“The Life of No Guarantees”

Over the last 35 days, we have all had to learn that there is no guaranteed help from our Federal Government.  For some of us, this has meant no guaranteed paycheck.  For all of us, it has meant no guaranteed safety.  

I don’t know about you…but personally, I have become quite familiar with a life of “no guarantees.”  It’s incredibly difficult.

A report came out this last fall stating that, without epochal shifts in human action and behavior, we can’t guarantee that life on planet Earth will continue beyond just 10 years from now.

If you are 40 years old or younger, you have spent your adult life wondering and worrying whether “retirement” and “social security” will be a reality for you in your old age.

If you are 35 years old or younger, then you find yourself squarely in the first generation of Americans who is not guaranteed to be better off than your parents.

If you are 30 years old, you graduated college just as the nation was recovering from the “Great Recession” of 2008…the first time ever that the housing market—the single greatest financial resource of the middle class—had tanked.  Affordable housing is becoming less certain for more people with every passing year.  Being a homeowner is no longer a guarantee of financial stability.  It’s been that way for at least a decade.

If you are 20 years old, then your earliest memories are of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. Your safety has never been guaranteed.  You only know the world to be a violent and war-torn place.  You spent your years in school practicing for mass shooting drills…and many of your friends and peers have been killed.  

Most of us have heard the description of Religion as “the opiate of the masses,” suggesting that religion is a series of children’s stories and myths meant to simply make life more bearable for the poor by making promises about an eternal, heavenly life that lies beyond this one.  Many of us are likely to write off religion specifically because we perceive it as being useless in the here and now…and impossible to believe in later.  But when we look at the teachings of Jesus, we see that his teachings—which his followers originally referred to as The Way of Life—are almost always about NOW…this moment in which we live.  He makes few, if any, promises about the life to come.  For Jesus, like ourselves, there are no guarantees…only the moment in which we live.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  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.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is throw into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.” —Mathew 6: 25-34

Jesus teaches his followers to detach themselves from the worry that comes from creating and maintaining “guarantees.”  As soon as our attention and energy goes into creating and maintaining systems that are supposed to pay us, feed us, house us, clothe us…allow us to retire or save and provide for our future…Jesus suggests that there is an alternative way of living your life.  

“Strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”

What is the kingdom of God? 

It’s not heaven.  It’s not a world beyond this one.  Or, at the very least….it’s not JUST that.

“Kingdom of God” is a metaphor Jesus uses time and again that suggests what life can look like…for ALL of us..right here on Earth.  When you don’t depend on your paycheck for your sense of success or well-being…you are entering into the kingdom of God.  When you don’t worry about what you will eat, or wear, or where you will live, or how you will provide for yourself…and you begin to rely on neighbors, friends, and family to participate in the project of loving, serving, caring for and providing for one another…then you are entering into the kingdom of God.  

We’ve been told that if we make the smart choices, if we get the good jobs, if we work hard and look out for ourselves, if we fill out the right forms and follow the right guidelines and believe the right things…then we will be guaranteed a good life.  

But where does that leave all of us who are learning to live with fewer guarantees?  

It should leave us right at the trailhead of the path of faith that was walked first by Jesus of Nazareth, and by countless followers since.  The path that leads us out of our anxiety and worry about trying to earn and maintain guarantees that continue to slip through our fingers…and begin putting our time and energy into God’s kingdom…or God’s Beloved Community, or God’s Household, or God’s Homestead…whatever metaphor helps you best.  A life not lived trying to keep up with the frenzied pace and impossible demands of a world that guarantees nothing…but a life lived for the sake of providing for and caring for one another.  Birds don’t worry about what they’ll eat, God provides for them.  Flowers don’t worry about what they’ll wear…God has made them beautiful just as they are.  Grass doesn’t worry about how long it will live.  Aren’t you more valuable than flowers and grass?  Aren’t you worth more than a bird?  If God provides for them…why would God not provide for you as well? 

You are not alone in this world.  It is not your job to provide for yourself.  It is our job, as human beings, to care for one another…to stop investing our hope in guaranteed promises that are so easily made and so easily broken…to begin living in the blessing of each moment we are given.  Together.

That’s the other piece of the teaching: God’s Righteousness.  Righteousness is something we do TOGETHER.  It requires people with money to give to people who have none.  It requires those who are isolated to ask others to become their friends.  It requires those with nothing to accept what others have to offer them…on their own terms…so they can also offer what they do have.  All of us suffer.  None of us get through life alone.  And there are no guarantees.  

Thanks be to God for the gift of fellow humans, for community, for the miracle of help when we need it most.  

So don’t worry about what tomorrow will bring…for tomorrow will bring trouble of its own.  

That may be the only guarantee we have left.  

Today’s trouble is enough for today.  And today…we are here.  Together.  For anything you need…and anything you have to offer.  

All are invited to join us for dinner tonight, January 25, 2019… to raise money, and to learn about the many resources available for ALL effected by the government shutdown. 5:00-7:00p.m., First Congregational Church of Kittery United Church of Christ, 23 Pepperrell Rd., Kittery Point, ME 03905

Brian Gruhn