Dealing with Derision

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Matthew 6: 34

Rough Life

Our students, some of them, went farming for their spring break. Others studied Greco-Roman ruins in Ephesus. Still others traveled to Italy, saw the Pope and many architectural wonders. Yet others drove through night to build houses for Habitat in West Virginia. Some others made beautiful music in Oklahoma and Michigan. But these students went to experience farm life, at Gould farm in Western Massachusetts.

I loved hearing about their experience!

For someone who grew up in a small town with many farms, who knew growing up both the scent and sight of the barn, who later worked as a minister in yet smaller farm communities, and who wrongly assumes that others know first hand the rigors of rural life, it was a ‘melissma’, it was a wonder to hear their stories of new, foreign, unknown delights…

Chopping wood: a new experience. Milking a cow: a new experience. Cleaning out the barn: a new experience. Pulling sap from the tree: a new experience. Boiling the sap, forty gallons for every one of syrup, in the steamy sugar house. Going to bed early, going to bed tired, going to bed early and tired, after the hard work, the rigors of the day, the troubles of the day.

In rigor, you learn to ‘let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day’. Let the day’s own trouble, own derision, own evil be sufficient for that day.

Day’s Derision

The long weeks of wilderness which form our yearly Lenten pilgrimage prepare us. We deal with division, decision, and derision, with Jesus, in the wilderness.

Ours is a winter of discontents already familiar with wilderness. The desert of global terror. The forest of economic collapse. The badlands of political conflict. The sands of personal, existential worry. Ours is a winter of discontents already familiar with wilderness.

Now my mind settles on a farm, resting on the Canadian border, and my mind settles on the voice of a woman, the matriarch of that farm, who also taught elementary school, and her diamond brilliant mind of 28 years ago. A mind tough like that of Susan B. Anthony, keen like that of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We walk toward the barn, and notice the day’s troubles: veterinarian coming, tractor broken, hired help AWOL, and other derisive difficulties not yet visible, far more difficult to mend. She hands me a cool drink, an ice tea. She has listed the day’s hurts. She brightens and recites: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. Let the day’s own trouble, derision, evil, be sufficient for the day. Mazzie Hesseltine, as smart a person as I can recall having known, and as strong a woman, will forever wear that verse as her clothing in memory, not just because she knew it, or could recite it, but because she lived it. She faced the world, free from the world. You can too.

Exegesis Matthew 6:34

Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day….

How do you deal with derision? How do you deal with the derisive parts of the day? How do you face the day’s own trouble, and keep it tied to the day, rather than letting it spill out and over into every day?

With regard to trouble, this verse says: expect it, accept it, address it, and forget it. At the end of the day, put out the mental trash on an imaginary front curb, wrapped in a bundle with the careful marking, ‘the day’s own trouble’.

One trouble a preacher faces, with regularity, is how to understand, and so interpret, a passage for 2,000 years ago. Every passage like this one is like a hymn, or an anthem. There is soprano line (the lead, the voice of Jesus of Nazareth). There is an alto line (the most important voice, that just below the surface of the text, the voice of the early church, in its preaching of the gospel, its remembering, hearing and speaking. For the early church Jesus meant freedom, and his cross and resurrection meant one thing—the preaching of good news, that we may face the world free from the world). There is the tenor line (what we read from the lectern, the gospel writer, in this case Matthew). And there is the baritone, basso profundo (the way the line reverberates throughout the rest of scripture, and down through nineteen hundred years of experience to us today).

I had hoped this was pure soprano, but it probably is not. Writes Bultmann, ‘Mt 6:34 adds a bit of worldly wisdom which in itself does not seem to be typical of Jesus’ (TDNT 4, 593).

I had hoped this was the gospel preached by the early church, but, other than the thoughts about anxiety, it probably is not. Merimna (gk: anxiety) is a word that makes significant appearances at some of the very highest points in the New Testament. Have no anxiety about anything, says Paul in Phil. 4:6. We saw this last fall. Be anxious about nothing. In fact, we are often anxious about nothing. Does your spouse every say: ‘What’s wrong’. And you say, ‘Nothing’. Exactly. Care, fret, anxious expectation: Matthew addresses this in the sermon on the Mount, Paul in 1 Cor. 7: 32, the second century author of 1 Peter in 1 Pet. 5:7, and again Paul in 2 Cor. 11:28. We associate these passages with climactic sayings. Consider the lilies of the field… Let those who have wives live as if they had none, for the form of this world is passing away…. Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour… Five times I have received from the Jews forty lashes less one. So Paul both admonishes all to have no anxiety and readily admits his anxiety (merimna, the same word in all cases) for the churches. “Angst is a breaking away from inauthentic group existence, by a shattering of the illusion of its satisfactory nature” (VM, 29).

