Matthew 6:25-34; Genesis 1 – 2:4 selected verses
Did you catch that? Jesus tells his disciples, do not worry? Let’s see, does any one in this room not worry? Some of you have been Christians for a long time. Did you read this part of the bible? Jesus said do not worry? Well, worry is part of our life right? I mean what’s life without worry? How many of us worry?
What kinds of things do we worry about? We can make a long list of things we’re worried about for-sure! I wonder, what if we took Jesus at his word: can we imagine living a life without worry? No? Maybe worry is so much a part of our lives that living life without it seems impossible, not even something we would want. At the officer retreat, we studied this text, and Harold worried that if he didn’t worry he wouldn’t get anything done. Somehow a life without worries means inactivity, apathy, or even laziness. People who don’t worry, people who sings songs about not worrying…like Bobby McFarland don’t worry, be happy, they make us nervous because it sounds like anarchy or laziness.
Even Jesus? He said “do not worry” six times in this passage! Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first…and all these other things will be giving you as well. A life without worries? That’s radical, and as unrealistic; but it sure would be nice.
What would a life free of WORRY look like? I’m so intrigued by this possibility, that I’d like us to spend three weeks talking about it: Why does Jesus say Do not Worry?
What are the damaging effects of worry? That’s the subject of this week. Next week we will explore the alternative Jesus offers, closer relationship with God; a life in which the Spirit of God can make all things new for us. And then the third week we will explore different practices that can help our worries to slowly lose their grip on us…free us for a life in which God can do creative work in our lives. Father Henry Nouwen’s Book, Making All Things New, will be our guide. I pray that we may deepen our spiritual lives in this process may we learn to seek God’s kingdom first.1
What’s on our hearts and minds? What consumes our thoughts day in and day out? What are we thinking about even now? Do our thoughts wander because we are worried about other things? Two Words to describe our lives: Filled and Unfulfilled. Our lives are Filled! Jam-packed schedules have us running from one place to the next. Things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters and emails to write, calls to make, appointments to keep. The worst is that even with all this running around I find that I’m always behind! No matter how much I do there’s something else nagging at me: someone to call back, someone to visit, a project to get done, a meeting to get ready for: incessant emails to respond to.
There’s always something I should have remembered, done, or said. There those people I haven’t visited or talked to.
Why are we so busy? Is it a status symbol? To feel important? A sense of self worth?
Carmen came to stay at our house in Chile as an exchange student and she basically sat in the house all day and did little that we had hoped. I wrestled to value her for something more than what she did, or didn’t do. Can we value someone for something other than the things they do? and how busy they are?
The teenager, or family member hanging out all the time: why don’t they do something with their life?
Even when we have some down time we are preoccupied. Thoughts fill our time and place long before we are even there. The wondering: “what if.” What if I get the sick?” “What if I lose my job? What if my child’s not home on time? What if there is not enough food tomorrow? What if I am robbed? What if a war starts?
What if the world comes to an end? What ifs lead to anxiety and fear….? They make us suspicious, greedy, and nervous. Preoccupied with all these what ifs,
we have no real inner freedom; we’re always preparing for things that might happen; we can’t fully trust the moment.
40% of an average person's anxiety is focused on things that will never happen 30% on things about the past that can't be changed 12% on things about criticism by others, mostly untrue 10% on health, which gets worse with stress 8% on real problems that will be faced2
So how are we suppose to live in the present if we’re always living somewhere in the distant past or the unrealized future? What makes it worse is it seems we live in a world of constant emergency: Turn on the TV and you’ll find excited voices talking about gruesome accidents, cruel crimes, and perverted behavior; hour-by-hour, every day. And this harsh news that we hear is always accompanied by an avalanche of advertisements. We’re really missing out if haven’t seen some pointless movie, or bought some gas guzzling car with the right kind of rip off insurance. Woah! Jesus says, do not worry?
Living a life worrying about all things we’re supposed to do, and all the what ifs can have some pretty damaging effects: Grey hairs? Ulcers and heart burn? Heart problems? Stress? rashes? anxiety. Keeps us up at night?
