Rev. Michelle Wahila
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
What’s next? As I prepare to transition out of my role as Associate Pastor here at ACP, I think I have answered this question more times in the last few months than any other time in my life! When I graduated from high school the easy answer to the “What’s next” question was “college.” After college, graduate school, and soon after came “getting married,” “receiving a call,” and “buying a house…” Those were all pretty easy answers.
But we know that answers don’t always come easy for the “what’s next” question. Because along the way, what we thought was next, might not be. And the things that we thought were perfect… Aren’t. The path we thought we should take, isn’t our path at all. And somehow our perspectives change, and we realize our easy answers to the “what’s next” question weren’t so easy after all.
I remember standing with my mother at my Grandmother’s memorial. As we stood looking at the pictures of my Grandmother’s life, my Mom started to cry and said, “I don’t know what to do now, you were the best Mom on earth.” I took my Mom’s hand and through my own tears said, “Mom, that’s solely your job now.” And boy, did she rise to the challenge of what was next!
Those “I don’t know what to do now moments” can make our points of view change, can’t they? In those difficult times our perspectives shorten. When faced with uncertainties about things like our financial situations, our homes, job security, or loss of loved ones, we often find our viewpoints dropping from weeks to
And that isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes a narrowed perspective can help, or at least force us to readjust our lives. An unusually perceptive essay-writer wrote a confessional about being faced with poor health.
Noting how he attempted to cut down his junk food intake, he wrote, “I somehow felt more empty than before I’d devoured them. Finally, flush with pride, I put most burgers and fries behind me.
When I went to my doctor the following year, I couldn’t wait to tell him how I’d mended my ways.
Sitting in his reception room, however, I needed something to munch on. I reached for the nearest gossip magazine and gobbled down details of Kim Kardashian’s secret life [if there is such a thing]. I picked up a report on the conflict in Syria, then noticed that there was a far spicier update on Taylor Swift.
When the time for my appointment came, I could hardly tear myself from all those savory nibbles. And when I told my doctor about my new regime, he didn’t seem impressed.”
Instead, the doctor suggested the essayist go to the gym and start working out, at least 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week…
When the writer reported all this to a slightly older friend, he got an unusual response: “Great. But, have you ever thought of doing this kind of thing with your head? Have you ever thought of just sitting still for a few minutes every day, to give your imagination a chance to take a good walk?”
Well, of course, no one has time to do that. If we have any discipline at all, chances are it’s going to be for eating and exercise – so-many minutes on the treadmill, so-many-fewer calories worth of food. And for lots of us, that’s hard enough. For us, it might be easier to give up french fries for life than to embrace yoga or tai chi or guided meditation or go to Taizé. After all, our perspectives are only so wide.
This is hardly a new problem. Augustine was probably the first to put it neatly: “Our hearts are restless,” he said, “until they find their rest in thee.” And the “thee” isn’t ye, it’s God.
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher, took it further. He knew that we run and run in search of contentment, and by doing just that, he said, we ensure that we’ll never be settled, much less content. “The infinite abyss,” he wrote, “can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.” 
It’s true, and we know that it’s true: too often we find ourselves mindlessly racing away from any place where happiness might, with some effort, be found, thinking, No – it’s got to be elsewhere. Happiness is always “what’s next.”
A person who thinks this way is an externalist – a person who’ll take great care in what she puts into her body and never think about what she puts into her soul.
An externalist makes a point – even a habit – of cherishing means over ends, effects over causes, and everything that fills up over everything that truly sustains:
- Health equals body weight, or BMI;
- Wealth equals a bank account or a portfolio;
- Success equals your home address or what’s on your business card.
It’s easy to be an externalist because we love to quantify things. It makes us worry less; maybe it makes us feel more prepared for what’s next. Things like exercise and weight can be quantified – so many steps, so many calories burned, so many kilos lost, or gained. But exercise our perspectives? Or our spirits?
- How on earth would we keep track of that?
- How could we measure it?
- How could we see if we were making progress?
- How could we compare ourselves to the sinner down the street – the one with the buns of steel and the morals of flab?
