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Lilies of the Field

Be not anxious represents a praise of the present compared to constant anxiety about the future. Be not anxious also sets our whole life in another horizon. Jesus did not preach mindless carelessness but a change of perspective.. Seek first God's reign and God's righteousness..God's reign describes a contrast society where the meek are praised as blessed with those of a pure heart, the peacemakers and those who thirst for peace and justice. Trans from the German
Lilies of the Field

By Margot Kasemann

[This sermon given in Leipzig, September 15, 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,
 http://www.kirche-leipzig.de/Seiten.der.Auswahl/Impulse/Predigt%20Dr%20Margot%20... Margot Kasemann is an evangelical Lutheran bishop in Germany.]

Grace be with you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ

Dear community,

The good Jesus doesn't make it easy. The birds under heaven that neither sow nor reap, the lilies of the field that do not labor and the grass clothed by God are wondrously beautiful pictures of the beauty of nature, freedom and happiness. However a bird, a lily and a blade of grass need not earn their livelihood, provide for a family or organize the world, projects that are charged to us. We have responsibility!

Be not anxious! Jesus can't be serious! Provision is vital as we see regarding the flood catastrophe on the Elbe. What would happen if no one built dikes? What would have happened if no one took catastrophe precautions? Now we must plan ahead so no new floods occur.

Alas, we are seldom free from worry, torment and fear. Jesus draws a picture that totally fascinates us, a picture of beauty and a certain lightness of being. We yearn for that. However caught in a cycle of worry we are constantly anxious about the future.

Jesus wants to instill in us a sense for life. In Jewish wisdom, there is a story where a rabbi is asked how to recognize a wise man. He replies: "When I lie, I lie; when I stand, I stand; when I walk, I walk." The questioner replied: "I do that too!" "No", said the rabbi, "when you lie, you think of standing; when you stand, you think of walking; when you walk, you think of lying again." Accepting life here and today is crucial. Life as God's new gift should be taken and treasured from God's hand every day.

Verse 27 declares: "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life (or to his stature)?" Jesus obviously cannot remove all our anxiety and worry but can set them in another horizon, in the horizon of trust in God. Trust in God only arises from relation to God. When we take seriously that life is a gift, we become free to have courage for the present. Our lifetime is an inexchangeable gift... Time is relativized, including our own lifetime... The year of my death will come. My lifespan is extraordinarily relative.

When I get this straight, I consciously accept every day in life, time presented by God, time that I shouldn't kill before the television as so many people do today. The average citizen by age 75 spends 9 years in front of this box! Isn't that a sad, squandered, killed time? What could we have done in this time, speaking with one another or sharing a dear word or our love to others?

Simultaneously we often rush through time by constantly thinking of tomorrow. We have no sense any more for the little contact at the edge. This first happens when we are thrown out of time, like the actor Christopher Reeves totally paralyzed after a riding accident seven years ago. After an electro-shock therapy, he said: "Feeling a slight contact is a great gift!" He hadn't experienced something so precious for a long time. What is a contact for us? For us, it is everyday and fleeting. We have other things to do.

"Be not anxious" represents a praise of the present compared to constant anxiety about the future. "Be not anxious" also sets our whole life in another horizon. Jesus did not preach mindless carelessness but a change of perspective. "Seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness!" Seen from the kingdom of God, many things seem completely distorted. God's reign describes a contrast society where the meek are praised as blessed with those of a pure heart, the peacemakers and those who thirst for peace and justice. With us, the strong are the happy ones who can prevail and earn much money even through the weapons trade, those who can rattle sabers today with armies and nuclear bombs.

Whoever seeks first the kingdom of God will look critically at our society and say: "Trust and honesty are lacking... We evade the question what would justice mean from God's perspective. What is just? Is it just that I was born in the West in post-war Germany, with all chances and possibilities and another woman in Afghanistan my age appears very old after many children whom she had to bear, many whom she saw die, constantly humiliated under her burka? Is it just that the US as number one energy squanderer of the world did not sign the Kyoto protocol? Is it just to wage war against Iraq? Is it just that unemployment in East Germany is so much higher than in the West?

What's the point of raising these questions since we can't change anything anyway? Can we imagine all politicians in this election campaign feeling free from the media circus and from ratings, admitting their mistakes openly and honestly, explaining what they did wrongly and that they didn't have the foggiest idea how life should continue? Could we openly discuss where are the problems and possibilities of decision? This would be a completely different election campaign. We would not amuse ourselves about sponsors, hairstyles, haberdashers, skin colors and bonus miles but would wrestle around solutions for future themes. For example, how can health care be financed and organized more humanly? How can relations to the environment be more just to the generations? What does sustainable development demand from us? Perhaps citizens would be more engaged and vote with more confidence. The former American ambassador to Moscow George Kennan once formulated: "First of all, you must make their situation clear to people. Then you must help them over the shock."

A politics that starts from honestly speaking about the real situation would be a new politics in Germany. However, dear community, only bashing politicians is not enough. We are the readers and television viewers who buy and switch on when there are sensational disclosures. Some become indignant that state officials enrich themselves. Some forget that the tax return was dishonest or the third party insurance was not observed to the letter. Honesty must be enjoined for everyone. Justice has consequences. Solidarity has a price and isn't only a beautiful word.

This would include the courage of putting questions on the table for the sake of our community and solidarity. Instead we stylize ourselves as personal corporations... Everyone looks only to himself and his own advantage. We don't like to see our mistake that distorts things.

Perhaps you know the advertisement. A young woman facing the mirror says: "Paul finds my belly too thick and my rear end too thin. But I find myself extremely okay. She goes to her friend sitting on the sofa and heartily bites into a slice of bread. The friend says: "Who is Paul, really?" And both laugh...

How good it would be if we could look in the mirror and say: I find myself extremely good! Who can do this? There are all the errors in our lives, first of all the outward flaws. We aren't as beautiful as the model on the catwalk or a sun-tanned successful lad. Then the family and vocational questions obtrude: I didn't seize that chance or opportunity. I haven't advanced occupationally as far as I had hoped. Our marriage is in a crisis. Constant fighting with the children occurs. Then we may no longer look in the mirror but look away and slave away. The daily routine would then mean admitting my failure to myself or completely changing my life. Who has the courage for that? (For comfort: whoever constantly declares that he or she is extremely good gets on our nerves.)

Dear community, Jesus gives us courage to look exactly, to see ourselves today with our personal mistakes and weaknesses and the errors and weaknesses of our country and world. He says: You don't need to run away. I see you as you are. God accepts you as you are with your errors and weaknesses. Now consciously love your life and be ready to render an account. Live consciously as God's stewards. Meddle today for the future. Live withy a certain carelessness or lightness of being since you cannot create your meaning of life even if you are diligent and skillful. You cannot destroy your meaning of life through your mistakes. Before God, there are no total failures. I wish Robert Steinhauser in Erfurt had known this.

Jesus drew four wondrously beautiful pictures: the birds in the sky, the grass and the lilies. We know how quickly lilies can wilt when we have them in a vase. They are only half as beautiful when made out of plastic. Beauty is transitory and our life is transitory, our short span of time. Let us have trust in god to take from God's hand every day and pass on a fragment of this trust in God to others every day, whether through a little gesture, an outstretched hand or a touch. Let us set God's reign on the day's agenda and view the world from the perspective of this justice. Then there will be much to do in the present so a trace of God's reign points to God's future extending beyond all imaginable time. May God give us his rich blessing. Amen.

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