Written by Pastor Ed
February 26, 2017
Isaiah 49: 8-16a
Matt. 6: 24-34
When I was kid one of the popular images, at least among us kids, was this one of Alfred E. Neuman with his popular saying, “What, me worry?” Back in the 80’s a friend of mine preached a sermon with the title, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Get Real” taking off on a popular song by Bobby McFerrin. And if that song seemed out of place then, just think what shape the world is in today!
As David Lose noted in his commentary on today’s text:
“Do not worry?? You’ve got to be kidding. Most days, life feels like one worry strung after another like lights on a morbid Christmas tree. Worries at work (a colleague who’s mad at me). Worries at home (a child struggling at school). Worries about…well, you name it (the economy, the book deadline I’m so far from reaching, the friend whose child was just diagnosed with cancer…). Do you see what I mean? Worries attend us like bees to honey.”
And the politicians and media around us don’t help the situation at all. We are told to be wary of immigrants and refugees. The economy – well who knows for sure what’s going to happen. Security is heightened. Jobs are disappearing – for a whole variety of reasons. And then there are the personal worries we all have – health, retirement, jobs, school. How can we read a passage like Matthew 6 and take it seriously. Jesus obviously didn’t have a clue what life would be like in the 21st century.
Which, of course, is true, but then again we don’t have to worry about many things that 1st century Palestinians would have worried about, like an occupying army, common diseases that could wipe out whole populations , or subsistence living. Worry it seems has been a constant in the world since the beginning of recorded time. We certainly don’t have a corner on the worry market.
And Jesus does recognize that our lives are not trouble free, for the passage ends with the words, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” So even if you aren’t supposed to worry about tomorrow, well, there are always today’s troubles to worry about. So what is Jesus asking of us in these words? Is he suggesting that we should just sit back and hope that God provides everything? We should act like the flowers or the birds and simply live off the land? Does this even make any sense?
Well, our text begins, appropriately enough I think, with verse 24. “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (NRSV) Again David Lose,
“So why can’t we give our allegiance and worship to money? Because to do so is to fall prey to the larger worldview that crowns money lord in the first place: scarcity. Again, the issue isn’t money per se; the problem comes when we make money our god — that thing, as Luther once observed, which we trust for our every good. Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we never have enough. Money, after all, is finite. And so once we decide money grants security, then we are ushered immediately into a world of counting, tracking, and stock piling. No wonder we worry – in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.”
It’s interesting to think about how the idea of scarcity enters into our lives, not just in money but in other areas as well. Wayne Muller in his book, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood, talks about scarcity as one of the dominant factors in many people’s lives. If we grow up feeling as though there is a scarcity, whether that is of material things, food, money, or more emotional things, like love, then we will always worry about whether there will be enough to go around. If it’s a zero sum game, where if you get more I will certainly get less, worry becomes inevitable.
And for many people, money becomes that idol of which there is never enough. I heard of a survey done once where people were asked if they made enough money. Most said they didn’t, and then were asked how much more they thought they would need to be comfortable. As I recall the answer was that they would need about $7000 more. But that was true no matter at what level their income already was! We always think just a little more would make all the difference, then we wouldn’t have to worry.
When we see security as located in the things we have, or have accumulated, then we will tend to focus on what we don’t yet have. We will always want just a little more and worry about whether we have enough. And again, society feeds into that myth. Advertisers tell us that we need more; that without their product life just isn’t complete, our health is at risk, and our future is certainly bleaker than it could be. It’s a trap we fall into as individuals and also as a church, whether congregations or the wider body.
I have been in congregations with very little in the way of material resources who rejoice at the abundance that they have and willingly share with visitors who come. And I have been in large congregations with lots of resources who were wringing their hands and worrying because they had to consolidate their children’s classes and no longer have separate boys and girls classes at each level.
I admit I have heard some of the same kind of language here as people worry about whether we will survive. We remember how things used to be, or think if we just had a little more of this or that, then we would be secure for the future.
