Monday, October 24, 2011

October 23, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - What, Me Worry?

Matthew 6:25-34

The Sermon On the Mount

What, Me Worry?

Is anyone surprised we are here this morning? The world was supposed to end on Friday, did you know that? According to Harold Camping, who also predicted it would end back in May, we shouldn’t be here.

Back in 1988 a book showed up in my mailbox. Titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988 the author had selected a weekend in September that would bring the end of time. Next year I received the sequel – 89 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1989. I didn’t receive a book the next near.

Why are people drawn to such predictions? I think much of it is because the anxiety of the present drives an almost insatiable desire to peer into the future to find a sense of hope. That desire to know the future allows people to be taken in by these predictions. People want to know the future because they are looking for assurance. It is no coincidence that these sorts of predictions come during troubled times, because people are very anxious, and they will grasp at what will provide evidence that God is in control.

As we continue our series on the Sermon On the Mount, this morning we come to a passage that speaks powerfully, I believe, to all of us. It speaks to our fear of the present and the future. It speaks to our worries and anxieties, which are very real struggles for all of us.

Would you like to live a life free of worry and anxiety? Is it really possible to live such a life?

Let’s read what Jesus has to say.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Piece of cake, right? Everybody okay about the worry and anxiety now? None of us are ever going to worry again, right?

Worry and anxiety are very real elements in life, and they are very difficult to overcome. Would, for example, unlimited wealth ease all of our worries? No. It matters not how much or how little we have, worry and anxiety are a very real presence in our lives.

So how possible is it for us to do what Jesus recommends in this passage? Well, let’s take a look at what he is recommending in this passage.

First, Jesus is not saying we should be irresponsible in our approach to life.

A few weeks before I graduated from college, a friend and I were talking about what was coming next for us and discussing our plans. I made a comment about needing to get a life insurance policy and he told me I was wrong to do so, which surprised me. I asked him what could possible be wrong with buying a life insurance policy. He used this passage as support for his position, saying that Jesus told us take no thought for the morrow.

The King James translation begins verse 25 by using those words, take no thought for the morrow. I don’t think that’s a translation that adequately captures what Jesus is saying. When Jesus says we shouldn’t think about tomorrow, or the next day, is he saying we shouldn’t make any plans or preparations for our future? I don’t think that’s what he’s recommending. It’s really more along the lines of do not be distracted.

Jesus is not recommending a cavalier approach to life that never takes into account the things that are needed to live. Jesus uses the birds of he air to make his point. It is not that the birds do not work; it is that they do not worry. Jesus is not saying don’t work and don’t plan; he is saying we must not be consumed by a level of worry and anxiety that distracts us from life. So we would next say,

Worry and anxiety should not rob us of the joy and beauty in life.

I have spent countless hours in hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes over the course of my ministry. It is often a corrective to me, as I worry about so many things that do not matter.

Jesus says that we cannot add a single hour to our life by worrying. In fact, excessive worry and anxiety will take time away from our lives. Stress is one of the worst factors to act upon our bodies. Stress is, quite literally, a killer.

We lose so much of life to worry. One of the tragedies of worry and anxiety is the way in which they rob us of the ability to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of life. Yes, there are many, many things that are legitimate causes for worry, but there is also great joy and beauty in life.

Look at the lilies of the field, Jesus says. They bloom in beauty on one day and the next day they become little more than fuel for an oven, but there is beauty there.

I overheard a conversation the other day in which someone said I have this to worry about, this to worry about, and this to worry about. What an interesting way to speak. It wasn’t I have this to do or I have this to consider or I have this to solve, but I have this to worry about, as though our only option in life is to worry.

The real option is to say I will not allow the worry of so many things to steal away the beauty that is in life.

One of my favorite Wendell Berry poems is 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 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.

I think those are beautiful words, and carry the thought of Jesus to avoid the danger of missing the beauty and joys of life.

Enjoy the beauty and richness of life. Resist the temptation to allow the worry and anxiety of life to steal away your joy.

Worry about the right things.

One of my favorite Biblical stories is that of Jonah. We are familiar with the part of the story of the great fish but often forget the end of the story, where God chides Jonah. Jonah was angry that God had compassion upon the city of Nineveh – imagine someone being upset that God would demonstrate compassion – so he goes outside of the city for two reasons. He goes to pout over God’s mercy, and he goes to watch and see what would happen to the city, in hopes that perhaps God will relent of his compassion and destroy the city.

As Jonah sits and waits, God provides a vine that gave Jonah shelter from the hot sun. The next day God takes away the vine and Jonah becomes very hot in the blazing heat of the sun, and he becomes angry about his discomfort. God asks him if he has a right to be angry about the vine and Jonah, in a very petulant and rebellious manner, says he does have a right to be angry about his discomfort. And then God says you have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? And that is the end of the book of Jonah.

Jonah’s mistake was that he was worried about the wrong things. His anger over losing his comfort betrays his failure to be worried about the fate of more than a hundred and twenty thousand people.

One of the dangers of worry is that it can so easily be the wrong kind of worry – the kind of worry that diverts our attention and our compassion away from people who need us, it can be the kind of worry that turns us inward and keeps us from being able to see the needs of those around us. If I worry about what I will wear tomorrow and what I will eat tomorrow, when I have no shortage of clothing or food, that worry can keep me from remembering those who have inadequate clothing or nothing to eat. If we aren’t worried about such things, then we aren’t paying attention to what is happening in the world around us.

This kind of worry – the worry over the wrong things – not only afflicts individuals, it afflicts groups as well. It affects churches, who can become so worried about what is happening within their walls that they fail to see what is happening in the community outside of their walls. It can happen to countries, who become so concerned about what is happening within their borders that they fail to see the tremendous need outside of their borders.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1933. It was during the depths of the Great Depression, and he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I think that’s a great saying, but I don’t really agree. There are some things to fear in life, but he does point to the truth that fear, which comes from our worries and anxieties, will paralyze us.

Faith will never do away with all uncertainty and the worry and anxiety that come with that uncertainty, but faith helps us learn to overcome it. Studying Scripture reminds us that many of the great characters of Scripture had doubts, and fears, and worries and anxieties.

Abraham was never given a detailed road map of the path God called him to follow. It was simply go to a land I will show you. I will show you is the future tense. Abraham, you’re going to have to trust. Jesus called his disciples with the words follow me. No details, no road map, no discussion of salary and benefits; just follow me.

There are many things that cause us worry and anxiety. I am not where I need to be in relation to worry and anxiety, but I have made a little progress in recent years, and it has greatly improved my life.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Allow Jesus to help you overcome your worries and anxiety. Accept his peace today, and may his peace rule your heart, your mind, and your life.

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