Here we go again. We have been reading chapters 5 and 6 of Matthew for four weeks now. And it doesn’t get any easier. First Jesus went about blessing people we wouldn’t choose to bless— offering grace where we probably wouldn’t think it was deserved. Then Jesus turned on us a bit, deepening the understanding of the law so that we have to think about our daily actions— we have to be intentional about how we are offering our lives to God— which, as it turns out, is more difficult than just following the law, and also more satisfying. Last week Randy helped us understand how it is that we’re supposed to pray, give, and fast in secret— not for any surface reward or for that church attendance pin you’ve been craving to wear on your lapel, but instead because in order to walk the way Jesus did, we will need deep roots in our faith, not just a faith that’s on the surface. And now, now we get really into the middle of his sermon and after all of that— he tells us not to worry.
It’s kind of like the first day of class when you look at the syllabus and you feel both awe at what you’ll be learning and terror at what you’ll need to know, and then the professor says, “but don’t worry.” And you want to say, “Of course you’re not worried! You’re Jesus! What about the rest of us!”
This is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture— to look to the lilies of the field for our in-spiration as to how much we should worry. To look towards the birds of the air so we know what it is to fully trust in God. This passage is so liberating in so many ways! And yet it is so hard to live into.
Why? Because there’s so much to be anxious about.
The Presidential Campaign— no matter who you’re rooting for, is sure to cause anxiety.
The 26% poverty rate in the St. Cloud region is something we should all be wondering about.
Thinking about global warming is always an easy way to raise my blood pressure a bit, not to mention how we’re treating each other these days and what our children and grandchildren will be inheriting after I’m gone. That’s my extremely short list. I’m not even going to get started on the petty things that I worry about.
But here’s the thing— all of that worrying leads nowhere good.
At Hennepin United Methodist we began a worship service several years ago around the 12 steps of recovery. It was right when another recovery service had stopped meeting in Minneap-olis, and we thought that it would be good to offer this to anyone who was in recovery and wanted a specifically worshipful place to be. We saw it as a terrific outreach for the church— to share the Gospel with people who might not otherwise come inside. Ironically, after the first few months, we found that it was mostly church people who went to the service. Some were in re-covery, of course, but more often than not, there were a majority of folks who had never thought of themselves as addicted before, but were beginning to recognize that we’re all addicted to something. It didn’t have to be drugs or alcohol in order for people to feel out of control and lost. Many of them realized they were addicted to worrying— to anxiety. One woman, who was known to complain about a lot of things in the church, came up a few months later and said, “I’m beginning to realize that my judgments of everything are coming out of feelings of inadequacy inside of myself. So I’ve decided to work on those right now instead of worrying about how to fix everyone else.”
They were learning that they had to trust in God in order to live each day to the fullest.
Our anxiety— which, if studies are right, is growing each day, has become a habit for many of us- a necessity to help us feel in control. The interesting thing is, it's just an illusion. As Jesus says, we can't change anything by worrying about it. We think it's logical to worry; but I think there's a strong argument to be made that it's one of the most illogical things that we do. Worry-ing about something does not change it. And it doesn't change us for the better. Worry leads to fear and fear leads to many problems-- violence against neighbor, violence against self, inability to act, avoidance of using the power have to live into God's love.
But if we flip it around, and recognize that worry is not useful, as Jesus states so beautifully in pointing out the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, than we can begin to imagine something different for ourselves. We can use all of the mental energy we would normally spend worrying, and instead use that time and energy to seek first the Kingdom of God, which is exactly what Jesus says next.
While the world rages on in its worried state, it is time for us to heed what Jesus is saying and begin practicing trusting in God’s love and putting our whole self there. It’s about time we imagine the future that we believe God is calling us to, and work towards it with all of our might as Jesus did.
I was listening to an interview recently with Patrisse Cullors, one of the leaders in the Black Lives Matter Movement. And she said something that really struck me. She said someone had to imagine handcuffs for them to exist; someone had to imagine prisons for them to take shape in the way that they have; and so we have a responsibility to begin imagining something else-- to begin to imagine people living together acknowledging each other's humanity and celebrating life instead if death.
Jesus’ desire is for us to imagine a future for people everywhere— a future in which everyone knows they are loved; a future in which everyone has a place at the table and a place to call home; a future in which we don’t need to worry about anything because we are living in the Kingdom of God where people are kind and loving and just and open and vulnerable and forgiving. That's the other piece of this. Jesus is asking us to not only practice not worrying for ourselves, but to live into a future where people are looking out for one another. We are called to seek the Kingdom of God so that the people of Flint, Michigan don't have to worry about being poisoned by their own water anymore; to work for a future in which more than a quarter of us in the St Cloud region are struggling just to get food on the table for our families. But we’re not going to be living into that future— we aren’t going to be seeing that the Kingdom of God is right here among us— when we are spending all of our time worrying and fearful about what is to come. Jesus knows that everything isn’t alright. What he's advocating for is not that we ignore reality, but that we spend our time focused on the Kingdom of God rather than worrying about all the things we cannot fix and all of the things we have no control over anyway. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. And all these things will be given to you.”
God wants to give us what we need. But so often we don’t even know what those things are. And so we have to trust in God. We have to begin practicing what it looks like not to worry— even if we start with the next five minutes. And then the next five minutes. And then the next five minutes. Maybe we need to start recognizing that we are all addicts— that so often we do not live as people who trust in God and know we are loved— and start today with reminding each other that here is a safe place not to worry. Here we can imagine something different. Here, to-gether, we can work with our community to uncover the Kingdom that already lives within us.
Mary Oliver wrote a poem called, “I Worried” and I’d like to read it for you this morning:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning.
Jesus invites us to give it up. To take our bodies out into the morning, and to sing. To seek first the Kingdom of God, and in doing so, to let go of our anxiety; to let go of our fear; and to trust in God’s love to create something more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
Sources that I interacted with in creating this sermon: Alyce Mackenzie's reflections on the same passage; David Lose's blog, Working Preacher; Brian McLaren's book, We Make the Road by Walking, and a book of poems by Mary Oliver called Swan.