We’re celebrating Thanksgiving this Sunday, so there’s pretty much no way I’m using Mark’s “little apocalypse.” I’m going with Matthew 6:24-34 from the Thanksgiving lectionary and a bit more Hebrews to push us through to the end of the liturgical year (the 25th).

Contexts of these texts:

 Hebrews 11:1-3, 39-12:2 The author is encouraging the church to carry on in the face of persecution and danger. Now that Christ has secured our access to God, we must be patient in the trials and sufferings that come with life in the Christian community of their time. The key to endurance is faith. Here the author starts to talk about what faith is.

The bulk of Hebrews 11 is a catalog of saints from the Hebrew sacred stories: big names like Noah, Abraham, and Moses; and less prominent figures such as Rahab, Barak, and the prophets. Some of them “received what God had promised” (11:33) and escaped from danger. Others died for their faith in graphic ways, but in so doing they earned a greater resurrection. This litany of spiritual greats makes sense if Hebrews was written to a community experiencing terrible persecution. This is a letter of faith to be lived in the darkness. No wonder it’s read so often at funerals today.

Matthew 6:24-34 This set of teachings is in the middle of the great “Sermon on the Mount” at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has taught his followers about true happiness, faithful relationships, and religious practices.

Matthew 6:9-13 is Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer; one commentator suggested that we could read the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount as an elaboration of that prayer, i.e. a discussion of how to honor God’s name, seek God’s kingdom, forgive and be forgiven, endure trial. (You might be in for a sermon series sometime on that.) This passage would fall under “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Jesus’ listeners would likely have been quite poor, even by the uneven standards of their day (see “Wealth In Context” on Progressive Involvement). From our point of view, we can hardly comprehend what first-century poverty looked like.

What’s going on here?

In our context on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, this could tend to become a sermon about Black Friday shopping. I’ll need to be careful with that, and not just because ritual shopping is a deeply held cultural value. I need to be careful in part because I know I don’t give a fig about waiting in line for a store to open at midnight so I can buy all kinds of unnecessary stuff for people who won’t appreciate it. I’m not a shopper. So it will be too easy for me to fall into a rant against consumerism, which gets me off too easily. Besides, for some folks, the very act of buying something nice for someone else is an act of thanksgiving.

I don’t think Jesus is telling us not to go shopping. When he says, “You cannot serve both God and money,” I’m not sure he’s breaking new conceptual ground, as if we needed convincing that this kind of divided loyalty doesn’t work. I think he’s acknowledging that none of us really want to wear the shackles of anxiety, and he’s offering us a way out. That way is by paying attention to the gratuitous abundance God already provides in the world, and then choosing to live in a reality where God has provided everything we (and everyone else) need. He doesn’t say that there’s nothing to worry about – tomorrow “will have enough worries of its own,” and even the pretty grasses have something of a sudden end – but in the perspective of God’s present abundance, the worries tend to fall away.

God’s abundance is present, but it’s not always obvious. Hebrews says that we’re dealing here with realities that can’t be seen, that have to be grasped by faith. Again, we miss the point if we turn this text into some kind of moralistic assertion that “you have to have faith.” Faith isn’t generated out of thin air. It has to be lived. It comes with risks, struggles, challenges – and “this large crowd of witnesses” that bears us up in the moments when we would otherwise stumble. We’re not in this darkness alone.

We don’t have to conquer our worries alone either. Yes, Jesus invites us to submit our every need to God, pursue the righteousness of sharing our abundance with others, and so enter into the kingdom of God. He doesn’t say that we have to do that by ourselves, or even that we have to do that particularly well. All we have to do is start. Start with a practice of gratitude, allowing your awareness of God’s provision to quiet the voice in your head that clamors about what you don’t yet have. Or begin with a habit of sharing, giving some of what you have to another. This does two things. First, it serves as a statement of faith, a claim that what God has provided is enough. Second, it tends to create relationships and the kinds of reciprocal sharing that actually constitute the kingdom of God.

Other reflections you might find interesting:

Dan Clendenin, a self-identified worrier, nonetheless seeks peace in the awareness of the Father’s care as Jesus describes it.

David Lose acknowledges that we often experience the world as lacking, but affirms that God is always creating new abundance. Writing to preachers, he suggests that our congregations (that’s you!) could share some images of where you see this abundant God at work in the world. Bonus points for trying that.

Progressive Involvement points out that Jesus isn’t talking about psychological self-help, he’s pointing out that the way to freedom is to upend the whole system of trade, wealth, status, and power. “When the kingdom is lived on earth–that is, when all people have dignity, when open table fellowship is practiced by all, when hierarchy is upended, when all people are treated as beloved by God–then indeed there will be peace and plenty and more than enough for everyone.”

John van de Laar gets at the way service and God’s kingdom frame this passage, and he points us to this video that makes the point: poverty is not the lack of money, it’s the lack of friends.

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