Monday, May 9, 2016

Worry Not

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:25-34:

Today we conclude our series looking at the things that Jesus told us not to do.  We have looked at not fearing, not doubting; not sinning and not judging, and I would encourage you, if you missed any of those, to go watch them on our website or YouTube page.  But today we conclude by looking at Jesus’ injunction not to worry.  Now when I was putting this series together, my wife Linda, and the mother of our daughters, asked what I was going to be preaching on after Easter, and so I told her, and she said to me, “On Mother’s Day you’re going to preach on how we shouldn’t worry,” and I said “yes,” to which she said, “do you think that’s a good idea because worrying is what mothers do. It’s who we are.”  Well obviously I didn’t listen to that sound advice, and I have been worrying about it ever since, but I didn’t move it because I thought that if there is a group who is worrying all the time, then perhaps this is the message we need to hear, and if I’m wrong, please tell Linda that she was right which will be the best Mother’s Day present she will get today.

But, just like with the other “nots” we have covered, Jesus is not really telling us not to worry about things in this passage.  Indeed, there are troubles that can occur in our lives that it might be legitimate to worry about, but it’s a matter of what we consider worry worthy, and what we do with that worry, or really what that worry does with us, and this does tie into Mother’s Day.  The creation of today as a holiday came about from two movements, one of which comes from Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, who after the end of the Civil War called for the creation of a day for mothers to gather and be honored and call for peace and the end of war.  The other movement was from Anna Jarvis, who instituted the first Mother’s Day in her Methodist church, in honor of her mother who was a nurse during the Civil War, and later an advocate for peace and women’s health issues.  It is this anti-war piece that I think ties into this because there are good times to be worried, as every mother does, and one of those in when their children go off to war.  One mother at a church I served told me, after her son was sent to Afghanistan, that for the first time she truly understood Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, because that is what she had begun to do.  So, if you have worries, that are okay, but it’s what we are worried about and how we handle that worry that makes the difference.

So let’s start with what Jesus said we should not be worried about.  “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”  Now this might be the hardest thing to hear because, if we add in what we drive, then our entire economy, and maybe even our culture, is based on us worrying about these very things. And I mean how are we supposed to judge people if it’s not based on what they drink, eat, wear or drive?  After all, that what we are constantly being told, that if only doing these things and buying these things, then everything in our lives would be perfect and we wouldn’t have to worry any more, right?  And on top of it then we have the pharmaceutical industry who are manufacturing drugs to help us to overcome the anxiety that we feel because we are worried about these things, while simultaneously telling us to talk to our doctor because we might have some disease that we have never heard of and this fuscia covered pill will solve it for us.  And so we say, “don’t worry about these things, how can we not worry?”

Or perhaps we might say, “I don’t worry about those things because they are not important.  But the things I worry about, now they are really important.”  But it’s not necessarily what we are worried about, but about the worrying itself.  And so Jesus asks us, what is the worrying getting you? Is worrying gaining you a single extra hour to your life? Is it helping you in any way? Is it making your life better? Is it giving you any benefit other than more worrying? Or another way to ask it, at the end of your life, will your worrying have made any difference at all?  Normally the answer to that question is going to be no.  Even mothers know this because when their child is upset I have never heard them say “Oh, you really should worry about that.”  Have you? No, instead what do they say? “Don’t worry, everything going to be okay.”  Even if they don’t really believe it, they say it, why? Because worrying it won’t make it any better, even if they themselves are worried sick.  But why shouldn’t we worry about any of these things?  Not just because it doesn’t add anything to our lives, but more importantly because we should consider the birds of the fields who neither sow nor reap and yet are fed by God, or the lilies of the field who are clothed in the glory of God.  And if God does this for them, won’t God do even more than this for us?

In hearing this, the way some people interpret this is to say that all we then have to do is sit back and trust that God is going to provide everything for us, that we don’t need to do anything, God will provide it all.  Now a corollary of this position is what has come to be called the prosperity gospel, says that if only we believe and pray, and do so correctly of course, then God will make us rich, that God’s blessings will shower down on us.  Although the only people who seem to get rich in the prosperity gospel are the preachers who proclaim it.  The problem with this is that it views God as cosmic butler, where God’s purpose is to serve us and give us our every whim and desire.  That is not who God is, nor what God does.  In addition, Jesus is not saying, in the words of the old Bobby McFerrin song, Don’t Worry Be Happy.  But what Jesus is saying is that we have the ability to reap and to sow, to store up in barns. We have the ability to think about the future and prepare for the future.  We have the ability to strive for things, but it’s what we strive for that makes a difference.

