Letting Go of Worry
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
April 6, 2014
Matthew 6: 22-34 (CEB)
“The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be! 24No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25“Therefore, I say to you, 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? 26Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.30If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
(Holding up U.S. currency) “In God We Trust.” “In God We Trust.” So reads the slogan on every piece of United States currency. It seems awfully ironic, doesn’t it? Every day we carry around in our wallets and our purses and our pockets pieces of money that say we trust in God. But when it comes time to pay the almost past due electric bill, what’s really going on in our heads? Are we trusting God to take care of our remaining needs, or are we worrying about how we’re going to pay the next bill or buy the groceries that week? If you’re like me, you’re worrying, not trusting. Those of you who’ve spent any time around me know that I worry about money far more than I should. I drive Ken crazy because I’m constantly tracking our income and expenses, and I call a “non-essentials spending halt” whenever we are getting close to overspending our income. For whatever reason, it’s something that consumes a lot of my energy.
At home and at work, I take meticulous measures to keep track of finances so that I can prevent future worry about how the bills are going to be paid. I actually get worried about making sure that I don’t have to worry about money. It’s almost silly, but I think I’m correct in saying that most of us spend a lot more time worrying about money and material possessions than we do in trusting God that we’ll have what we need. And Jesus knew that. So as he continues with his Sermon on the Mount, this morning, we hear him say to the crowds around him, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The message is rather simple; if a slave has two masters, there is absolutely no possibility that he can be completely loyal and devoted to both. Rich and poor alike, if we’re going to be worried about money, we are going to be distracted from our service to God.
But it’s not just money we get worried about, is it? And Jesus knew that too. He mentions clothing and food specifically, but it wouldn’t take any of us long to come up with a long list of things that we worry about. We roll around in bed at night, unable to sleep because we are fretting about the test or the big project due at the end of the week. We get anxious about making the right impression when we meet new people. We worry about whether our kids will “make it ” in school and if they’ll grow up to lead successful and fruitful lives. It seems impossible to lead “worry-free” lives. But as Jesus makes this command of us, “Do not worry!” what he is really urging us to do is to cling to faith. Even as we read the gospel story, we see places where Jesus struggles with worry and anguish. The gospels tell us that Jesus was “a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” We know that the darkness and sadness of all the world descended on him as he went to the cross. He fell to his knees in Gethsemane, wrestling with his Father’s will, and wondering if he had come the right way. We know that he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and that he was sad when people refused to trust God and see the wonderful things he was doing. But when Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume that he also led them by example. He seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention completely to the task-at-hand, and celebrating the goodness of God here and now.
As we read a passage like this, we should quickly see that it flows straight out of Jesus’ own experience of life. Jesus had watched the birds flying around, high up on the currents of air in the Galilean hills, simply enjoying being alive. He knew that they never seemed to do the sort of work humans do, and yet they mostly stay alive and well. He had watched a thousand different kinds of flowers growing—the word “lily” here includes several different plants—and Jesus had held his breath at their fragile beauty. But one sweep of a sickle or a passing donkey and this wonderful artwork is gone. Where did this beauty come from? It didn’t spend hours in front of a mirror putting on make-up. It didn’t go shopping at the mall to buy expensive clothes. It was just itself: glorious, God-given, beautiful! Jesus knew happiness, and he wanted his followers to be happy as well!
When Jesus urges us to make God our priority, he’s not talking about a god who is distant from the world, who doesn’t care about beauty and life and food and clothes. He’s talking about the Creator God, who has filled the world with beautiful, exciting, wonderful, and mysterious things, and who wants his human creatures have faith in our God; to trust him and love him and receive their own beauty, energy and excitement from God! But the unknowns of tomorrow tend to cause distress in our souls, don’t they? We often obsess over the future. Yet, when our tomorrows become todays, we come to realize that the time we spent worrying about them was a big, miserable waste! Our Gospel lesson reminds us that God provides not only for our todays but for our tomorrows as well! As we come to realize this we are freed from worry and enabled to choose a life of joyful discipleship!
