Sermon: Don’t Worry? (July 24, 2011)

July 23, 2011 “Don’t Worry?”
Matthew 6:25-34

So, how are you feeling about those debt ceiling talks in Washington? If you’re like me, your feelings are running the gamut from disgust with political posturing to abject terror over what could happen on August 3. It’s surreal to think that our real lives could be affected in devastating ways if the country defaults on its debt. Really? Can political posturing really affect our lives to that extent? Disgust and terror—that about sums it up for me.

Forgive me for skipping today’s sermon on the next couple of Beatitudes. Sometimes current events just take precedence. As I thought about what I’d like to hear from a sermon today, I knew immediately—I’d want my pastor to address this craziness in Washington. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

The passage that keeps coming to mind for me is Matthew 6:25-34. Listen:

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? 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?

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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. 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?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But 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.

I guess I’m supposed find this call not to worry about my life comforting. But in light of what’s going on in Washington? I’M WORRIED ABOUT MY LIFE! Aren’t you?

Okay. So, what is a Christian response to all this debt talk? Or perhaps I should say, what are some Christian responses?

Some might side with Paul in his suggestion to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” If this is your perspective, please, please, please pray for those authorities!

Others might take a more “being good stewards” approach to the issue. Thus far, our government hasn’t been a great example of good stewardship. Fourteen point three trillion dollars in debt? Some might trust individuals to care for the common good more than politicians. If that’s where you are, please, please, please pray for all people (including yourself) to make good and just decisions with their financial resources!

For some Christians, the debt ceiling crisis reveals just how un-just and unfair much of our economic and political systems in this country can be …or if not unfair, at least skewed toward the haves more than the have-nots. Twentieth century Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara expressed this view well when he said: “When I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked why they were poor, they called me a Communist.” Questioning the system is not an easy thing to do. Just ask, I don’t know, Jesus. But for many Christians, questioning the system, holding the authorities within the system accountable, are acts of deep faith.

How we respond to the national debt crisis—by trusting the government, by advocating for more individual control of the country’s finances, or by calling for strengthening the social safety net…it is possible to find support in Christian Scripture and tradition for each of these responses. And I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect we would have representatives from each perspective here this morning.

I’m not here to advocate for any particular response to the debt crisis as more or less Christian than any other this morning. I know better than to try to tell you how to think.

What I am going to do is invite us all to go deeper than the debt debate, deeper than politics or governing principles, deeper than the economic and social systems that undergird our lives as we know them. The invitation today is to go into our deepest selves and ask: where does our true security lie? What—really—do we trust more than anything else? In the words of theologian Paul Tillich: what is our ultimate concern?

Think about it for a minute… What’s the one thing in your life that would most devastate you if you lost it? Losing this one thing would make you question whether or not you could go on; it would make you question your whole life; it would call into question everything that makes you feel safe. Can you name that one thing?

That one thing, that ultimate concern, is, in truth, our god, Paul Tillich says. The one thing we most trust, the one thing that makes us feel most secure, the one thing we cling to more tightly than anything else—that is what we worship. That is what receives our devotion. That is where we place our faith. If that ultimate concern isn’t God, Tillich would say, we’re living as functional atheists.

The gift—yes, the gift–of issues like this debt ceiling debate, is that it gives us the opportunity to see where our faith really lies. Does our trust lie in economic, political, or social systems? Does our trust lie in ourselves and our ability to care for ourselves? Or does our trust lie in the God who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness?

The more I read about Millard Fuller, the more impressed I become with the major change he made in his life in 1965. Now, Millard wasn’t perfect. Like most of us, he had his human weaknesses. But in 1965—just after he’d made his first million at the age of 29—Millard took a journey to the depths like the one I’m suggesting today.

The journey began when Millard’s accountant told him he’d made that first million. Millard’s first thought—his first thought—was how to get started on the second million. About the same time, Millard’s wife, Linda, announced she was having an affair and planned to leave the marriage. That announcement led Millard to do some soul searching.

First, he had to convince Linda to come home—she did. Then, through prayer and talking they realized that, functionally, wealth had become their god. They were functional atheists. Money and success had received their devotion; the thing in which they had most faith was their ability to provide for themselves. But like Jesus said—you can’t serve two masters. While worshiping their god of wealth, Millard and Linda had lost sight of the things that were truly important to them—family and faith.

Which is why they decided to get rid of their wealth. They gave it away. Their wealth wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that, for them, their devotion to wealth and status short-circuited their devotion to God.

I don’t think Jesus is asking us in this “Don’t worry” passage simply to sit back and wait for things to come to us. There is part of us that does need to worry about food and clothing, especially with what’s going on in Washington right now.

I do think Jesus is asking us in this passage to question our priorities, to get clear with ourselves about what comes first in our lives—not what we say comes first, but what really comes first. For Jesus the answer is clear: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…and all these things will be added unto you. Alleluia.”

When we get our priorities in order, when God actually functions as our God, then our anxiety lessens. Go ahead and worry about food and clothes, just don’t let worry about material things short-circuit your devotion to God. That is Jesus’ lesson in this passage.
I don’t know if any of this has made any sense today…I don’t know if it’s helped anxiety levels or not. Hopefully, it hasn’t increased anxiety for anyone! Here’s what I do believe, though. I believe that God loves us and desires for us to have what we need. God desires that for all God’s children. And I believe that if we get our priorities straight, if we seek God’s kingdom first, the other stuff—somehow–will fall into place.

I’m going to end today by reading the Scripture text one more time. Then we’ll sing together #772 in your hymnal, “Nothing can trouble.” This is one of those prayer songs, the kind that we sing over and over to give it the chance to go deep inside us, down to that place of deepest authenticity and need. Allow it to comfort you today.

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? 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?

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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. 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?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But 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.

(Then we sang “Nothing Can Trouble”)

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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6 Responses to Sermon: Don’t Worry? (July 24, 2011)

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks for posting. I particularly wanted to see your “Christian responses” again, to be able to sit and think about them.

    It was good to be back in the sanctuary this morning. Do you think there’s a way we can pick up the building and move it farther north?

    • Hi, Diane.

      It was so good to see you Sunday before last!

      On the “christian responses” in this sermon…they certainly don’t represent the full array of possible faithful responses (or responses of the faithful) to the mess in Washington. And none of the three is fleshed out.

      What I try to do when I address controversial issues in sermons is to present at least three possible responses. That (I hope) does two things…first, it acknowledges that two people can be equally faithful and thoughtful in their approach to any given issue and still come up with very diverse opinions on things. Second, offering three opinions instead of two, prevents (I hope) the polarization that seems to dominate all political and public religious conversation these days. Everything–everything–feels like a debate today and not a true conversation.

      Now, having said that, I think it’s important for the thoughtful Christian to decide what her or his criteria are when discerning “what God hopes” (I prefer that language to the heavily-baggaged “God’s will”). The more time I spend with the Sermon on the Mount and with Matthew 25, the more certain I become that every faith decision I make–if it is to be true to the Gospel–must begin with the question: what impact will this decision have on the poor?

      Because I’m just beginning to think in this direction, I can’t say much more about it right now except that it “feels” right AND that it’s a VERY uncomfortable question to ask!

      Peace…

  2. Rachel Small says:

    Can I steal half of this for my sermon on Sunday? Just kidding… mostly. 🙂

    Rachel

  3. helensadornmentsblog says:

    Didn’t know you had a blog too. I have you listed on my blogs to follow. Loved the sermon this morning and glad to catch up on the ones we missed when we were out of town.

    Helen

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