“Do Not Be Anxious”
a sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34
"Like the gentle rain nourishes the flowers,
like the gentle rain helps the rivers grow,
like the gentle rain falling from above us,
we are nourished by God's love."
(Mary Lynn Lightfoot, 1937)
God -- the Creator of this marvelous, intricate, world of nature -- pours out grace (unearned & undeserved) like a gentle rain, like a baptism, free for the taking. God's presence and power is nourishing, sustaining, creative... Falling on the just and the unjust alike. God is woven into the fabric of all life. All matter is endowed with divinity, thanks to God, who is the Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of it all.
Today's Scripture lesson appeals to the nature lover in us. You want to know something about God? Jesus tells us to look at the birds... look at the flowers. "Consider the lilies and how they grow... Look at the birds of the air..." I can’t help but think of St. Francis preaching to the birds... Seeing the flowers & budding trees of springtime, the squirrels running and birds chirping after a dormant winter helps restore that primal sensual, animal connectedness to the word of nature: God’s Creation.
Last week, when I prepared the worship bulletin for today’s service and put it in the mail, I thought that (being springtime) I’d want to speak about those nature-images: pointing to birds and lilies, nests in the trees, and a lawn full of dandelions. Instead, I was struck in re-reading today's text, that three times in these ten verses we are told not to be anxious!
Do not be anxious… about your life. Do not be anxious… saying: “What shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink?” Do not be anxious… about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. "Take no thought," says the King James version. "Don't worry," we say. … Easier said than done, isn’t it!
Instead of pastoral reflections on the goodness of nature, I think it is more important that we address what Jesus was getting at in today’s text from the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s be honest and admit that we struggle (in this day of economic down-turn) with material anxiety.
I’m sure you know that the stock market has been on a roller-coaster since it’s high-point back on Feb. 19 -- dropping 28% in value before March as the stay-at-home orders shut businesses down, then the oil prices collapsed down to $6 a barrel, and interest rates got so low that some portfolios were in negative numbers (which means they’d pay you to take it off their hands), and since then we’ve seen the Dow Jones Industrial Average swing back up in value and then back down by 600/700 points a day over the past three months, as big investors move their money around, putting their bets on their best-guess future. (I want to say: “Hey, that’s my pension plan you’re messing with!”)
I don't know about you (your occupations & life situations, whether your family is single-income, double-income, or no-income...) to say whether or not you have any cause for anxiety... but I DO know ME! And the passage Lynn Borke read for us this morning hits me right where I live: Jesus is talking about my appetites, and my income. (!) And it seems (since the economy tanked in March, and Wall Street lost a quarter of it’s value, together with the massive numbers of unemployed people – with the jobless rate as high today as during the Great Depression!) our world is over-whelmed with anxiety just now. … And (did you notice?) I haven’t even mentioned the CoronaVirus health crisis!
Why would I start my sermon on such a sour note? I’m sure you didn’t tune in to today’s “virtual worship” service just to be reminded of how bad things have gotten lately. We who have faith in God are supposed to be part of the solution, not adding more fuel on the fire!
But this passage makes me look at my spending priorities. How I spend my money, yes -- but even more: how I spend my TIME! How I spend my hours in the course of each day. Am I moving forward, or am I just spinning my wheels (spinning like a top!), trying to keep up with my daily schedule… ?
Yes, it’s been different lately without restaurants -- Patty & I have been cooking at home. It’s different to be told to stay put, when we like to get out and drive somewhere, see something, do some shopping…
With the forced isolation (and the sequestering at home we’ve been enduring for 12 weeks now), we’ve all had plenty of time to sit and think! We’ve had time to sort through our accumulated stuff and to make plans for when things get back to normal. I have had to ask myself: have I set priorities for spending my time, my talents, and my treasures, that are in keeping with the character of Jesus Christ, who is my role model...?
For example, am I "hungering & thirsting for righteousness" (as Jesus says his followers should!)? Well, not if I am preoccupied with my physical appetite -- organizing the refrigerator, making lists for grocery shopping (so Patty can get in and back out again quickly), planning meals and counting calories. Wondering which “take out” restaurant we should be supporting just now in order to help keep them in business…
Now, look, there's nothing wrong with eating sensibly, frequently, even "healthy-ly" -- but we ought not let it consume so much of our time & attention that ther day revolves around it. As someone with diabetes, I know that I am supposed to monitor my blood sugars and lower my cholesterol intake, eat less bread & starch & alcohol; more proteins and raw vegetables. But that cannot become a central focus of my daily life: taking thought for what I’ll eat & drink. It’s a “sideline” at best.
Or, to use another example: You and I cannot be spending our time and our energy devoted to MAKING PEACE (