This is the sermon I preached last week at my church Redemption Church. If you are a pastor feel free to copy & steal everything. I must acknowledge that I stole the Harlow idea & some of the intro wording from John Ortberg’s sermon on Living beyond anxiety.
Epiphany 8A – Matthew 6:24-34
Do Not Worry
The text for today starts & ends with the same statement: do not worry. Now we know that generally in his teaching style, Jesus really isn’t that into do’s & don’ts. He doesn’t hand these things out lightly. So when he does, you know it’s probably pretty important. And “do not worry” is certainly an important command. Because we all worry about something, don’t we? I mean, everybody here worries about something. Some of you probably only worry only every now and then. Some of you are experienced worriers. Some of you are thinking of going pro. If you guys find yourself not worried about something you get worried there’s something you should be worried about… so you worry until you figure out what it is, right?
A kind of synonym of worry is the term anxiety, which is the mental distress & emotion pain that goes along with constant worry. And anxiety is a serious thing. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in our society – affecting more than 18% of the population. So for many of us in this room, this is very personal. I’ll just confess my worry is that a sermon like this will end up doing more harm than good… because when you might take away from it is, “I shouldn’t worry so much, I guess I don’t trust God enough.” And then you just worry about how much you worry;
So let me say up front: If you struggle w/worry & anxiety, the last thing in the world I want is for you to feel guilty about it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a pretty serious worrier. I come from a long line of worriers. So this runs deep for me. And people who deal w/serious worry & anxiety are some of the most courageous people I know. The last thing I want is for you to leave worried about how much you worry/ & I don’t think JS wants that either.
Because although he starts & ends this section w/the command, ”do not worry,” the actual pinnacle of this section is v. 34 where he says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Let me try to illustrate what I mean.
In the 1950s there was a researcher named Harry Harlow. If you ever took psychology you had to study this guy.Harlowdid a lot of work on human affection & the need for love. And he worked w/the little rhesus monkeys. He raised these monkeys in a cage w/two moms. One was a wire monkey mom they would get milk from. The other was a soft, cuddly mom, that it would snuggle with. The researchers really thought the monkeys would spend more time on the mom who gave them milk. But they actually spent 17-18 hrs a day on soft & cuddly mom.
They dreamed up this experiment to try and scare the monkey & see which mom it would run to… just watch this clip of it. Okay first of all, what kind of sick person dreams up this experiment? … and who made that machine? …so creepy. Where’s the psychological profile on the guy who made that? I love whatHarlowsays in that clip. It wasn’t a running away, it was a running to… when the monkey is scared, it runs to the one he trusts & almost immediately the fear & anxiety & worry melt away & contact with the one who loves him changes his entire personality. I think that is what Jesus is after: not just a running from worry, but a running to the Father.
Jesus starts by saying, “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? And the list is telling: what you’ll eat, drink, body, wear. That’s really a list of what peasants worried about – the poor. In fact poor people still worry about those four things. We don’t worry too much about those do we? But we all have our things.
You should have received a blank card when you came in & a pencil to write with, if you would just grab that – do a little exercise. We’re going to call this the Worry List. What’s your biggest worry… causes you the most anxiety? Maybe there are couple come to mind. Write them down here… Now, don’t be too specific, because someone else is going to read this (not like, out loud & they won’t know it’s yours).
So be as honest as you can be about your worries. But, don’t mention names or too many specifics. Keep this w/you as I’m talking & if other worries come to mind just add them to your Worry List… we’ll come back to them later/let’s read…
26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Jesus says, “stop thinking about people for a second, and let’s talk about birds.” There is a natural sphere of existence that birds are meant to occupy… he calls them “birds of the air.” Birds are meant to fly – they’re at home in the air. When birds are centered in that sphere, they are cared for. Birds don’t plow fields & plant crops & harvest & store grain. They are not really qualified for that kind of work. But as long as they live in their natural sphere of existence, they have everything they need to live.
Same is true for us: We have a natural sphere of existence we are meant to occupy. And when we live centered w/in that sphere it is actually possible to live for the most part w/out worry and anxiety. And our natural sphere is that we don’t GENERATE our lives; instead we RECEIVE our lives from God. That’s what JS is doing w/bird thing.
It might seem like we generate our own lives: we DO plow fields & plant crops & harvest & store grain (figuratively…). There’s some stuff we can do – but in the end it is very limited. We can’t make the crops grow, right? We can’t make it rain. We didn’t cause ourselves to be born – or born here not Africa. You know, most of what is essential to our natural sphere of existence we are really receiving, not generating. We are the CREATED… we are not the CREATOR. If we’ll live in that natural sphere of existence, we will find that the world is just charged w/grace; overflowing w/love of God. It’s a deep truth about life we can even see just in nature.
