March 15, 2020
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Friends, what a strange and disorienting week this has been. Since we last gathered so much has changed regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), both in terms of its spread and how we are being encouraged to respond to it, as each and every day seems to bring new information and a heightened sense of urgency to the situation at hand. And I say that it’s been a bit disorienting because as we read the paper or watch the news or follow along on social media, it’s been somewhat difficult to figure out what’s real and what’s not and just how serious this all actually is. In some sense, I feel like we’re watching this conversation play out between one group of people who are saying ‘This is not a big deal’ while another group is saying ‘No, this actually is a huge deal’ and both sides are looking across the room thinking that the others have lost their minds. And even more, it’s also a bit strange in the sense that we’re watching this play out all across our nation and the world for that matter and yet because of where we sit geographically and given our somewhat isolated location, we’re just barely beginning to feel the reality of it and the effects of it here in Dillon. And so it’s felt like this serious thing that hasn’t literally quite hit home yet or possibly is just beginning to. And so in some sense it’s been hard to know what to do or what to say or exactly how to feel about it all.
And yet, in midst of all the uncertainty, in midst of a 24/7 news cycle where things are changing not only by the day, but by the hour, this morning we as God’s people come together to hear the truth of God’s unchanging word. A word from God himself who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
And what an incredibly timely word that Gary just read, as Jesus tells his people 5 times in the span of this passage, ‘Do not worry.’ Now just so you know, I did not pick this passage earlier this week in light of the coronavirus. As I’m sure many of you have picked up on, my preference is to plan things 2,3,4 months in advance, where we go through passages of scripture verse by verse. And so I picked today’s scripture back in December when the coronavirus wasn’t on our radar whatsoever, as I was planning for and sketching out our Sermon on the Mount sermon series for this winter and spring. So you all think about how beautiful and incredible that is … God knew exactly what we would need to hear on this particular Sunday, here on March 15th, where in midst of this incredibly anxious and uncertain time, Jesus tells us ‘Do not worry.’
And Lord knows, there’s a lot that you and I could be worried about, coronavirus aside. Everything from -
Will I get into the college of my choice?
Will the person I ask to prom say yes?
Will we ever be able to get pregnant?
Will I ever have enough money to retire someday?
Will I ever be free from cancer?
Will my kids care for me when I get old?
And yet in midst of everything that we could potentially worry about, big things or small things, whether it be finances or relationships, family stuff or work stuff, our health or our future, virus or no virus, Jesus reassures us in this very moment by saying, ‘Do not worry.’
And he does so by giving us two reasons not to worry, and then gives us a charge or command with what to do instead.
Two reasons not to worry, and a word on what to focus on instead.
The first reason is what I would call the ‘God’ reason. The second is what I would call the ‘basic common sense’ reason.
First the ‘God’ reason – here Jesus encourages us to look to creation itself as a source of hope. Where he says,
26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And then later he goes on to say,
28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
The logic here is relatively simple. God made the birds and the flowers too. And if he cares for and provides for them, then how much more does he and will he care and provide for us too? And we’re not talking about just a lowly pigeon, no, even the most patriotic bald eagle, yes, we are more valuable than them despite what PETA may want us to believe. And when it comes to the flowers of the field, we’re not just talking about a random little dandelion, no, have you ever seen the flowers in Chris Longley’s garden, they’re the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen, and yet, we are more beautiful and more valuable in God’s eyes than them. You see, if God values them, if he cares for and provides for them, how much more does he value and care for us? Infinitely so. After all, we as humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in the image of God, called to rule and reign and have dominion over all the living things on earth. And so in light of that truth, Jesus says,
31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
Now, to that, you may be thinking, ‘But wait, what about the thousands of people around the world who don’t have enough to eat, who go to bed hungry night after night? What about the homeless among us who go to sleep outdoors in the bitter cold? Does this promise that God cares about them and will provide for them ring hollow? I’ll admit this passage makes me a bit uneasy in light of those very questions.
Yet I think even in those questions there’s a reminder and opportunity for those of us who have been blessed with an abundance to share what we have with those in need. After all, one of the primary ways God provides to us is through the generosity and hard work of others, rather than dropping manna from the sky or inconspicuously leaving care packages on our doorsteps.
