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September 3, 2017

“What, Me Worry?”  Matthew 6:25-34

There is PLENTY to be worried about these days- the unfolding disaster that is Hurricane Harvey; North Korea shooting missiles over Japan, President Trump polishing his sword and getting ready to use “all options” and that we are “beyond talking” to negotiate with them; ongoing fires here in Oregon, firefighters fighting them with their lives on the line, homes being destroyed by those fires near Bookings, no containment expected until…OCTOBER, smoke everywhere. Those kinds of huge worries can be overwhelming, can’t they?  And of course in addition to those kinds of big, overarching global concerns, we all have our own personal or family worries. For example, I learned on Wednesday night that my mother has pneumonia, and that she spent the night in ER before being released to go back home to her assisted living facility. She had pneumonia a year ago, which really impacted her health. When I went to work the next morning, I felt sapped. Worry can do that- can take our energy away, especially if we let our worries overwhelm us.


Yet today’s passage seems to tell us not to worry. In fact Jesus says do not worry about our lives, or worry about what we will eat or drink, or about our bodies or what clothing we’ll wear. In light of the global concerns, and our own personal worries, how can we possibly do as Jesus teaches? Let’s see if we can find some understanding as we dig a bit deeper into this section from the Sermon on the Mount.



Today’s passage includes two themes to focus upon- worry and trust. In fact I think worry and trust are connected. Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew concern our ability, or lack thereof, to trust in God and God’s love for us, that is fact that our lives are in God’s hands- ESCPECIALLY IN TIMES OF WORRY. He gives instructions on not being overly worried about our lives; what we shall eat or drink, about our bodies and what we shall wear, and to trust in God’s care- to consider the birds of the air and how the Creator cares for each one; to remember the flowers of the field, clothed in beautiful colors, each one brought forth from the Creator’s hand, each one robed in splendor- many of which are never seen except by God. If God cares for such creatures and plants, will not God care even more for we humans, who according to the Psalmist in psalm 8, were … “made a little lower than God, and crowned us with glory and honor?”(Psalm 8:5)


Jesus says, don’t worry about what you need for life. God cares greatly for us. The Greek word used here for “worry”, marinate, means “split attention” or “have divided concern.” If our attention is on our concerns and worries, and not about trusting in God’s providence and care for us, our worries will overcome us.


When I was about 15 years old, I had the privilege of learning how to rock and mountain climb with my uncle Andy. I began my learning on some cliffs overlooking Moonstone Beach up above Eureka. My uncle gave me a climbing harness, then showed me how to tie the rope to my carabineer. He pointed out a route to climb on the face of the cliff, then grabbed the other end of the rope, which was connected to a bunch of ties on the rock. He belayed me, using his weight to counter mine on the rope, just in case I fell, which I did NOT want to test...He told me I really needed to trust- to trust my equipment, trust my rope and trust him.


Now part of the reason I wanted to try rock and mountain climbing was to overcome a bit of a fear of heights- made sense to me to conquer this fear by tackling it head on. So, I began my ascent up the rather steep face of the cliff, got up about 40 feet, and then got stuck. There was an overhang, a rock that went out from the face. My uncle tried to tell me how to climb up and over it, but I was so nervous that it was hard to grasp anything. My heart was pounding, my muscles tight. I tried to grip the overhang and pull myself up, but quickly found myself falling. After about a 15 foot drop, I stopped- the rope, my Uncle and the harness kept me from falling very far. That, my uncle said was a good lesson to learn when climbing- trust. I had to fall to learn to trust in my equipment.


In this life, I’ve fallen many times. I’ve fallen a few times a lot farther than I thought I ever would, in the long suffering and death of our first child, as well as a few other very difficult times, and I and wondered if I was about to hit the ground. Yet in every crisis I have experienced, I have found the rope held, and I have learned through each of those crises to trust God more and more. Theologian Wolfhart Panneburg said, “Trust is one of the fundamental aspects of life for human existence...only trust allows the soul room to breathe.” I have learned to trust God with all of my heart, even in times of worry and difficulty, and indeed this allows my soul to breathe in all circumstances-although it isn’t always easy…


When I heard about my mom being ill, I admit I felt overwhelmed at first- My chest was tight, and it was hard to breathe. I felt helpless, and wondered how if ever I was going to get to sleep. I was so far away from my mom, and began to wonder if I should just drive there that night.


