Matthew 6:25-34 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? Look 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But 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? Therefore 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; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
MESSAGE “Got Worries?” Rev. James R. Renfrew
OK, it’s about as clear as it can be. Chapter six, verse 25: “Do not worry”. Let’s repeat those three simple words: “Do not worry”. Take a long, deep breath, and then exhale by saying those three words. “Do not worry”. Breathe out your worries, and breathe these three words deep into your heart and soul. “Do not worry”. Aaaahhhhh!
Worrying about things is not the way to live. Jesus says so, and as Christians we must follow his instructions. I thought about having a big ceremony about it this morning. I would have had you write each of your worries on a slip of paper, gather them into a big barrel, and burn them all in a big bonfire out on the lawn. We’d dance around the fire in a joyful conga line or the Chicken Dance or the Electric Slide, or even the Hokey-Pokey. Worries? None here! Not anymore! They’re gone! We’re done with worrying! For good! Forever! Can I hear an “amen!”. Can I hear a chorus of “amens!” Can we shout that “amen” loud enough to wake up the neighbors across the street?
OK, well I decided not to do the bonfire thing. Dancing around a bonfire would get most of us arrested for disturbing the peace on a quiet Sunday morning, especially if it was the Hokey-Pokey. My Dad used to call the local jail the “pokey”, and now I know why! Besides, I’ve got enough to do around here without having to visit all of you in jail this afternoon! So we’ll just have to imagine that bonfire, and all of your worries going up in smoke, blown far away by the breeze, never to trouble you again. Aaahhh!
Did any of you watch the Lord of the Rings movies? Near the end of the third movie Frodo the hobbit throws the magic ring of power into the boiling volcano. Sauron, who represents the totality of evil in the world, has risen as a huge dark cloud to finally engulf the whole world. But when the ring is suddenly and unexpectedly melted in the fires of the volcano, the large dark cloud dissipates in the breeze, never to be seen again.
Remember Bobby McFarrin’s song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy”? Can we whistle some of it? OK, your worries are now gone. Are you happy? Amen! PAUSE
But I’m sorry, I’m not there yet. I want to be honest with you. I have a lot of worries, and even though I can imagine all of them disappearing in a huge bonfire, the reality is that the things that worry me are still very close at hand. I worry a lot about a lot of things. I worry about millions of refugees seeking safety while more and more fences are being built. I worry about climate change that will only accelerate the movement of refugees. I worry about racism, xenophobia and hatred on the rise. A Jewish cemetery badly damaged by vandals near St. Louis. Two Pakistani men shot in a restaurant in Kansas, one killed, apparently because they looked foreign. I worry because so much of what we have gained in my lifetime is unraveling. And those are just the big worries. I have lots of small worries, too. About paying bills, raising children and grandchildren, my health, and a car that works reliably.
“Do not worry”. I want to believe what Jesus says about worrying, but I’m not there yet. I see too much hurt and pain in the world. I worry that if I manage to stop worrying that the worst people will do even worse things. In defense of worrying I find that worrying strengthens my resolve to take action. I don’t sit in my bedroom, hiding under the blanket, wailing about the bad things in the world. I set aside time nearly every day to write letters, make phone calls, or send e-mail to encourage a change in the plans of elected officials and to sway public opinion. I also spend time keeping myself informed, so that my worrying is not griping and complaining but focused on finding solutions and taking action to promote those solutions. This kind of worrying does not kill me, but allows me to live more authentically for the sake of others.
Now I want to see if I’m hearing Jesus correctly. I want to check in with you about that. Maybe I’m getting it all wrong and you’ll help set me straight?
I think two broad interpretations of what Jesus says about worrying are possible. One interpretation is that what Jesus says about worrying is in close accord with what we know from modern science and psychology. It’s not so much that Jesus wants us to stop worrying, but that he wants us to see how worrying only adds to stress and powerlessness, and that, of course, ends up ruining our health and undermines our capacity to help others. Do you think Jesus is on the right track by urging us to shed our worries?
A second interpretation is not related to science or psychology at all, but is largely theological. As I read it, it appears that Jesus equates worrying with second-guessing God. He seems to make the point that worrying pulls us away from trusting God. If God is in control, what do we have to worry about? If you worry, then you are essentially doubting the wisdom and intentions of God. Worrying undermines and diminishes God. Do you think this is the main point of what Jesus says? “Do not worry; trust God”
Both of these interpretations leave me feeling guilty. If I worry I’m slowly killing myself. If I worry I am doubting God.
I need to tell you that a very wise person offered me a third interpretation earlier in the week. The greatest benefit of this third interpretation is that it doesn’t argue with you or judge you about your worrying; it doesn’t make you feel guilty. Instead, it draws you in such a beautiful way that it loosens up your worries and fears like a skilled physical therapist or a chiropractor, but without needing to make an appointment or paying a fee. It’s both scientific and theological. So thanks to the Rev. Bill, sitting right here, for this insight. Whenever the stresses, strains, worries and fears get to be too much, here’s what you can do: take a walk! Yes, it’s that simple. Take a walk. Walk among the flowers in the garden or out in the field. Bring some flowers into your home. Or take a hike in the woods and listen to the birds singing, and marvel how their simple songs rival the greatest music. This makes a lot of sense to me. We have worries, but we need to be spiritually refreshed in order to face the challenges of our day. Take a walk, enjoy the flowers, enjoy birds singing.
We need to spiritually refresh ourselves. I think that may be the main point, the best interpretation. So how do you refresh yourself as the worries pile up? I’m not talking about diving into distractions, I’m talking about finding places and moments that help us find the kind of perspective that God would wish us to have.
I enjoy riding my bike along the canal to experience this spiritual reset. This fall I started running at the YMCA, round and round a track that is 1/32nd of a mile, 32 times, 64 times. Down below on the gym floor children are playing games, adults playing floor hockey, seniors playing pickle ball. It works for me, I feel re-energized, a little more focused and ready for what comes next.
Let me know how you find ways to take that walk among the flowers and the bird songs!