We worry a lot. Probably because we feel like there are a lot of things to worry about. Like I suspect that right now many of us are worried about Thanksgiving this week. What will the traffic be like for our travels or for those who are traveling to see us? Will the turkey thaw in time? Will the crazy cousin cause problems again this year like he does every year? Oftentimes, we get so worried about making preparations for Thanksgiving that we don’t really enjoy the holiday very much; especially when we spend hours preparing the perfect spread, which is then gobbled up in twenty minutes or less. And it’s not just Thanksgiving. We work ourselves into a frenzy worrying over all sorts of things. In fact, worry is such a part of our lives that if we’re not worried about something, we worry that we’re forgetting something. Some of our worries are mundane; like, what to cook for dinner tonight, or what we will wear tomorrow. But there are other worries which are very serious; I’m sure these past few weeks we’ve been very worried about potential terrorist attacks in our own country.
Certainly, there are legitimate fears that we experience. And a healthy level of worry or concern keeps us alert and cautious, hopefully preventing us from doing dumb things like trying to dry our hair while we’re in the bathtub. But worry can also be distracting and even paralyzing. We become so consumed with worry that we don’t enjoy life, as I mentioned often happens at Thanksgiving and around the holidays. We don’t take time to pause, enjoy the holiday, our family and friends, because we are too worried about trying to make the holiday perfect.
It’s that sort of all-consuming worry which Jesus warns about in this passage from his Sermon on the Mount that we heard a few moments ago. Christ tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. And then he asks this great question, “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” You see, the problem with worrying is that it doesn’t really accomplish anything. But even more than that, worrying keeps us from focusing on the things that really matter. I think that’s why Jesus was so adamant that we not worry. If we are worried about the turkey, how can we enjoy time with family? If we are worried about terrorism, how can we even go to the store? If we are worried about getting out of church on time so we can beat the Baptists to lunch, how can we worship God? And if we are constantly mired in the negativity that worry breeds, how can we see, know, and appreciate the countless ways God blesses us, much less give thanks to God for all those things?!?
I think one of the greatest antidotes to worry is constant praise and thanks-giving to God. In our proclamation this morning, you heard Paul ask the question, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” God is our Source and Provider, the giver of every good thing. Alex Haley, a fellow East Tennessean and the author of Roots, had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, “Why is that there?” Alex Haley answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and I begin to feel proud of myself, I look over at that turtle on top of the fence post and I remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.”
God has blessed us richly in every way possible. We have all that we need because of God in Jesus Christ. We are here because God has brought us here. We are blessed because through Jesus Christ, God’s abundant grace has poured over us. We have so much to be thankful to God for, yet here we are at this time of Thanksgiving, and most of us are probably more worried and distracted than thankful. It is so easy for us to get caught up in worry, to fret, to be distracted by the troubles of this world. One of the great mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies or the shattering crises. It is so easy for many of us to curse God; to blame God when catastrophe strikes; to feel that God has abandoned us in our times of greatest need.
Yet listen again to Jesus’ words to us this morning. “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?... 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. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 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…?”
Christ knows our worries. Christ knows that there will be times in our lives when we will feel as if God is not taking care of us. And so Christ says to us, in essence, “Look! Look around you! You see the birds are fed. You see the beautiful flowers growing all around you. God did that. And if God will do that for the plants and the animals, God will most certainly take care of you, too!” We make mistakes. We make poor decisions that separate us from God. Still, God’s grace extends to us. Still, God loves us and wants the best for us. Always, by the grace of God we have all that we need! It’s not as if we deserve God’s blessings! Where would be without the help of the Lord, without the goodness of the Lord, without the love and faithfulness of our Savior? We can try to live without the help of God, but it really is an impossible assignment. Thanksgiving is about more than family gatherings and cranberry sauce; it’s about recognizing and proclaiming what our Savior has done for us! And how can we thank God enough for that?
Thanksgiving is a perfect time for us to set aside our worry because by being intentional about giving thanks to God, we are forced to focus on everything that is good in our lives. Practicing “thanks-giving” not only once a year, but every day can help us grow in our relationship with God, it can help us see how richly God blesses us, and it can help us forget about all our worries and fears.
Imagine with me for just a moment, if you will. What does it look like to the world when we are constantly running about worried about this or that? I was dealing this week with someone who was busy trying to get out of town for a few days. In the midst of those preparations, there were some unexpected doctor’s visits that came up. Trying to fit those into an already busy schedule only raised the anxiety level, and when I was speaking with this person, she was nearly at the breaking point. She had stopped thinking rationally. Instead of looking for solutions to the setbacks she was facing, she was busy making excuses about why nothing would work. It was like a domino effect, one thing went wrong, and that made everything else go bad, too. Does this sound familiar? It’s not unique; we all get this way sometimes. Yet we are a people of faith! We are people who believe that God works good in our lives and in the world all the time, even from the worst of situations. So when things start to get bad, rather than drowning in worry, we need to lean upon our faith. We need to remember that God is with us, that God wants good even for us, and will help us through even the most difficult of times. Then we need to take time to thank God in Christ Jesus for this life-giving relationship that sustains us through the good times and the bad.
And one of the best ways to show our gratitude to God is by telling others about God’s goodness. A great part of thanking God enough is sharing the Good News of God’s grace and love with all the people around us. You know how it is; when something great happens in our lives, we want to share the wonderful news with everyone we know, and perhaps even everyone we don’t know! This should be no less true of God’s blessings in our own lives. Actually, it should be even more true!
There was a man who served as a medical missionary for many years in India. He served in an area where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured. Well, this medical missionary developed a process that would stop progressive blindness. So people came to him and he performed his operation, and they would leave realizing that they would have become blind, but now they were going to be able to see for the rest of their lives. The people never said: “Thank you,” to this missionary because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant: “I will tell your name.” So, wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it! Have we not received something so wonderful that we eagerly proclaim it? God has been so good to us, and God loves us so much, and if we really want to thank God, we just can’t keep the wonderful news inside us! We have to go and tell the name of Christ in the world!
I believe very strongly that the cure for anxiety and worry is thanks-giving. We will do that this week as we gather around the table with family and friends for fellowship and good food. We will thank God for the people around us, for the food on our tables, for the securities we enjoy. But this is not something we can do just once a year, or even just once a week in worship. If we are to move beyond worry, as that old saying goes, we have to “accentuate the positive.” We have to express our gratitude to God every single day. We have to thank God by sharing the message of God’s great love, which has transformed and blessed us. We have to thank God by serving others in the name of Christ, and by bringing others nearer to God through our witness. We have to thank God by anticipating with great joy that day when we will all gather around the great Thanksgiving Table, with Christ the host in our midst, and young and old alike lifting voices together in praise of God’s Divine Goodness!