Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
February 14, 2016
Matthew 6: 25-34 (CEB)
“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.
As we launch our journey this morning to “[Find] Peace in an Anxious World,” we begin with this passage of Scripture that is really in no way obscure. We are probably all at least somewhat familiar with some parts of it, even if we hadn’t realized that it comes from the Bible. This passage is pulled right, smack-dab out of the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is a word that Christians and non-Christians alike will probably recognize. And yet, have you ever noticed that Jesus isn’t suggesting, “You shouldn’t worry,” or cautioning, “Worrying adds years to your life.” Jesus is actually commanding, “Don’t worry!” “Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear.” …And we think to ourselves, “That’s the least of my worries…”
We are fortunate in that most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about where our next meal will come from or if we have enough layers to keep us warm in the winter months. We need to recognize, though, that for far too many people, these sorts of concerns cause daily worry. We also need to acknowledge that, no matter what our circumstances, every single person worries about something, whether it’s concerning basic needs or frivolous wants, or anything in between. People in Flint, Michigan, watch tainted water pour out of their faucets, and they worry about their children, and themselves. Folks down at the Community Kitchen stand in line every afternoon, hoping to get into the overnight shelter, and worrying about spending a night out in the bitter, windy cold. Moderate Muslims live in concern for their lives, afraid they might be attacked because of the actions of fundamentalists, who claim a radical version of their religion. People in Israel, Gaza, and Pakistan are concerned that at any moment a missile might drop from the sky, destroying the neighborhood and killing innocent friends and family.
Closer to home, we worry about when the bottom might totally fall out of the stock market again, completely obliterating our retirement savings. I worry about the future of our Earth, if there will even be an inhabitable Earth by the time Owen is my age. You might worry about how your grandchildren are doing in school, or how you will care for your aging parents. I ran across a headline earlier this week that said the following, “Amidst recent increases in product recalls, parents’ worst fears become realities.” We are forced to face our fears on a regular basis. Then there’s all the stuff we hear about on the news: wars, shootings, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters; one after another, day after day, after day. I want to share with you a news clip that was Scott Pelley’s sign-off on the CBS Evening News about a year and a half ago, the day after the Malaysia Airlines Flight was shot down over Ukraine. Let’s watch:
That clip, like so much of our news had so much that is sad and scary. What’s striking is Scott Pelley’s appeal to our shared humanity: “298 people that could have been any of us.” And as those faces flash across the screen: “Which is Ukraine, which Gaza, which one is Israel, which is Amsterdam…?” We see ourselves in those pictures. These are the things we worry about, which one of those pictures could be us, gripped with the reality that our worst fears have been realized. When will the suicide bomber step into my husband’s favorite coffee shop? When will the missile land in my neighborhood? What if that next fatal car accident is my mother? When will the earthquake strike here? What if that stuffed animal lying among plane wreckage was Owen’s? These are the things that worry us, that make us anxious. And I don’t want to downplay the significance of the realities we face. Whether its concern for basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, or worry about natural disasters or man-made attacks, there really are legitimate anxieties in this life.
So with all these truly reasonable worries, how can Jesus possibly COMMAND us not to worry? I mean, if you’re like me, you read this passage and you think, “Oh how nice: cute birds and pretty flowers,” but does Jesus REALLY expect me not to worry about making sure my family is fed and clothed and provided for? This is a pipe dream! How could Jesus possibly think that we could live life not worrying about these things? But we have to remember, Jesus knows about worry. Even though he is God’s son, he is also human like us, with all the same experiences and feelings, yet without sin. I can’t help but imagine that from time to time Jesus would be walking along with the crowds and his stomach would begin to rumble, and he’d start thinking about where he was going to eat that evening. He might’ve worried, just a little bit. So it’s not so much that Jesus is telling us we can live without worry; rather, I think, it is more that he is cautioning us about being consumed by worry.
I mean, think about it: what consumes you? If it’s your work, then you spend a lot of time and energy on your work. If it’s your family, then you are focusing all your efforts on your spouse and children. In the same way, if we are consumed by worry, that really drains our energy, doesn’t it? Constant worry saps us of life. Yet here we are, seeking peace, and the source of the greatest, most real peace in the world is Jesus Christ, and Christ is life! Jesus, the Lord of life, commands us not to worry because when we are consumed by worry, we lose life!
