by Pastor Cherie Dearth

We are finishing up our sermon series, Treasure, where we have been looking at passages in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus is talking to the disciples about how to keep God at the center of our lives. Last week, we talked about holding ourselves up for glory and recognition by trying to show off as opposed to doing things with the purpose of showing God’s glory. We want our insides and our outsides to match. We talked about how, we in the church can do things together by combining our gifts, talents, abilities, and resources for God’s glory that we could never do by ourselves. We talked about how God can do anything, but amazingly allows us to take part.

 

In the preceding weeks, we talked about how God wants our primary focus to be on him. God doesn’t want this because he’s an egomaniac. Rather, if we are focused on God and God’s priorities, we are focusing on the right things in helping the world, instead of being seduced by it.  This is because God knows that no matter what our higher ideals might prefer, “Where [our] treasure is, there [our] hearts will be also” (Mt 6:21), with mortgages, car payments, other bills, time commitments, and responsibilities … drawn away from God.

 

If we want to even try to do all of this, it might have us a bit concerned or worried. We may be filled with anxiety. In today’s Scripture, Jesus talks about that.

 

Matthew 6:25-34
     25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
     28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

 

Twenty-first Century Epidemic

Living in an Age of Anxiety

There is something plaguing the American people of the twenty-first century. It could even be labeled an epidemic. An epidemic is simply a disease in a given human population in a given period of time that substantially exceeds what is expected. Our current epidemic is worry. We live in an age of anxiety, a time of many worries. It is estimated that more than forty million people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.[1] This says nothing of the countless more who deal with worry every day. We worry about our families, our finances, and our futures. We worry how those three things affect each other. Of course, worry is not a new phenomenon. It was the ancient Greeks who coined the term agoraphobia, which today we use to talk about a fear of public places. The Greeks, however, didn’t have nearly the number, variety, and intensity of phobias from which we suffer today.

Nevertheless, we turn on the news (or even look at it on the internet). We look at our lives, and we know there is cause for concern. Then, we read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, and it can be one of the most difficult to understand. It does not seem to match with this world we live in. In a country where we can’t even drive a car without insurance, we might even think of it as fool hardy. As Swiss theologian Ulrich Luz has put it, “when interpreted in a superficial manner, this statement [of “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body”] this statement could only have been written by a single guy living a carefree life on the beach in sunny Galilee.”[2]

 

We are likely to respond to Jesus’ statement wit, “What do you mean don’t worry?! You don’t understand. If I don’t …. (fill in the blank) … then … If “this” happens, then … I don’t know how I will live. I don’t know if I can survive.

Jesus is talking to his disciples, many of whom come from places where the requirements  of daily living were a daily concern. Don’t catch enough fish? Don’t have enough to feed your family. Can’t sell enough of them at the market, and maybe you can’t buy enough fuel to keep your family warm tonight.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “Either that is cruel mockery for the poor and wretched, the very people Jesus is talking to who, humanly speaking, really will starve if they do not make provision today.  Either it is an intolerable law, which [people] will reject with indignation; or it is the unique proclamation of the gospel of the glorious liberty of the children of God.”[3]

 

And Jesus tells us not to worry.

 

Don’t Worry Songs

I’ve been looking at songs this week that have “Don’t Worry” in the title or the lyrics. Now, as a dancer, I love Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” First of all, I just love Stevie Wonder, and not just because he wrote my favorite song based on my name, “Ma Chérie Amour.” And, this song, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” is a great Cha-Cha. It make me want to move. The lyrics themselves aren’t very complicated. Almost the whole thing is, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing ‘cause I’ll be standing on the side.” He sings it over and over. When you think about it, if you are anxious or very worried about something, hearing those words over and over again can be very soothing. Don’t worry because I’m right here beside you.

There’s another song from the 80s that was very popular, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin. How many of you are familiar with that one? It’s another song that makes me want to dance, though probably not the Cha-Cha. It can make you happy just listening to it.

‘s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now

 

And it mostly repeats through the song. If we think about it too much, it can seem a little simplistic. Can we just decide to stop worrying and be happy? This might be helpful if you’re having a bad day, but what if you have real troubles, real issues that need to be resolved.

 

Maybe the contemporary song that comes closest to the mark … and by contemporary, I mean since the 1940s … is the Beach Boys “Don’t Worry, Baby.” Again, we hear the words over and over, but another phrase is added, “Everything will turn out alright.” And these words are said by someone who loves him. “Don’t worry, baby. Everything will turn out alright.” Somehow when we are in the deepest distress, hearing these words from someone we love makes all the difference. It may not resolve whatever it may be that is making us anxious, but it is reassurance that we are not in it all alone.

 

Jesus’ Don’t Worry Song

Before the Beach Boys and Bobby McFerrin, Jesus delivered his own don’t worry song. Seated on top of a hill, speaking to people gathered around him, Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?” He sang about birds and lilies and said we were more important. Jesus is concerned about our hearts, and this includes our worries. Jesus knows that one of the things that can rob our hearts of joy and peace is an irrational fear surrounding things that we think we need. Listen to what Jesus included in his don’t worry song.

