May 10, 2015
Some of you might remember Tom Manthey, who attended here with his family several years ago. I still stay in touch with him on Facebook, and awhile back he posted a cartoon with a game board labeled: Insomnia Jeopardy. The categories included:
- Ways in Which people have wronged me
- strange noises
- money troubles
- why did I say/do that
- diseases I probably have
It’s funny because it’s true. When we have the space to sit—or lay there—and just think, our minds more often than not turn to worry. Take just one minute right now and write down all of the worries you can think of. If you are not in the mood to write anything down, just hold onto your paper and think of as many worries as you can. One minute. Ready? Go. . . . OK. Stop.
I won’t turn this into a contest by figuring out who has the most worries. I imagine everyone has enough.
All of us here with so many worries. And we call ourselves Christians. We claim to be followers of Jesus. The same Jesus who says here—and I know a lot of times Jesus’ teachings are kind of vague and convoluted and a little hard to decipher, but this teaching is clear as day—Jesus says here: Do not worry. Three times. Do not worry.
Jesus says, “love your enemy, turn the other cheek,” and we speak out against the death penalty.
Jesus says, “put away your sword,” and we refuse to serve in combat.
Jesus says, “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and we will not put an American flag in our worship space, because our love and loyalty are owed to God, not nation.
Jesus says, “people shall not live by bread alone,” and we serve borscht with our zwieback.
We Mennonites take the teachings of Jesus very seriously.
But Jesus also says, “Do not worry.” Three times. And just look at our lists.
So, we have established that we have worries. And we have established that Jesus says not to worry. We could spend the rest of our time together talking about why we shouldn’t worry—the negative health effects of stress; the fact that worry reveals a lack of faith; the truth that worrying will not add a single hour to our lives. We could delve into the why. But I think we probably already know the whys.
The bigger question for me—and I assume for you—is how. We hear Jesus say, “Do not worry”–all three times. We hear it, and we want to obey it. But this teaching feels a little like when someone says, “Don’t think about a purple rhinoceros.” And of course your head immediately fills with the image of a purple rhinoceros.
When someone says, “Don’t worry,” we immediately think about all the things we are worried about. And the more we think about how we should not worry, the longer our list of worries gets. “Don’t worry” definitely falls into the category of “easier said than done.”
We can all agree that we should worry less, but how do we do that? I’ve gotten advice in this area from friends and therapists, from magazines and books and those ridiculous “5 easy ways to worry less” articles online that I always click on because I think maybe this one will have something worthwhile to say—which it never does.
There’s lots of advice floating around about how to lower stress and worry less—and some of that advice is good, I’m sure. But this morning I want to look at what Jesus says about how to not worry. It’s true that he isn’t dictating a simplistic article–”Six days to a worry-free life”–but his teaching here does give us some guidance in our efforts to worry less.
We have some instructions here beyond “Don’t worry.” Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air.” He says, “See how the flowers of the field grow.” He says, “Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”
So how do we not worry? Well, not by sitting around worrying that we are worrying too much. No. We worry less by thinking about other things more. We can consider God’s creation—the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. The natural world provides sign after sign of God’s presence and provision. Think about the cactus and camels and tarantulas that thrive in dry desert conditions. And mangrove trees that are able to survive in salty swamps where their roots spread out to shelter small fish, lizards and amphibians. I recently heard a report on NPR about how helpful dung beetles are on farms—they can save farmers millions of dollars by rolling up and burying their little dung balls. And I learned that there is a mountain in Australia that is home to unique plant and animal species—including a hot pink slug—because a volcano erupted 17 million years ago and preserved moist, rainforest-like conditions on the mountain while the rest of Australia dried out.
So how do we not worry? Consider the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the camels of the desert, the dung beetles of the farms, the bright pink slugs of Mount Kaputar. Consider the beauty and functionality of God’s creation; and remember that you are part of that creation—beautiful and cared for.
How do we not worry? Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. One way to worry less is to focus on God. To live into what God is calling us to be and do.
If you would, permit me just a moment for a vocabulary lesson. The word “missional” is something of a buzzword in our denomination right now. And a lot of progressives hate it. In part because it sounds like “missionary” and we all know horror stories of how Christians have oppressed native peoples in the name of “spreading the gospel.” In part because “missional” is often thrown out by denominational leaders and conservatives as a sort of counter to those of us working to affirm the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Mennonites in our midst. People write things like: “We’re not going to worry about these ‘side issues,’ we should just all go be missional.”
So “missional” gets a bad wrap. And it’s too bad. Because I think, at its heart, being missional means we do exactly what Jesus says here: seek God’s kingdom first. Being missional means we pay attention to what God is doing in the world and we find ways to join in that effort. Many of us experienced a missional moment this past Thursday night at the Nehemiah Assembly. God is clearly working in this city toward better care for those with mental illness, toward a means of providing more affordable housing. Every single city and county official who was asked to support these efforts said “yes.” God is at work and we get to be part of it! When we are caught up in the God-work going on around us, we have less time and energy to spend worrying about ourselves.
So how do we not worry? Seek the kingdom of God—look around for what God is doing and figure out how to join in.
And, I think, there is one more bit of guidance that Jesus gives here about not worrying. I was interested to note that the reading of this passage in the back of our hymnals stops with verse 33. I prefer to read through verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus is not asking us to deny the problems in our lives. This is not Timon and Simba and Pumba walking along the log singing “hakuna matata;” this is not “don’t worry, be happy,” simplistic philosophy. When Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” he is not denying the problems and troubles of this world. He is simply acknowledging that we can release our stress, our worry about these troubles, and rest in God’s care.
Yes, today has enough troubles. And tomorrow will have more. And our loving, creative God has provided, is providing, and will provide for our needs. Thanks be to God.