All week the old Bobby McFerrin song has been stuck in my head. “Don’t worry, be happy.” (What’s the next line?) “Everything is goin be alright.” At a surface level, that seems to be what Jesus is saying. Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or wear. Life is so much more than that. Consider the birds of the air and how they are fed. Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow and bring beauty. They are here one day and gone the next, but God takes care of them. How much more will God take care of you?
It is true. Worry, in the sense of being immobilized by fear and anxiety, will not add a single day to our life, and it might take some days away. It might keep us from living fully today. So on the surface this is good advice, but we know that the teachings of Jesus are never quite that simple. When we scratch the surface, and look a little deeper, this teaching yields some profound insights – and challenges.
First, this is not a lesson in laziness. God does work for good in our lives from an eternal perspective. God does take care of things, but that does not mean that we don’t have to study for the test or prepare for the presentation. If I haven’t taken the time to prepare a sermon, then I should be worried standing here. And you would probably need to worry as well. God wants us to be engaged in our own living. It is even OK to fret over how we might best deal with a crisis or conflict, or need. There is a type of worry or concern that motivates and is rooted in love. Jesus is talking about something different here when he says, “don’t worry.”
Jesus is certainly talking about something more than what we might call “first world problems.” Some of us should not be worried at all about things like food and clothing. If you have a closet full of clothes and you are still consumed with worry about what to wear, then “wake up.” “You are wasting your life on lesser things,” Jesus might say. If your all-consuming concern is whether to eat at this restaurant or that one, then open your ears to the Spirit of the Lord saying, “For goodness sake, get over it.” “You are missing out on so much.”
At the same time, for some these are big concerns. For one who is truly concerned about food or shelter or health care, for themselves or for those they love, we can’t just say, “Don’t worry.” As we scratch the surface of this lesson, we see the deeper truth that we are actually called to enter into their concern. At the core, this lesson is about the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” How does that work? Well, we start by realizing that the kingdom of God is more than a place we go when we die. At every turn, Jesus reveals that God’s kingdom is here for us. We are called to live in God’s kingdom right now. We pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. So, as we seek first the kingdom of God then we become the answer to the worries of others. We become the way that things fall into place. To seek first the kingdom of God is to engage in actions that will make things like hunger decreases and worries about basic needs to subside. If we see someone who is legitimately worried about food and shelter, we don’t need to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” We need to ask ourselves, “What can I do.” That’s seeking first the kingdom of God.
In the Book of Discipline there is a paragraph on how we are to fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It says that we make disciples by seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the Body of Christ, by nurturing and equipping each other in Christian living, and also by sending “persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel.” (Paragraph 122, The Book of Discipline) That’s how we seek first the kingdom of God.
We can’t get there if we insist on seeing through the lens of scarcity, believing that there is “not enough” and that we must grab all we can and protect what we have. That is not kingdom thinking. In God’s providential care in the world, there is enough food, and clothing, and care and grace for everyone. The invitation to seek first God’s kingdom is an invitation into God’s abundance. When we enter God’s kingdom we enter into God’s abundant love for all. And we get to be a part of distributing this abundance. We are called to cover the worries of the world.
John Wesley and the early Methodists tried to live this, and it is still in our spiritual DNA. In his journals, Wesley talked a lot about what they were doing to make a different. I read one quote last week about this. Here is a similar quote. Wesley said in 1753, “I visited more of the poor sick. The industry of many of them surprised me. Several who were ill able to walk, were nevertheless at work; some without any fire, bitterly cold as it was, and some, I doubt, without any food.” “If you saw these things with your own eyes, how could you then lay out your resources in mere ornaments and selfish pursuits?” (Wesley uses the word, “superfluities” here). That’s a challenging word.
Today we come together to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Each of us will have the opportunity to receive a piece of bread from a common loaf, and share from a common cup by dipping your bread in the cup. The common bread and cup represents our sharing in the body of Christ and our receiving of the same life and love of Christ. Together we are strengthened to share God’s abundant gifts of love and life with a world that causes so much harm when these gifts are not being sought after first. God’s kingdom is about communion and communion represents the abundance of God’s kingdom. Here (at this table) we can stop worrying about ourselves and whether or not we are loved. Here, we can know that we are a part of something so much bigger. Here, we can receive the grace that has the power to lift another out of the darkness and into the light of God’s love. And here, we can know that in God’s eternal and providential care, everything will be alright. Amen.
Benediction: Jesus says “don’t worry” and balances that with the strong word “strive.” Put those two words together. We are called to strive to bring God’s kingdom into the world and to be a part of making everything alright. We also received a part of the loaf. We did not receive the whole loaf. Go forth to do your part as a citizen of the kingdom of God...