So friends, how might God want to use what we have, our time, talents and treasure, to care for those who are in need? Especially in light of the coronavirus, how might we as Christians and as the church care for and provide for those in need? We’ll talk more about this in a few minutes.
Anyway, that brings us to end of the first reason why Jesus tells us not to worry. Do you see the birds, do you see the lilies? God cares for and provides for them and yet we’re far more valuable in God’s eyes than they’ll ever be.
Now, here’s the second reason. The second reason why we’re told not to worry is what I’ll call the ‘common sense’ reason. That is, it’s a reasoning that should appeal to us on the basis of common sense no matter what religion you believe or what God you worship.
And so here’s what Jesus says,
27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
You can see the basic logic or thinking here – it’s just basic common sense – that is, that in the end worrying never really does us any good or accomplish anything positive in the long run.
For example, many of us are worried about our health, whether it’s because were worried about what the doctor will say or what the scale will weigh. And yet the irony is, I think all the doctors here at our church would tell us that worrying, and the stress that it causes us is bad for our health!Worry is so often a waste of our time, thoughts, energy and even compromises our very health. And so in the end, worrying does more harm than good and in fact rather than adding an hour or two to our lives, truth is, it just steals the hours away.
And then later Jesus says, 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Which is a confusing sentence if you ask me. Jesus says, 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Isn’t that a contradiction of sorts? ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow there will be plenty of things to worry about.’ Really Jesus, how is that supposed help?
I would have much rather had Jesus say, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be just fine.’Wouldn’t that be better?
Well, I think in some ways Jesus is just appealing to basic common sense. We can’t control the future. We can’t step into the future and change tomorrow. We simply need to be faithful and focus on what we can do today. Christian author Corrie Ten Boom, said it well when she said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
As I shared with you last week, Callie and I were scheduled to go to California this week to visit my grandparents and so they could meet Noah for the first time. And it was two Fridays ago that the situation around the coronavirus really seemed to escalate and I was at a Presbytery meeting in Billings and Callie and I were texting back and forth trying to figure out if we should go or not. And now knowing what we know roughly 10 days later, I’m glad we made the decision we made. But yet, in that moment on that Friday two weeks ago, I was consumed by that decision all day long, refreshing Twitter and checking the news for updates every few minutes it seems. And it really hindered my ability to present and engaged with my peers that day. You can see the problem with worry – it consumed my thoughts and distracted me from being present in the moment, which is something I had control over, all because of worry over a future reality that I could not control.
Truth is, worry rarely, if ever, does any good because we end up focusing us on a future we so often can’t control and in the process robs us from the present moment which in many ways do have control over.
So there you have it, two main reasons why you and I can be people free from worry. There’s the ‘God’ reason and the ‘common sense’ one.
Now, all that established, what should we do instead? Like, I get why Jesus says not to worry, but yet, what should we do instead? After all, I know for many of us, to simply have someone tell you, ‘Do not worry’ is a little like hearing, ‘Don’t think about the pink elephant.’ Well, guess what … now you can’t get that dumb little pink elephant out of your head. And so for some of us, hearing ‘Do not worry’ may just make us think about all those things that had us worried in the first place.
Well, thankfully Jesus gives us something to do, something better to focus on, as he says,
33 But strive first for the kingdom of Godand hisrighteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’
To which you might say, that’s nice, but what does that actually mean?
Truth is, I think it probably means a few things, but for this morning let’s go with this –
It means that our primary focus, our primary goal, our primary ambition would be to live and share the good news that Jesus is King and that his Kingdom has begun.
It means that we would seek first to live into everything The Sermon on the Mountis about. A sermon that is all about what it means to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God.
To be people who are meek and merciful, people who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
To be the salt of the earth and light of the world to those around us.
To love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
To store up treasure in heaven, rather than treasure on earth. To store up treasure that cannot be taken away from us, that cannot be destroyed. A treasure that we never have to worry about going bad.
It means that our primary focus, our primary goal, our primary ambition would be to live and share the good news that Jesus is King and that his Kingdom has begun.
