There is much that we worry about—health, relationships, money, safety, climate change, lack of decency and civility in an increasing polarized society, etc. Instead of being “worry warts”, Jesus tells us to not be anxious, because God cares about us and will provide for us just as He takes care of the lilies and the birds. By trusting Jesus and seeking first God’s Kingdom, we can experience peace, comfort and hope.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Matthew 6:25-34
How many of you have ever been called a “worry wart” or called someone else a worry wart? To be honest, probably most of us could have earned that title at some point in our lives. Most of us worry about a lot of things.
What are the things that you and people you know worry about, the things that cause anxiety and stress?
For me, one thing I worry about the kind of world that my grandchildren will grow up in.
I’m concerned about climate change, which is causing more severe storms and displacing millions of people who live in low-lying areas that will become flooded.
I worry about increasing polarization and hostility between groups of people who see the world differently, lack of decency, civility.
I also worry about looser gun laws which means more guns in people’s homes and on the streets. I thought of this week in light of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, where the judged ruled it was legal for him to carry a big rifle across state lines and into the streets of Kenosha,Wisconsin.
These and other things are real concerns in our society today. And fortunately there are things that we can do, and the Church and the government can do to help care for our planet, to help make our streets safer, things that we can do to live in peace with people who we disagree with instead of butting heads with them.
But it seems like so much of what we worry about and that cause anxiety are things that really don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. And being anxious about them doesn’t do us any good.
Do you know where the term “worry wart” comes from? I looked it up and it comes from the old myth that picking up a toad will get you warts. People worried they would get warts because toads have these wart-like things on their bodies, so that’s where we get the phrase, “worry wart”.
And just like we know the real truth that toads will not cause warts, the truth is that so many things that we worry about are not worth stressing over.
This is what Jesus is getting at when he says, “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to your life?”
Jesus addresses this issue because he knows how debilitating worry can be to us. It can preoccupy our mind, it can makes us afraid, and put us in a defensive frame of mind where we withdraw from people and things, instead of being free to become the person who God created us to be.
Sometimes the fear of what other people think of us can be a hindrance to us. We end up focusing on trying to please other people instead of living our life to please God.
I know that I have one of those “people pleaser” genes in me. There are times in my life when I have cared too much about what other people think of me. Fortunately, as I have gotten older, I’m finding that I don’t care quite as much as I used to.
Proverbs 29:25 says: The fear of human opinion disables us; trusting in God protects us from that. (Message version)
And trusting God is really the core of what this passage in Matthew 6 is about. Putting our trust in God is the best cure for worry warts, or for any of us who often find ourselves becoming anxious and stressed and fearful.
Now in saying this, I want to acknowledge that some people suffer from anxiety disorders, and their bodies need medications to treat their anxiety. We need to be sensitive to their needs and not make light of their situation.
In any case, Matthew 6:25-34 is good news for all of us. Now, it could be that in that crowd where Jesus spoke these words in the Sermon on the Mount, that there were people of different social classes present.
To those who were more well off financially, maybe Jesus saying “don’t worry so much about what you will eat, what you will drink and what you will wear”, meant to keep things in perspective, that food and drink and clothing are necessities, but they shouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over them, or trying to impress other people with those things.
Maybe to those of us today who are middle class or above, these words can be caution against spending too much money on these things, or spending too much time shopping for them.
I know that I sometimes get caught up surfing online for things, usually on Amazon, and I sometimes end up spending countless hours researching something that I want to buy.
And while I think it’s good to do research, and be a smart buyer, does there come a point where it becomes an obsession and it’s time to just either click the “buy” button or realize that maybe I don’t really need that thing after all and exit out.
Maybe these times are a reminder that there are much more important things to focus on in life than what I eat, drink and wear.
Then there were those in the crowd Jesus spoke to that day who struggled to put food on the table and clothes on their back. Maybe Jesus’ words here are more of a comfort to them, that God will provide for them, just as God provides for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.
If God can take such good care of flowers and birds, how much more will he provide for humans who He created in His own image and likeness?
There’s a popular story about St. Francis of Assisi when he preached a sermon to a flock of birds. It’s depicted on the cover of today’s bulletin. When Francis approached them, it was like they were expectantly waiting for his arrival.
Someone has summarized what St. Francis said in his sermon to the birds like this:
“God has given you the freedom to fly wherever you want, to sing wherever you want. You are given food, air, and water by God, as well as clothing, trees, and mountains to live in. Since God has given you so many things, let us give thanks to Him and praise Him always.”
After Francis had finished, the birds all opened their beaks, stretched their necks, spread their wings, and lowered their heads to the ground to show that his words had given them great joy.
Then he gave them permission to leave, and the birds flew away in a cross formation, chirping and singing beautifully.
This story is a good reminder to us, to remember how much God provides for us, to praise God and be grateful to Him for all the blessings he gives us, and for his faithfulness to us.
We’re going to sing that great hymn at the end of our service, Great is Thy Faithfulness, which says “all I have needed, thy hand hath provided.”
Some of the blessings that are mentioned in the hymn that God provides are things like His mercy, His love, strength for today and hope for tomorrow, a peace that endures.
Earlier, we sang about the effect that God’s peace can have upon our life. We sang “It is well with my soul.” That’s a phrase proclaiming the calm and contentment we experience when God’s peace that passes all understanding touches us deep inside the core of our being, no matter what we are going through.
Great is Thy Faithfulness mentions one more blessing that God give us. That blessing is kind of at the core of everything else He gives us, and it’s His constant presence.
The song says “thine own dear presence, to cheer and to guide”. And maybe this has something to do with what Jesus means when he says toward the end of our passage “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
Let me explain. Recently I read this great little book on the Sermon on the Mount by Skye Jethani called “What if Jesus was Serious?” In other words, what if Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are meant to be taken to heart and lived out in our lives?
His main thesis is that too many Christians do not take Jesus seriously, and do not seek to follow him or trust him with their lives, and as a result they get led astray by other philosophies, or political agendas, or personalities, that are contrary to the way of Jesus.
It’s a great book and I highly recommend it to you. It even has Jethani’s drawings on every page to help illustrate his points. He’s not a Mennonite but so much of what he says resonates with how we see Jesus.
Anyway, in one chapter of the book, Jethani talks about the part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jethani makes the point that in Jesus’ understanding of the world and in his Kingdom, “heaven” wasn’t some future place or eternal reality, as we usually think of it. but it was a present reality that could be experienced in the here and now.
And the treasures that he is talking about are things that are accessible to us right now, and Jethani says that this treasure is the presence of God in our lives, this presence as the hymn says is “to cheer us and guide us”.
Jethani says that this presence of God is more valuable than any treasure that the world might offer us, and as a result we are called to desire God’s presence, to make it our ultimate priority in life, to seek it with our whole heart, and when we do that, it can truly cheer us, bring us joy and truly guide us in life.
Jethani ends this chapter by asking the question “What occupies your imagination, your daydreaming, and motivates your actions?”
I believe that these questions lie at the heart of what it means to “seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness.” And as Jesus said, when we do this, everything else that we need will be added to our life.
I want to end by reading the words of a song, another song by Michael Card. A few weeks ago we heard the song “The Paradigm” in relation to the faith that the blind man had in Jesus which led to his healing.
This song today is called “The Gift to Believe” and it is inspired by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. I’m going to read it, then it will be played during a time of reflection when I’d like you to ponder the question,
What does it mean to you and for the Church today to “seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness?”