A sermon by Rev’d Jo Joyce
Any one here ever worry about things? I know I do – sometimes, if I don’t keep a check on it, I can worry about all sorts of things, and I know it doesn’t do me any good, so lets look at what Jesus says about it.
Our Gospel reading today comes from the sermon on the mount. Jesus’s teaching about worry is part of a whole set of teaching. I think its really important to start out by saying Jesus is not condemning people who do worry or are anxious (which would be a better translation of the Greek word). We know that, because the sermon begins with the beatitudes, one of which you will remember is; 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Being poor in spirit, anxious or worried is not sinful, God is with you at those times and this passage is not about setting a standard to never worry.
This passage comes in a whole set of teaching about how God’s people are to live and includes things about loving your enemies and not judging others or storing up treasures on earth. This teaching then is about what we should aim for – like loving our enemies, it’s not easy – we may not always achieve it, but we can try and work towards it.
So, where do we start? Well Jesus starts with two types of worry – about life, the big things, and worry about stuff and envy. So, let’s begin with them.
This is person 1
They have lots of worries about their life. It’s really hard, their universal credit hasn’t come through, and they worry about where the food will come from when their money runs out. They are waiting for some test results from the hospital, life is really hard.
And Jesus comes in and says; ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.’ Now that seems a bit harsh, because on the face of it they have lots of genuine reasons to worry – these are things which we would all be anxious about to some extent. Some of us are naturally more anxious than others, but I reckon most people would find this hard. So, what might Jesus mean? Well I think there are several things we can read from this.
Firstly, do not worry about things you cannot change. With the best will in the world an individual is never going to speed up the systems of state that organise the benefits payments or the NHS consultant working on their test results. There will come a day when both of these things will be resolved one way or the other, but worrying will not change either of them, nor will it change other big things, war, politics, roadworks. Jesus is clear; do not worry about things you cannot change, take each day one day at a time and deal with that day’s difficult things – the more we let worry carry over to the next day and the day after, the harder it is, we spend 2 weeks worrying over a test result that comes back clear, we worry about our money but we can’t make it come any quicker. It is time and energy and stress that was unnecessary.
Secondly, I think it’s also important to remember this was general teaching Jesus was giving and it comes in a context. He is not saying this to an individual. In the context of the sermon on the mount – we (collectively) are not to worry about our life, to focus on ourselves, but we (collectively) are expected to give alms to the poor, to strive for justice and to do to others as we would have them do to us. In other words we have as a community a call to support those who have genuine worries in this life, we are to feed the hungry, to pray with those who are sick, to work for a more just benefits system – we are to be part of the solution to their worries. Individuals cannot resolve these problems alone, all they can do is seek help and live one day at a time; we as church can come alongside them and support them and work for justice and, in that way, we help them not to worry about the things they cannot change.
We are not as a community to harbour a collective anxiety about things. It’s so easy to spread – I am worried about this, I pass it on, they become worried and pass it on and it blows out of proportion.
The second sort of worry Jesus tells us about is worries about what you will wear. This I think is worry about our status, about comparing ourselves with others – about envy, just general worrying about things.
Let’s meet person 2
This person is really worried about the fact that their trainers are old and unfashionable, their tablet is rubbish and doesn’t work properly, they spent loads of money on the credit card on chocolate at the fair trade stall to try and feel better but now they just feel worse and have a massive debt as well, and so it all spirals on. Life isn’t quite how we hoped, the bloke over the road has a flash new car, I have to go to a wedding and can’t afford a new dress – then no one will like me or speak to me and I will be miserable for ever! Poor person 2, life for them feels a bit rubbish!
But Jesus says; ‘do not worry about your life, …j] or about your body, what you will wear…. 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.’
Here we go again, it’s hard isn’t it? How do we live a life that’s not focussed on feeling left out, how do we not worry about these things? There will always be people who are richer than we are, with a nicer house, who go one better holidays and wear cooler clothes. Whatever stage we are at in life there is always a temptation to be envious, to look to those around us and wish for more, or worry that we won’t be accepted because we don’t fit in, we don’t have enough. There is always a temptation to work ourselves into the ground too, perhaps because we feel maybe somehow we can earn these things, earn the approval of others, earn God’s approval even.
