Humble Beginnings #4: Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Worry
2 Chronicles 9:1-12
We are continuing to follow Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. We have been talking about Jesus’ humble beginnings. Right now we are in our second week in the Sermon on the Mount. For those of you who don’t know, the Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 5, 6 and 7. It is Jesus’ first teaching in the Gospel of Matthew and it is well worth reading on your own. There are a lot of wonderful sayings in it and things to memorize. I highly recommend spending time in chapters 5, 6, and 7 in the Gospel of Matthew in your own quiet time with God.
Last week we talked about the Beatitudes, which are the first teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus calls certain people blessed and it was not who we would have expected. It was not the rich and powerful, but the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the humble, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. What we learned is that God is always with us when we suffer or when we make sacrifices. We are not alone, we are not abandoned; we are blessed because God is with us.
Today, we have read a passage in the Sermon on the Mount about not worrying. This follows the teachings we have already had about being humble and builds on Jesus’ teaching about being blessed in the midst of suffering and sacrifice by God’s presence with us. In order to not worry, we must let go of trying to have control. Not worrying requires humbling ourselves and learning how to find God in the midst of suffering or sacrifice. Jesus does not just say to us, “Stop worrying.” He takes a different approach. He is not reprimanding us, but trying to encourage us.
This passage comes after several small passages about money. Jesus explains in these passages that we should serve God and not money. Also, that we should not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in a steal. Rather we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, because where our treasure is there our hearts will be also. Jesus is teaching us to put our treasures in God, to invest in God so that our hearts, the motivation of all that we do, our hearts would with be with God, and not with money or any of our other earthly cares. Jesus knows that this is hard for us. It is hard whether we are rich or poor. If we are rich we worry about money and if we are poor we worry about money. To reorient our thinking so that we think of God first, so that God is at the center of every decision we make, can lead to a lot of anxiety, and that’s what Jesus is trying to address here in our passage this morning. Jesus is trying to reassure us that when we put God at the center of our finances, when we make God our treasure, we don’t have to worry because God will provide for us.
Jesus starts by saying in verse 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?” Jesus is not asking us to be lazy or irresponsible with what God has given to us. Rather, Jesus is saying that we should not be obsessed with our food, our drink, our clothing. Yes, we must eat and drink multiples times per day, and we must get dressed everyday. God knows this about the human life. Jesus is saying that these things should not be our focus. In other words, we should not organize our lives around chasing sales or finding that expensive brand name jacket. But rather, God should be our focus. We should be organizing our lives around God. And we should not worry about this shift in focus because as Jesus says in verse 33, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
How does Jesus make his case that we shouldn’t worry about this shift in focus to make God the center of our lives? He says in verse 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?” This saying is also in the Gospel of Luke, where “the birds of the air” are called ravens. Ravens were considered unclean birds. And they are scavengers. It is not appealing to think about what they are eating. So, here we have an unclean and unpleasant bird as the example given for God’s good provision. It makes me think of what we heard last week, that God makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous and so we should love our enemies. Here, Jesus is saying, “Your heavenly Father provides for the ravens even though they do not plant seed, harvest, or store. Whereas you do. How much more will God provide for you.” Embedded in this is the idea that God values our responsible work of managing well all that God has given to us (sowing, reaping, gathering), but that we should not worry about whether we will have enough, because God will certainly provide for us.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 27, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Jesus said before that life is more than food and clothing. And yet, we worry about these things intensely. And for many of us today, living in Canada, it is often not food and clothing that worries us, but other money issues or our work obligations or our family obligations. But, how will worrying help you, asks Jesus. We think we need these things to live, and yet worrying about them won’t add a single hour to our lives. God is the only one with the power to add an hour to our life. And so it is to God that we should direct our focus.
Jesus goes on to say in verse 28, “And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 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?” This is also an interesting example that Jesus gives. Usually in the Old Testament, the flowers of the field are mentioned to give an example of the frailty of life: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” But here Jesus is using the flowers as an example of God’s good provision. This would be surprising to the people listening because they would think of the frailty of the flower, that it fades, that it is only there for a season. But Jesus is saying, “These flowers that fade in a season are clothed in more splendor than Solomon” (and we heard a little bit about Solomon’s splendor in our passage from 2 Chronicles). Again, if God cares for something that is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more will God care for you?
