[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]
In February, during one of our Midweek Lenten services, we focused on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Biblical text I chose to discuss in my sermon was our Gospel lesson for this morning, Matthew 6:24-34. As I thrashed around this past week--and worried over!--what I might say about this lesson, I decided that I kind of liked what I wrote three months ago. So, this morning, I’ll be presenting basically the same sermon I did then. For a few people, this will be a re-run. For most of you, including those who fell asleep in February, it will be an altogether new experience. I hope that all will find it helpful.
I spent a long time as a student: thirteen years in public school, four years in college, four years in seminary. Somewhere around the end of my twentieth and the beginning of my twenty-first and final year as a student, I figured something out. Do you want to know what it was? It was this: If the teacher repeats something, it’s probably important.
Now, I bring this up for a reason. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson come from the Sermon on the Mount. Ed Markquart, a wonderful Lutheran pastor in Seattle, has calculated that in the four gospel books of the New Testament--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--”there are 60 teachings, 40 parables, and 25 miracles of Jesus.” And the Sermon on the Mount contains a whopping twenty-five of Jesus’ sixty teachings. They come at us at such a furious pace in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s book, that you think Jesus would hardly have the time to repeat Himself in order to highlight what’s important. But He does repeat Himself in the ten verses that make up our Gospel lesson. In fact, Jesus punches home the same teaching three times in these verses. And then, to underscore His teaching, He asks seven rhetorical questions, all with the same message: DO NOT WORRY!
Jesus also gives us plenty of good reasons for heeding that imperative. He says that life is more than food or clothing and that if God the Father takes care of the birds, He’ll take care of us. He says that worrying won’t add a single second to our earthly lives and that to be consumed with these things is to be as futile in our thinking as the Gentiles who have no knowledge of God.
You and I know that Jesus is right. We shouldn’t worry. We know that God cares about our every moment. We know that we’re in the palms of God’s hands, that God hears our prayers. We know too, that all with faith in Jesus Christ belong to God eternally. Even non-believing people realize the silliness of giving our minds over to worry. The writer Mark Twain, an atheist, once said, “I am an old man and have known great troubles, but most of them never happened.”
So, why exactly do we worry?
We worry, let’s face it, because we’re control freaks. Adam and Eve were lured into sin because the serpent told them that when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would “be like God.” It bothers us that while, unlike all of God’s other creatures, we can project and to some extent, predict, what the future will bring, we can’t control what happens to us. This reality can play itself out in ways that are anywhere from annoying, such as when we get caught in a traffic jam on US 33, to life-threatening, as when the doctor tells us that we or a loved one has little time to live. Yet we persist in stewing over things over which we have no control.
It’s good for us to make plans and it’s good for us to be engaged in trying to solve problems. But we need to realize that worrying about things solves nothing. The number one fact of the universe is that God is God and we’re not.
So, make your plans and when the time comes, willingly move on to Plan B. Jesus puts it this way: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Pastor Gerald Mann summarizes Jesus’ imperative this way: Wait to worry.
Okay, you may say, worrying is a bad thing. But what’s that got to do with my relationship with God? A lot!
You see, in the final analysis, worrying is a form of self-worship. Whether we express our worry by saying things like, “What am I going to do?,” seemingly expressing helplessness, or, by trying to amass more money and power than God, the underlying assumption behind my worrying is that my immediate problems and, by extension, the long-term good of the known universe, depends on me.
People who know the God we meet in Jesus Christ know better than to think the world rests on their shoulders! One of my enduring memories as a pastor is of my visit with an elderly farmer shortly after I was ordained twenty-four years ago. “You know, Pastor,” he said, “if you’re a farmer, you have to have faith or you won’t last long.” He went on to explain that you could pick the best seeds for your crops and be diligent about cultivation and weeding. But farmers know that they have no control over the sun or the rain or temperatures that if not just right, could scorch or freeze their crops. What this farmer discovered is that over his long life, God could be trusted. For that farmer, faith supplanted anxiety and thankfulness for God’s blessings replaced worry.
And, even when life is hard or when we suffer, we followers of Jesus have much for which to be thankful. During the Holocaust, when the Nazis put people in concentration camps, they would work the imprisoned until they could no longer do anything. Then, they would execute them. One family was composed of a father, a mother, and their two children, one of whom suffered from a physical disability. Every day, the mother and two children were taken to one work site and the father was shipped to another. And every night, the father checked on his family. One night though, the father found only his one son. "What happened?" he asked. The surviving child said that the brother with the disability had no longer been able to work. And so the guards had taken him to be executed. He clung to his mother's skirt, sobbing. She picked him up and, holding him close to her, said, "Don't be afraid. I'll go with you." And so she did. That's akin to the God we have through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God stands with us in the darkest and the worst of times--even in death--so that all who trust in Him will be ushered into eternity with Him! How can we worry when we have a God like that?
Now, having heard me say how bad worry is, you all have a right to know whether I worry or not. Well, I do. But if I worry, then I suppose that I fit right in with the rest of the Church. It’s been my observation that the Church is Jesus Christ’s community of recovering control freaks. We’re learning to replace our worry over tomorrow with faith in and gratitude to the God Who tells all who believe in Jesus, “You belong to Me for eternity!”
Years ago, I learned about a man who had a “worry tree.” He had a stressful executive position and every night, before he walked through the front door of his house, he touched a tree close to the porch and said, “God, all these worries I’ve been stewing over, I’m giving to you here now at the worry tree. I’ll pick them up from You tomorrow if You seem to be telling me there’s anything I can do about them. Otherwise, I’m turning them over to You...and thank You!”
When you think about it, every time we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re leaving our worries at the worry tree. Or, more accurately, we leave them with God. That’s because, as Martin Luther wrote of this petition in The Small Catechism (I’m reading an older translation here): “God indeed gives daily bread to all.., even to the wicked, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that [God] would lead us to acknowledge our daily bread as His gift and to receive it with thanksgiving.”
The opposite of faith isn’t unbelief. The opposite of faith is worry. May we live in the assurance that God has given us eternity and so, free from worry, glorify the God Who gives us everything! May faith supplant fear. When we do worry, may God help us remember all His blessings, including our crucified and risen Lord. And may we, instead of worrying about tomorrow, learn to truly live.