25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31 Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
I have a confession: I am afraid, and I am a worrier. I worry about the future, the unknown, and about things over which I have no control. I worry about my family, my unborn son, and what might happen. This past week at our 32 week doctor’s appointment, Corey and I were told that I needed to take it extra easy over these next few weeks because I was starting to have more contractions than the doctor was comfortable with. So naturally, I started to worry about whether or not the baby is going to come early, and how in the world I am going to be able to take care of everything I have going on in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas. I’m the kind of person who is used to doing it all, and I’m very independent. To have someone wait on me or tell me that I can’t do the things I usually do is frustrating, and the reason behind it, being the safety of my baby, causes me to worry.
So it’s no surprise that I struggle with these words of Jesus, and I always have. When he says these words, he is addressing his disciples and the crowds gathered on top of a mountain to hear Jesus speak. He says these words in the same sermon that he gives the beatitudes, as well as some other instructions for righteous living. He spoke to people who were filled with worry and fear. They lived in a time where they were being persecuted and oppressed, where some worried about where their next meal would come from or if they would be able to provide for their families, or if they would have enough to wear. They needed to hear a word of hope, and perhaps some solutions to the challenges they were facing. Like us today, they lived in an anxious world. And if I’m honest, to hear Jesus say, “do not worry about your life,” does not seem overly helpful. If I take this advice at face value, I find myself becoming more frustrated with the state of the world than if I had never heard them at all. Perhaps the first people who heard these words had a similar reaction.
“Do not worry?” You’ve got to be kidding me. We live in a world that breeds worry- from the evening news to advertisements that tell us we should worry about our health, appearance, or what we do not have. We live in fear that any one of us could be victims of gun violence, terrorism, or disease. We are a world and a people consumed with worry, and no one can really blame us- from ISIS to violence in our communities, to racial divides, to poverty, to fear of the stranger/refugee. And if we’re honest, there is a lot of fear, misinformation, and judgment that feeds into our worry. I have seen or heard too many hateful and ignorant things about Muslims and Syrian refugees this week than I care to mention. The more we do not know or do not understand, the more we do not see the multiple faces and stories associated with the world’s atrocities, the more we worry and the more we are afraid. It’s so easy to let worry consume our thoughts, and even take over our lives. So how in the world can Jesus possibly tell us not to worry? Or perhaps another question should be, how do we build a life that is not based on worry, but founded on faith?
Jesus gives us a hint as we recall the words to his listeners just before this “do not worry” speech. He tells us that we cannot serve both God and money. He doesn’t say this to say that money is a bad thing, but to remind us where our loyalties should lie and where our priorities should be. If we put all of our trust in money and the security to be found in it, then we find ourselves in the midst of the worldview that crowns money as Lord of all, and we find ourselves living in a place of scarcity rather than abundance. With security found in money, we always want more and think we need more.
But Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship- one that does not find its security in money or clothes or what we eat, but in finding abundance and worth in what God offers to us: and that is love. Love operates from a different economy than money- the more love you give away, the more you find that you have. Love, and especially God’s love, cannot be counted, hoarded, budgeted or stockpiled. When you have this kind of relationship of love and trust, then you have found a place of abundance, a world of possibility, and a world of contentment. Suddenly, we find ourselves in what Jesus calls “the kingdom of God.” And suddenly, not worrying actually becomes an option.
When not worrying becomes an option, our eyes are opened to new perspectives, and we are reminded that love-God’s perfect love-casts out fear and worry. We might still be afraid, we might still worry, but we are called to love anyway, work toward inner peace, and justice in the world.
Jeremy Courtney is a young man who lives in Iraq with his family, working at the headquarters of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis. He moves among Sunni jihadist sniper fire, suicide bombers, sleeper cells, and Iranian-backed militia. He’s received death threats, has had mobs incited against him, and has had friends kidnapped and killed by Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds. He confesses that he is afraid- afraid for himself, and even more so for his local friends.
Friends such as the man in the Anbar desert who had just sold his car for a few bags of flour to feed his children. Jeremy and his group flew over ISIS controlled territory and had taken sniper fire to get food to him, but they were a little too late. Jeremy and his group were able to get transportation out of the town with the Iraqi army, while this man would be left to fight against ISIS, along with the rest of his dwindling town, until the food provided eventually would eventually run out.
