Thanksgiving, Pastor Kinsey
If there ever was a person who lived and proclaimed this teaching of Jesus – “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” – it was Lance Roberts!
Pastor Lance was one of my mentors when we first moved to the UP, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Kim and I were called, some 15 years later, to the same two point parish that Lance had started at, in Stambaugh and Amasa. But Lance – unlike us – was born and raised in Ishpeming, MI, near Marquette, a true Upper!
Lance was the kind of guy who woke up every morning, and would tell everybody who’d listen, “isn’t this a beautiful day to be alive! I tell ya, this is God’s country!” And because we were colleague’s, Lance told me, more than once, especially in difficult or stressful times, “we have the best job in the world, we get to tell the good news!” And he really meant it. But Lance – in his “glass half-full” attitude – was never Pollyannish about it. He was a hard worker, and a very generous and successful guy.
When Lance heard I was a basketball player he invited me to join the team he was forming in Iron Mountain, where he was Pastor at First Lutheran. He knew all the pastors in town and wanted to have, an all-Pastor team. But, in the end, we had to recruit a few lay Lutheran members to fill out the roster! We were so bad that first year, that at the end of the season, when we’d only won one game, they moved us down to a lower level in the league, for the following year. But there, we were competitive, often making it to the playoffs.
Lance was a fierce competitor. Not that tall, but Strong as a bear, and could muscle his way under the basket to rebound, or take it out beyond the 3-point line, and drill it, nothing but net, with surprising accuracy. But, it didn’t matter if we won or lost, as soon as the game was over, he always had the same analysis. ‘That was a great game!’ Or, ‘we had a good run tonight, didn’t we!’ That was Lance! After the buzzer, immediately he was in the, ‘there’s nothing to worry about mode.’ ‘It’s all good!’ ‘Thanks be!’
Lance retired a couple years before we left the UP. And it was just the next spring, after we lived back in Chicago, just a few months before I arrived at Unity, that we heard the news. Lance had been out planting more pine seedlings on his property – he’d planted 1,000’s over the years – but this time, something was wrong, he didn’t come back for lunch, as usual. Lance died of a massive heart attack! A giant of a person, and fellow follower, cut down too soon. But a life well lived, to the glory of God! And I immediately made plans to go up for his funeral.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear… can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Of all the people I know Lance’s age, he was the last one I thought would go that young – being in such good shape, so active all his life. But he certainly hadn’t ever missed an opportunity to share the good news – giving thanks to the God who has our every need in mind, and projecting that worry-free feeling Jesus taught his disciples!
Jesus words of wisdom in our gospel reading are from his Sermon on the Mount, which in Matthew, covers 3 full chapters. He’s speaking to his followers. Not just his 12 disciples, but all his followers, ‘great crowds,’ which Matthew describes in the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, as, ‘followers from Galilee, but also from the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan,’ where Jesus hadn’t even been yet!
And here, in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells them, not to worry. Not because many of them didn’t struggle for their daily bread, because they did, and Jesus taught them to ask God for their daily bread in (the Lord’s) prayer. But remember – his mission statement, the kernel of Jesus’ message is – the kingdom and realm of God have arrived! “Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need food, drink and clothing. But strive first,” Jesus tells them, “for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew also has a little introduction just for this section on, ‘not worrying.’ A familiar passage, I’m sure you know: “no one can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
“Therefore I tell you,” Jesus continues, “do not worry…”
And we all have different ways of doing this, right. Jerry Michalski told me on Friday how he witnessed the most extraordinary thing downtown. He saw a man who was talking with a homeless person on the street. He seemed to be adjusting their coat, or buttoning the buttons, or something. They seemed to exchange something important, some grace-filled moment. And then as he walked away, Jerry noticed the man had no coat of his own, and, it was rather cold out on Friday, as you might remember. The man had literally given the coat off his back, to someone in need, without a worry for his own life, or what he would wear!
“…why do you worry about clothing?” Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
And King Solomon was of course the richest person in the known world, who lavishly surrounded himself in the beauty of the newly built Temple – to Israel’s demise, some might say – perhaps the perfect example of trying to serve two masters, God and wealth!
Better to trust in the Lord to feed and clothe you, Jesus seems to be telling us. Not that eating and having respectable clothing is not a good thing. God knows you need them. But this is about the road Jesus is calling us to follow. Trust is key, trust in the one who is the giver of all good things (not trust in wealth) – following the call of the kingdom, and striving to do justice – that we may be the servants, the incarnate vehicles, God can use, to be repairers of the world.
How do we learn to trust, when trust is not easy, and it’s not always natural. It seems more logical to be careful, to be suspicious. People respond more readily to fear mongering, today, it seems – it’s easier to be afraid, and, in a persistent state of anxiety.
One way, not to worry, I think, is to play the long game. We say yes to the God of love, and in so doing, we take the first step on the road to Jerusalem – the road we travel for the rest of our life. We desire to be followers of Jesus, and so we take another step and we join a congregation of followers. We get hungry and thirsty, and then after church, a turkey potluck dinner appears – trusting more, and worrying less! Life is about more than food and clothing, which is what Jesus wants to reveal to us as we follow on the road, on the way. Life is about ‘striving first, for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.’
And to give thanks. ‘This is a great day to be alive,’ as Pastor Lance would say!
What a privilege it is, as fellow followers, to be able to share this good news!
Thanks be to God!