There’s a great poem by Wendell Berry which captures this idea. It’s called: “The Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Berry’s speaking of a freedom that comes from resting in the idea that God knew what God was doing when God made us w/certain limitations. It’s exhausting to try to control things that are out of our control. That’s worry; trying to control things that are out of our control. And if we’ll just stop… then we’ll “come into the peace of wild things…” and we will “rest in the grace of the world.”
My kids love the books Duck on a Bike & Duck for President. Do you know these books? They’re funny because Duck won’t just act like a duck. Duck’s always running for president or riding a bike, and it never works out, because the duck never likes it & in the end, he always goes back to being a duck to find peace.
Being a duck, that’s where the peace is when you are a duck. I mean the stunning observationBerrymakes is that this is not a limitation. This is actually a kind of freedom. He says, “I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.” There is a grace that’s built into the created order & when I rely upon it, I am free to just receive my life from God. When I reject that grace – and try to generate my own life – the result is an abiding worry & anxiety.
You know, worry is almost always assuming control for things… control that God never meant for us to have. Assuming control for the future… it’s just not part of what we’re designed to do. So Jesus says, “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
If you have your own bible, there’s probably a footnote that the oldest manuscripts of this passage actually say, “can you by worrying, add a single cubit to your height.” I almost like that better. Can you – by worrying about it – make yourself taller? Can you – by worrying about it – extent your life by even 1 day?
We don’t have that kind of power… but we can come into the peace of wild things & rest in the grace of the world anytime we become content with just being a human being, & stop trying to be God.
There are really two ways to blow this – & that’s the first one. First: we start thinking we’re too big – like Duck on bike. We start acting like God – (birds of the air never do that). Second: start thinking that we’re not big enough, too small. That’s really the heart of the next section: JS continues:
28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
The flower doesn’t need to toil or spin in order to be beautiful. It just has to be what it is… and that is beauty enough. This is the concept of Flourishing. God wants all of us to flourish. Andy Crouch defines flourishing as the gift of being able to be “magnificently oneself.” When the flower is true to its own nature, its inner beauty spills out into the world…we call this FLOURISHING. You try to get a flower to be anything else you gotta kill it; make it a Corsage, bouquet it will soon die. The flower flourishes simply by being a flower. And as it does, in its own way, it glorifies the creator.
This is really a deep truth about what God is after in the world. The source of worry is when we try and hijack this… when we try to do something other than what we are designed to do. And it’s not always a delusion of grandeur, sometimes it’s the opposite. We start thinking we’re worthless & we treat ourselves miserably, or else try to dress ourselves up in fancy clothes – we call that toil.
Toil is such a great term – especially because it is connected to Gen. 3 and the result of Adam & Eve’s failure to trust God. Jesus mentions Solomon here. Solomon is a perfect example of toil. Solomon had everything he could want & it was never enough. You name it, he needed more: Wives / concubines / vineyards / wise men / power / wealth… it was never okay for Solomon to say, “I’m enough.” So his existence was a kind of TOIL.
I think of this especially in regard to careers: A good friend of mine has a brother in law who is a born artist… one xmas they were doing these goofy projects. Took a bunch of hard candy & made stained glass windows. Everybody else’s looked like a 3rd grade art project. His was ornate & beautiful, like it could hang in a cathedral They wanted to remodel their kitchen, so he designed a showroom kitchen. When the professionals got involved they didn’t even redo his design – they just went off his drawings. His nieces & nephews will be coloring w/crayons – he’ll join in & produce this phenomenal work of art w/crayola crowns… He’s just a born artist… and his secret wish is to be an architect, instead he sells cars… and he’s miserable.
Every time he does what he’s designed to do, beauty spills out into the world… you call that flourishing. But what he does every single day is sell cars… you call that toil. Nearly every person I’ve known who lives like this, lives out of a deep sense of INSECURITY. How will we pay the bills? “I can’t really do that… I’m 50 yrs old, I can’t change careers.” It’s a deep sense of insecurity that convinces us we’re less than. Jesus says, “The flowers never get insecure, live in SECURITY.”
When we become convinced we’re not enough… that being who we were created to be isn’t enough, we end up selling cars & toiling instead of letting what’s inside us spill out into the world in redemptive. The result is that so many people end up living their lives with a deep sense of dislocation – like they are a stranger in their own lives. The life they are living is not their own. This is a sign to us that we are not inhabiting our place… the place God has designed for us.
If the first way to blow it is to start thinking we’re too big, the second way to blow it is to start thinking we’re too small. That the life God has given us isn’t enough, so we better get some better clothes… that’s the Solomon mistake, it’s a mistake of insecurity. And to that, Jesus says, look… “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?”
Jesus connects worry to a basic lack of faith; the inability to trust God and then to live out of a place of deep and profound trust. When we feel like we’re not enough. When we live like it’s not enough just to be who we are, then we begin to live out of a deep sense of insecurity. And it self perpetuates
This is one of the worst sins of the church over the past centuries: How much time we’ve spent convincing people that they are so fundamentally broken God can hardly stand to look at them. It’s a terrible thing to teach people. And it’s not true… not if you believe what Jesus taught.
Jesus taught, “do not worry,” There’s nothing to worry about. “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.” That’s not meant to be a slam on the Gentiles. It’s just that this is one of the main differences between being a Jew & being a Gentile: The Gentiles had no sense they were loved by God. They had no interaction with God’s grace. They knew nothing of a God whose mercies were new every morning… who created them & is sustaining them. So they lived with a deep sense of insecurity. That’s probably why Rome could never have enough land; never have enough wealth; never have a big enough army.
Jesus says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” This phrase… “your heavenly Father” was a revolution. That’s how he loves you. Like a Father loves a son. Like a mother loves a child. It’s a tender kind of love that knows no disdain. PT: You can’t make God stop loving you & can’t make God love you more than he does right now because he loves you completely. You don’t ever have to worry that you are not enough.
Then he ends by saying: 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I’ve been using all of these pairs of words to try and describe what Jesus is leading us toward in this passage. (graphic/check the order)
We can RECEIVE our life as a gift
Or we can try to GENERATE our existence.
We can be the CREATED, or we can try to be the CREATOR.
We can FLOURISH & grow… or we can TOIL and spin.
We can INHABIT OUR TRUE PLACE in the world.
Or we can experience the deep sense of DISLOCATION.
We can live in the SECURITY of our loving father, or the INSECURITY of “I’m not enough or trying to be too much.”
If you were going to name those two columns… you’d name the first one FAITH… and the second one WORRY… or maybe anxiety. What we can learn from Jesus’s teaching, & surely what we’ve learned from just watching people & paying attention to our own lives. Is that the first column leads to a sense of WHOLENESS while the second column creates a deep sense of FRAGMENTATION, as our lives splinter & spin farther and farther away from what God designed us to be.
You see, the fundamental problem with the human soul is the conflict the soul experiences with itself as it tries to embrace two incompatible ways of living… and we live in a culture that will constantly tempt us to live out of the right hand column… & it will lead us farther & farther into worry & anxiety… and eventually into a kind of fragmentation… where we feel like we are literally coming apart at the seams…
I wonder what kind of a community does Redemption Church need to be, that would allow us all to live our lives without worry & anxiety? And what could God do w/a church like that? What Jesus is offering us is not just a Running from worry; it’s a running toward the kingdom. …running toward the Father who loves us …running toward our natural sphere of existence.
If you would, just take our your Worry List again & take a look at it. How does this impact you? How much are you living out of this? The invitation Jesus makes to us today is really 2 parts. The first is a running from WORRY. The second is a running toward our FATHER who loves us.
As you look at your worry list, what would it take for you to just let it go? Seriously, you know the most healthy thing you could do is just let go of that thing… let God carry it for awhile… What would it take for you to do that?
We’re going to close w/a little exercise. We’re gonna symbolically act out JS’s 2 calls in this passage. And the first one is a letting go of our worry & anxiety. We’re going to pray and reflect for a moment on this passage. And I’m going to ask you at the end to let it go in a symbolic way… How we’ll do that is you’ll just pass it to the person next to you. And then we’re just going to keep on passing them. Over & over… till you don’t even know where yours went. And you don’t even know whose you ended up with. We’ll just hand them over to the body of Christ. But first I want to invite you just to bow & pray & listen as I read this passage again.
25“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? 26Look 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? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But 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? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
As a symbol of our deep need to let our worries and anxieties go, invite you to pass your list to the person next to you… keep on passing them over & over. Now look at the one you ended up with. Just read over it for a moment. What’s the theme of the worry or anxiety listed there? I’m going to name some & I want you to stand up if the card you have in your hands right now has this listed. So you have someone else’s card now. If they listed a worry with:
- Family: children, parents, siblings… – stand up.
- Work / job / vocation / career
- Money / finances / debt
- Students: grades / college / friendships
- Future / past
- Health / our bodies
- Anyone have a worry I didn’t list – shout it out…
Isn’t that crazy, we all have the same ones. You’re not alone. And your heavenly father knows. Not only that, we all know – we’re all struggling with the same stuff. We’re all just a bunch of ragamuffins, right? That’s the first movement – we let go of our worries & they become literally picked up by the body of Christ.
The second movement isn’t a running from, it’s a running toward. And how we’ll do this is we’re going to receive communion. And invite you as you come to just place the card you ended up with on the altar. Just a symbol of how we all run to the Father. Just bring them up here and leave them – all over this altar & place them before the Father who loves us. We’ll do this as we come forward to receive communion.