Sunday, August 11, 2019

How Worry is Overcome

[This message was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 12:22-34
Everyone knows what it is to worry. 

Some of our worries are entirely understandable. 

For example, there likely isn’t a parent or grandparent here or anywhere else in America who don’t worry as they consider their children or grandchildren heading off for another school year. 

There isn’t a parent, spouse, or child of an addicted loved one who doesn’t worry over whether the loved one will ever go into recovery or if this is the day they’ll get the dreaded telephone call telling them that the loved one has died. 

Some of our worries are understandable then. They are what I would call legitimate worries, worries that can be productive if they lead to prayer or to actions rooted in the wisdom and compassion God will give to people who stop whining, refrain from bellowing about their ideas, and instead listen to God’s “still, small voice” and the counsel of others who strive to walk with Jesus.

We see that God’s New Testament saints worried about some things. 

The apostle Paul spoke of the daily “pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). 

The New Testament book of Philippians tells us that Paul’s protege, Timothy, concerned for the welfare of the Christians in first-century Phillippi. 

These are legitimate worries, both addressed to God in prayer in Jesus’ name and both followed by Holy Spirit-led action.

But most worry isn’t legitimate. It’s just faithless. 

There are some people though, who keep worry as a hobby. I knew a farmer. Despite being in worship every single week, where he confessed his faith in the God we know in Jesus Christ, he kept worrying. His wife told me that he often stayed up all night, not to pray over his concerns, giving them to God, seeking God’s help, but just to sit and worry. Once, at about two in the morning, she heard him rustling around in the living room and went to see what was wrong. “I just can’t stop worrying about the federal budget deficit,” he said. “Henry,” she told him, “come to bed.” But Henry stayed in his living room, fellowshipping not with God, but with his worries.

Now, to most of us, it’s probably obvious how illegitimate a topic for worry something like the federal budget deficit is. It is a problem, a much bigger one today than it was when Henry was padding around his house anxiously thirty-some years ago. 

But worrying won’t change it. 

Nor will worry change much of anything we face in life, individually or collectively. 

Unless we pray and act in the powerful name of Jesus, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, nothing good will ever overcome the things that worry us

“You do not have because you do not ask God,” James 4:2 tells us. If we asked God for help with our concerns rather than worrying about them, we'd be a lot better off.

And Jesus tells we who believe in Him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Worry is all about trying to do or solve things ourselves rather than seeking help from the One without Whom we can do nothing.

In today’s gospel lesson, Luke 12:22-34, Jesus addresses a specific kind of illegitimate worry, worrying that is unjustified, worrying rooted in our sinfulness, worrying that never thinks to pray or act on God’s guidance. Let’s take a look at the lesson now.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!’”

There’s something I want you to notice right away in these words: In them, we encounter both God’s Law and God’s grace or word of promise.

The law from God is this: Don’t worry about whether you’re going to have enough money, food, or clothing

There are people who lack these fundamentals, of course, mostly because of the selfishness of others who have them. And that sorry reality is an issue of justice and compassion, something God also addresses when He tells us that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And in another place, God’s Word tells us, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) 

But worry won’t bring in more money (which we may or may not need), more food (which we may or may not need), or clothing ( get the idea)

God knows just what we need of these things. That’s why He teaches us to pray for “our daily bread.” 

To worry that God won’t come through is faithless, sinful. Worry unrepented and worry not given up to God is a sin. Worry is the opposite of faith. Worry says God isn’t God.

The gospel or the promise in Jesus’ words at the beginning of our lesson is this: God is intent on taking care of us as long as we draw breath in this world. “And how much more valuable you are than birds” of whom God takes care, Jesus says. 

This is why in his explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer--”give us this day our daily bread”--Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism: “God indeed gives daily bread to all, even unbelievers, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that he would help us recognize this so that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” 

And if you’re ever tempted, as we all are sometimes, to doubt God’s promise to always be with us and always take care of us, just consider Jesus on the cross, where God bore the weight of our sin and died to bring life to all who believe in Jesus and to open up eternity with God to us. 

As Paul reminds us in Romans, no matter what it is in this world that causes us to worry or tries to rob us of our hope in life with God, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39). Nothing!

Jesus goes on pointedly: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” 

Worry that doesn’t prompt prayer and/or holy action is worthless. It solves nothing. 

But Jesus says that it’s worthless also in that it won’t add a single hour to our lives

Just Google “medical research on worry and mortality” as I did the other day and you’ll see that medical science agrees that worry cannot add a moment to our lives.  

But as we submit our worries to Jesus, He gives us His life and His wisdom. Medical research at a host of institutions confirms that people of faith who pray generally live longer and stay healthier than others. They also have an eternity with Jesus to look forward to as well.

On Friday, Bishop John gathered the thirty-two district deans of the NALC for one last meeting with him. Pastor Dan Powell, who has been the convener of the deans, asked us to talk about our joys. 

One colleague, Pastor David McGettigan, who is being treated for cancer, reported that he had good news and bad news about his health. The bad news is that he’s evidencing side effects that are usually associated with cancer patients much further along in their treatment regimen. The good news is that his body has shown far more improvement in overcoming his cancer than would normally be expected at this point in the treatment process. In other words, he told us, “I’m feeling worse and doing better.” His prognosis is much better than his oncologist thought it could be. 

The oncologist said, “I can’t explain it.” David told the doctor, “I can.” Pastor McGettigan knows that prayer and action in Jesus’ name always trump worry. And while we all will die, the promise of eternal life with God given to us by Jesus will add life to our years, while worry takes life away.

Toward the end of our lesson, Jesus says to His Church: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of us were moved, I think, by the witness of Tim and Rita Schubach in the video we saw during worship on the Commitment Sunday for our Reach Forward ministry expansion initiative. 

Until the day we saw Tim’s and Rita’s remarks, Ann and I were sure that we would be unable to give anything more to the church than our offerings for the general fund. I had explained to our Reach Forward Team why that was so. 

Then we saw Tim and Rita make the point that whatever we have isn’t ours anyway; it comes from God and it belongs to God. In the middle of the service, Ann and I conferred and God has made it possible for us to participate in Reach Forward on top of our general fund offerings. 

I don’t tell that story to make it seem like Ann and I are wonderful. We’re saints and sinners just like everyone else who is being saved by grace through faith in Jesus the Christ. But Tim and Rita  reminded us of the truth of Jesus’ words to us today: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When you know that you belong to Jesus, you need not worry about the material things of this world. Many people do worry about them, especially, it seems, those who have lots of material things and stew about keeping them. But you and I are called to trust that the One Who makes every material blessing will supply us with what we need and will empower us, as His people, to pray and act in Jesus’ name

You and I are surrounded by people who crave more of this dead world’s stuff without knowing that the only thing they really need is Jesus. 

Let’s be subversives for Jesus. Let’s show them by our praying, acting, living, speaking, and even our dying that, when they have Jesus as their Lord and King, there’s no need to worry about whether they’ll have enough

Jesus is enough

Jesus is all we need

Now may God help all of us, including me, to trust that truth with our whole lives. Amen