But as Jesus says – look at the beautiful flowers, they don’t strive to be better, but they are stunning. We cannot by striving, catch up with the Joneses, be the coolest kid in town, be liked more, be happier or be more loved by God. There will never come a point when we will have enough if our attitude is always one of envy, of not enough. I think this may have something to do with a lack of self-confidence. With never feeling quite good enough. When we are feeling like this it is because we don’t see ourselves as God sees us, as fearfully and wonderfully made. We compare ourselves with others and fear we are falling short, God compares us with others and sees us as unique and beautiful; as the work of his hands, he sees us and dances with Joy over us – who are we then to look to the next person and say we are not enough, or we do not have enough, or to look to what we have done and say it’s not enough. Jesus says; ‘do not worry… about your body, what you will wear….’
Into both these worries, our worries about life and our worries about stuff, Jesus says our heavenly Father knows what we need. In other words, in all of our worries we are to look to God.
Now of course there are things I can do to help myself, I can seek help to manage my chocolate credit debt through some debt advice, and maybe work out why I seek chocolate to make me happy in the first place. I can tell a friend I am worried about universal credit, go to my MP or ask a friend for prayer about the test results. I can be innovative in finding new clothes in the charity shop, or resolve that life is not a competition and I will not try to compare everything I have with my next-door neighbour.
But ultimately I cannot do these things in my own strength, because just as I rely on God to provide food to eat and clothes to wear, so I also rely on God to provide the energy to help me not to worry about these things in the first place. I know that I can’t ever succeed on my own, But I can succeed with God’s help.
Jesus says; ‘why do you worry about these things, Your heavenly Father knows what you need.’
So why do I worry? Maybe I don’t think God’s big enough, maybe I struggle to trust, maybe I struggle to see the hand of God in life, in provision of food or shelter, or maybe I don’t think any of these things, maybe I don’t really think God cares about me. But of course God cares, because if God cares about sparrows and lillies then God cares about me.
So, what is the solution? Well I think it’s to lift our focus, up from the things that are dragging us down, up to God. To practice those things that help us to connect with God and understand God’s provision. To be thankful, to remember the things we do have, at times when we struggle with the things we don’t have. To recognise there are no easy answers. Sometimes we will be tempted by worry, and sometimes it will be the legitimate things of life that cause this. That is when we need to reach out to others and that is when as a community we need to work together to support those in need.
As we lift our hopes and our fears and bring them to God lets also remember to keep things in perspective. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ This last part of our passage on worry is as tricky as the rest of it, yet it remains really wise.
Many years ago when I was struggling with some of this I was given the advice to just allow a small portion of the day to be worried and the rest of the time to be disciplined and not allow myself to think about it, and surprisingly it worked, and often by the time it came round to it I had forgotten what it was I was concerned about earlier. Living one day at a time as Jesus teaches is the same. By trying to be disciplined in the way that we think about our worries, by taking them one day at a time, they become easier to tackle and less overwhelming.
It’s so easy to store up worries so that grow into something bigger, into stresses we can’t quite understand how we will handle, we all know how easy it is for lots of small worries to build into one big feeling of anxiousness, but if we can be disciplined and take one day at a time, we can be released into a new freedom from anxiety. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t sometimes genuine reasons to worry about or plan for tomorrow, and as someone who likes to know what’s in store, I would struggle if I didn’t think about tomorrow at all, but equally, this teaching to live in the moment can be a real blessing. If I live for today rather than with half an eye on tomorrow I will notice and appreciate new things. If my mind is calmer because I am trusting God one day at a time, it will be easier than trying to solve all of the year’s problems in my head, before I know how any of them will pan out.
So how might we sum this up;
- Remember who you are made to be special and unique in God sight and dearly loved,
- Seek help and support when you need it,
- Look out for others with genuine worries,
- Keep things in perspective
And pray that with God’s strength we will be able to walk more in Jesus teaching and be free from worry.