March 16, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Jesus: The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters;
You: Why not?
Jesus: Because a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You: I don't know if I agree with that or not. It seems overstated.
Jesus: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.
You: Seriously? Isn't your advice a little naïve? I do need to plan ahead and know where my next meal is coming from and make sure my family is clothed.
Jesus: "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"
You: Yes, when you put it that way, but . . .
Jesus: 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?
You: Yes, but . . .
Jesus: Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
You: No, I guess not, but . . .
Jesus: And why do you worry about clothing?
You: Well, because I need to be appropriately dressed for various occasions and at least try to be somewhat up to date.
Jesus: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
You: Why do you keep making these nature analogies? Those are flowers. I'm a person.
Jesus: 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?
You: It would be nice to think so, but don't you think worry serves a useful function sometimes?
Jesus: It is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'"
You: All right. I get that you're not going to budge on the worry issue. But tell me this: what am I to do with all that mental free time I used to spend worrying?
Jesus: Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.
What do you worry about?
My family has a story about an elderly relative who fretted and worried all the time. When asked what she worried about, she said,
“Well, I worry about you kids, and the grandkids. Then I worry about the weather. I worry about what I see on the news, about all the trouble in the world. I worry about what will happen if I run out of money before I run out of life.”
She went on and on.
Finally, someone asked, “Well, when you’ve worried about all that, then what do you worry about?”
“I worry about foreigners coming over here and buying up all the farmland.”
Most of us don’t worry to quite that extent, but probably all of us worry at some time or another. I really identified with the dialogue we heard in the scripture reading. I think I’ve said something very close to that -- I do need to plan ahead, et cetera, et cetera. I think I’ve tried to justify my worrying, maybe even more than once. I expect you probably have, too.
When we talked about worrying at Bible study this week, a couple of people said worrying is their job – if nobody else is going to worry, they have to worry FOR them! I know, I know, Jesus said not to worry. He said not to worry about your body or your life, or what you will eat or what you will wear. But that was then – back in the first century, before life got so complicated. Back then, you could wander around the Galilean countryside preaching, and apparently people would feed you and give you a place to sleep.
And Jesus didn’t have a Session to answer to, or committee night, or Lenten programs, or a car that needed an oil change. He didn’t have to figure out a grocery list and a menu that was nutritionally sound and still appealing. Plus I bet he wore the same outfit every day, and nobody ever commented on it.
So, I want to make a case for worry today.
Here’s the case for worrying, made by expert worriers:
1. Worry prepares us for bad things that might happen, like a marriage falling apart, or a terminal illness, or a terrible financial situation, or a natural disaster. We need to worry. That way, when something horrible happens, we aren’t caught off-guard. We can even say, “I knew this would happen!”
2. Worry prevents bad things from actually happening. If we would all just worry enough, we could control the future! If I worry about a plane crash and call the airline five times whenever my spouse takes a trip, I can actually prevent a catastrophe. My worry keeps that plane aloft.
3. If we worry about something long enough, we can actually solve it. Usually, if we can dwell on something, ruminate, lose sleep over it, we can make it all better, can’t we?
4. Worrying about people we love is proof of our love for them. So we should make an effort to focus on fretting and agonizing about the people we care most about. It would probably be really heartwarming to them, too, if we call them five or six times a day to express our worry. They will appreciate our concern as an expression of love.
That’s four solid reasons for worrying.
I rest my case.
Of course we know that none of these justifications for worry make any sense at all.
We know that there isn’t any real benefit to worrying, and there are certain real problems associated with chronic worrying. It is obvious that worrying doesn’t prepare us, doesn’t control our environment, doesn’t solve problems, and doesn’t prove our love for others.
So what is it that makes us worry in spite of all that? And how do we STOP worrying?
Jesus demonstrates the depth of his eternal divine wisdom by answering that. But he does it in a roundabout way. Rather than give a lecture on the detrimental effects of worry, he points to his surroundings. I always imagine him in a beautiful meadow as he says these words:
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”
Jesus’ example answers those four justifications for worry like this:
1. Worry does not prepare us for bad things that might happen, but instead distracts us from seeing and appreciating the good and beautiful.
2. Worry does not prevent bad things from actually happening. We don’t have that kind of control, any more than the birds or flowers can control their environment. God is in charge.
3. If I worry about something long enough, I can actually solve it – it just isn’t true. Worrying is not the same as problem solving, and in fact probably prevents problem solving, because it overwhelms the senses, making it impossible for us to see a solution.
4. Worrying about people we love does not prove our love. It might even annoy the people we love.
On the subject of worry, Winston Churchill said, “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
Isn’t it the truth?
So, what should we do?
Instead of incessant worrying and hand-wringing, Jesus asks us to simply use our eyes, look around us, and see what God is doing in the world. Jesus asks us to quit ginning up catastrophes, or imagining the worst, or worrying about material things. He shows us the beauty of the lilies, the carefree soaring of the birds, and says, “Look here! Look!”
And then, what Jesus says anticipates the findings of psychological research that would come two thousand years later. What he says illustrates the simple truth that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In other words, if you place your priorities on God’s kingdom, and give your attention to things of eternal value, your mental and spiritual energy will be directed away from worry, and toward hope, toward love, toward beauty.
The eyes of your heart will see God’s glory.
Seriously, I looked this up –people worry less when their values and priorities are on relationships, a better world, personal growth – something beyond themselves. They are happier and less anxious. People whose priorities are on wealth, success, popularity, control of others—whose values are more about self – those people worry more, and are more anxious and depressed.
If we are directing our energy and attention toward seeing the beautiful and good, toward the kingdom of God, and toward God’s righteousness, we are less likely to be fretful about our shoes or the lunch menu. The simple truth that Jesus makes so plain is that worry distracts our vision from what is important, what is eternal, and saps our energy for God’s work.
Freedom from worry comes from fixing our eyes on Jesus, who promises loving care for us.
We can serve the master of self, of wealth, of the world, which says, “I gotta have a better car, a better position, more money, I gotta get ahead I gotta get ahead I gotta get ahead…” or we can serve the Lord of Love, the Prince of Peace, the kingdom of God. We can focus on self, or we can focus on God. But we can only serve one master.
“Don’t worry!” Jesus says. “Look around you!” Look! Look here!
In Jesus Christ, God shows us infinite redeeming love.
In Jesus Christ, in his life and death and resurrection,
God demonstrates that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
When we focus on Jesus, we behold his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. When our vision is directed beyond ourselves and our immediate desires, we can see the kingdom that Jesus said is already here. When we fix our vision on God and God’s kingdom, we get a glimpse of God’s glory.
Here is a meadow where birds swoop in carefree abandon over flowering fields that are arrayed in glorious colors. Here is a garden with a river whose springs make glad the heart, a rich and bountiful world, creation brimming with glory.
In the heavens God has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
All around us, God is making beautiful things, bringing light out of darkness, life out of chaos, and hope from the cold ground of the tomb. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Seek first the kingdom of God; look for God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Look around you. Look to Jesus. And you will see God’s glory.