I should have expected the tenor tone. Remember Mazzie? A teacher. Remember Matthew? A teacher. A teacher likes a summary at the end of a long chapter. To reiterate, Bultmann, ‘Mt 6:34 adds a bit of worldly wisdom which in itself does not seem to be typical of Jesus’ (TDNT 4, 593).

Your Day’s Own Trouble

How do we deal with derision?

How do we deal with the anxiety, ‘fear in search of a cause’, that colors every day and mediates our every experience, our trouble, our derision, our evil?

How do we handle the derisible?

The Day’s own trouble….

Not the major traumas of life, not the major crises, but the stubborn fact that EVERY DAY YOU WILL ENCOUNTER ONE TROUBLE, ONE UNEXPECTED AND UNPLEASANT ISSUE.

With every, this worn verse suggests, there comes the strong possibility of trouble, a trouble congruent with that day, a trouble fluent with the language of a single day, a trouble rightly embedded in that very day.

When the day greets you with derision (which rhymes with decision and division), how do you respond?

Here are four suggestions: expect it, accept it, address it, forget it.
Deal.

Deal with it.

Expect it. Be ready for it. Do not take it personally. Accept it. Be prepared. Address it. Work it through. Do what you can—that day, TODAY. Recall Ephesians: “Be angry. But let not the sun go down on your anger”. Then let it go. Forget it. Do not let it sit o
n your desk, or on your mind. Say: shoo! Respond, don’t react. But respond soon. Otherwise you will have collisions and calamities. Put it out with the trash, on the curb, under the street lamp, in a bundle. Expect it. Accept it. Address it. Forget it.

I emphasize the last. Forget it. One morning the green line (local subway) was backed up, packed up, jacked up, because of a stuck, down train in the tunnel. The day’s own trouble will become tomorrow’s backed up, packed up, jacked up mayhem if you do not clear the tracks. Other days are coming and they each have their own troubles. Suffice it to deal with this one today.

Every day carries such portent. And when life speaks, from the wilderness, in derision, you will say: ‘Well, it’s about high time. Here you are. At last. What took you? I have been expecting your arrival.’

For example…

You are misquoted in the paper. (Any more, to be quoted is to be misquoted). Stew for a while. Compose yourself. Compose your response. Respond, in person, on the phone, with civility. Or, decide it does not merit response, offer a prayer, and move on.org. As Basil of Caesarea once said, “You cannot bring a refutation to bear upon a palpable absurdity.” (Thanks to my friend Jim Kay for the reminder of the proverb).

You yourself, uncharacteristically, fly off the handle, justly but gracelessly criticizing a colleague. Moan for a while. Flog yourself. Then straighten up. Go to your colleague and apologize.

You take the wrong way on a one way street. Those riding with you are terrified. Turn around. Get settled back into traffic. Adjust your seatbelt and rear view mirror. Say a prayer of thanks. Then, turn to your terrified riders and say—‘wasn’t that great!’ Wow! Remind them of the story of the old women pulled over for speeding on route 96. The officer berated them and then asked why they were speeding. They replied that the speed limit said 96. No, he said, that was the route number not the speed limit. ‘Are you frightened?’ Oh no, they said. This road was fine. It was route 222 that was really scary.

You get up in your daughter’s business. You didn’t mean to, but you did. You just couldn’t bite your tongue or bide your time. OK. Call her back. Say: ‘forgive me. I was out of line.’ Then stuff it in the paper bag that has this marking: let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day. Move on.org. There are other subway trains coming down the track, tomorrow.

A colleague wrongly criticizes you. Steam about it. Go for a jog. Then write out a full, fair and frisky response. Carefully put the letter in an envelope. Open your desk drawer and put the envelope in the desk drawer. Simmer for three days, seasoning with bile. Take it out and read it, on a trouble-lite day. Carefully the letter back in the envelope. Repeat procedure every 72 hours.

You leave a meeting fit to be tied. Pause. Stop. Take ten deep breaths. Then think. Yes, think. What one irenic word can I speak today, before I go home from work, that will somehow slightly improve the situation? What one thoughtful gesture can I make, before I go home from work, that will somehow slightly improve the situation? Do so. Say so. Then move on.org.

Somebody else let’s their fear get the better of them. They lambaste you. Respond, in the moment, with honesty. Then shake the dust from your feet. Brush the lint from your shoulder. Peel the nametag off your lapel. Move on. There are other lambastations coming, tomorrow.

Not every fight is your fight. Not every issue needs to be addressed, at least not by you, at least not right now. Not every troublesome moment is fixable, curable, healable.

Your roommate comes in at 4am, drunk, and gets sick. Once, only once, you help him clean up, and get to bed. The next day you tell him. You are on probation. If this ever happens again, you sleep in the hallway. Permanently. Then, get on with your day. Do some homework. Go to a concert. Walk by the river. See a film. Call a friend. I told you it would be this way. Every day carries its own trouble. Sufficient learning for that one day. There will more learning tomorrow. Believe me. The trains come through the station every 24 hours.

