Sunday, June 07, 2009

"The Day's Own Trouble" Commencement Address, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, 2009

“The Day’s Own Trouble”
Matthew 6: 25--34
Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Dean of Marsh Chapel
Commencement Address
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary
Northwestern University
May 15, 2009


My mind settles on a farm that rests on the Canadian border. Now my mind settles on the voice of a woman, the matriarch of that farm, who also taught elementary school. And my mind settles on her diamond brilliant mind, sharp as a tack 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. Your lay people will teach you how.

1. The Day’s Own Trouble: The Verse

Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for 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? Especially for those in the ministry, this is a crucial issue. A friend once told me (his initials are Phil Amerson) that in ministry it is not enough to generalize, nor even enough to specialize. Ministry requires you to improvise. True enough.

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’.

The main trouble a preacher faces, with regularity, is how to understand, and so interpret, a passage from 2,000 years ago. This will be your daily trouble in a life where every day is Saturday night. It is always Saturday night in the ministry. 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).

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

I had hoped this was the gospel preached by the primitive 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. 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. And so they are. 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…And above all these my anxiety for the churches…

So Paul both admonishes all to have no anxiety and readily admits his anxiety (merimna, the same word in all cases) for the churches. I think Ernest Tittle, my pulpit hero, the great presence of this very room understood this best in his generation. Face the world, free from the world. Have no anxiety. But work out your salvation in fear and trembling. To channel my own inner Tittle for a moment, I believe he would want to remind us of the old Kingswood Wesley hymn, ‘to unite the two so long disjoined, learning and vital piety’. To preach aware that the Bible is errant, that the tradition moves toward equality, that the truth of science in evolution is true for us too, and that the truth of faith of is existential (‘all of us are better when we are loved’). So celebrate Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, as long as you meant by that error, equality, evolution and existence. Said Tittle!

Matthew 6:34 is Matthew’s gift to us.

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: ‘Mt 6:34 adds a bit of worldly wisdom which in itself does not seem to be typical of Jesus’ (TDNT 4, 593).

So teach us to, Holy Scripture, so teach us Gospel Writer, so teach us Tenor Voice, to get a heart of wisdom. So sing to us that our own basso profundo will respond in grace!

2. The Day’s Own Trouble: The Ministry

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 trouble?

The Day’s own trouble….

Not the major traumas of life, not the major crises, but the stubborn fact that EVERY DAY IN MINISTRY 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, how do you respond?

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

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 on 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 (the local subway that passes by the porch of Marsh Chapel in Boston) 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. Every day in ministry carries its own earmarked trouble. Isn’t that a remarkable insight? There is an organic, natural, historic, existential difficulty owned in every day. The day’s OWN…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…

Phil could have brought you a young Turk. Instead he brought me. It doesn’t take long to go from being a young Turk to becoming an old turkey. But with the change does come some experience…

As I was saying, for example…

One day in the ministry 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 As Basil of Caesarea once said, “You cannot bring a refutation to bear upon a palpable absurdity.”

One day you yourself (most 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.

One day 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.

One day 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 There are other subway trains coming down the track, tomorrow.

One day 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…until the urge to mail it abates.

One day 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, which will somehow slightly improve the situation? What one thoughtful gesture can I make, before I go home from work, which might somehow slightly improve the situation? Do so. Say so. Then move

One day somebody else lets 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.

