Reading Matthew 6.25-33
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
The service included the blessing of a wedding ring for Vanessa and Stephen Cole
I am a thoroughgoing townie, but something that seems clear even to me is that to be a farmer is to be anxious about many things, whether perennial things like storms or modern things like the price of diesel. The harvest, if it is reasonably good, is a time to say, Thank God, we’ve made it – got away with it, even – for another year, defying all the things which, from seed-time onward, conspire against the farmer’s honest profession. And the harvest is not always good. I was speaking last week to a colleague from rural Cheshire, who said that his harvest services this year have had to begin with telling the truth about the 2012 harvest, which is that it has been awful.
Now, if this is true in twenty-first century, technological, industrialised Europe, how much more was it true in the Middle East of the first century. Yet Jesus says to these hard-up peasants,
Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, what ye shall drink.
This provocative command take its place with other pieces of vintage teaching, like ‘if your right hand offends you, cut it off’. It is a piece of deliberate exaggeration to punch home an important truth. Of course you must think about what to eat and drink – it is a mark of serious depression if you cease to bother even about things that are vital – but thinking about something can eventually cross a line beyond which the thought of it ceases to animate you and begins to cripple you. You consume energy in worrying about things you cannot affect that you could use on things that you can.
Athletes know this well. As we heard in the punditry over the Summer, if you are a successful runner, you block out the uncontrollable – the lane you are in, your rivals’ form, the weather – to concentrate on what you can control. It’s called ‘running your own race’, and it that is a little what you undertake when you take your marriage vows, as Stephen and Vanessa did twenty years ago. Not knowing what life will send you in the years ahead, you concentrate on what you can be responsible for: your love for each other and trust in each other, ‘for better, for worse’.
You do not need to be a Christian to know about fruitless fears and the need to avoid them – a decent sports psychologist or counsellor will tell you as much – but Christians are in touch with the reality that (acknowledged or not) makes it possible to let go of these fears. We know a God who comprehends all existence, and yet who loves us. God gives us minds and wills to change the things within our reach, and we can to offer to God the things beyond us, confident that God longs for our well-being as much as we do, and that God can take even the worst that can happen, and bring from it a rich harvest. As the Jesus of St John’s Gospel says,
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12.24