As filled as our daily lives are, it can be easy to find ourselves unfulfilled. We can’t live up to these expectations others put on us. We can’t live up to the expetations we put on ourselves? Will my coworkers appreciate this work that I’d doing? Will my family like this meal I’m cooking? Will my teacher value this work I’m doing? Will I feel like I didn’t totally waste my day today because I only completed half of my to do list.
If we really look at what goes on in our lives, we’re busy about and worried about all these things, but how often do we feel truly satisfied, at peace, or at home? It’s like we’re connected but disconnected. Connected to so much stuff, but disconnected from the moment we’re living in.
The weird thing is that if your experience is anything like mine, I can be engaged in all kinds of things to do, but bored. Busy and bored at the same time!?
Yeah, all this stuff I do, does it make a difference? All this stuff I do, isn’t there something better? We can run from one thing to the next and wonder inside if anything is even happening.
We struggle to keep up with the many things to do, and then wonder what difference it would make if we just stopped and did nothing. People may push us in all kinds of different directions, but does anyone really care?
And this feeling of boredom can lead to resentment. Are we running ourselves ragged for nothing: clearly I’m not in control. Am I being used used, manipulated and exploited? Do people take me seriously? This resentment can lead to downright anger: anger about our situation and anger toward other people;
and it’s really easy for this anger to just settle in our hearts. And we grow cold.
And this can lead to depression. Murky thoughts invade our minds: What good are we? Has my life just been a waste? Time and energy poured into meaningless things and endeavors. Even many people who have been praised for great accomplishments, Sports stars or Movie stars, Corporate CEOs and Politicians, and have often felt unfulfilled. A few weeks ago, we visited the historical museum in Los Alamos. Letters questioning the value of so much time and energy and intelligence after witnessing the purpose that it served.
Now taking a step back: Obviously we are not all worried in an intense way all the time. But can we see how worry fragments our lives. All the things to think about, plan for, all the people to remember, to visit, to talk with, the many worthy causes to support or counter: all of these things pull us apart and make us lose our center. We can be all over the place, but seldom at home. We have an address but we cannot be found there. We are pushed and pulled in so many directions, all of these things demand our attention, that eventually we are led far from home and maybe we even forget our true address, the place where we can find ourselves. This may be the spiritual crisis of our time!
And how does Jesus respond: DO not worry. Do not worry, Do not worry. Do not worry. Jesus says, do not worry. Rather I think it is counsel to live a more fulfilled life! “Do not worry. Consider birds and flowers: Sounds kind of like a hippie things to say. Not practical, might lead to laziness or apathy. Consider your life and consider God. Set your hearts on God’s kingdom, discover your home within yourselves, and all these things will be given you as well. Something sounds right about it.
Well, I mentioned the officers’ retreat in February. This passage from Matthew was one of the ones we studied. As we read the passage, the phrase “look at the birds” really stuck out to me. I really enjoy bird watching, wonder if Jesus would have encouraged membership in the Autubon Society! A few weeks after the retreat I was having one of those mornings. I was in the office, I had a ton of emails to respond to, several messages had been left, I had a long list of things on my to do list, and my shoulders were starting to squish together, as my forehead began to furrow. I was getting worried and stressed.
Overwhelmed I looked out the window, and I saw a bird. And suddenly, the words of Jesus came to me look at the birds Chester, Don’t worry. My shoulders dropped, my forehead smoothed out and a smile came across my face, and I said, Okay God, I have all this stuff to do, but I’m not going to worry. I’m going to trust that you allow me to do what I can do today. and let that be sufficient.
Next week we’ll consider further how Jesus responds to our paralyzing worries as he offers us a new life, a life in which the spirit can make all things new for us.
In the mean time, our task is to leave this place today and do some bird watching.
Or maybe you can find a hamani party going on in town…this is Santa Fe. Hanami Party? Japanese tradition from the 700s.
1 Henry Nouwen, Making All Things New, is divided into three chapters which will delineate the focus of each week’s sermon.