Molly Bell and Glen Stoudt
Matthew 6:25-33 (NRSV) 25“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?26Look 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?27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.30But 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?31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes across as either completely naive or totally out of touch. “Do not worry?” he says, as if it’s as simple as that. You’ve got to be kidding. Most days, life feels like one worry after another in some never ending drama of confusion and upset. I worry about home, about family, about work. I worry I am too busy, I worry I am not doing enough. I worry about the state of the Middle East and about the beef in my freezer… I worry about what to make for dinner and about children starving across the world. I worry I’ve said too much and forgotten to mention. I worry that I am less of a Christian because of all these concerns I have…that I can’t simply “let go and let God”.
And, for many of us, that is exactly what we think Jesus is calling us to do in this scripture passage. Too many interpretations of this passage have taken Jesus’ words to mean that if we do worry, that somehow it makes us less of a follower, less of a Christian. That somehow faith and anxiety are mutually exclusive and if only we had enough faith we wouldn’t hear the nagging questions of concern that plague us all.
But I’m not sure that is the case with this story. Nor do I think that’s the point of what Jesus is asking us to do. Because if I think about the real anxieties I have – not the silly little ones that take up far too much of my brain but the big ones, the ones that keep me up at night and that are the backbones of my prayers – they serve a real purpose. Those things that occupy the most space in my heart and in my prayers are also those things that I hold most dear – my family, my friends, my congregation, Have I done all that I can? Have I provided a strong and loving example? Have I acted from a place of grace and compassion? Have I listened carefully enough for God’s voice and have I been bold enough to do God’s will? I worry because I care, because life matters, because I am deeply invested in the outcome. The worries that lie at the core of my being are also the foundation of my faith – the things that matter most to me in the world. And I’d like to think that’s the way God feels too.
I’ve got to believe there are people and situations that keep God tossing and turning at night – not because of a lack of faith or an inability to act, but out of this incredible love that is so broad and deep it encompasses all of creation. What’s more, I think it is this love that holds for us the key to managing our worries. Because if it really is those things that we hold most dear that occupy the anxious places in our lives, then, on this Thanksgiving day and every day, we should be looking to those very things that worry us as the inspiration for our gratitude and the focus for our commitment as Christians … but how do we give thanks in the midst of such anxious times?
Obviously, there are no easy answers to those kinds of questions or simple cures for those kinds of worries. Molly’s right, “letting go and letting God” is way too simple a prescription for Jesus to end his teaching there. So, listen again to what Jesus says, “Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things.”
I don’t know about you, but when my heart hears this bit of Jesus’ wisdom, it makes me wince because deep down inside, I do worry about such things … but, if only people who are out of touch with God worry like that, does that mean I’m one of those people? And then it dawns on me – sometimes I am. If I’m honest with myself, the more I obsess about life’s problems the less in touch with God’s goodness I feel … the more I worry about life, the less I trust God.
And yet, as convicting as that feels to me, I also know in my heart that the more I can embrace God’s graciousness, the less my worries overwhelm me. Not that worry ever disappears; let’s be honest, it just takes on a new role, transformed by God’s gracious presence expanding within me.
It reminds me of an old fashioned weigh scale, the kind they used to measure dry goods in the 19th Century, with life’s worries on one side and trusting God on the other. The more I worry (the heavier my worries become), the less I’m able to trust God … but, the more I am willing to rely of God’s ways, the less manipulative and controlling my worries become (the lighter they feel). Not that worry ever disappears; instead it’s a matter of where I choose to focus my spiritual energy – on worry or on trust? And only trust can offer the promise of honest thanksgiving.
Listen, God knows you have worries, and Jesus says as much. But the real issue Jesus ponders here is: where will you give your attention and energy? So you do your best to resist needless worry and reaffirm your trust in God. “But more than anything else,” Jesus reassures, (verse 33) “put God’s work first and do what God wants. Then the other things will be (taken care of).” For those of you who grew up around church in the 70’s, you’re probably ready to break into song because you remember the KJV of verse 33, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Allelu! Alleluia!” So easy and heartwarming to sing … but not always as easy to live.
Jesus encourages us to let our worries lead us to other people’s needs and concerns, to take our renewed trust in God’s presence and, with thankful and joyful hearts, look for ways to share God’s goodness in everyday living with those in need. Seek first the realm and righteousness of God and our worries take on a new perspective. That’s Jesus good news here: with each act of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, care, generosity, and yes, even righteousness (doing what is right toward others) – with each and every loving act we can possibly share, the mass of our trusting God expands, until we actually witness our worries lighten and our anxieties lessen. That’s God’s promise. And if that’s not enough to prompt a heartfelt response of gratitude in you, then consider the genuine thankfulness generated among those who receive God’s goodness through your acts of love. Certainly this is God’s Spirit of Thanksgiving that changes lives and helps heal the world. Thanks be to God.
Orleans United Church
Thanksgiving Sunday, 2012