Sermons from St Faith's   

Give her an Oscar!

Paula O'Shaughnessy,  Sunday, February 19th, 2017

My cat, Oscar has a sad history – before I brought him home from the animal shelter he had been rehomed once already.  After his first owner had been unable to care for him because of their own ill-health, Oscar had been rehomed with a man who had recently lost his wife.  A year later, the man returned Oscar to the animal shelter, he said that 'the cat had really helped him get over his wife, but that he was fine now and he had brought the cat back because he didn't need him any more.'  A few days after I brought Oscar home he was very poorly, but with prompt treatment from the vet, he made a good recovery.  Oscar does have the scars though from his unsettled early life.  He is such a worry bag, the little lad.  When I come home from work he frantically follows me round and will not settle until I have put everything to one side and sat down on the sofa; then he promptly installs himself on my knee.  He likes nothing better than to know exactly where I am, and to have that reassurance that I am not leaving him.  When he goes out, then comes back in he miaows with great urgency until he finds me.

This little cat demonstrates what worry is – It is the fear of the unknown, the intolerance of uncertainty.  He has the past experience to tell him that he may lose his comfortable, warm home – to be moved to an animal shelter, with limited human contact and reassurance.

I know that it is risky to attribute human feelings and characteristics to animals – to anthropomorphise them.  But I think this example helps to show the basic needs of all creatures, including ourselves and how we can react and feel when we focus on the uncertainty of the future, and worry about it.  That intolerance of uncertainty...which underlies our emotions, fuels our worries, leads to anxiety and affects our ability to reason, to listen, to be rational – to be comfortable in our skin, getting on productively with life.  This state of being also impairs our receptiveness to God.

The Gospel passage today, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus talking directly to his disciples about these fundamental issues of life: How we worry about so many things.  Jesus' instructions though, are:

'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear... Then the inescapable truth...'And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?'  There is no value in worrying – worrying does not find solutions, or improve anybody's life.  We may not see clearly.  In the verse which precedes this Gospel passage, Jesus says: 

'The eye is the lamp of the body.  So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.'

At the time of writing of the Gospel, it was generally believed that an unhealthy eye meant that light could not enter the eye.  In worrying, we may lose hope and faith and we risk not seeing the blessings which we receive.  We may fail to recognise that God is present with us.  It requires faith and courage to resist the instinct to worry.  With faith in God, and devotion to the teachings of Jesus, then we can experience a truly different reality – one that is embedded in the here and now, and on the things that really matter.  Then our eyes are opened and we see things as they really are, and that God is part of the fabric and framework of life. 

Sometimes our worries are a result of our own actions, arising from our poor judgement.  To illustrate this, earlier in this same chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus reminds people of the dangers of storing up earthly treasures, that will attract thieves who will break in and steal from us.  Instead, Jesus exhorts his disciples to store up treasures in Heaven, where it will be safe from harm.  The profound words spoken by Jesus may give way to many meditations:

'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'

When we place our treasure in the spiritually sound things then our hearts are changed for the better.  We don't then have that petrifying, paralysing anxiety – that freezes our blood and makes us inert and devoid of joy.  We may notice our neighbour who is in need, and with the presence of mind, we stop to help them.  For our own spiritual life, we seize the opportunity to grow, to manage our lot in life better, with more good outcomes and a healthier environment for ourselves and those around us.  If we look around we see inspiration everywhere, people who manage through difficult times and keep positive and outward looking.  When our treasure is in the right place, and our heart is too, then the worry diminishes and we can more easily be aware of the blessings from God.

With Oscar, the cat – I see the need to be patient with him, and to reassure him that all will be well and that I am there for him, come what may.  I love nothing more than to see him curled up and happy in his mind, free from worry.

Let us pray for that closeness to God, which we all need and which transforms life beyond all recognition.

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