Rather Jesus calls us to consider that our future lies not in the accumulation of things, wealth, but rather into a world of abundance, where God’s love is not a zero-sum amount, but overflows. As Isaiah reminds us, we are children of God. As a parent, we don’t calculate and say I only have so much love to go around, so if I have more than one child I will need to take some of my love away from the first child and give it to the second. No, as the song says, “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”
If we begin to see the world not through the eyes of scarcity but rather through the eyes of abundance, we can begin to say that we have enough. When Telus calls and offers me a great deal on a lot more channels, I can easily say, “no thanks, I have plenty of channels already that I don’t watch. I have enough.” If I, we, can start applying those same principles to lots of other things, suddenly we will have a lot less to worry about. Having enough, and recognizing that God has more than enough to go around, can help us see the world in a different way, full of possibilities and with contentment.
Jesus doesn’t say that money is bad or that we shouldn’t have anything. I was amused when I was reading the sermon of a predecessor of mine who said,
“And one might add the further observation that every person owes it to himself to acquire enough of this world’s material goods to make possible the values to which I have been referring. After all, one cannot operate a family without a certain amount of equipment – it takes a home and a television set at least!” Robert Hartzler(Some Duties to Self 1958
But when we operate out of a sense of scarcity, making things our god, we will tend to see everyone around us as competitors, all after those same things that we want. But if we become aware of the abundance around us, then we are also freer to share with our brothers and sisters because there will always be enough to go around. And faith says there will always be enough. Rabbi Eliezer the Great, who lived in the 1st century AD and knew many Christians, quotes Jesus as saying, “Whoever has a morsel of bread in a basket and says, ‘What shall I eat tomorrow?’ is one of those who have little faith.”
As Jesus notes, we really can’t do a whole lot about what tomorrow may bring. We can accumulate a great deal, as the farmer in the parable does and builds bigger barns to store everything, only to die the next day. We can worry so much about the future that we neglect the abundance of what we have today and fail to carry out God’s mission with what we have been given.
Not worrying about tomorrow allows us to carry out our task for today. John Wesley, in a sermon on this text said, “Above all, do not make the care of future things a pretence for neglecting present duty.” Or as David Lose concludes his commentary,
“God will take care of you … so take care of God’s justice in the world. There is more to life than concern for daily needs, though this may be difficult for some (cf. 6:11). But Jesus expects his followers to put forward energy into things that give more meaning to life. We must strive to discern how God is working in the world (i.e., “God’s kingdom”) and how to participate in acts of justice on God’s behalf (i.e., “God’s righteousness”). Beyond that, everything else will take care of itself. Or, to summarize Jesus, God will deal with the rest.”
I don’t know what the future may bring, either for myself or for First Mennonite Church. I’m anticipating retirement sometime in the future and that has lots of unknowns. First Mennonite is changing as is the neighbourhood around the church and we don’t know what all that will mean. We could spend a lot of time worrying about all of that, but to do so would be to miss out on the abundance of what we now enjoy, and would take all our energy away from carrying out the mission that God has for us here and now.
One of the principles I learned in the missional church movement was that congregations should focus more on what their strengths are, that is what they do have rather than what they don’t have. Focusing on what we don’t have only leads to despair. I recall one example of a congregation that decided what they really needed was more children, so they were going to start a day-care and ramp up their children’s programs. But when they did a survey of their neighbourhood, they discovered that there were very few children living close to the church. Rather there were retirement homes and elderly people. Thankfully they were smart enough to change and began focusing on programs for older people.
Rather than saying, “If we only had…” we need to start saying, “Look at what we have…” Next Sunday afternoon is an example of what happens when you start to think differently. A group of youth are getting together to form a band to lead some singing. Rather than saying, “I wish we had more youth,” Eric said, “Look at the talent we have in our youth.”
I would challenge you to begin to look around and comment, not on what we don’t have, but rather to see and comment on the abundance of what we do have, not only here in the church, but in the world around us. If we start doing that, then maybe Bobby wasn’t all that far off and we can say, “Don’t worry, be happy.”