You find yourself, at age 54, having to explain, describe, defend, promote issues in ministry that, after 30 plus years of experience, you consider need no defense. But every generation has to learn the same lessons, in different ways.

You may face the world, free from the world. This is faith. Faith is a gift, not something you build in your own garage on weekends. It is a gift, like all the great things of being. Life is a gift. Forgiveness is a gift. Friendship is a gift. Love is a gift. Eternal life is a gift. And so is faith. All the miracles, teachings, parables, healings, controversies, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean just one thing for the New Testament writers, like Matthew, and a for communities of faith, like you (pl.): Hear the gospel: You may face the world, free from the world.

Help from History

The verses have resounded through history. Remember Kierkegaard? Remember Bonhoeffer?

Kierkegaard also faced anxiety. He called it the ‘dizziness of freedom’. Anxiety “reveals us to ourselves as incomplete beings, troubled by our own incompleteness, aware of responsibility for being less complete than we could be, anxious about recovering lost possibility, and face to face, as it were, with vague and eerie-felt future possibility” (V McCarthy). “Anxiety is fear in search of a cause” (P Pearson). Anxiety is not sinfulness, but is the state out of which sinfulness arises. The human being is the place where being is. Is anxiety a longing for one’s own most self, own most possibility? “Heidegger thinks that everyday superficial social living is a construct to avoid the uncomfortable encounter with the nothing” (V McCarthy). “The original anxiety in existence is usually repressed. Anxiety is there. It is only sleeping. Its breath quivers perpetually through Dasein, only slightly in those who are jittery, imperceptibly in the ‘oh, yes’ and the ‘oh, no’ of men of affairs; but most readily in the reserved, and most assuredly in those who are basically daring” (Par. 41)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer certainly faced trouble, derision, evil. In some ways his is the iconic response to evil in our time. Bonhoeffer lived and taught a non-religious Christian worldliness. The Gospel: We face the world free from the world. He knew that fundamentalism feeds on deep anxiety. To face the world in a free way, we need to face down our anxieties and face up to our challenges. Hence, Bonhoeffer faced trouble, derision, evil by facing the world freely, facing down anxieties, and facing up to responsibilities. “Only those who are obedient believe, and only those who believe are obedient” (Discipleship, 63). We recognize Christian truth “solely through the free experiment in living, in just basing ones’ life for once completely on the word of Christ; just to live totally with it, to live by it, to obey it” (DBW 11, 415). For him there is no reality that is not Christ. Authenticity, Life, Freedom, Mercy. Work. Family. Government. Church. “Christ is the center and power of the Bible, of the church, of theology, but also of humanity, reason, justice, and culture” (Ethics, 341). My friend reminded me that while Luther began with Romans, Bonhoeffer began with Matthew. While Luther began with Paul, Bonhoeffer began with Jesus. While Luther began with the obedience of faith, Bonhoeffer began with the faith of obedience. While Luther began with the f
aith of Abraham, Bonhoeffer began with the lilies of the field: ‘do not be anxious about tomorrow, tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.’

Have you read Bonhoeffer recently? His ‘Cost of Discipleship’? My seminary roommate and I discovered midway through our first year that we were living in the room Bonhoeffer inhabited at Union Theological Seminary in 1931. If you travel light, you can meet life, and meet it square. You can face the world, free from the world. Months before the hanging, he was able to write (found in your hymnal, 517):

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered
And confidently waiting come what may
We know that God is with us night and morning
And never fails to greet us each new day

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
For which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare

I am not Kierkegaard and you are not Bonhoeffer, but we are alive today, to meet the day’s own trouble.

I hear Howard Thurman!
“The ocean and the night together surrounded my little life with a reassurance that could not be affronted by the behavior of human beings,” wrote Thurman. “The ocean at night gave me a sense of timelessness, of existing beyond the reach of the ebb and flow of circumstances. Death would be a minor thing, I felt, in the sweep of that natural embrace.”
Sursum Corda! Face the world. Free from the world.

And brush away the day’s own trouble…

Coda

Our new president seems to take life as it comes. He travels light. Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

Last fall, there was some trouble, a day’s trouble. He was roundly criticized. Most criticism, by the way, has some truth in it. I think it was around the time of the great ‘lipstick on a pig’ incident, but my memory fades and fails.

The next day he stood before the cameras. He spoke and smiled. Sometimes a smile is better than a word. Then he took his right hand, as I am doing now, and he brushed it, knuckles down, across his left shoulder. Try it…when you get home. I mean, this is New England, we aren’t going to get all slobbery with you, we wouldn’t presume to enter your personal space and suggest you try it right here (though you can if you want). Brush it away, the day’s own trouble. Sweep it away, the day’s own trouble. Flick it away, the day’s own trouble.

Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

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