What is it about worrying that draws us in so much?
What do we get out of worrying? A sense of control, maybe? Do we secretly believe that if we worry about something we can’t control, then that is almost like doing something about it? Do we suppose that if we keep the threat of bad things in our mind, then we are guarded somehow from them coming to pass, or maybe better prepared if they do?
Nonsense. We know it is. And still, we worry.
Of course we understand that by worrying we cannot add one hour to our lifespan, not a single moment. In fact, if studies are to be believed, we actually can take time off our lives by worrying. Time with elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure and heightened flight or fight response and it all takes a toll on your longevity. (So, there’s something else to be worried about).
But this is an anxious time! It is.
A very anxious time to be alive.
Bombarded by information, able to know every bad thing that is happening everywhere, every moment, with expert analysis and future projections of worse things on the horizon, most of us are worried most of the time. The economy, global terrorism with unspeakable violence, poverty and joblessness, school shootings and measles outbreaks, and online bullying and our 401Ks and health care and fluctuating health, and the bees! And the polar ice caps!
If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention, right?
But is that true?
Maybe worry is not a sign of vigilant or responsible attention.
Maybe worry is a sign of forgetting who is God.
Now, before we go down this road- even that coming out of my mouth makes me feel anxious- ashamed, actually, because I worry quite a bit, and hearing myself say that worrying is a sign of forgetting who God is makes me feel like I’m not a very good Christian.
Why can’t I just “let go and let God?”
Would God take care of me more if I backed off? If I just tried harder not to worry so much, would that make me more secure, less afraid?
And so, without meaning to, I’ve let anxiety take the reigns again, and now I can add worrying to my list of things to worry about.
But truly – without judgment, let’s consider that for a moment.
Worry is forgetting who is God. Worry is forgetting whose we are.
It’s losing sight of the one who claims us, forgetting our belovedness and Jesus’ presence with us come water or wilderness, and looking ahead as though we are on our own.
Worrying is necessarily future-oriented. We worry about what is going to happen. We live in today – with enough troubles of its own, but we worry about tomorrow. We worry what the test results will show or what the boss will say or what will happen when the last of the money runs out. We worry about how we will survive whatever crisis looms on the horizon out there in the future.
When I was in fifth grade I had a close friend, Becky Axelson. We were knobby kneed, scrawny-armed book nerds who floated messages in plastic soda bottles down the storm drain we called a creek, imagining strangers in far off lands receiving them.
When I learned that she would be moving at the end of the summer, I was so devastated about how devastated I would be when she left, that I stopped hanging out with her. When she called, I said I couldn’t play, I had other things to do. I made myself busy enough that eventually the summer was over, and we said goodbye. It wasn’t until she had gone, and my parents pointed out to me what I had done, that I even realized it. I missed out on a whole summer of bottle messages and book-sharing because I was anticipating that it would hurt when it ended, so I ended it early (and it hurt anyway).
In truth, we often miss a whole lot of the present by living in dread of the future. And when the future becomes the present, many of the things we worried about ahead of time never come to pass, or we find ourselves surviving what in advance had seemed unbearable, getting through the hurt and coming out the other side after all, or we discover that we are even different when we meet it than we were when we dreaded it. And God, who is with us, will be with us then, when the then becomes now, because God is always with us in our now.
What if we remembered that more?
What would it look like to practice remembering that more?
I am in the middle of the most wonderful gift – for over three years, I’ve been taking monthly retreats with a group of people who know me better than almost anyone on earth, people who both encourage me and keep me honest, who’ve seen me at my best and my worst and love me anyway, and really, I can say in all truthfulness I would not be who I am without them.
We were on a retreat this week, and making plans for the upcoming months and said aloud the reality that the grant that is funding our retreats is ending in 4 months, and we may not meet like this after that – things might change. And I utterly broke down. I felt overcome with worry. I couldn’t even concentrate I was so agitated inside.
Then I got home and I remembered something.
I didn’t ask for this gift. It came to me – exactly what I needed when I didn’t even know I needed it. And now I am afraid it will be taken away? I’m grasping for it and panicking because I’m afraid I will lose it?
What if I trusted that God, who knows me better than I know myself, and loves to give good gifts, knows what I need, and will meet my needs for friendship and connection and depth, if not through this continuing, than in some other way? What if I could simply receive this gift in gratitude, live in how amazing it is right now, and let the future bring what it will?
Even if it is letting go and grieving, I will still be in the care of the God who knows and loves me, and who will bring other unexpected gifts that I might not even know I need, because that is how God does things.
This text is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, preached after we see Jesus baptized and through the wilderness. The sermon on the mount is Matthew’s epic clumping of Jesus’ teaching that the other gospels spread out a bit more, or don’t even contain. Before this point, it begins with the beatitudes, and then talks about being salt and light, and about anger and reconciliation, and gives us the Lord’s prayer.
The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is to describe what the kingdom of God life looks like when it is lived out. So far it has revealed that in the Kingdom of God people are upheld and respected, and mutual love and support is the way people relate, and our lives are valued beyond what we can fathom, basically it keeps reiterating that God is God and we are God’s people in concrete, visible ways.
So concretely, then, it turns to two really big, kind of inescapable parts of being human, and links them together.
Money and worry.
So lest we forget there’s a therefore in there, notice there is a direct link in this passage between the two- You can’t be ruled by money and by God, so therefore don’t be worried. Don’t be anxious about your life, because you can’t serve God and wealth.