One day you encounter e-trouble. My son knows I think the world gets better one conversation at a time, and worse one email at a time. He clerks for a federal judge. One morning my son called me with this story. “I knew you would enjoy it Dad”, he said. “It involves trouble and email”. Well, apparently in the judicial employment system, when one falls ill and runs out of sick days, others can take from their account and give to the need. A worker received days from about twenty others, healed, and went back to work. The colleague who organized the sick day bank support assayed to write a thank you note, which she did. It was a very simple note, graciously thanking the donors, reporting on the healing, and wishing all well. This would have been no problem. Except that in mailing the thank you note, she hit the wrong key, and sent to the wrong list, not a list of twenty donors, but a general list of 200,000 judicial employees. Here is a trouble, a day’s own trouble, organically designed for the tweeter, list serve, email, website 21st century. Oops. Yet even this would also have been no problem. Except that a lawyer in Arizona took umbrage at the e-incursion, and said so in a curtly written note: ‘not my issue, not my problem, you invaded my space, thanks but no thanks, plus I really do not agree with this whole socialist sick day swapping anyway.’ Which would have been alright, too. Except that she hit ‘reply all’, and, in the next hour, said my son, he had 100 emails in his box. Yes, Sick Day Bank! No Arizona! Yes Thank You Note! No To Rude Response! Yes to Liberty, No to Obama (I have no idea how he got in there)…Until one kindly attorney from the St Lawrence River area shouted out: “STOP. This is what makes people suspicious of lawyers in general and federal workers in particular. We have better things to do with our time.” This also would have been no problem. Except. Except that before he signed off he wrote: “PS, while I have your attention, I want you to know that I am an amateur chef, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you all MY FAVORITE RECIPE FOR COOKING SALMON”. Yes, he hit reply all. And on the day went: Salmon Yes! Salmon No! Amateur Chef Yes! Email recipe, NO!…

How will you face the Day’s Own Trouble…

Here is some good news.

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.

3. The Day’s Own Trouble: Yesterday Helps Today

We have our troubles. To face them we shall need the courageous honesty of faith. To struggle on for the full humanity of gay people is our day’s trouble. To resist the blandishments of preventive war (warfare that is preemptive, unilateral, imperial, unforeseeable, immoral, post-Judeo Christian—wrong) is our day’s trouble. To meet violent terror with patient justice is our day’s trouble. To face, truly face, the actual historical condition of the church, our church, in ruins, in ruins, is our day’s trouble. For these troubles we shall need to find access to our own best past. We in the bass section can learn from our Tenor teacher.

We can learn to remember our own best past. Real
tragedy is lacking access to your own best past. Your ministry brings healing by bringing people access to their own best past.


These verses have resounded through history. Remember Shakespeare? Remember Kierkegaard? Remember Bonhoeffer?

Pasternak loved Shakespeare’s Sonnett 66. It is said that whenever he read aloud the crowd would not let him leave until he had rehearsed it for them. “Give us the 66th…” Its evocation of daily anxiety bears remembering. The poem is unequaled in its announcement of trouble. When life gives you the 66th remember Shakespeare, but especially his last couplet.

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born, And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,And purest faith unhappily forsworn,And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,And strength by limping sway disabledAnd art made tongue-tied by authority,And folly--doctor-like--controlling skill,And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,And captive good attending captain ill:Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

‘Captive good attending captain ill…’ Can you hear that? It begs to be heard. Stand with your people in tragedy, honest and kind in word and deed.

Kierkegaard knew trouble. He called it anxiety. He called anxiety the ‘dizziness of freedom’. Anxiety reveals us to ourselves as incomplete beings. “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? Kierkegaard’s successor Heidegger thought superficial social living helps us avoid an uncomfortable encounter with the nothing. “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” (Heidegger, par. 41).

Stand with your people in anxiety, honest and kind in word and deed.

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. Here is good news. 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” (DBW 11, 415). He taught that there is no reality that is not Christ. “Christ is the center and power of the Bible, of the church, of theology, but also of humanity, reason, justice, and culture” (Ethics, 341). Luther began with Romans, but Bonhoeffer began with Matthew. Luther began with Paul, but Bonhoeffer began with Jesus. While Luther began with the obedience of faith, Bonhoeffer began with the faith of obedience. While Luther began with the faith 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? 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

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

Stand with your people in defeat, honest and kind in word and deed.

Remind them of their own best past.

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…


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, 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…

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