Summary: We can be self-reliant and find ourselves mired in worry about money and possessions, or we can seek first God's kingdom and find the happiness that Jesus himself lived and offers to each of us!
(Holding up U.S. currency) "In God We Trust." "In God We Trust." So reads the slogan on every piece of United States currency. It seems awfully ironic, doesn't it? Every day we carry around in our wallets and our purses and our pockets pieces of money that say we trust in God. But when it comes time to pay the almost past due electric bill, what's really going on in our heads? Are we trusting God to take care of our remaining needs, or are we worrying about how we're going to pay the next bill or buy the groceries that week? If you're like me, you're worrying, not trusting. Those of you who've spent any time around me know that I worry about money. I drive Ken crazy because I'm constantly tracking our income and expenses, and I call a "non-essentials spending halt" whenever we are getting close to overspending our income. As many of you know, I worry about the money here at Grace too.
At home and at work, I take meticulous measures to keep track of finances so that I can prevent future worry about how the bills are going to be paid. I get worried about making sure that I don't have to worry about money. It's almost silly, but I think I'm correct in saying that most of us spend a lot more time worrying about money than we do in trusting God that we'll have what we need. And Jesus knew that. So as he continues with his Sermon on the Mount, he says this to the crowds around him “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Rich and poor alike, if we're going to be worried about money, we are going to be distracted from our service to God.
But it's not just money we get worried about, is it? And Jesus knew that too. He mentions clothing and food specifically, but it wouldn't take any of us long to come up with a long list of things that we worry about. We roll around in bed at night, unable to sleep because we are fretting about the test or the big project due at the end of the week. We get anxious about making the right impression when we meet new people. We worry about whether our kids will "make it " in school and if they'll grow up to lead successful and fruitful lives. It seems impossible to lead "worry-free" lives. But as Jesus makes this command of us, "Do not worry!", what he is really urging us to do is to get our priorities straight. Even as we read the gospel story, we see places where Jesus struggles with worry and anguish. The gospels tell us 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. He falls to his knees in Gethsemane, wrestling with his Father's will, and wondering if he has come the right way. 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 when Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow, we must assume that he led by example. He seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention completely to the present task, and celebrating the goodness of God here and now.
As we read a passage like this, we should quickly see that it flows straight out of Jesus' own experience of life. Jesus had watched the birds flying around, high up on the currents of air in the Galilean hills, simply enjoying being alive. He knew that they never seemed to do the sort of work humans do, and yet they mostly stay alive and well. He had watched a thousand different kinds of flowers growing—the word “lily” here includes several different plants—and Jesus had held His breath at their fragile beauty. But one sweep of a sickle or a passing donkey and this wonderful artwork is gone. Where did this beauty come from? It didn’t spend hours in front of a mirror putting on make-up. It didn’t go shopping at the mall to buy expensive clothes. It was just itself: glorious, God-given, beautiful! Jesus knew happiness, and he wanted his followers to be happy as well!
When Jesus urges us to make God our priority, 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 God, who has filled the world with beautiful, exciting, wonderful, and mysterious things, and who wants his human creatures to trust him and love him and receive their own beauty, energy and excitement from God! But the unknowns of tomorrow tend to cause distress in our souls. We often obsess over the future. Yet, when our tomorrows become todays, we come to realize that the time we spent worrying about them was a big, miserable waste! Our Gospel lesson reminds us that God provides not only for our todays but for our tomorrows as well! As we come to realize this we are freed to choose a life of joyful discipleship!