 

God’s Perspective

Jesus points us to beautiful things that we know God takes care of: birds and flowers. God made them and values them, just as God made us and values us. We are God’s treasure. God takes care of God’s creation. Does this mean we should sit around all day with no thought of work? Of course not. It means we are valuable to God, and God is concerned about our needs.

 

There are three things that it does NOT mean. The first is not that we are to give away everything and wait for God to directly provide for our needs, like rain falling out of the sky. There are specific people that Jesus challenged to do this, but not everyone, not even most. Even the early Church in Jerusalem didn’t do this. They did come together as a community and sold their property, but they did this as a mutually supporting living community. They also thought that Jesus was going to be returning within a week or two, a couple of months at the outside, so they only need to be able to survive until then. Jesus did not return immediately, and the church there was very low on funds. That is one of the reasons that the Apostle Paul was collecting for the Church in Jerusalem. He mentions this collection in several of his letters. That is also why Paul did not organize the churches he started in this same way.

 

The second thing that this don’t worry statement does not mean is that we have no active part in our provisions. Martin Luther said that no beast works for his sustenance, but each has his proper function, according to which he seeks and finds his own food. The bird flies and sings, she makes nests and bears young. That is her work, but she doesn’t nourish herself this way … Likewise, it is the duty of people to work and do things, and yet know that is Another who feeds them: it is not their own work, but the bounteous blessing of God. It is true that the bird neither sows nor reaps, yet she would die of hunger if she did not fly in search of food. But that she finds it is not her work, but the goodness of God.[4] So yes, we still have to work to get those things, but it is God that provides the opportunity, provides us the gifts and /or skills to be able to do it. After all even before the fall of Adam and Eve, they still had responsibilities to tend the Garden of Eden.

 

The third thing that “do not worry” is not supposed to mean is that we are not allowed to have concerns or be interested in the outcome of things. Of course, we do, but we’re not supposed to allow this natural concern to override the dominant place of God in our lives. When we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by anxiety, we are relying on our own strength instead of relying on God. As Bonhoeffer said, “[We] try to do for [ourselves] what [we] do not expect from God.”[5] Our relationship with Jesus and doing what he says comes first. Everything else comes after that.

 

Practical Wisdom

Jesus gives practical wisdom for giving and living. He asks, “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” What do we gain by worrying? We know that it gives us stress and anxiety and does damage to our bodies. Practically speaking, worry does not gain us anything.

Clear Direction

The truth is that we hear and read that Jesus loves us and cares for our hearts. He loves us more than anyone else ever could. He understands us, and he wants what’s best for us. He will be with us no matter what. Do we really believe it? It is one thing to understand this intellectually, academically, with head knowledge, but do we really believe it, like we believe that the sun will come up again tomorrow morning.

Ken Davis tells a story from when he was in college. “I was asked to prepare a lesson to teach my speech class. We were to be graded on our creativity and ability to drive home a point in a memorable way. The title of my talk was, “The Law of the Pendulum.” I spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium, where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal.

“I attached a 3-foot string to a child’s toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. I pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where I let it go. Each time it swung back I made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When I finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved my thesis.

“I then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of my classmates raised their hands, so did the teacher. He started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun. Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord.). I invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then I brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, I once again explained the law of the pendulum he had applauded only moments before, ‘If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger.’

“After that final restatement of this law, I looked him in the eye and asked, ‘Sir, do you believe this law is true?’ There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly he nodded and whispered, ‘Yes.’ I released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table.”

 

Ken deftly stepped around the still-swinging pendulum, and he asked the question that I ask of you. Did the teacher believe in the law of the pendulum?  [No!][6]

 

So, we can think that we know, so we must believe. However, it comes down to our inner thought process and how we live our lives. Do we do these things as if it all depends on us? Or, that it all depends on God, and God gives us a role to play, allows us to be a part of it.

 

Jesus knows that if we take the energy and emotion we’ve been giving to worry and redirect them, we can move forward in a healthy, productive way. When we’re worried we ask, “What will I eat? What will I drink? What will I wear?” Jesus tells us, “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing.” Instead, he directs us to “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” God wants to be our highest priority. Jesus directs us first to seek God, and everything else will fall into place. As we give our gifts to God, we seek and acknowledge God first, and show our trust for the God who cares for us. Life is uncertain and will cause us to worry. We must seek God first.

 

Amen!

 

___________________________________________________

[1] RC Kessler, WT Chiu, O Demler, EE Walters. “Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R).” Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

[2] Richard Beaton. “Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34.” WorkingPreacher.org. Accessed August 24, 2016.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship. 178.

[4] Ibid., 179-80.

[5] Ibid., 180.

[6] Ken Davis, How To Speak To Youth, pp 104-106. From http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/b/belief.htm.