Here we are, trying our best to find peace in our lives. We have this command from Jesus, “Do not worry,” and yet we know there are some things that we almost have to worry about or we would die. I see this all the time with Owen. He’s a baby. He has no life experience. He doesn’t know right from wrong. He doesn’t know dangerous from safe. If someone weren’t keeping an eye on him all the time, he’d crawl off the bed, roll off the changing table, chew on electrical cords, and any other of a number of totally dumb things that could potentially cause significant bodily harm if not death. We have to live with at least some sense of caution and even worry, and I don’t think Jesus denies that. What we need to hear in Jesus’ command is that we are not to be consumed by worry.
So how do we do that? How do we keep ourselves from drowning in worry? Jesus’ words here in the Sermon on the Mount help us solve that problem as well. Listen again to the end of this passage we heard earlier, “Instead,” Jesus says, “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Instead of being consumed by worry, Jesus tells us to be consumed by God. Instead of drowning in fear and anxiety, Jesus says “desire God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.” The antidote to worry is not, “no worry,” rather, it is, as Pastor Mark calls it in his book, “focusing on good news.” We can allow our energy to be drained by being consumed by worry, or we can spend our energy in pursuit of the God of life!
Think about it like this. God loves us and God wants good things for all of us, for all of creation. At the same time, God has called us to serve; to share with others the love that God has shared with us, to offer food to the hungry, and healing to the sick. Christ instructs his followers to continue his work in the world, even after he is gone, to be his hands and feet. So, if we are focused on those things, there is less time for worry. It is harder for worry to consume us. But it even goes beyond that. When we strive after God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, we cannot help but be aware of God’s presence and work in our lives; we cannot help but notice the good work that God is doing all around us. Then, it’s not worry that fills us, but happiness, gratitude, joy, and peace.
You know, a few months ago during a Sunday morning service, Pam requested that we pray for the 18-year-old niece of a co-worker. The young woman, Caitlin, only 18 years old, had already battled cancer once and sent it into remission, but it came back, and we all know there’s nothing good about a recurrence of cancer. Caitlin had been diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia this time. At the point at which Pam asked for prayers for Caitlin, she was in ICU on a ventilator, her kidneys had shut down, and the doctors had shared the devastating news that there was nothing more they could do. If that’s not a reason to worry, I don’t know what is. But then Caitlin’s school counselor came to see her, and she said a prayer for Caitlin. And among many other things, the counselor prayed that God’s glory would be shown to Caitlin through God’s work in her life. Many of you know what happened next. By the next Sunday, just one week after Pam had shared the devastating news about Caitlin, she told us that Caitlin’s kidneys were functioning again and she was off the ventilator. You all heard last week the news that Caitlin is now home. If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is!
And here’s the thing: if we are looking for all the good things that God is doing in our midst, then it’s a lot harder to get in lost in worry! If we are making ourselves available to serve God and serve others so that our neighbors don’t have to worry, then we won’t have time to be anxious. If we are seeking first “God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness,” then we can come to know the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.
This week, I stopped in to see Barbara in the hospital. She was admitted to Memorial a few days after Charles had been admitted to Erlanger. As you all know, it has been a tough couple of weeks for their family. And as I sat and talked with Barbara, she said, “You know, I really have a lot to be grateful for. I’m really doing okay for someone my age.” Can you imagine dealing with what Barbara and Charles have been dealing with these last few weeks and being able to say something like that? But if we want to know peace in our lives, that’s what it takes. Even when there is plenty to keep us worried and anxious, we have to take time to be grateful for all that is good, we need to celebrate God’s blessings in our lives, and we need to give thanks for the life-giving work of Christ Jesus in our lives.
So here’s what I would like for us to do this morning as we close our time together. In a moment, we are going to bow in a time of prayer. I will say a short prayer, and then we will pray in silence because I want each of us to let go of the very specific things that are causing us anxiety right now, and I want us to turn these things over to God. Then, I want each of us to give thanks to God in Christ Jesus, again very specifically, for the many blessings and good things in our lives. After a time, we will stand and sing our final hymn, “O Happy Day.” As we sing, if you need to continue your time of prayer here at the prayer rails, I encourage you to do so. Take this time to let go of your anxieties. Take this time to give thanks to God. Take this time to let the peace of God surround you. Let us pray.