In a world of insurance and accidents and investments and retirement and unforeseen circumstances and medical conditions and rising college tuition and passenger side air bags and long-term care facilities, and not leaving baggage unattended, and concealed carry and home security systems and supplemental insurance, and all manner of ensuring personal security, telling people not to worry, and particularly to not worry about money, is just about the dumbest advice you can give.
But then, perhaps it’s a matter of forgetting who is God? Jesus is pretty clear about this all throughout the gospels. We’re invited to live from the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of commerce and competition. Instead of being ruled by anxiety and accumulation, we are invited to be defined by cooperation and interconnectedness, each having what each needs to thrive – no more and no less, trusting in God instead of being ruled by fear.
We’re a funny little congregation to be so focused on Sabbath. But listen to this for a moment, because it is important: Sabbath is an active form of resistance to the way of fear. A powerful practice of defiance to worry, actually. It is, in fact, what this very passage is talking about.
It reestablishes in us who is God.
Truly resting, it turns out, as God the Creator rested, is to live in opposition to a system that doesn’t ever rest. A 24 hour a day, seven day a week system where you are defined by your trading power and your net worth and your competence and status, your ability to consume and spend, where participation means almost only economic involvement, spending power, wealth - which equals security.
Sabbath confronts culture; sabbath is the ridiculous notion that that your person and your time is valuable without producing or selling or buying a thing. It is a wildly alternative mindset, a dramatically opposing form of living, where participation means connecting and caring, relationships and creativity, honest grief and wholehearted laughter.
It means, like birds and flowers, living out your essential you-ness and trusting that it is part of a greater whole. And you may not see the whole picture or even yet recognize what song or scent you contribute to the world, but you are part of it all anyway.
There are incredible gifts within the fabric of this life that we skim right by because we’re so caught up on keeping up that we miss the birds, and the flowers, and each other, and the gifts we’ve been given, and the invitations extended to us, right here and now to give the same gifts to others. We’re so worried. So anxious. So fearful.
So when Sabbath says, I am going to stop for a day, I am going to step off the crazy moving sidewalk and sit down and be here, right here in my life, right now in gratitude, with no other agenda, it is a direct affront to the system of fear, and a powerful antidote to anxiety and worry.
For when we rest, we trust. We trust in God, that that despite what we see on the news and on the CT scan and on the bank statement that God IS in control in some way. That God IS loving. That God is God with us, and we are not alone. We remember who God is.
We said a couple weeks ago that Jesus preaches the same one sermon over and over, the kingdom of God is here, the kingdom of God is freedom, it is joy and abundance and generosity and reconciliation and hope, and it is among you.
Look at all these things that are not the kingdom of God, Jesus says. Now, come and live in the kingdom of God that is coming and is here.
On the walk between our house and my kids’ school, stapled to a telephone pole there’s a spray-painted cardboard sign. In beautiful ornate script, right there at eye level above the scuffed up curb and dirty snow, it says, “Live as the world should be to show it what it can be.”
Jesus is always encouraging us to live like the kingdom of God is now, is here, live like it in the face of its absence, in opposition to those who would preach and live otherwise, (even when that is us!) In the face of fear, live the kingdom of God.
This is not something that can be done alone, this living the kingdom of God thing, this not worrying thing, this not worshiping money and security thing, this living in today thing. For human beings to be true human beings, like bird are birds and flowers are flowers and God is God, we must live interdependently, connected, supporting one another. We can’t not worry alone. We choose not to worry together.
And this is an especially funny thing to do as a small church – this commitment to not worry together. To be the people who actively defy worry, who live in resistance to its lie of scarcity and dread. Because we’re told that if our church is small, we must be dying. And that if we’re not consumed with worry about money and future and security, we’re not being faithful stewards of God’s gifts.
And if that isn’t bad enough, we’ve absorbed the strange message as good Christian (Minnesotan?) people that worrying is somehow humble or appropriate, or it’s plain common sense. So instead of living the amazing abundant gifts we have to share right now when we have them, the temptation is to stockpile resources and whisper apprehension and look to the future sure of certain demise.
But what happens when we seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness? What happens when we live the dangerous alternative- that we are called to share, and called to rest, and called children of God, come what may?
Something changes – inside us and through us. We participate in the coming and now kingdom of God – our actions begin to reflect a different reality and live them out in the world, and it inspires people, it changes things when you live a reality where people share instead of hoard, where people truly notice- and live with joy and gratitude -the life they have right now, instead of being trapped in a fearful future.
Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness – There is more beauty and love in living than we could ever begin to take in, seek it, live out God’s justice and care for your neighbor and creation, bind up the brokenhearted and look after the poor and love one another and let go of anger and be about the business of God in the world- and all these things, food, clothing, basic needs, will be covered.
If we’re all caring for each other we are all cared for. If we are all sharing what we have with others we are all shared with. There’s enough to go around, and in God’s kingdom all have what they need. The kingdom of God takes the future of God’s promise and invites us to live it now, and in living it now, we are reminded of the future that is promised.
Church, we get to remind each other which master we serve. We get to keep each other grounded in today, bearing together today’s troubles and celebrating together today’s joys, and together trusting our tomorrows to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, and knows exactly what we need.
Therefore, beloved sisters and brothers, do not worry.
We will remember who God is; we are paying attention. Now, come and live in the kingdom of God that is coming and is here.