Summary: We all have reason to worry and lots to worry about. Christ tells us not to worry, but the key is not to allow ourselves to be consumed by worry and instead to "seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness."
As we launch our journey this morning to “[Find] Peace in an Anxious World,” we begin with this passage of Scripture that is really in no way obscure. We are probably all at least somewhat familiar with some parts of it, even if we hadn’t realized that it comes from the Bible. This passage is pulled right, smack-dab out of the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is a word that Christians and non-Christians alike will probably recognize. And yet, have you ever noticed that Jesus isn’t suggesting, “You shouldn’t worry,” or cautioning, “Worrying adds years to your life.” Jesus is actually commanding, “Don’t worry!” “Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear.” …And we think to ourselves, “That’s the least of my worries…”
We are fortunate in that most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about where our next meal will come from or if we have enough layers to keep us warm in the winter months. We need to recognize, though, that for far too many people, these sorts of concerns cause daily worry. We also need to acknowledge that, no matter what our circumstances, every single person worries about something, whether it’s concerning basic needs or frivolous wants, or anything in between. People in Flint, Michigan, watch tainted water pour out of their faucets, and they worry about their children, and themselves. Folks down at the Community Kitchen stand in line every afternoon, hoping to get into the overnight shelter, and worrying about spending a night out in the bitter, windy cold. Moderate Muslims live in concern for their lives, afraid they might be attacked because of the actions of fundamentalists, who claim a radical version of their religion. People in Israel, Gaza, and Pakistan are concerned that at any moment a missile might drop from the sky, destroying the neighborhood and killing innocent friends and family.
Closer to home, we worry about when the bottom might totally fall out of the stock market again, completely obliterating our retirement savings. I worry about the future of our Earth, if there will even be an inhabitable Earth by the time Owen is my age. You might worry about how your grandchildren are doing in school, or how you will care for your aging parents. I ran across a headline earlier this week that said the following, “Amidst recent increases in product recalls, parents’ worst fears become realities.” We are forced to face our fears on a regular basis. Then there’s all the stuff we hear about on the news: wars, shootings, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters; one after another, day after day, after day. I want to share with you a news clip that was Scott Pelley’s sign-off on the CBS Evening News about a year and a half ago, the day after the Malaysia Airlines Flight was shot down over Ukraine. Let’s watch:
That clip, like so much of our news had so much that is sad and scary. What’s striking is Scott Pelley’s appeal to our shared humanity: “298 people that could have been any of us.” And as those faces flash across the screen: “Which is Ukraine, which Gaza, which one is Israel, which is Amsterdam…?” We see ourselves in those pictures. These are the things we worry about, which one of those pictures could be us, gripped with the reality that our worst fears have been realized. When will the suicide bomber step into my husband’s favorite coffee shop? When will the missile land in my neighborhood? What if that next fatal car accident is my mother? When will the earthquake strike here? What if that stuffed animal lying among plane wreckage was Owen’s? These are the things that worry us, that make us anxious. And I don’t want to downplay the significance of the realities we face. Whether its concern for basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, or worry about natural disasters or man-made attacks, there really are legitimate anxieties in this life.
So with all these truly reasonable worries, how can Jesus possibly COMMAND us not to worry? I mean, if you’re like me, you read this passage and you think, “Oh how nice: cute birds and pretty flowers,” but does Jesus REALLY expect me not to worry about making sure my family is fed and clothed and provided for? This is a pipe dream! How could Jesus possibly think that we could live life not worrying about these things? But we have to remember, Jesus knows about worry. Even though he is God’s son, he is also human like us, with all the same experiences and feelings, yet without sin. I can’t help but imagine that from time to time Jesus would be walking along with the crowds and his stomach would begin to rumble, and he’d start thinking about where he was going to eat that evening. He might’ve worried, just a little bit. So it’s not so much that Jesus is telling us we can live without worry; rather, I think, it is more that he is cautioning us about being consumed by worry.