A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: A Divine Prescription

A Divine Prescription

February 12, 2023


We are bombarded by choices every day.  Sometimes, overwhelmed by them.  There are the little, conscious choices we make at the beginning of the day: what to wear, what to have for breakfast; where to get our news – perhaps the local paper, the New York Times, NPR, something on tv or a favorite blogger. We may decide whether or not and how to get some exercise.  At our house, and maybe yours, we have to decide what word to choose for Wordle. 🙂   And often all of this happens in the very first hour or two we are awake. A study by Cornell University estimates that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. No wonder we are exhausted by the end of the day.

The types of choices we face on a daily basis are not that different than the ones facing people at the time of Jesus: “‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” 

Our choices are even more significant at life’s thresholds – when we graduate from school, find or lose a partner, or when we retire:  What’s the direction of my life? To whom and what am I devoted?

Especially in times of stress or uncertainty, like now, our focus can shift from the larger perspective of what is the purpose and direction of my life to a narrower perspective: how am I going to accomplish everything I need to do today or how am I going to manage rising costs  or what doctor’s appointments do I need to schedule or how can I juggle my kids’ or grandkids’ schedules? 

Sometimes just navigating a typical day can take all of our energy. To the extent that we lose touch with the deeper purpose of our lives, we can also find ourselves out of sorts, unmoored.  Or if we are a caregiver (a life with purpose), but don’t have the support we need, we can feel as if the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and our shoulders alone. Sometimes, when our lives are full to overflowing,  without even realizing it is happening, we can lose touch with why we are really here on this earth – to love God and one another.  

So, what can we do when we are feeling out of sorts? When we feel lost in the day-to-day? When the stress of life is too much? Or when we are at a threshold, setting the direction for the next chapter in life?

Today’s scripture reading offers a Divine Prescription: Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. 

In Greek “seek first” means to seek with the expectation that you will find. Righteousness, in Matthew’s Gospel is about providing for human need: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked. To seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness is medicine for our inner and outer spiritual journeys. 

How does this Divine Prescription work? How is it medicine for our inner lives and our life in the world?

First, when we are out of sorts (which, let’s face it – so many of us are – especially at this time of year), to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness is an invitation to contemplate the situation we find ourselves in and look for God in it. To ask: where do we see God’s blessings in the midst of our challenges?  

This is medicine to take 1-2 times a day – preferably first thing in the morning and before you go to bed at night for maximum benefit. The God who promises to be with us, is with us.  All too often we allow ourselves to become so busy and so distracted that we do not give ourselves the benefit of contemplating God’s presence in our lives. To seek first God’s kingdom is to prioritize time to notice and appreciate God’s activity in our lives. 

To seek first God’s righteousness is a different kind of medicine. It’s experiencing the sacred alchemy of what can happen when in the midst of our own struggles, we choose to reach out to someone else who is having a tough time;  it’s learning that caring for someone else in need can give us perspective on our own lives, shift our energy, and often, miraculously, leave us feeling better.

Second, what about if we are lost in the day-to-day?  What is it to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness? With 35,000 decisions in a day, it’s easy to get lost in all that has to be decided.  Because of this, it’s all the more important to build a life with a foundation in God. Do you start your day in prayer or meditation before the world takes over? Do you set an intention to be God’s light, God’s instrument in your day? Do you bring a quality of mindfulness to what you are doing? (One of the best antidotes to anxiety there is.)

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh put it like this: “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

Given the complexities of life in 2023, to seek first God’s righteousness is to be compassionate towards others, knowing that life isn’t easy for anyone. This is medicine for the heart, for a softer heart. We can leave behind the impossible ideal of perfection and all the mental and physical stress that brings, when we are compassionate towards ourselves and others. 

Third, what about when the stress of life feels like too much? What is it to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness? This may require a deep examination before the specific medicine is offered. Ask yourself: where is this feeling of stress coming from? Are your priorities God’s priorities?  Or are you striving to achieve satisfaction from that which can never fully satisfy, like material success, or is your life devoted to being salt for the earth and light for the world? 

When you are feeling stressed, do you invite God in?  Do you let other people know what you’re going through? Do you trust that God, your loved ones, and this church family would help you? Have you created space in your day, in your week, to simply be with God? Do you stop checking your emails and news after dinner? Do you take a true Sabbath day – time to simply be with your loved ones, or your self, or God? Do you give yourself time to experience the healing power of nature? If you are a caregiver for others, do you take a break and ask others to help? 

Once you’ve completed the examination, the medicine is actually the same: Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.  Allow yourself to be recharged by being in the presence of God and align your priorities with God’s priorities – loving God, loving others, loving yourself.

Finally, what about when we find ourselves at a threshold, at a new chapter in life? When we are trying to sort out how to move into the future? Jesus says, “God knows everything you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides.” 

Could there be better news?  We can create a life built on the firm foundation of our relationship with God.  Trusting God’s promises, we can strive to be instruments of God’s grace. We can take on God’s mission in the world, trusting that as we do this, our needs will also be met. 

And actually, it’s not just at turning points in life that we can set a new direction.  We can do it anytime. We can decide to live in a way that ushers in God’s kingdom. At any moment, no matter where we find ourselves in life, we can choose to be servants of God, to usher in God’s blessings in the world.

The  mystic Thomas a Kempis said, “Seek God, not happiness.” The paradox of the gospel is that when we truly seek God, we find God, and we get happiness (deep fulfillment, lasting joy, the abundant life) too. (Ray Pritchard)

From the smallest to the greatest, our choices form and define us.  Our faith gives us tools to orient our choices towards the good – for ourselves, for others, for the earth;  the Sermon on the Mount  helps us understand what’s most important. No matter where you find yourself on the spiritual journey today Christ’s words, his Divine Prescription,  can be counted on  “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you besides.” 

Hold on to this message.  Let it anchor and dwell in your heart.  Put it on a mirror or your refrigerator. Maybe make it a mantra for the week ahead. Repeat after me: “Seek first / the Kingdom of God / and God’s righteousness.” Let’s say the whole phrase together: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.”

Words to live by.  Amen.