And friends, the time is now. There is no better time for us to be this kind of people than right here, right now, in midst of this uncertain and anxious time surrounding the coronavirus.
And here, I think it’s helpful to reflect back on one of the spiritual disciplines that we looked at a couple weeks ago. And as I shared then, another way to think of these spiritual disciplines are as spiritual training exercises. That in the same way you and I practice various exercises to stay physically healthy, you and I also need spiritual training exercises, things like giving, serving, praying or fasting in order to stay spiritually healthy.
And what’s beautiful about these spiritual disciplines is that not only are they ways in which we strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, but in addition, as we practice these things, they’re also ways for us to strengthen our faith and trust in Christ and through which we can be people who are less prone to worry.
So for example, one of those spiritual disciplines that Jesus encourages us towards is giving. And last week we talked about storing up treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth and that one of the primary ways we can do that is through giving and demonstrating radical generosity. Now, to be honest, I kind of wish I could have a bit of a do-over with last week’s sermon because I fear I may have overemphasized giving financially as opposed to giving our time and talents as well. But truth is, there is so much we can give through our time, talents and treasure and my sense is there will be an abundance of opportunities in the near future to practice radical generosity with our neighbors as this coronavirus situation continues to unfold. For example, if schools are closed, are there ways in which we could provide childcare for parents who still need to go to work?Or what about hourly workers who work for minimum wage, what if they’re unable to work, yet have no financial margin - how might we be able to help them?Or what about the homeless among us who don’t have their basic needs met, much less a place to wash their hands?Or what about the widows and elderly among us? Could we call a widow or shut in just to check in when we know they are choosing to stay home or limit their exposure? Friends, how might we be able to practice the spiritual discipline of giving, showing radical generosity during this time of need?
And this is especially important because right now, human nature says this is a time to hoard and store rather than give. Where bottles of Purell are being sold at an all time high and where grocery stores are running out of toilet paper, (which by the way doesn’t really make sense to me, I would rather run out of toilet paper than say food, but whatever …). And here’s part of the problem with all that – how to people respond when they see other people panicking and buying tons of toilet paper? Well, of course, they’re thinking, ‘Maybe I need a 2 year supply of toilet paper too.’ And if right now you’re thinking, ‘Shoot, I really should have bought more toilet paper,’ well, friends you’re in luck, because Callie and I would be more than happy to sell you some of our extras for 5 dollars a roll. (That’s a joke, people.)
You get the point, hoarding leads to more hoarding. Panic creates more panic. Worry fuels more worry. Yet, what if we as the church swam upstream in this anxious time and lived generously?Not only is it a way for us to seek first the Kingdom of God, but it would also free us from worry, because as we give, we give with an open hand, saying, ‘I can give because I trust that God will provide for me even as I give.’ To the world it won’t make any sense, but yet that is the way of the upside down Kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to live in light of.
I’ll finish with this …
I’m sure many of you are feeling this tension … Jesus tells us ‘not to worry’ and yet we also sense that we need to be prepared, that we need to plan ahead and play it safe in this season. Where over and over and over again, in light of the coronavirus, we’ve heard this phrase of ‘abundance of caution.’ That is, we’re taking measure X out of an abundance of caution…and yet, the question that I feel that I’m wrestling with and maybe you are too is, ‘What’s the difference between showing an abundance of caution as opposed to being filled with worry’?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t completely figured out the difference between the two myself – but yet, I think this quote from C.S. Lewis is incredibly helpful and instructive for this very moment.
C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian authors and thinkers, wrote this during WWII when people feared getting hit by an atomic bomb. And yes, I realize that comparing the coronavirus to an atomic bomb may seem dramatic at best and maybe even inappropriate at worst, but yet I think the point he is trying to make here is nevertheless very instructive, where he says,
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting with our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
So friends, let’s be prudent and cautious, let’s plan accordingly, let’s practice social distancing if that’s what’s recommended for our community, let’s wash our hands like we never have before, but for goodness sake, let’s be found doing sensible and human things - go for a hike, read a book, take a break from the news, laugh together with the ones you love, call your grandparents or grandkids … because as for this coronavirus, it need not dominate our minds.
For as the Apostle Paul says,
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.