Sunday, October 4th, 2015 – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: I Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 6:25-33
Hymns: “The Earth Is Yours”, “God of Grace and God of Glory”, “Open My Eyes That I May See”, “God Will Take Care of You”, “Here At Thy Table, Lord”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Seek Ye First”
God Will Take Care of You
I tend to be a worrier about a lot of things. And some of those things are legitimate. Multiple times over the past decade, I’ve found myself feeling like I was living on the razor’s edge of financial insolvency. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2005. Again when I moved to Phoenix in 2007. When I moved to North Carolina in 2010. Even when I moved here last year – I had been working a low-wage job, living on a shoestring budget, and for those first three weeks after I got here, I felt like I was tap-dancing on thin ice, until Jane Clark brought me that first paycheck and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
The thing is, every single one of those times, I got through it. I didn’t miss a car payment, didn’t have to skip a meal, didn’t have to hitchhike to work because I couldn’t afford gas, wasn’t late on utilities or rent, was never on the verge of being homeless. I just always managed to concoct worst-case scenarios in my mind, and then I would go nuts with them, spending hours trying to fall asleep at night, staring at the ceiling, worrying, worrying, worrying.
And you’d think that the fact that none of that ever amounted to anything would teach me a lesson, but it didn’t. When I know I’ve done something to upset somebody, whether it’s a friend, a military superior, a member of this congregation, or even Caitie, I will obsess over it, and let it eat away at me, worrying, worrying, worrying, wondering what I could have done differently, and continuing to internalize it long after the other person has forgotten about it.
It also doesn’t stop me from worrying about things over which I have no control whatsoever. Take two weeks ago, for example, when Jim Jackson had a stroke. As I mentioned last week, Gene Snyder and Jim Current took care of that situation effortlessly, and as Jerry Jackson told me this last week, “They were just wonderful.” But even so, even knowing that elders were taking care of the situation, I sat in the Coast Guard chaplain’s office in Oregon, worrying about what was going on, running through how I could be doing things if only I were in Gower instead of Astoria.
I know I shouldn’t worry about things like those. But it is what it is. I’m surprised I haven’t given myself an ulcer yet.
And yet, I shouldn’t. I mean, all I have to do is consider my life. I’m part of the 33 percent of Americans who have a college degree, part of the 9 percent who have a graduate degree. The US Navy thinks highly enough of me to have given me the rank of lieutenant and the title of chaplain. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) thought I was worthy of ordination. You all hired me to be your pastor. I’m married to a woman I truly love. I have a full-time job that pays me well. I have a house. I have a dog and a cat. I have a new-ish car that’s in good running condition. GOD HAS TAKEN CARE OF ME.
Because of course God has. After all, think about the pigeons. Ugly, filthy little disease-ridden, mite-carrying flying poop factories. Horrible little birds that are an absolute disgrace to their regal avian cousins like the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon. And yet, as Jesus says in Matthew 6, though they do no work, God takes care of them. God makes sure they have food to eat and shelter in which to live. And aren’t we worth much, much, MUCH more than the pigeons?
The point of Jesus’ teaching here is that we are meant to live for the glory of God, not to salve our own worries. God created us to be, as written in Psalm 8, “just a little lower than the angels,” which means we are high above the lowliest creatures of this earth. God has put us here to be taken care of, not to worry about our lives. “God will take care of you,” the hymn tells us, and yet we worry.
But why? “Who among you by worrying can add even a day to your lives?” Jesus asks in the next verse. And you know, I understand why this is so hard to follow. Even as I was writing this sermon, news flashed across my computer screen about a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. That came on the heels of weeks of a gunman randomly sniping at cars on Phoenix freeways. Of course we worry! If we can’t even be sure that we’re safe in our schools and driving down the highway, why SHOULDN’T we worry?!
