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SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM & FEAR NOT
Meditations by Subdeacon Dr. Joshua D. Genig

On St. Matthew 6:22-33

(the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost)
St. Innocent Orthodox Church, Redford, MI

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Subdeacon Joshua holds an M.Div. (Masters of Divinity) degree in Pastoral Theology and Systematic Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree in Systematic Theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  Currently, he serves as Associate Professor of Historical Theology at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, MI, and as an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University's North Central campus in Westville, Indiana.  He also serves as a Chaplain for the Detroit Fire Department. Prior to entering the Holy Orthodox Church, Subdeacon Joshua served as a Lutheran minister for seven years. He and his wife, Abigail, and their four daughters are active members of St. Innocent Church.

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I recently spent the morning at Children’s Hospital in Detroit, and it was the first time I’d been there in nearly 25 years.  I was last there when my sister was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and spent a few long weeks in the ICU.

In previous years, though, making hospital calls was a regular part of my day job. And, you learn very quickly that, on a certain level, all hospitals are the same. Hospitals share a look, a smell, an overall feel. And, usually, you go there because there’s trouble – you can see it in the faces, and hear it in the voices, of those admitted.

But a children’s hospital is a different world altogether. The oncology unit, for example, the place where the sickest, weakest, most suffering children go, is filled with light and color and toys and animals and hope. And, even more remarkably, when you talk to these little ones, you realize that, if they are concerned at all, they are often more concerned about mom and dad than they are about themselves.

There is, you see, an intrinsic innocence to being a child. Children trust. Children hope. Children care. Children love. And, most of all, children live every single day, without the kind of worry that so often haunts us – grown-ups who live in a grown-up world with grown-up fears and grown-up troubles. Things like: divorce, foreclosure, angry bosses, job loss, sickness, sorrow, and death. And, on top of that, seemingly simple things like: food, clothing, and money.

We are, as a people, oversubscribed. We are busy—too busy. Our lives are full of troubles. And we often wonder how we’ll make it from one day to the next.

And so, it seems, this is why Jesus bids us, in more than one place, to be kids again: “Truly I say to you,” says Jesus, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The door to the Kingdom, you see, is child-sized: made for those who are humble enough to put themselves under his care; made for those who are humble enough to entrust themselves, as St. James says in his epistle, to the one who judges justly; to entrust themselves to the one who cares even for the birds and the lilies and, so, most certainly cares for all of us.

That is what it means to be a Christian. And, with that in mind, the trouble in today’s Gospel-reading becomes clear.

The trouble is not money or food or clothing per se. If those were the real troubles, we wouldn’t collect an offering, have snacks after Liturgy, or expect you all to come here dressed for church! No, these things are not intrinsically bad or evil. But these things, as with all things, can be twisted in such a way that they become all consuming for us. And when they become all consuming, as St. John Chrysostom says, we are “held back from eternal things [because of] earthly anxiety.”

The trouble, very simply, is that we worry too much.

And our worry over food, money, or clothing – our worry over anything for that matter – is trouble for us because, if left unchecked, it can become totally self-regarding. If left unchecked, it puts us first and God second.  If left unchecked, it can turn these gifts into idols.

It’s this simple, really: at some point, when worry consumes us, we begin to worship, not at the altar of God in this, his holy temple, but at the altar of our own fears, our own concerns, our very own selves. And that kind of worship is the kind that will utterly destroy us.

But the antidote to this trouble is equally as simple, as Jesus explains in the Gospel for today. Seek the Kingdom. Better yet, seek first his Kingdom and his justice. In other words, allow Christ to have the first word in your life, not the last. And allow his love for you – a love made real and fresh and tangible in him becoming just like you – allow his love for you to speak a gentle “fear not” to all your worries.

And when we seek the kingdom that way – with the same kind of intensity with which Jesus came to seek and to save all of us (Luke 19:10) – when we seek the kingdom that way – when we make this place the most important place in all the world and the holy things given here the most important things in all the world – when we seek the kingdom that way, we, too, “will have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul says in today’s epistle.

And then there’s one more thing: when you have found it, then to carry it with you – that peace, that joy, that trust, that worry-less-ness – carry it with you out into the world, a world that runs so very hard against you, a world that has taught you to worry –

a world that calls up – down,
left – right,
darkness – light,
and sin – normal.

The goal is to carry it with you, and to make the world a bit more like St. Innocent, where the Kingdom comes first, and we have nothing to fear.

And when we live that way, not only will all these things be added to us, as Jesus says today, but He will also get what He so desperately wants: to have all His children home again in His Kingdom, which will have no end.
To this same Jesus Christ, together with His Unoriginate Father, and His All-Holy, Good, and Life-Creating Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.