25 May 2008
“‘Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?’” (Matt. 6:26) (+)
This evening around 7:30pm the Phoenix spacecraft will hopefully land safely on the planet Mars. For that to happen the Phoenix has had to travel some 422 million miles over the past nearly ten months. After traveling through those millions of miles of cold, empty space, the Phoenix will then spend about 7 minutes in the Marian atmosphere at a beginning speed of over 12,000 miles an hour. The friction of the atmosphere will eventually slow the craft down to 1,000 miles an hour while at the same time heating it up to about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. When she finally slows to a thousand miles an hour, parachutes will deploy for 3 minutes, she jettisons her heat-shields, deploys her landing legs and turns on her radar to track her descent to the planet. At a half mile up from the surface of Mars the Phoenix detaches from the parachutes and she begins firing 12 rocket thrusters to slow her down to 5 miles an hour. And if all goes well this $420 million mission can begin to look for signs of water and possibly even life on our nearby sister planet.
The scientists, engineers and technicians who have worked on this mission have cobbled together the spacecraft from other scrapped missions to save money. This is one of the reasons she’s called Phoenix; she’s come back to life from the parts of other dead spacecraft. 55% of missions sent to land on Mars have failed. So everything has been checked and re-checked on this rebuilt machine, but as one of the scientists said: “There are always the unknown unknowns.” We won’t know until tonight if all their preparations were sufficient, but one thing seems clear: They did not leave anything to chance. They worried about everything. They imagined that if something could go wrong it would go wrong, and then they worked to prevent it from ever happening.
This methodical and diligent preparation at first blush seems in direct contradiction to the whole of Jesus’ philosophy as we read just moments ago: Do not worry about life, what you will eat, what you will wear. Look at the birds. They don’t worry and yet God takes care of them. Look at the flowers. They don’t worry and “not even Solomon in all his splendour was clothed like one of them.” (Matt. 6:29) If God takes care of all of them, says Jesus to us today, then how much more will He take care of us, His children?
Does being faithful imply being incautious and unconcerned? If we do worry and therefore plan and prepare, does today’s reading mean that we don’t trust in God enough? If God wants that Phoenix spacecraft to land on Mars, in other words, then God will have to make sure that the parachutes open, etc. To check and re-check and to worry about the “unknown unknowns,” does that define unfaithfulness? We have a young man from the parish who is right now out in Alaska preparing to climb Mount McKinley. Would it define faithfulness if he tried to do so without any preparation? This is Memorial Day Weekend and we solemnly remember those who have died in battle, and by extension all of those who have placed their lives in danger on behalf of our nation. Would we define the faithfulness of those who go out and encounter an enemy who trains to do them harm by how few precautions they take in the face of such danger?
I don’t think any of us would expect God to demand such a cavalier attitude from those who place their faith in Him. So what do Jesus’ words mean today when He says, “Do not worry about your life”? (Matt 6:25) I think the message is do not worry about the things you cannot control. Leave those matters in the hands of God. When it is said, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (6:27), this is not an excuse to not care about your diet, exercise and doctor appointments. Worrying in that sense can help us to live longer. It’s in the more philosophical sense that when the time comes, the time comes, and there’s nothing we can do to escape the reality of our mortality. We can worry our whole life about death, but death is still going to come, and all we’ve accomplished by worrying about it, is to make the gift of life less livable. In this sense, worrying is not to trust in God sufficiently.
Back to the topic of our men and women at arms, as a nation we have called untold numbers of people to face the prospect of violence and death, and have trained them to inflict the same. Tomorrow we solemnly honour all of those who died because of their commitment to defend the rest of us. All who enlist or who were once drafted face the prospect of violence, and it has become clear through the stories of survivors that the question “why them and not me” is unanswerable. Most of the time the same amount of preparation and training are followed, and yet one lives and one dies. This unavoidable quality of the unknown is when we are called by Jesus to not unnecessarily worry, but to instead trust in God. There are some 160 names of men and women from this parish on our Veteran’s Plaque who are our honoured veterans, and of those, four were killed in action: Anthony Burek, Leon Kuzdeba, Peter Kuzdeba and Myron Orloski. Why them rather than any of the others simply cannot be answered, and no amount of worrying can turn that around and make it answerable. As we face the human reality of this void, Jesus is saying trust in God rather than worry only for the sake of worrying. This is not careless or reckless as it would be to climb Mount McKinley without preparation; this is faith as trust that God not only cares for me, but that God cares about me. This trust can’t be defined by the happenstance of human life, but by our faith that no matter what happens, God will always be at my side, and that at the point when human worrying becomes unproductive, then I can faithfully trust my life into the hands of a caring God. And it is for this that I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo