Looking worried

Epiphany 8

Matthew 6:24-34

“You look worried”, one man said to another. His friend answered, “I’m so worried that if anything happens to me today, it will be two weeks before I can worry about it!”

Dear friends in Christ,

Test your memory. Try to recall the things you worried about this day last week. Those who are habitual worriers have been called back-seat drivers. Worry has been likened to a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. All the talk in our newspapers about the difficulty people are now having in making ends meet due to the rising cost of living is increasing the worry and anxiety of many folk in our community.

It has been estimated that 40% of things we worry about never happen, another 30% have to do with things we cannot change, and 12% of our worry has to do with needless health fears. Most of the time, the troubles of tomorrow are unexpected, rather than things we have already worried about. Many people worry because they have no invisible means of support. The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are some of the most liberating words ever spoken. The freedom from anxiety our Lord speaks of comes like a welcome song from a lost paradise. To help us get our cares and concerns into perspective, Jesus adds a note of humour to his message.

Have you ever seen a bird drive a tractor and pulling a seeder? Or drive a harvester and then carry bags of wheat into a barn? Of course not. But it makes a humorous picture, doesn’t it? Then Jesus adds the picture of flowers spinning cloth to make garments. Our Lord isn’t opposing all planning for the future. Rather, he wants to liberate us from worries that so consume us that there’s no room left for joy and thanksgiving. Worry is due to an over-focussing on negative factors, and failing to factor God and his goodness into our thinking. We are so easily tempted to want more than we have. When we’ve got the more that we longed for, there are still more things we feel we’ve just got to have. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of what we possess”, Jesus reminds us. A proverb advises us, “If you want to make someone happy, don’t add to their possessions. Rather, diminish their desires.” Jesus wants any self-serving wishes and desires we have to leave us, and to make room for new desires of love, kindness and trust in God. He wants us to believe that God is at work in the economic affairs of our state and nation, and yet not only there.

Our gracious God is also at work in the regular and normal activities of daily life, in the rising of the sun, the falling of the rain, and the growth of flowers, plants and trees. Everything speaks to Jesus of the activity of his heavenly Father, from the tiny mustard seed to the blowing of the wind. We can view a sparrow’s death without questioning the goodness of God’s creation, because even such an insignificant creature doesn’t die unnoticed by its Maker. The things that happen in nature have a spiritual meaning as well as a natural one. Creation speaks to us of God’s unmerited goodness: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).”

Rain and sunshine speak to us of God’s kindness to his enemies. Every bird we see and every flower growing on its own, uncultivated by human hands, is a sign from God telling us of his care for us and His provision for our needs. In today’s Gospel, our Lord displays an appreciation of the beauty of nature without parallel elsewhere in the Bible. No one led a fuller life than Jesus. Yet he took time to delight in and enjoy the beauty of “the flowers in the field.” They are more beautiful than the gold and jewel-studded robes of King Solomon.

Those things we consider of insignificant value, like wildflowers, are esteemed so highly by their Maker that he adorns them with an excessive profusion of colour and varied shape and style. God doesn’t begrudge the space they occupy. Flowers tell us how much God treasures us. Their beauty is of no less value because of their temporary nature. Instead they tell us a powerful message about God’s Word: “Flowers fade, but the Word of our God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8).” Jesus speaks of native flowers as someone who is very fond of them. They remind us not to fuss and fret over what we should wear. The famous inventor Thomas Edison avoided this hassle by wearing the same kinds of clothes everyday!

Perhaps there was a stork or swallow flying overhead as Jesus invited us to “look at the birds of the air.”

Martin Luther’s comments on our Lord’s words here are peerless: “He (Jesus) is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of people.” Luther prefers birds to be free and not kept in cages. “Their singing of Lauds and of Matins to their Lord early in the morning before they eat is more excellent and more pleasant.” The birds of the air continually challenge us to trust God for the needs of tomorrow.

Jesus tells us that we are much more than a body to be fed and clothed. He treasures us so much he did all he could so that we might live forever. Jesus says to each one of you, “You’re blessed because you’re already in My care.” To cure you of endless worry about yourself and your future, “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” Come to Jesus Christ when you’re weary and can’t sleep because of worry. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” And especially bring your “trivial” cares and concerns to your Lord. Turn your cares into prayers then everything will look different, delightfully different.

Barry Chant and his wife’s business seemed to go all wrong. Their deli was low on stock. There were bills to pay. Then the deep freezer broke down and they lost a lot of frozen goods. A few other calamities happened as well. Barry went to bed miserable and woke up miserable. “I wonder what will go wrong today”, he’d think each morning. One night, however, he turned the whole situation over to God in prayer and left it in God’s hands. For the first time for weeks, Barry went to sleep peacefully and easily. Next day, he woke up happy and confident. Nothing had changed externally. The freezer still needed fixing. The shop’s stocks were still low. But he’d changed. Barry was a changed man. He went about his work that day singing. He and his wife had proven that you can really trust God in a time of stress, and it does make a difference!

Today’s text is full of encouragement to those whose faith is fragile and needs to grow. A fragile faith, a little faith that’s keen to grow, can do great things. Even Christians with a small amount of faith need not fear the future. Never underestimate what Christ can do for you. Instead, pray with the father of that mentally ill child in Mark 9, “I believe; help me where my faith falls short.” Prayer and the study of the Scriptures are more than spiritual resources. They influence how we feel and shape our values and our priorities. The more important Jesus Christ is to you, the more blessings you will receive from him.

Jesus invites you to do what needs to be done each day and leave the results in God’s hands. Accept each new day as fresh from God’s hands and let him worry about tomorrow. Trust his promises to you. Your prospects are as bright as the promises of God. Each breath, each heartbeat, each beautiful sight or sound is his gift to you. There’s no quicker slayer of worry than gratitude. In prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells a friend, “Please don’t ever get anxious or worried about me….My past life is brimful of God’s goodness and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified. I’m most thankful for the people I have met.”

Thank God for all the folk who have enriched your life. It’s gratitude that makes life rich. The larger place gratitude has in your life, the less room there is for worry. Finally, Danish Lutheran philosopher Soren Kierkegaard recommends walking as a wonderful way of getting rid of worry. He got rid of his burdensome thoughts by walking.

“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God (Philippians 4:6).”

Amen.

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