Then I remembered being in a similar situation when my father had a heart attack, many years ago. I was actually in the middle of leading a worship service when Paula came down the aisle at the church and whispered to me what was going on. I couldn’t stop the service, drop everything and drive for 6+ hours. I had to take a breath, pray, and envision God’s hands around my Dad. I did the same thing then with my mother-I prayed and asked for God to bring her help and healing.  This was an example of placing the kingdom of God first in my thinking- to remember that no matter how many worries I had, God was actively helping me with each of them, providing as needed in each situation, even if I could not see all of those provisions. I thought about this passage- Consider the birds of the air, the flowers of the field- God cares even greater for my mother and for our family than these. In time, I was able to get to sleep.


Worry and trust are connected to the next part of Jesus’ teaching-our needs in this life. Do we really have all we need?  In verse 32, Jesus notes that it is the “Gentiles” (in this case non- believers) who strive to have more and more things, a reference to the pervasive Roman culture of the day which valued ostentatious wealth above all else and even saw it as a sign of the gods’ pleasure and blessing. Jesus then tells the disciples to trust that God knows what you need and has supplied it in all ways on this fertile earth.



But, shouldn’t we stockpile canned and dry goods, just in case?  Perhaps it is time to invest a bit more in some secure areas, to provide a bit more for retirement. Who knows what the economy will be like tomorrow? Due to the hurricane, with gas prices going up, maybe we should start stockpiling gas cans in our garages, just in case we hit $5 or $6 or $7 a gallon soon... A Nigerian proverb says, “Human beings see the mouth, but God sees the Stomach.” 


We think we need more, because we only see a portion of the whole picture, but God sees all, and provides us with what is needed. When we worry and focus upon our needs, we miss the signs in nature around us of God’s providence and care; we fail to see the lilies of the field, the birds of the air; we fail to notice the needs of others-those who lack shelter and food in places like Texas right now, or throughout the developing world, focusing instead upon fulfilling all our needs. 11th century Cistercian abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Theirs is an endless road, a hopeless maze, who seek for goods before they seek for God.”  


I Have an example of one of many times I have not sought God’s kingdom first, instead being a good example of being a Gentile striving for more and more, seeking goods before God. I shared this example with the Bible study group on Tuesday. This is a very prized possession of mine- My Oakland A’s hat, which I purchased about 4 years ago, when the A’s were a better than average baseball team. Now I have to say I did not NEED this hat. Over the decades, I have collected a LOT of A’s memorabilia- shirts, jackets, hats, bobble heads, pennants, posters, pins, and even a couple of foul balls I caught and got signed. But as I walked around the stadium between innings, I walked up to a merchandise counter and scanned the wall, looking for that special something which would speak to my love for my favorite team, and hearken back to the early 70’s when I first began following them. And there, up high on the shelf, was this hat, which had the “Swingin’ A’s” moniker on it. That was their motto back in the early 70’s when they won three World Series titles in a row from 1972-74. I had never seen such a hat, found exactly what I knew I needed, and did not care about whatever the cost was- I had to have THAT hat.

So, $60 later, I had my prize possession, and it made me happy… until I came back to my seat and told my wife how much I had spent on said hat. What can I say? I was caught up in the moment. I knew that hat would make me happy, and other fans who saw me wearing it would know that I was an old school A’s fan.


Jesus said, “Do not worry about what hat you will wear…”The hat, in the end, did not make me happy. In fact by the next season,2015, and lasting into this year the A’s have been consistently one of the worst teams in baseball. Clothing doesn’t make us happy in a lasting sense, nor do sports franchises. A wise person once wrote, “I asked God to give me everything to enjoy life. God responded I gave you life to enjoy everything.”


In verse 27, Jesus says, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” We can get so worried about our needs, our concerns-but worry does us no good. Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles: it takes away today’s peace.


So in reality, I think this teaching is about priorities- to place our trust in God above our worries in this life, to believe that God provides as we need, and if we have more than others, rather than hoard it as those who have no belief in God may do, we give thanks for what God has provided and share it so that others have enough. Living in such a way is putting the Kingdom of God first.


I am reminded a bit of the old Abbot and Costello baseball routine, “Who’s On First?!?”- Is the kingdom of God first in your life? Or are doubt, worries and your needs standing there on first base, and God is still in the dugout? Seek first the kingdom of God- Let God be in first in your life, and all that is needed will be given to you.  Sisters and brothers, our concerns, our desires, our wants and needs- all of these are in the hands of the God who cherishes and loves us.  4th century bishop of Hippo St. Augustine said, “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.”  Alleluia! Amen.

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