Sermon November 22: Better Things to Worry About

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 22, 2015

Soul Food Series: Thanksgiving Freedom

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 6:25-33, Psalm 16

Response to the Word: (Bulletin)

Holy One, you restore us and turn our tears into shouts of joy. We receive your word in faith and truth. Amen.

Sermon: Better Things to Worry About!

Okay, Jesus, you got me! There is no sense in my even trying to argue. I’m a worrier, pure and simple. I worry about everything, big or small, important or inconsequential. If there’s a way to worry about it, I will figure out how. But I have a feeling that I’m probably not the only one in the room who feels a little needled by the Gospel this morning. Am I right? Any other worriers out there?

I’m probably a hopeless case, though. I come from a family of worriers. We worry not just about what might happen today or tomorrow, but what might happen two months from now and a year after that. The reasoning ~ if you can call it that ~ is that if you worry far enough in advance, at least you won’t run out of time. And we all know that old proverb that if you worry about something it won’t happen. So worry is a preventative measure.

But there are studies out there telling us that worry isn’t good for us, right? High blood pressure. Insomnia. Worry keeps us up a night. It wears us down. It drains our creativity and damages our bodies. Maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “…do not worry about your life…” But still, it’s one thing to know we shouldn’t worry, but quite another to quit worrying. Knowing me, I’d worry about how I shouldn’t be worrying… and, I don’t know about you, but I have better things to worry about than that. As one bumper sticker says, “So much to worry about, so little time.”

Yet here, in the middle of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” My first reaction is to say, “You know, that all sounds good, but the birds of the air don’t have student loans or cars breaking down or kids going into college. The lilies of the field don’t have medical bills or home repair.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues on saying, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

“…all these things will be given to you as well.” Is that true? Do you think that it’s really true? That all these things, all these things that comprise so much of our worries, will be given to us as well? And if it is true, what would it mean to strive first for the kingdom of God?

Just to be clear, I don’t think that Jesus was implying that if we believe a certain thing or say a certain prayer we will get whatever we want. That’s the message of the Prosperity Gospel, which I believe is a modern-day heresy. In my understanding of the Gospel of Christ, riches do not equal blessing and need does not equal punishment. Striving for the kingdom of God will not get us a new HD TV or a Lexus. But I do believe that striving for the kingdom will get us something, something even better. As Eugene Peterson translates this gospel passage, when we set aside worry, when we strive for the kingdom we are freed from our, “…preoccupation with getting so we may respond to God’s giving.”

I’m reminded of story about John Wesley as a young man. The story goes that he was hanging some pictures to decorate his room when one of the chambermaids came to the door. He noticed that, even though it was cold, she had only a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat, but he found he didn’t have enough because he had just spent all his money on the pictures he was hanging. From this moment on, his attitude about money changed. Later in his life Wesley preached, “Above all, do not make the care of future things a pretense for neglecting present duty.”

Now, one thing we may not realize is that John Wesley was considered a wealthy man in his day. Between his salary as a fellow at Lincoln College and his income from publishing, he made more than enough money to get by and even be quite comfortable. But whether he made 30 pounds or 90 pounds or 120 pounds a year he lived on just 28 pounds and gave the rest away. In 1744 he announced, “When I die, if I leave behind me ten pounds…you and all mankind may bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” When he died, nearly 50 years later, the only money he had were the miscellaneous coins found in his pockets and dresser.

I am not suggesting that we try to live like that. Planning ahead is important for our future, not to mention our sanity. But I do think that John Wesley was on to something. He gave up his preoccupation with getting so he could respond to God’s giving. God gave him what he needed to sustain him day to day and God gave through him to reach those in need and spread the Good News.

It seems to me that on this Sunday before Thanksgiving we are invited to free ourselves from our preoccupation with getting so we may respond to God’s giving. After several years of the cultural trend for stores to open earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving, it is heartening to see a few stores chose not to be open at all. A couple stores aren’t even going to open on Black Friday, which to some seems like retail suicide. Perhaps the executives of these stores decided not to worry abut the bottom line, realizing that it is not the most important thing.

Setting aside worry, setting aside anxiety, we are invited to celebrate all that God has given us, not in the form of material goods, but in form of blessings that don’t necessarily have a monetary value. Despite what we may think, and what our culture tells us, our security is not in our ability to make a living or balance our bank statement. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

William Klein suggests, “When we trust God we are free to be grateful. We are free from living cautiously, tight fistedly, fearfully. We are free to live gratefully.” Letting go of worry, and focusing on gratitude, is taking up freedom.

Last week I sent in Gary and my pledge to the church for the rest of the year. We usually give by the month, but I wanted to make sure we gave before all the expenses of Christmas gifts and travel competed for priority. And I knew the Stewardship Team would need the money to meet our church’s end-of-year responsibilities. Still, our giving is not about what the church needs. It’s not about snow plowing, light bills, heat, salaries or office supplies, all those things that may make us worry. Our giving is about our thankfulness. By paying our pledge commitment first we give not out of scarcity, but out of the great abundance of God’s gifts to us.

Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t worry at times. Heck, its hard to find a time when I’m not worried about something – bills, car repairs, finishing my sermon on time! And I’m probably not going to give up worrying cold-turkey. But I do think that Jesus’ words for us today are Good News. “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” While I may think I have better things to worry about, the truth is that I have nothing to worry about at all. How about that? Freeing ourselves from, “…preoccupation with getting so we may respond to God’s giving” we realize we have everything we need, and a great abundance to share. Thanks be to God who invites us to freedom and knows exactly what we need. Thanks be to God. Amen.