Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help, the poster said.
Don’t worry about your kidney stone, said the poster in the doctor’s surgery, it’ll pass.
For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. “Good evening,” said the man of the house. “I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 10 years to meet you.”
I don’t know about you, but telling someone now to worry is the most pointless advice you can give. At best it’s just impossible, and at worst it causes someone to worry much more than they were!
Tonight we hear Jesus telling people not to worry. Great! He’s saying what I’ve just said many of us find it little help to hear!
But he doesn’t just don’t worry, he says it in a context, as part of a bigger picture. As you heard the story, I wonder if it struck you that what a basically happy person Jesus was? Obviously, when you read the stories of the crucifixion and the prophecies that Jesus was a ‘man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief”. We know that the darkness and sadness of all the world descended on him as he went to the cross. The scene in Gethsemane, where he is wrestling with his father’s will, and in agony wondering if he’s come the right way, is one of the most harrowing stories ever told. We know that he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and that he was sad when people refused to trust God and see the wonderful things he was doing. But I think these are the exceptions, the dark patches painted on to the bright background.
As we read a passage like tonight’s, I think I can see that it flows straight out of Jesus’ own experience of life. He had watched the birds wheeling around, high up on the currents of air in the Galilean hills, simply enjoying being alive. He had figured out that they never seemed to do the sort of work that humans did, and yet they mostly stayed alive and well. He had watched a thousand different kinds of flowers growing in the fertile Galilee soil – the word translated ‘lily’ here includes several different plants – such as the autumn crocus, the anemone, and the gladiolus – and had held his breath at their fragile beauty.
One sweep of a scythe, one passing donkey, and this wonderful object, worth putting in an art gallery, is gone. Where did its beauty come from? It didn’t spend hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up. It didn’t go shopping in the market for fine clothes. It was just itself: glorious, God-given, beautiful. Jesus had a strong, lively sense of the goodness of his heavenly father, the creator of the world. His whole spirituality is many miles from those teachers who insisted that the present world was a place of shadows, gloom, and vanity, and that true philosophy consisted in escaping it and concentrating on the things of the mind.
Jesus’s teaching grew out of his own experience. When he told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, I think we can only assume that he led them by example. He wasn’t always looking ahead anxiously, making the present moment count only because of what might come next. No, he seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now. If that’s not a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is.
And he wanted his followers to be the same. When he urged them to make God their priority, it’s important to realise which god he’s talking about. He’s not talking about a god who is distant from the world, who doesn’t care about beauty and life and food and clothes. He’s talking about the creator himself, who has filled the world with wonderful and mysterious things, full of beauty and energy and excitement, and who wants his human creatures above all to trust him, and love him and receive their own beauty, energy, and excitement from him.
So, when Jesus tells us not to worry about what to eat, or drink, or wear, he doesn’t mean that these things don’t matter. He doesn’t mean that we should prefer (as some have suggested) to eat and drink as little as possible, and to wear the most ragged and disreputable clothes, just to show that we despise such things. Far from it! Jesus liked a party as much as anyone, and when he died the soldiers so admired his tunic that they threw dice for it rather than tearing it up. But the point was again priorities. Put the world first, and you’ll find it gets moth-eaten in your hands. Put God first, and you’ll get the world thrown in.
Of course, because we live in a world filled with anxiety, it’s easy to let it rub off on us. Living totally without worry sounds, to many people, as impossible as living totally without breathing. Some people are so hooked on worry that if they haven’t got anything to worry about they worry that they’ve forgotten something.
Is not the truth of the matter that God knows our needs before we ever ask him? Yet, how much time do we spend worrying about things that never happen? In a world where children are abused and deserted, does it really matter what name brand of clothes we wear? In a world where people don’t even know the people next door, is it important what they think about the cars that we drive? In a world where hurt and suffering are real, does it really matter if we are exhibiting the newest trends? Not to worry, then, about tomorrow, for tomorrow will always bring worries of its own. Today’s struggle is enough for today, and today well-lived is what God wants us all to do.
Is not the Good News that when we know that our true value and worth come not from what we have, but from the fact that we are beloved children of God? Can that not free us from the anxiety of proving our worth through earthly attainments, and we can then turn our attention and effort to truly worshiping God by loving and serving our neighbours in all that we say and do?