At the heart of Jeremy’s fear for himself, his friends, and those he helps, is also the capacity to love, even in the midst of hell on earth and in the face of death and terrorism. When he tells his story, he says, “The world is scary as hell. Love anyway.” We are fortunate that we do not fear for our lives every day like Jeremy does, but we also confess our own fears and worries. What would happen if we turned our feelings of fear and worry into acts of love and kindness? What if we redirected our fears and worries into ways that we can love anyway, despite the odds, despite the darkness in the world?
One little boy in Pflugerville, Texas did just that. On the Monday following the attacks in Paris, someone vandalized a mosque, tearing out pages from the Quran and smearing the walls with feces. It is being investigated as a hate crime. A board member of the mosque was giving a report to local news stations and noticed a little boy and his mother looking on. After the news report, the little boy, whose name is Jack Swanson, stepped forward and gave the mosque member $20, which was all he had in his piggy bank. When asked about Jack’s heartwarming gift, the mosque member simply said, “That kid is hope.”
Or what if we turned our fears and worries into prayers for our community, our country, our world? This past week, Bishop Coyner of Indiana United Methodists, shared his thoughts about the latest tragedies unfolding in our world and acknowledged that many people, out of fear, have turned to judgement, hatred, and have jumped to conclusions before learning about all sides and all people involved- victims and perpetrators alike. Many people have turned to prayer and have shared on social media images that invite others to “pray for Paris,” when the truth is that the entire world is in need of prayer, hope, and healing right now. There are many people and places that are also suffering horrific violence and terror.
Bishop Coyner shares that “the good news is that prayer – rightly understood and practiced – will not allow us to be short-sighted. Prayer changes things, and it starts by changing us as we pray.” There is a quote by the Quaker writer Douglas Steere in which he says, “A season of prayer changes the way we pray.” What would a season of prayer look like in this case? We might start out by praying rather selfishly, or with anger and revenge, or with concern for only the obvious things of life. But praying for a long while – for several days and weeks – expands our perspective and changes our prayers. Prayer changes things, and it starts by changing us. So, yes, we should pray for Paris and the victims of the violence there. But we should also pray for the whole world and its hurts, and let’s keep praying until our prayers change us. Let’s keep praying until our fears and worries cease, and are replaced by relentless love and hope. Let’s keep praying until we actually believe that the perfect love of God casts out fear.
In the text this morning, it is Jesus who recognizes and names the worries that we each carry. He also recognizes that worry will cause the failure of discipleship. Jesus’ disciples took a risk when they left the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the kingdom of God, but as we know too well, they will ultimately succumb to the powers of fear and worry that last until days and weeks after the resurrection. So here, he builds a case for them about where their concerns and loyalties should lie- not in the comforts of this world, but in the reign of a God who cares even for the lilies of the field.
I don’t know about you, but when I worry, I tend to turn to those creature comforts and the things that I know are true. Some people eat when they are worried, some begin to hoard their money, some spend money. And since my confession still holds true that I am a worrier, I also admit that I find it all too easy to get stuck in those feelings of anxiety or fear. But then I find it helpful to redirect my worry into thoughts of what is good and beautiful in the world. And especially this time of year as we are nearing Thanksgiving, perhaps we need to acknowledge, now more than ever, the things for which we are thankful. This doesn’t mean that we forget about the places of pain and persons in need of healing, but to remember the things in this life that are filled with love and hope.
For me, there are times when I am with family and I look around and realize how thankful I am for these rare moments when we are all together. Recently, it was when we were all in Jackson Hole, WY together on vacation. It was something as simple as watching my 1 year old nephew play with a ball outside at a restaurant where we were waiting for a table or sharing a really good laugh over a good meal. If we are ever going to find hope and peace in a world like ours, we need be open to those moments when feelings of thankfulness wash over us and name them as such.
Jesus’ words today remind us not to worry, for what good does worrying do? These are hard words to hear when we face a world out there full of fear and worry. In fact, I would even say that it’s easier to worry than to not worry. So we are faced with a challenge: to educate ourselves about the things we worry about, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks for the beautiful things and moments in this life, and to love anyway. I, for one, will join you in these challenges we face and try not to worry or fear. After all, we serve a God whose perfect love casts out fear and invites us to partake of abundant life. May we take the time to give thanks and redirect our worries into acts of love, that the world may know peace and healing. Amen.