Free as a Bird

by susan on March 21, 2017

As part of our Lenten journey through the Sermon on the Mount, the following message was shared during our worship gathering on Sunday, March 19th, and is based on Matthew 6:19-34.

In what are we choosing to invest our lives?

In a documentary entitled The Minimalists, AJ Leon tells part of his story.

He was a rising executive in a Manhattan investment firm. He had quickly climbed his way to the top and on December 31, 2007, at the age pf 32, he was offered an incredible promotion. It was one he could not turn down. He’d be making more money than he’d ever made before – $250,000 a year.

It was a no-brainer. He said yes.

Then, after leaving his boss’s office, something unexpected happened. He got on the elevator and he cried the entire way down. He was stuck and he knew it. He had created a life that was dependent on this income. He had been sold an American Dream picture of success and had bought in and he was miserable.

By the time he got to the bottom floor, he realized that if he went through with this, there would be no turning back and he made a life-altering decision. He walked out the door and decided he was not going back – ever.

He made a choice about how to spend this life. Instead of adopting the template that had been handed to him, he would live a simpler, freer way. His story made me wonder…

How many of us have lived as if there is only one option?
As if we have no choice in how we order our lives?

How many of us have decided by default that in order to be happy, in order to be secure, there are certain things we must have:
a closet full of clothing.
a house full of furniture, decorations & appliances.
the latest iPhone, apps & tech gadgets.
a well-thought out retirement plan.
more than enough for today.

How many of us have believed that our worth, our worthiness & even our happiness are wrapped up in job titles, belongings & financially secure futures?

We MUST have these things &
when we fear we don’t or can’t or won’t,
then come the
sleepless nights,
stress,
worry
& even sickness.

Is there another option?
Is there any way to depart from this path of least resistance?

I believe the entire Sermon on the Mount presents us with another option for our lives. In a time of extreme fear, anxiety & pressure to conform, Jesus announced a new way. He offered an entirely new template for living life. He urged new investments.

Already, we have heard him reject
religiosity in favor of transparency &
public piety in favor of humble, sincere prayer.
Now, we hear him reject anxious living in favor of freedom.

In a nutshell, Jesus invites his listeners to:
Focus on things that matter & things that last.
Stockpile treasures that can’t rust or get stolen.
To put their trust in God, not money.
To go out out and look at the birds: “free and
unfettered…careless in the care of God.” (Matt, 6:26, MSG).

This is a lofty vision Jesus is casting for his followers.
Quite frankly, careless seems beyond my grasp –
especially in a time when anxieties are enormously high,
a time when healthcare and insurance are being threatened,
a time when social services are being deemed unnecessary.
& a time when the disparity between rich and poor is huge & many of us feel the squeeze of being in between or squeezed out all together.

Followers first hearing this revolutionary message of Jesus would have been no less shook. Those gathered to hear him lived under the thumb of Rome – they, too, felt stuck. They felt that in order to get unstuck from the dictatorship of power & greed, they had to engage in a violent revolution. It was either that or conform – – just do & live as Rome wanted you to do & live.

Jesus is suggesting there is another,
more subtle & more coercive way.

What if you began to establish a new template for life, an alternative definition of success, a different measure of happiness?

What if you began to establish a healthier, less dependent relationship with money & things?

What if instead of all this anxious living, you began to practice freedom?

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us that this new way (he calls it “simplicity”) begins with a new inward reality. Thomas Kelly calls that inward reality “The Divine Center.” In learning to have God at the center we become less prone to need, to want & to rush after anything & everything that offers us status, privilege & prosperity. We learn instead that we can live without those things.

We become free to “receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others”. (Celebration of Discipline, p. 85)

One warning though, if we begin to live this way. If we begin to unstick ourselves from slavery to status and stuff, we will face criticism. After all, who would choose to live on less or be content even when we have less to live on?

We will also experience a whole new level of vulnerability.  The birds and wildflowers Jesus points us toward are not exactly the most durable creatures.  In fact, they’re pretty fragile & susceptible to harsh winds & rough conditions.

Carefree does not always mean easy.

I suppose that is why again & again Jesus reminds followers that unlike the un-trustworthiness of the Empire, God is worthy of our trust. God will take care of us.

And, as much as I want to blow this off as pie-in-the-sky thinking, I know different.

A year ago, when we were going through a second season of unemployment & trying to figure out how to pay our bills, I came home to find Kevin sitting at the kitchen table going through our mail. He stopped after opening one particular envelope & with tears in his eyes, he handed it to me. It was an anonymous, very sizable check. It would provide almost an entire month’s worth of his salary.

We stood there with our mouths hanging open.  …Who? …How? …Why?

We were literally speechless for several minutes & then more tears & then came the laughter.

Of course. Why were we so surprised?

God does not always drop money from the sky for us (wouldn’t that be nice?!), and yet…
There are other unexpected gifts.
There are words of encouragement,
There is food provided,
There are communities of generosity & friendship that form,
There is sharing & showing up that happens.

In a world where we are coerced into thinking there is only one option, Jesus presents another. It’s the Way of trust, abundance & freedom.

I love the question that Mary Oliver finally asks in her poem, The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

You have a choice.
You can depart from anxious living &
step more deeply into the way of Jesus.
You can choose to be free as a bird.

Questions for further reflection:

Whether you have a little or a lot, how would you describe your relationship with money & things? What would less anxious living & more freedom look in your life?

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