduated from worry to cynicism, and thought of myself as an “angry young man.” You grow out of that when you reach a certain age, and you realize that people don’t find “crotchety old men” to be nearly as fascinating as “angry young men.” If I have a patron saint, it would likely be Eeyore. If there were a beatitude for people like me, it would read: “Blessed are the pessimists; for they won’t be disappointed.”

So I confess that when I preach this sermon, I am not preaching it as someone who practices what I preach very well. But sometimes preachers need to preach to themselves as well as their audience.

Two of this morning’s lectionary readings are addressed to people who are anxious in the face of troubling circumstances. The Isaiah reading is addressed to a people who have returned from captivity in Babylon, only now to discover that the promised hope for deliverance is not quite what they expected. The prophet expresses the words of their dejection: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” “Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ ” (Isaiah 49:4,14).

The gospel reading from Matthew is addressed to the disciples of Jesus, and warns against anxiety, specifically against worries about the day to day things that keep us awake in the middle of the night. Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). Positively, Jesus assures us that if we seek the one thing that is important, we will not have to worry about these other things: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6: 33).

The key theological theme of both passages is what theologians call the doctrine of providence. Providence is the answer to the question, “Where is God?” (more…)

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