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"Is this a game of Chance?"
Homily for Advent IV, 2010
by Richard Spear

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. Philippians 4:6

St. Paul's advice to Christians often seems a bit wordy and sometimes his thought appears a trifle hard to follow. However, today's brief Epistle selection is exceptional in its clarity. In this single sentence, the Apostle provides a recipe for the Christian life-style so simply and succinctly that perhaps you did even notice how much he is saying here.

St. Paul's words, "Be careful for nothing" is not an invitation to be "careless" or even "carefree." I would say that the two Greek words he uses are best translated "Don't worry!" Perhaps his meaning is better conveyed by the contemporary idiom, "Chill out!" or even by the "Stay cool, co-o-l!" -- with which some of our parishioners have been admonished during this last year at Holy Trinity.

Clearly, we can only stop worrying and stay cool if we have faith in God's control over the outcome --only when we leave the "bottom-line" to God. Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving need to replace worry in our lives, if we are to know the peace of God which "passeth all understanding".

Jesus sees our mundane worries as evidence of our lack of faith: "Consider the lilies of the field ... ," he says, " ... If then God so clothe the grass which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?" [Lk. 12:28]

Isaiah ridicules our trivial concerns and 'hang-ups' when he asks, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfieth not?" [Isa. 55:2] Why do we expend so much of our energy and resources on fruitless worrying and unsatisfying activities? Is it because, in our feeble faith in God, we long for a level of control of our destinies that is well beyond us?

In his film role as a cheating card-player, W.C. Fields was once asked by a credulous bystander: "Is this a game of chance?" His unexpectedly honest reply was a murmured response: "Not the way I play it --No." Without faith in God's influence, our lives look to us so very much like a game of chance, that we devote disproportionate amounts of time and energy in looking for ways of "stacking the deck." We try to play a few cards with but little sense of the rules or object of the game. We cannot even begin to understand this --except through faith.

Prayer is an expression of our faith. Isaiah urges his hearers, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near ... " [Isa. 55:6] Isaiah's call to prayer is echoed in Paul's advice to "let your requests be made known unto God" by prayer and supplication.

Perhaps we can also hear St. Paul echoing Isaiah, when he specifies that God's peace "passeth all understanding." The prophet also assures us that God's activity is beyond our comprehension:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."[Isa.55:8-9]

While admittedly, we cannot comprehend that divine intellect, it is revealing for us to consider how pointless most of our trivial worries, concerns, and purposes must appear to God. All the biblical references to people as "children" and "sheep" acquire additional force when we begin to recognize our own limitations and lack of understanding.

As we close the Advent season this week --with its purple vestments and somber tone of penitence --it is well to be reminded of our minute place in God's scheme of things. "Who art thou?" the priests and Levites asked, and John the Baptist carefully placed himself in a prophetic context which they could only but dimly comprehend. Only through faith can we come to terms with our place in God's plan, and without trivial worries, pray with Jesus, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We don't hold the cards; and --no! this is not a game of chance!

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Richard Spear

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