Why shouldn’t we worry? Because when we worry, that means that we are implicitly not trusting God. When we worry, we are unconsciously giving control over to the powers and principalities of this world rather than relinquishing control to the One who created us. In its own way, such worry about the things of this world are a violation of the First Commandment – “You will have no other gods before me.” We have made worrying about the things of this world into a false god which we choose to worship ahead of the God who created us and who will indeed take care of us!
And considering I started this sermon by talking about how much I tend to worry… what was it that I said a couple weeks ago about being the chief of sinners?
But I digress.
“Consider the lilies of the field. They don’t work, they don’t spin, but Solomon in all his splendor was not clothed as one of these.”
Ah, yes, there’s the other side of the worry coin. It’s not just the foibles of life that we worry about. We worry about our STUFF too. I worry about whether my suit looks alright on Sunday morning. I worry about how much Caitie’s car is going to be worth when we go to trade it in next spring, and whether we’ll be able to get the car we want in return. I worry about us finding a house down the road that will be big enough for the two of us, and an eighty pound black Lab, and a tortoiseshell cat with an attitude the size of Mt. Everest, AND kids. I worry about whether my computer will be able to keep up with the ever-changing demands of technology, or whether I can afford the phone that I want.
I worry about all that, and I can only imagine God looking down on me, rolling his eyes, and saying, “Boy, CONSIDER THE GOSH DARN LILIES.”
Now, I KNOW I’m not the only person around here who worries about STUFF. I’ve spent the last six months working with our CYF and Chi-Rho groups. Teenagers worry about STUFF like you wouldn’t believe! We all do. But at the end of the day, stuff is temporary. Like kings and kingdoms, it will all pass away, and if we’re more concerned about the stuff than that Name that there’s just something about, then we’re going to be in a spot of bother.
And Jesus makes that point. “If God clothes the grass of the field so beautifully today, even if it is to be thrown into the fire tomorrow, why are we so worried about our needs being provided?”
Now, the next verse tells us not to worry about what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to drink, or what we’re going to wear. And I realize, telling that to some people is a bit much to ask. After all, those are three very basic needs that we all need fulfilled. But the point that Jesus is trying to make is not that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with basic provision, but rather that we shouldn’t get all worked up into a fuss about it. After all, as he says, “Gentiles” – read that sinners – “long for all these things.” But God knows that we need them.
Indeed, God knows what we need. God will take care of us!
This is all well and good right up until we look at people who don’t have enough to eat, or drink, clothes to wear, or someplace to live. What about them? Indeed, can we really fault those people for worrying about their lives?
You see, it’s too simple to say that the problem of worry is a false idol. The TRULY false idol is when we worry about ourselves, and don’t give any thought to other people. These verses say that God will take care of ALL of God’s creation. What if we’re meant to be part of that plan?
God has given generously to many of the people who have been created in God’s image to live on this earth. God esteems them far more greatly than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field, and has provided for them in turn. And consequently, it is given to them who have received much to help provide for those who have received little. In so doing, they are acting as the agents of God, being the hands and feet of God on this earth for those who stand in need of help.
And that is where the part about seeking first the kingdom of God comes into play.
You see, in the kingdom of God, all people are equal. None are better than any other. As Jesus teaches in Mark 9, the last shall be first, and the first last. Paul teaches in Romans 3 that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. No one person is elevated above another.
So, then, if we’re truly seeking first the kingdom of God, then we must be prepared to put into action the words of a certain prayer we say regularly:
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If we are to truly seek first the kingdom of God, we must be prepared to build that kingdom on this earth. For many people in this world, it seems that hope is lost. The worries of life have overwhelmed them and left them foundering. They are buried so deep that they cannot hear those words, “God will take care of you.”
For those of us who have been fed more than the birds and clothed better than the lilies, if we seek the kingdom of God, we must put the worries of those people above our own. We must reach down to where they are buried and tell them that God will indeed take care of them.
It is when all have been lifted up together that we can say that God’s kingdom has come, on earth as it is in heaven. We will have sought and we will have found that kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be given to us, for we know…
God will take care of us.