Like it or not, the external world is always going to be our home – at least on this side of the veil; and it’s just naturally where we look for our sources of meaning. We ask the question “What’s Next?” in the context of the world in which we live. But when we look to that world for what’s important, we settle for what we can see – and what we can see just seems to get better and cooler and more amazing, almost every day (Thank you Apple, and Google!).
The only problem with such visible bounty, though, is that it becomes ever easier to feel, within ourselves, like a gridlocked highway at rush hour with miles to the next off-ramp… And in our standstill, we start to fear what’s next because we just don’t “know.”
Many of you are probably familiar with the 1943 work, The Little Prince, a tale of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss, in which a pilot stranded in the desert meets his young visitor from a tiny asteroid.
The story has autobiography – the author’s search for childhood certainties and interior peace, his mysticism, his belief in human courage and brotherhood – and how difficult these are to parse out in practice.
In a seminal encounter in the story, a fox meets the young prince and talks to him about what it means to really have a relationship, to know something, someone – like a rose – so well, that it becomes unique. Then it is not A rose, it is Your rose, for you know her like none other.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince, “I'm so unhappy.
“I can't play with you,” the fox said, “I'm not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But after some thought, he added: “What does that mean—'tame'?”
“You do not live here,” said the fox, “What is it you're looking for?”
“No,” said the little prince. “I'm looking for friends. What does that mean—tame?”
“It's an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “to me, you're still nothing more than a little boy who's just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I'm nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you'll be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”
And as he is about to go, the fox gives the little prince the present of a secret. The fox tells him, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
This is the heart of the story, and perhaps the heart of all stories, seems to me.
And that circles back to our reading from Isaiah. Remember his words:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
Friends, I don’t think Isaiah is speaking about a high-cholesterol diet. Actually, I don’t think he’s talking about material for the digestive process at all – he’s talking about life. He’s talking about not wasting our time pursuing what we can eat – or see, or hold. It’s not so much that we lack food, as that we won’t acknowledge that we’re hungry. And so we fill ourselves….
He’s talking about what ties we establish, what’s worth working for, devoting one’s time and energy for – and that’s what’s essential, and invisible. That is Kingdom life and Kingdom work. That’s what comes from inclining your ear to listen, from prayer, meditation and study, from taking your mind and spirit for a walk, regularly.
The little prince went back to gaze upon the roses, comparing them to His rose, the one he loved, and cared for and watered. “You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing… You are beautiful but you are empty,” he went on, “One could not die for you…”
The truth is, I don’t know exactly “what’s next.” None of us do. But I do know that we have each been called to this time and place. I know that each of us here is known and loved so much that we are more than simply one flower in the field. We have become His rose.
None of us is just any rose because each of us is the rose he died for… Filled with his love and care ,our “what’s next” is more than an eternal “someday.” Somehow, we are on the journey of “what’s next” together: His roses in this beautiful bouquet of people that are old and young, rich and poor, gay and straight, conservative and liberal, and every color, race and creed.
“’What must I do, to tame you?’ Asked the little prince [to the fox]…
‘You must be very patient,’ replied the fox. ‘First you’ll sit down at a little distance from me… in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing… But you’ll sit a little closer to me, every day…’”
I don’t know, dear friends, what is next for us, but in this next season I pray that you will laugh together, and you will cry together. You will cheer each other on and you will serve with your whole hearts. You will sing and worship and grow in faith together. You will grieve the world’s brokenness and be an instrument of peace in this city. You will grasp each other’s hands and rise to the occasion of what is next, together.
Friends, don’t wait in worry for what’s next. Instead, may we allow ourselves to be “tamed” by God and one another. Because those on which we lavish our time will be precious to us; the time which we spend with God will make him ever the more precious to us. In whatever comes next, be sure to sit a little closer to Him and to one another each day. Amen.
 Iyer, Pico. The New York Times. January 3, 2015.
 This concept is from Pascal’s work, Pensées.
 The French reads, “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
 This is suggested by theologian Simone Weil.
 I am indebted to the Rev. Vance W. Torbert, 3rd, who magnificently created the heart of this message in January 2015. Copied with permission, his words touched my heart as I pray this message will touch yours.