The season of Lent, and all of the Sermon on the Mount is about growing in our relationship with God. Because, when we give our lives to God, the gap between our life and God’s plans lessen, and we find ourselves one step closer to God’s Kingdom. But how can we give our lives to God when we have so many things clamoring for our attention and devotion; when there is so much to worry about? Alcohol, drugs, work, fashions, food, TV, music, smartphones, shopping, you name it! What is the appropriate attitude toward this stuff if we aim to be disciples of Jesus Christ? Jesus’ hearers were addicted to wealth and possessions. And this lesson is not directed toward rich people only; poor people can idolize what they don’t have. The important point all through our lesson for today is the question: are your eyes fixed on God, or on something else? What is your priority? God or stuff?
Only when we trust God with our stuff are we able to break free! A math professor in northern Virginia has broken free from the hold “stuff” might have had on his life. Every year, Richard Semmler gives away over half of his income. He makes decisions about where to live and what car to drive based on his commitment to give. His goal is to donate one million dollars before he retires. A few years ago, at the age of 59, he had already given away almost $800,000. And not only does Richard give his money, he gives his time, working on houses for Habitat for Humanity. Now, he’s a bachelor, and he makes a six-figure salary, so maybe he has an easier time than those with family obligations. Nevertheless, he shows us how to break free. His money and possessions don’t control him. Richard’s friends and colleagues say he is always smiling. He has turned what is a burden for many of us into a joy!
Mr. Semmler has found happiness through holiness, faithful discipleship to Christ our Lord! The point is that when we are about God’s business and operating out of God’s vision for us, we have no room or need for worry! I imagine that most of you are familiar with that old song entitled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The song seems to suggest that worry could be turned off and happiness turned on through the simple exercise of one’s will. All that is needed, it seems to say, is a positive attitude. We all know it’s not that easy, right? And Jesus suggests another approach: Don’t worry, be holy. Don’t worry, be faithful. Don’t worry, just follow me. Now, I know that we all fall short of this goal, and refuse to entrust our lives completely to the Lord. But in so doing, we open ourselves to anxiety and worry.
Worry is caused by trying to do too many things, be too many things; the trick is trying to balance them all. But the antidote to worry, says Jesus, is a single-minded devotion to God. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” Christ calls us to holiness; to be set apart for God’s service alone; to be wholly the Lord’s and trust him for all of life’s necessities. If we give ourselves completely to the Lord, as his holy people, we will be spiritually focused and there will be no place for worry. For a happy and well-ordered life, we have to put the kingdom of God before all else! “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the values of God’s Kingdom include generosity, self-discipline, selflessness and love for others. And in pursuing those values we find freedom from the things that enslave us, and an affirmation of the goodness of life lived in God! “You cannot serve both God and money.” We joke about money and possessions because we are all too aware of its power. We say things like “the almighty dollar,” which is dangerously like “Almighty God.” “Money talks,” says the comedian, “but what it mostly says to me is, ‘Good-bye!’” But what Jesus is saying is that money gives orders. Possessions are like a slave master; they boss us around. But if we put our faith in the right place, there is only one boss, and that is the wonderful and loving God!
Jesus was happy and Jesus wants his followers to be the same. “Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus advises. Of course, because we live in a world filled with anxiety, it’s easy to let it rub off on us. Living totally without worry sounds, to many people, as impossible as living totally without breathing. Some people are so hooked on worry that if they haven’t got anything to worry about they worry that they’ve forgotten something. I had a friend who posted on Facebook a few days ago saying, “I keep feeling like there is something I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow night….remind me what it is and win a prize (of my undying affections).” I feel that way sometimes too. We even worry about worrying! But here, at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, is an invitation that surprisingly few of us even try to take up. Why not learn how to share in the happiness of Jesus himself? Seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Don’t worry, be faithful! Amen.
 N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part One. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), pg. 65.