Our series on the Sermon on the Mount continues with one of Jesus’ most beautiful teachings:
“…don’t be anxious…for your body…
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.
They don’t toil, neither do they spin,
yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory
was not dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:25-29)
The words roll off the tongue like poetry. They give us comfort and remind us that God is with us, that God cares for us, and that God will provide what we need for a full and abundant life. They’re like the hymn I mentioned last week,
“Be not dismayed, whate’er betide,
God will take care of you.”
But don’t let the poetry fool you. This teaching of Jesus is as plain and uncompromising as the ones we’ve heard before, where he said such things as,
• “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth …”
• “Don’t be angry …”
• “Turn the other cheek …”
• “Love your enemy …”
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The Word for today is no exception: “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” Practically speaking, that’s just about impossible for us to do. For instance,
• We worry about the weather – whether we’ve had too much rain or not enough, whether it’s too cold or too hot;
• We worry about the economy, the loss of jobs, the rising debt, the likelihood of new taxes and growing inflation;
• We worry about our security and the threat of terrorism and illegal immigration and the impact that it’s having on our country;
• We worry about our health, the safety of our loved ones, the condition of our schools, whether we’ll get to keep our hospital, the changing face of our community;
• We worry about putting on weight, growing bald, needing hearing aids, whether or not we’ll have to have surgery … the list just goes on and on.
Jesus tells us, plain and simple, “Don’t worry,” but we do it anyway. It’s in our genes. It’s as if we’re born to worry.
Some are better at it than others. I’ve had members of my churches over the years who could qualify as professional worriers. You may be one of them. They’d watch the news and hear about a storm brewing somewhere off the coast of Bangladesh, and they’d wring their hands and worry themselves sick over it. By the time the storm had passed, there’d be something new for them to worry about and, if not, they’d worry that they didn’t have anything to worry about.
When I was a school teacher just out of college, I rented a room from an elderly woman we called, “Mammaw.” Mammaw was a self-professed worrier. She got her news over the telephone from a circle of friends she talked with every morning. I’d be at the breakfast table overhearing her end of the conversation. It’d go something like, “Oh my, you don’t mean it … For heaven’s sake … I just knew this was going to happen … Lord, have mercy.” She took everyone’s burdens to heart and worried for them, just in case they weren’t sufficiently worried themselves.
If you’re not careful, worrying can become a way of life. It gives you a false sense of importance, as if to say that, by worrying, you’re somehow making a difference. I’ll have more to say about that in just a moment but, for now, let’s be clear: Jesus tells us in this passage not to worry.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this. The admonition not to worry echoes throughout the pages of the Bible. For example, in his Letter to the Philippians, Paul says,
“In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
The Psalmist writes, ” Cast your burden on Yahweh, and he will sustain you.
He will never allow the righteous to be moved..” (Psalms 55:22)
In Isaiah we read, “Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Just before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples not to worry. He said,
“Don’t let your heart be troubled.
Believe in God. Believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many homes.” (John 14:1-2)
And from 1 Peter, we read,
“…casting all your worries on him,
because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
The bottom line is this: We’re taught not to worry, but we do it anyway. The question is what can we do about it? I suggest three things: First, we can expose worry for what it is – a meaningless activity.
Worrying is like atrial fibrillation, where the muscles of the heart race wildly, but don’t pump the blood like they’re supposed to. They go through the motions, all right, but they don’t do any good. What keeps you alive is for the muscles of the heart to contract and expand in such a way as to pump the blood efficiently. Just moving back and forth doesn’t get the job done.
In somewhat the same way, stressing out over a crisis may give you a feeling of being in the game, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s a waste of time, and calling it what it is can be the first step toward fulfilling Jesus’ command not to worry.
The second is to make a clear distinction between worry and concern.
For example, when you hear about a child being abducted, it’s not only natural, but healthy to be concerned about the welfare of the child and whether or not the abductor is caught and the child returned safely to his/her mother and father. To be concerned about the well-being of others is a good thing. It shows that you care.
This goes back to 1986, but do you remember the story of Baby Jessica in Midland, Texas? Baby Jessica was eighteen months old and playing with other children in a field behind her house when she fell about fifty feet down into an abandoned oil well. Rescuers rushed to the scene and worked feverishly to get her out. Television reporters set up camp within hours and followed the drama, moment-by-moment.
It took the paramedics and drillers fifty-eight hours – over two full days – to reach Baby Jessica and pull her to safety. I’ll never forget the scene when they did – this West Texas roughneck being hoisted from the well by a crane holding Baby Jessica in his arms and giving a thumbs-up sign. What a moment of triumph and relief!
By that time, the whole country was glued to the TV and praying for a happy ending. When it was all over, President Reagan said, “Everybody in America became godfathers and godmothers of Jessica while this was going on.”
I can’t imagine seeing this story on the news and not feeling concerned for this toddler trapped in that deep, dark hole, and for her parents standing by in anguish praying for God to spare her life.
But let’s be clear: There’s a difference between worry and concern, and that difference is this: Concern leads to action.
In the end, it wasn’t all the worrying that saved Baby Jessica’s life, but the sweat and toil and sheer determination of a lot of well-trained and dedicated men and women working around the clock to get her out alive.
Worrying is a dead-end street. It goes nowhere. Concern leads to action. Here are just a few examples:
• Beth Lawrence sent me an email in May saying that her son, John, had volunteered to help with the ongoing relief efforts in Haiti. He’d withdrawn from college to work with an organization called, “Hands of Light in Action.” He said it was what he felt God was calling him to do – to help and not just watch from a distance. At last report, he was living in a make-shift tent city, much like a M.A.S.H. unit, assisting the doctors and nurses in the field.
• We just heard from Margaret Sengel this morning about “Living Waters of the World,” and how they’re using volunteers like us to build water purification systems in less-developed countries, including Haiti. I know for a fact that, if Margaret were just a few years younger, she’d be working with them on the front lines. As it is, she’s doing what she can to help raise money to fund the project.
• And, if you haven’t noticed, there are about twenty volunteers who show up twice a month to man the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic. They average seeing about fifty patients every time the doors open. Heading the team of volunteers is Dr. Dale Goins, who helped get it started, and Beverly Reynga, who handles most of the paperwork. Others include common, everyday folks like you and me.
Listen: There are a lot of things going on in the world today to worry about. Don’t waste your time. Instead, pick one or two you’re most concerned about and do what you can to make a difference.
You may not be able to go to Haiti, you may not have money to contribute to a worthy cause, you may not be able to give a couple of evenings a month to help with a ministry like the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic, but you can do something, even if it’s only to say a prayer.
When you do, you put your own worries behind, and that’s the secret of it all: The more you do for others the less you worry about yourself. And that’s what I hope you’ll take home with you today. To paraphrase Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, do something!”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2010, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.