A column in the lifestyle section of the newspaper invites people to write about their connection to famous people. I will share mine with you. I was a boy of eight or nine and we were going to Disneyland. It was very special and we dressed up for it. My parents made me wear a scratchy wool suit, white shirt and red bow tie. I had my hair slicked down with Brylcream. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and were having breakfast before taking the Monorail into the park. The waitress came to me and said, “Come with me. I want to introduce you to Walt Disney.” He was dining with his wife Lillian and I got to meet them. He was really nice, as I remember, and gave me his autograph on the placemat. It was pretty special!
One of the most attractive things about Walt Disney was his optimism. I am sure many of you remember the Carousel of Progress, originally designed for the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and then brought to Disneyland and later to Walt Disney World. The Sherman brothers wrote a song for this attraction that was a personal tribute to Walt Disney:
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away.
Walt Disney radiated great optimism that our tomorrows would be better than our yesterdays And in 1954 when Disneyland opened and in 1964 when this attraction was added, it sure seemed that the future was great big and beautiful Technology would provide an easier and better life. Now the optimism seems as dated as the first Tomorrowland, the real one with a spaceship to the moon and Monsanto’s House of the Future, not the ironic Tomorrowland of today’s Disney parks that reflect Jules Verne’s vision of the future a century and a half ago. Now we visit yesterday’s tomorrow because it seems a lot brighter than today’s tomorrow. Do you remember the Clintons and Gores jiving to Fleetwood Mac’s song at the end of the Democratic convention in 1992?
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.
The administration was proud to being a bridge to the twenty-first century. We have long since crossed that bridge. Yesterday is gone but we are not sure that today is better than yesterday and that tomorrow will be better than today.
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Now we do not come to church to get bad news. We find that everywhere. Time magazine had an article not so long ago about shrinking paychecks. When people have been forced to take new jobs, they are often paid much less. The unemployment rate is shrinking because people have given up looking for jobs or have retired earlier than they had hoped. Joe Klein said the greatest problem facing the country today is what he calls “the hollowing out of the Middle Class.” We have been on a spending binge for decades and are now paying the price. What has been called affluenza, a disease of overindulgence, seems to have slowed during the recent recession and that is a good thing. We have been worshipping Mammon and it has not made us happy. It may be that more difficult economic times are helping us realize that we do not need live in a McMansion or drive a Mercedes or vacation in Monte Carlo to be happy. It is enough to have enough.
Jesus gives us assurance about the future in today’s Gospel. First comes a command: Do not be anxious about what you will eat or drink or wear. Then a promise—God will provide. God provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and then Jesus says “Aren’t you of much more value than (many birds)?” (Matthew 6:26 WEB). God knows our needs even better than we do and God promises to give us good things.
When we pray to God, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11 WEB), we pray for what we need. We know it is God’s good and gracious will to give us, in Luther’s words, “everything needed for this life, such as food and clothing, home and property work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, true friends and neighbors.” That meaning from the Catechism is quite a mouthful, but it explains what “daily bread” means.
I know “daily bread” can be translated “bread for tomorrow” and of course as human beings we cannot but think about the future, but what Jesus is saying clearly in the Sermon on the Mount is do not worry about the future. It is enough to pray for today’s bread. It is enough to have clothes to wear today, to have enough for today. Quit striving for stuff! It will not make you happy and focusing on what you lack will just make you dissatisfied with the good things you have. Remember moth and rust consume and thieves break in to steal. Remember the rich man who put up larger barns had his life required of him. Strive first for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and you will be given what you need. You will receive bread for the journey and the bread of life from heaven. God will give you manna for each day. God will give you sweet water from the rock and the living whatever that will quench your thirst. God will clothe you with righteousness in a garment of salvation. It is enough and more than enough.
When Jesus spoke to people about their worry about the future, he spoke not just to individuals but to a group. He could be speaking to our congregations because we look at the present and future with a fair bit of anxiety. We see that our attendance is not what it once was, that the staff may not be seem as effective as in the past, that the numbers of children and youth have declined. We are right to be concerned. The membership of most mainline Christian churches has been in decline and there is no easy solution. Some people thought introducing contemporary worship was the answer but twenty years on, it does not seem to have increased participation or membership—in some congregations, yes, in some places, but not overall. Some people may blame a social stance or lack of one. Some congregations usually at the growing edges of suburbia have grown, but few core city or older suburban and truly rural congregations have.
Dr Gordon Lathrop, professor at Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary, has noted how difficult it has been for congregations and pastors these last thirty years. In situations of decline, it is easy to assign blame and much of it has gone to pastors. Lathrop recently reminded a group of clergy that success never appears in the Scriptures as a goal—we are called to be faithful. Pastors and congregations are not called to be successful, to look good in the eyes of their neighbors, to be rich and powerful but to be faithful. One of the marks of the true Christian Church is suffering. The faithful church will be a suffering church. It will be the community worshipping God and not Mammon. If there is to be success it must be in the eyes of God who will look and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 WEB). We must strive to be faithful in season and out of season, strive for the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that comes through faith. We need faith and trust in God, not faith in ourselves, not trust in our own reason and strength. We need to get down on our knees, confess our faithlessness and graciously receive all that we need from day to day.
Do not worry about tomorrow. Sing a different song. “Just stop thinking about tomorrow.” There will be a great, big, beautiful tomorrow because the future is in God’s hands. We may need to go to the cross and die; we may need to surrender our illusions of glory, of success, of trying to control the future. We cannot do it anyway. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. “Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof.” Today’s troubles are enough. Stop worrying and start praying. Stop worrying and start trusting. Be an optimist for God’s kingdom is our tomorrow. Amen .
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.