Jesus says that the gentiles strive for the things of the world, but that we should strive for the kingdom of God.  Now the term gentile is not a derogatory word.  A gentile was a non-Jew, so technically that would include all of us, but I think a better way to see this is to understand as those who say that they don’t put their trust in God, but put their trust in their stuff for safety and a sense of being and purpose.  But those who strive first for the Kingdom of God put their trust in God first in all that they do.  The Greek word used there for strive is the same in both instances. So it’s not the striving that’s the problem, it’s what is being striven for, and who and what we trust in.  Do we trust in stuff or do we trust in God?  After all, we ask in the Lord’s Prayer to give us this day our daily bread, and that’s true even if we have gluten allergies, or don’t like bread, except the really delicious Hawaiian bread. How did the Hawaiians learn how to make such good bread?

But then comes the final crux of the passage for understanding worry, and that is that Jesus says “don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  The way I like to think about this is that Leo Durocher, the irascible manager for the then Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, when asked about not using some of his bullpen pitchers in order to make sure they were available to pitch the next day said “You can’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow it might rain.”  Because that’s the thing about most of our worries, is that they are not about the immediate, things happening right now.  Instead we are worried about things that might happen, at some time in the future.  We are working on trying to bring the future into the present, but we can’t do that because the future is unknown.  So instead we have to focus on the here and now, and what God is already doing here and now.  Worried about that mole? Get it checked out. Worried your kids aren’t doing well in school? Get them help.  The problem with our worries though is that we confuse problems with predicaments, and we worry about both.  Problems have solutions.  It’s something you can do something about, and so really we shouldn’t worry about problems because we can do something about them.  Predicaments, on the other hand, are things that don’t have solutions, it’s something that must be coped with and endured, but still not worried about because there is nothing you can do.  Worry doesn’t get you anywhere in solving either problems or predicaments.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote what is now known as the serenity prayer, the beginning of which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”  That’s what most people know.  But then it continues, “Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen.”  So, what Niebuhr is saying is worry about the things you actually have some control over, don’t worry about the others, and put your trust in God that God will take care of it all.  We hear the same thing in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which contains the only other reference in the New Testament to worry, and he says “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Don’t worry, and when you do, deal with it first through prayer and supplication.  It’s been said that worrying doesn’t eliminate problems but instead makes them bigger, whereas prayer makes them smaller because it helps us to realize we are not facing these things alone.  So first begin to pray, and then second is to give thanksgiving to God.  That means that rather than focusing on the things that we are worried about, instead of borrowing from tomorrow, we instead focus on what God is already doing for us in the here and now.   And so to give thanksgiving to God, we have to remember the blessings we have already received.  We have to remember, in the words of someone, that the things we take for granted are the things that others are praying for.  The things we take for granted are the things that others are praying for.  That is there are others worried about the things we don’t even really think about anymore.  And what’s worse is that many of the things we worry about, the things we strive for, are things that draw lines in the sand for us, and we say “if only I had this, then I could stop worrying,” but as soon as we get that thing the line gets move and we keep striving after the unattainable.  But when we give thanks for what we already have, then we change our perspective on life, on things and on worry.  In a study from Harvard Medical School they found that those who express gratitude worry less; gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. If it’s from Harvard it has to be right

I want to show you a video that I found that I think is appropriate to help illustrate this point, and also appropriate for Mother’s Day, for how a simple change in perspective can make all the difference in the world....

What are we taking for granted that others are praying for?  Now May is mental health awareness month – so in this message I hope you know that I am not downplaying anxiety or other issues that may cause us to have excessive worry, so if that is what you are dealing with you need to get help, and help is available, hope is available, you don’t have to let these things control your life.  But for most of us the worry we have comes from us, and we need to channel it into new directions by refocusing on what we spend our time thinking about.  John Maxwell says that worry weakens but faith strengthens, worry imprisons but faith liberates, worry paralyzes but faith empowers, worry disheartens but faith encourages, and worry sickens but faith brings healing.

God doesn’t promise to take away the worries, or to take away the problems, because they are a part of being human, they are a part of being alive, but what our worries can do is to keep us from living.  We are so worried about everything that we are too busy to live; we end up with a near-life experience.  What God promises us, what Jesus promises us, is that God will be present for us in the midst of life, the good and the bad, that God knows what we need, that God knows what all of us need, and that God has provided for us in abundance and it’s already here, surrounding us, but we are so often worried about other things that we miss it entirely, and not only do we miss it, but we don’t share it with others.  We are blessed in order to be a blessing.  I think that is certainly a lesson we could learn from our mothers and the other significant women in our lives, who may have felt blessed when we entered their lives, but whose blessings far surpassed in what they gave out to us and the world.  Don’t steal from your future in worrying about tomorrow, instead pay attention to what God is doing here today, add to your blessings today in counting them and naming them and sharing them as we strive not for the things of this world, but for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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