Jesus is not saying that we should reject our need for food or clothing, or financial stability or a job or a good school or sleep or a home or a spouse or whatever it is that is the source of our anxiety. For He even says in the middle of verse 32, “Indeed your heavenly father knows that you need all these things.” He’s not saying, “You don’t need them, why are you worrying?” Rather He is saying, “You need these things. God knows. But don’t worry, trust in God, and God will provide for you.” As Jesus said in verse 33, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
But this is hard. This week was a perfect storm of circumstances outside of my control preventing me from getting my work done. It came to Friday and my to-do list was the same as it had been at the beginning of the week. And then on Friday, I had two sermons to write. And, I had to take my car the shop and then I realized that Micah was going to a gifted program and would arrive back at school late in the afternoon and miss his bus home, and I wouldn’t have a car to pick him up, and he had a drum lesson after school. What was I going to do? So Brett and I were trying to figure out what to do and finally we came up with a plan and I sat down to work on my first sermon, and the power went out. And I was like, “Really God?! I know I am preaching on - do not worry - on Sunday, but do I really have to be tested this much in my ability to live it out?” *sigh*
I really had to put these verses into practice. And it was helpful that every time I sat down, the title at the top of the screen said, “Do not worry.” *ok…* But Jesus’ words proved true in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I focused on each hour, looking to God for help, praying for help constantly. And each hour, God helped me and the sermons got done. And it made me think of something that Augustine wrote about God’s power in this world and that we take it for granted. Augustine is writing about the wedding at Cana when Jesus turned water into wine. He wrote, “Our Lord’s miracle in turning water into wine comes as no surprise to those who know that it is God who did it. At the wedding that day he made wine in the six waterpots he had filled with water; but he does the same thing every year in the vines. The servants put the water in the jugs, and he turned it into wine. In just the same way the Lord turns into wine the water that the clouds drop.” (Black prayer book.) God performs miracles every day, every year, right before our very eyes. Turning water into wine, and all of the other things that we love to eat and drink. So how can we worry about whether we will get sermons done or pick up our kids or whatever it is. God knows we need to do these things. And just as Jesus said we plant seeds, we harvest, and we store, so we also take responsibility for our work and our family responsibilities. We don’t have to worry when things get stressful. God knows we need to do these things. Worrying will not make them happen. But God will always help us to accomplish whatever it is that we are called to do, as long as, as Jesus says, we “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to [us] as well.”
But this teaching of Jesus is not just relying on ourselves and relying on God. It’s also living in Christian community. We are the body of Christ. When we have a need, God often helps us through the others in our church. I want to leave you with a story of God’s provision through others. This is Anne Lamott’s story. She is a Christian writer who has faced many struggles in her life. She found herself pregnant without any support but she decided to keep the baby. This is what happened when she told her church. “When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered. All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped. Even women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me. And then almost immediately they set about providing for us. They brought clothes, they brought casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family. And they began slipping me money.
“Now a number of the older black women live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks. But routinely they sidled up to me and stuffed bills in my pocket - tens and twenties. It was all done so stealthily that you might have thought [they were doing something illegal]. One of the most consistent donors was a very old woman named Mary Williams, who is in her mid-eighties now, so beautiful with her crushed hats and hallelujahs; she always brought me plastic baggies full of dimes, ]tied together] with little wire twists.” (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies.)
When Anne Lamott came to St. Andrew’s Church with nothing but a challenging situation, the church received her with joy. She came with imperfections and complexities and real life struggles, and just as Jesus’ arms are opened wide to embrace us all on the cross, so St. Andrew’s opened their hearts to receive Anne and her baby. They provided for her out of what little they had and in that way they were the hands and feet of Jesus during that uncertain time in her life. This is how we all come to Jesus and to church, with imperfections and complexities and real life struggles. And Jesus says, “Do not worry about what you will eat and what you will drink and what you will wear. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, and cares for you more than you will ever know. Strive first for the kingdom of God and God will provide for your every need.” Amen.