Sunday, November 22, 2015


Matthew 6: 25-33
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
November 22, 2015 – Pledge Sunday

            How many of us have said, mostly in jest, that if a particular candidate gets elected, we’re moving to Canada? Who wishes we had a healthcare system like that of Canada? How many of us keep a close eye on our cholesterol or blood pressure? How many of us get tense when we’re stuck in traffic? Who among us rants when someone makes a turn or changes lanes without using their turn signal? Who’s willing to admit they don’t always use a turn signal?

            These and many more are what some folks would call first world problems or struggles.  These are the frustrations that privileged individuals face from living in a wealthy, industrialized country.  These are the things that would make people from third world countries roll their eyes.  You can actually go on Facebook and Twitter, search for the hashtag “firstworldproblems” and see all those miniscule irritations that, in the words of Anne Lamott, would “make Jesus drink gin straight out of the cat dish”.

            What are some of your first world struggles?

            My own personal favorite is the odor in the air in my neighborhood after the mushroom farms lay down whatever earthy matter they use to make those fungi grow.  Or all the problems we have with our various forms of technology.  Then there was all the noise made about the red holiday cups at Starbucks.


         Consider the effects of first world problems on our bodies.  Our bodies don’t know the difference between a first world worry and a third world worry.  At the first hint of worry or frustration, any number of the over 50 sphincters in the human body goes *zip*.  Our blood pressure goes up, we don’t get enough oxygen because our breathing gets out of whack, then we yawn; we think we’re tired, so we drink a whole bunch of caffeine. 

Out of red holiday Starbucks cups.

            Of course no one puts more of a sting in first world problems than comedians.  Earlier this week Stephen Colbert jibed Donald Trump who doubted Syrian refugees would want to relocate to chilly Minnesota:  “Do I want to stay in a war zone where my family faces almost certain death or do I want to go somewhere where I have to put on a jacket to go to the mall?”

            Being fearful of Syrian refugees is a first world struggle in and of itself, replacing our recently whipped-up fear of Mexican immigrants.  In truth, first world problems are more like white privilege.  Black Friday, rushing and mobbing to get the sales, with people having to work for not enough the day after Thanksgiving, is a real first world problem.  We, who have much, worry that there is not enough, that we can’t ensure our safety, that we can’t tell the good guy from the bad guy.  Or as some would have it, Christian from Muslim.  We begin to indulge in the same extremist thinking.  I wonder.  If the first world would get over its first world problems, it seems the whole world would be a lot better off.

In the Mishnah, the legal commentary on the oral Torah, it is said that there are four kinds of people.  There are people who say, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.”  These are the most holy, the most righteous among us, who live in a world of abundance.  There are those who say, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.”  These are the wicked that we read about in the psalms and in the daily news.  There are those who say, “What’s mine is yours and what’s your is mine.”  We all share, we all give.  The early Church started off this way, and not always perfectly.  The Mishnah says that we can’t count on this kind of equal giving; it’s just not in human nature.  It’s pie-in-the-sky idealism.

The fourth kind of person says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours.”  This sounds pretty reasonable to most people.  It’s our entitlement society, our meritocracy.  I earned what I have, you earned what you have.  I don’t help anyone with this attitude, but I don’t hurt them either.  This is the priest and the Levite who left a man for dead on the Jericho road.  They didn’t rob him or beat him, but neither did they help him.  What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.  No handouts, no mercy, no pity, no charity.  And so not God.

Jesus tells the crowd that they don’t have to strive for food; they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or what they will wear.  God is not only generous but extravagant.  God gives every creature, the whole earth what it needs.  Seek after what God is giving rather than all the worry spent on getting.  First world problems indeed.

But hold on.  Jesus isn’t preaching to a first world crowd but to the poor, the outcasts, the peasantry.  Why wouldn’t the poor worry about their next meal?  Why wouldn’t anyone hanging by a thread strive for a piece of clothing to keep them warm?  Telling the poor not to worry and to trust God for everything sounds like an insult.  Why would Jesus say such a thing?

I think what Jesus is really saying is, don’t be like those who have more, who worry about what they have, and don’t share it.  Don’t be like those who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.  Seek after the One, creator of the heavens and the earth, who says to us what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours. 

Worry is a thief we invite in.  It robs us of our joy, our serenity, our generosity, our compassion.  First world problems distract us from the world’s real problems and sap our energy and our imagination to solve them.  Earlier this week I read a Facebook comment written by Doug Ivison that said “Fear can be a messenger, but it is not a great teacher.  Love is the teacher.”

What are the first world problems of this church?  What are the sphincters in this body of Christ that go *zip* at the first sign of worry or struggle or frustration?  In what circumstances do we forget to breathe, to include the Holy Spirit?  How do we allow struggles and frustrations, fear and worry to distract us from the mission and the ministry to which this church has been called?  If worry wasn’t a factor, if frustrations weren’t a blip on our radar, how would we be spending our time?  What would we be giving?

What is God’s is ours and what is ours is ours.  Who will we choose to be?


The Sin of Sodom is Not What You Think

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