In the history of Christianity the text we read this morning, along with other texts in a similar vein, have led to many examples of inspired living in simplicity, austerity and trust. It has also in some cases offered an excuse for people to avoid taking responsibility and the stunting of drive and healthy ambition.
St. Francis was one who took this text to heart, let go of all earthly possession and abandoned a life of power, influence and worldly achievement for a life of simplicity and trusted the Lord to supply him with whatever he might need. Starting a movement that to this day is known for its simple, austere lifestyle as well as its deep spirituality and exemplary and creative ways of living the gospel.
I also remember a group in the ultra right wing of the Church I grew up in who applied this text in a very literal way to their life: They refused to insure themselves, they insisted on trusting in prayer more than a visit to a doctor, did not accept hospital treatment or make any provisions for old age or calamities, to often end up a burden to those around them whenever misfortune struck.
The text also reminded me of a conversation with Bob Randall. He told me that, as an aboriginal young man, he would go into the bush without water or food and trust that he would be provided with whatever food or drink he needed by the divine. Carrying baggage would have been dangerous he explained and encumbered the journey too much. You cant hunt kangaroo carrying a suitcase and why would you lug possessions around if every place you get to has its own beautiful ornaments laid out for you in rocks, trees and starry skies. As long as he trusted and didnt worry he told me, there would be kangaroo or turtle crossing his path at dinner time or a well of fresh water cropping up around morning tea.
An image I must say appealed to me. When you have moved as many times as I have, you know how cumbersome and restricting material possessions can be, how futile forward planning and worrying about the future is, how you find happiness when you least expect it and carefully laid out plans will often go awry because of some contingency you did not allow for.
Wouldnt it be great if one could just stop worrying altogether? Serve the Lord and live a life of trust and surrender to his will and leave the rest to him?
With thoughts like this simmering in the back of my mind I found myself in Kinross looking at one of the aboriginal art works exhibited there at the moment. Bob told me they are maps. And how, from a very early age aboriginal children are made familiar with these maps. They are drawn in the sand, recited in poetry, told in story lines and gradually, over the years, become deeply entrenched in the subconscious mind of traditionally raised aboriginal children until they become mind maps, patterns that structure reality, pictures of the environment as well as symbols for the conduct of life as a whole.
And suddenly it dawned on me that Bob did not go into the desert without baggage. Deeply entrenched in his mind he would have carried a map with him, a map telling him how to behave and where to find food, berries, or water. A map providing him with stories and wisdom about life and how to survive in it, a map giving him access to the deep, collected wisdom of his people, guiding him in his wanderings. He could trust because he was equipped with the tools necessary to allow him to trust.
Looking at the gospel again and wondering what the Christian equivalent would be of such a map, the Ten Commandments sprang to mind. They are the map God has given to us Christians as well as to our Jewish brothers and sisters as a map, a guide to help us find our way through life, summarised by Jesus in the command to love God above all and the neighbour as oneself.
Entrusting us with the responsibility to apply our capabilities and talents to make that happen. If we look at it from that perspective it is really simple: If possessions and ambition for worldly goods interfere with the living out of the commandments God has given to guide our lives there is a need to discard them, trusting that the Lord will take care of us if we live life according to the map and guidance he has given us. But if the discarding itself becomes an obsession that will eventually only result in difficulty and hardship for us and those around us, and an inability to live out the gospel fruitfully and constructively, then it is time to do some rethinking.
I dont think it was ever Jesus intention to take away all responsibility and ambition from us. I do believe that Jesus came to liberate us from unnecessary encumbrance so we could fulfil our lifes purpose as people of God. Amen.