2022 Trinity XV – Fear Not

25 September 2022
Ken Kubo, Candidate and Seminarian

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – St. Mathew 6:33-34

I will let you in on a big secret – we live in uncertain times. The past few years have brought a changing landscape that has affected how we gather, shop, drive, and water our lawns – and even how we worship. Some of you may remember the day when we set up for an outdoor Mass in the shadow of the oaks and had to move it back up to the church due to high winds. We are experiencing an unprecedented level of new circumstances, from the war in the Ukraine to new social mores and priorities to drought and fire. Okay, those last couple aren’t really new to us in Southern California, but you get the point. So how do we chart our way through this turbulence?

Organizational psychology talks about a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset when dealing with a changing environment. A fixed mindset assumes that ones capabilities and resources are inflexible and that change represents a threat. Thus, someone with a fixed mindset circles the wagons in the face of change. A growth mindset, on the other hand, assumes that ones current state can adapt and that change represents opportunity. Simply put, the growth mindset assumes every cloud has a silver lining and seeks to mine that silver. A fixed mindset hunkers down under an umbrella. Both mindsets are valid. The fixed mindset looks to decrease variability and thus exposure to change. This is what has driven industrial manufacturing – it’s the driver behind a lean, well-tuned assembly line. The growth mindset seeks to adapt to new information, leading to innovation and expansion. Look at the rapid evolution of electric vehicles over just the past couple of years. In an environment where change is inevitable, cultivating a bit of that growth mindset can improve our ability to cope and generally improve our outlook. I don’t mean to say that this means putting a positive spin on everything – “Isn’t it great that gas prices went up another eight cents yesterday!” – but understanding that you can adapt to new information and conditions – “This gives me the opportunity to plan my errands more efficiently.”

As you know, one of my assignments in my secular job is to preach the mindset of Agile execution. One of the principles of Agile development is that we use planning to break up constant change into small, unchanging increments. In the engineering world, this means taking an overall plan that might span a couple of years and marching to it using detailed plans that might be two weeks long. In life, you may have goals that span years, months, weeks, but you are pretty safe detailing out a day or two at a time. And, yes, sometimes change happens within a day. General Dwight D. Eishenhower is quoted as saying, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” To put it another way, all plans are subject to change and written in pencil. Dealing with change in a positive way means training yourself to be willing to replan. This is very much a learned skill; if flexibility were easy, yoga instructors would long ago have gone out of business.

When replanning, it all comes down to priority. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day, so it’s not a question of time management, it’s priority management. What is important to you? Move that to the front of your plan. I can see your priorities because you’re here when you could be sleeping in or having a leisurely breakfast at the Country Deli (and don’t worry, they do serve brunch). Faith is part of your priorities. In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew records this clear teaching – put faith first. Seek to be right and righteous with God and the rest will take care of itself. God will provide if you trust in Him. “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest…” (Gen. 28). But do note that this requires effort on your part. Agile practices (and common sense) say that responding to change is more important than following a plan, but this does not mean don’t plan. You still have the obligation to live with intention and take responsibility for your life, both temporal and spiritual. Seeking the Kingdom of God is a challenge, and there are and will be obstacles and setbacks on that quest. The Kingdom of God is a journey, not a destination. Think about it – is it so easy to love God and to love your neighbor? Who amongst us can claim that we’ve consistently treated every person as we would like to be treated? Because it’s a journey, though, we are always able to strive to do better next time. Part of coming together in corporate worship – besides the opportunity to sing great hymns without self-consciousness or judgment – is the opportunity to take a heading check and ask Our Lord for the strength and wisdom to true up our course, if only for the next visible leg of our voyage, be it only a week or two. As we prepare ourselves for the Holy Communion, we are asked to examine our conscience (which, for those who caught the new Pinocchio movie, is not [usually] an animated cricket). We look back on the previous week in contrition for our short-comings, but also to see where we can make small adjustments to align our future direction. Our earnest goal is to dwell one day in that heavenly Jerusalem, to claim the promise that Our Lord made to us, a place prepared for us in the Father’s house.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I  may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” – M. Louis Haskins, “God Knows”

As the parent of college-age children, a common occurrence is that jackets, keys, and sometimes boxes of restaurant leftovers end up on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. On occasion, I come down those stairs when it is still dark, and that journey can be surprisingly treacherous. I have learned to hold to the handrail and tread lightly into the unknown. In seeking our destined heavenly Kingdom, we know that there are parts that we can’t see clearly, and that there will be unforeseen challenges and opportunities. God is the dependable banister on the darkened stairwell of life. He is there to support and guide us and to give us courage to move forward – especially when we can’t see the way. We can’t even see Him clearly, but we can still hold tightly to His hand. Again, the past few years have shown us just how limited our ability to anticipate change really is. There is a truly blessed assurance in being able to depend on God to see us through the unknown. When angels appear to mortals, one of the first phrases they pronounce is “fear not”. This is doubtless in part due to the fact that angels are intimidating – big, glowing, winged, covered with ropes and unseeing eyes. In the greater context of messengers, though, that is a key part of God’s communication “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whitersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9) Part of cultivating that growth mindset is facing our own ignorance, our inability to see the path ahead, and accepting that. Part of being a Christian is being able to accept that without fear because we know that God – in his infinite wisdom – is not just a light at the end of the road, but a companion to hold our hand along the way. Obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal. So let us recommit to keeping our eyes on that goal so that we aren’t daunted by the obstacles that arise. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” hold to that journey as we live in this world, trust in the Lord and have no fear. Where He goes, we know, and the Way we know. Let us put down our burdens and follow.