The Opposite of Worry

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Matthew 6:25-33

 

6: 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? 26 Look 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? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But 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? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-33, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O God, in your Son Jesus Christ you richly bless us with all that we need, bread from the earth and the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world. Grant us one thing more: grateful hearts to sing your praise, in this world and the world to come. Amen.

 

The world has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. Think of all the technology we have that the people of biblical times did not, electricity, heat and air conditioning, cars and air planes, smart phones, the changes are too numerous to count. Other things have changed as well like our understanding of poverty, wealth, and life expectancy are much different today than they were over 2000 years ago.

 

One huge difference in our time and biblical times is the media. We are constantly bombarded with images and messages that encourage us to consume.  Buy this car and have a better life, buy this food and feel this good.  These messages define our sense of happiness.  On the flip side, these messages can make us feel unhappy with the actual life we have in the hope that we will buy and consume more.  Our media age can also show the harsh reality of our world.  We see everything today.  We live in constant fear of terror attacks and violence across the world.  As a result, we live with conflicting messages and concerns that distract us and divide our loyalties.  We seek security and stability but we can’t help but be worried about our future.

 

This current state of affairs causes a degree of pause when we read a passage like this one from the Gospel of Matthew.  Here, Jesus tells us not to worry about our life.

 

When someone tells me not to worry or to relax it usually doesn’t help, in fact it mostly makes it worse.   So, on this Thanksgiving Eve it is easy to hear Jesus words as a nice little self-help message, “Don’t worry be happy!”   Worry and anxiety are serious and no joking matter.   How do his words help?  Don’t they just heap guilt on us?  Of all Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, this is one of the more difficult ones to understand.   Jesus’ words seem so out of touch with our world and our time.  The implication of Jesus’ message is that the material aspects of our lives, ought not to be taken so seriously and all of life can be completely entrusted to God who loves us and cares for us. It is much easier said than it is done.

 

Worry may be the signature human condition, and its evil twin anxiety is a hallmark of our time.  Current research estimates reveal that 40 million adults in the United States are afflicted by some form of anxiety and that 12 percent of those people are debilitated by their anxiety.  Anxiety is the sign of our times…so, Jesus words about worry hit home but do they take the problem seriously enough?

 

I don’t think that Jesus is calling us all to abandon our lives and move to the desert to join a monastery or to empty our savings accounts and cash out our 401(k)s.  Instead, Jesus is addressing the basis for excessive worry and anxiety that can result from a life separated from God.   He is suggesting living by a different set of values.  Excessive worrying about ourselves and our lives takes us away from our relationship with God.   It just exacerbates that feeling that it is all up to us.   We do feel alone and lonely and overwhelmed so we worry and worry some more.   Just prior to this discussion about worrying, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.”  You can’t serve God and wealth.”  And, you can’t serve God and worrying.  Worrying becomes the all-consuming idol who takes all our energy and focus.  When we spend so much energy worrying about the things we worry about, we are taking away from our faith and trust in God.

 

When Jesus says don’t worry about your life, he is basically saying that we have two options for the way to live.  We can choose to worry about all the things that might happen and worry ourselves silly.  Or we can choose to trust that God is in control and put our lives in God’s hands.  Again, I know it is easier said than it is done.  But we all have to figure out how to remind ourselves over and over that God is in control.  So, Jesus reminds us that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.

 

Joe, was a worrier. He worried about work and money and providing for his family and educating his children.  He worried a lot. Joe became sick. Feeling anxious over the poor state of his body compounded his illness and annoyed his family members.  Joe was consumed in a black cloud.  One day wife, Karen suggested that he get out of himself and do something for someone else.  And soon he forced himself to go local retirement home to visit some people.  Overtime he began to worry less and even though his illness got worse his worry didn’t.  He began to see each day as a gift. A strange thing happened the sicker he became the more grateful he became.  At his funeral, his family said that his life changed when he began to see life through the lens of gratitude.  He was grateful for all God had given to him and the blessing that each day was.

 

Gratitude does not come easily, especially when we are caught in the grip of worry.  Looking a life through a lens of gratitude is not a sudden conversion.  It comes through a slow turning, turning away from worry by intentionally looking for something, anything, to give thanks to God.  In the midst of worry, it can be a real stretch.  Jesus understood this.  So, he gives simple and common examples: a bird, a flower, a blade of grass. Anything will do: a breath of air, a friend’s hug, a child’s laugh, a dog’s loyalty, a glass of water. It is the small step of moving out of self to notice something or someone beyond the self that matters.

 

This small step leads to huge results.  It leads to finally getting what Jesus is trying to tell us: everything is God’s, and God is eagerly waiting to give us more and more – if only we would allow it.  Jesus wants us to notice what is in front of us, to believe that God is present and to be thankful.  Gratitude, the opposite of worry and fear allows us to see God’s abundance. Look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies of the field. Jesus wasn’t being idealistic; he was being practical. God will take care of you and me.  Happy Thanksgiving! Amen

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