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The Rev. Susan Sparks The Rev. Susan Sparks
The Rev. Susan Sparks is a former trial lawyer who now serves as senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, NY.

Member of:

American Baptist Churches USA

Representative of:

Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, NY


Jesus and Dr. Seuss: A Conversation on Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

4th Sunday of Easter - Year C

April 17, 2016

 

Today we are talking about worry. And for inspiration, I am using two of my favorite people: Jesus and Dr. Seuss. Jesus because. . .well, he's Jesus. And Dr. Seuss for a couple of reasons. First, his birthday was just a few weeks ago, and he would have been 112 years old. But perhaps more importantly is his wisdom. We tend to dismiss Dr. Seuss as a simple children's writer--just a guy who made funny rhymes. In reality, he was a Dartmouth- and Oxford-educated writer who won two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Peabody, and a Pulitzer Prize. So, while his prose is often funny and cute, it also packs a serious punch of wisdom. In fact, there have been several books written on the theology and Christian metaphors found in his writings. So today we put Jesus and Dr. Seuss in conversation about three lessons on worry.

Lesson #1: Just focus on today. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

Well, amen. Life is hard. As Dr. Seuss explained, "Step with care and great tact, and remember that life's a great balancing act."

That said, sometimes we make it worse on ourselves. Sometimes we just make up extra stuff to worry about, like what might happen tomorrow or what could happen day after tomorrow.

Dr. Seuss put it in terms of writing. He said, "The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads."

A few weeks ago, I did a little experiment. Throughout the week, I wrote down everything I was worried about and put the slips of paper in a box. At the end of the week, I took out the paper and realized that 99% of the things I was worried about never happened. Try it--it's really instructive to see all the unnecessary things we worry about. As Jesus said, in order to cut worry down to its size, "Do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will bring worries of its own." When we do this, we can stand a little straighter and look our troubles right in the eye. Like Dr. Seuss explains, "I've heard there are troubles of more than one kind; some come from ahead, and some come from behind. But I've brought a big bat. I'm all ready, you see; now my troubles are going to have trouble with me!"

Lesson #1:  Just focus on today.

Lesson #2: Realize that worry is a waste of time. In verse 27 of our scripture, Jesus says, "Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?"

Can we? No.

So why are we worrying? What do we expect to get? We can't worry a project into success. In fact, worrying probably sets us up to fail. Worry scatters our attention, zaps our strength, and prevents us from operating at our best. As Dr. Seuss explained, "You miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut."

We can't worry a mistake away. Harsh words or actions can't be taken back. And worrying about it simply takes the focus away from what we should be doing: working to move forward and making things right.

We can't worry a loved one back to health. In fact, worrying does nothing but ruin our precious time with them. Dr. Seuss explained it this way, "Sometimes you'll never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory."

Nothing productive comes from worrying. Interestingly, the word worry comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. We all know what that feels like--that sensation of tightness that comes over us in the middle of the night when we are worrying about something that might happen the next day. Worry can get a strangle hold on us and cut off our emotional and spiritual air.

The irony is that if we stop worrying, we might be able to take some steps forward on the things we are worried about! Dr. Seuss adds, "When things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening too."

So Lesson #1:  Just focus on today.

Lesson #2:  Realize worry is a waste of time.

Lesson #3: We have no reason to worry for we are loved and worthy exactly as God designed us.

Dr. Seuss explains it this way, "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you."

And Jesus offers this lesson through a very famous scripture about the lilies of the field: "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."

Think about these little flowers. These are some of the most exquisite, stunning things in creation. On our best day, on our most creative day, we could not make one of these. Oh, we've tried. There are silk and plastic versions of lilies; the famous artist Monet painted lilies; the jeweler Harry Winston even created a lily necklace with 17 carats of diamonds in it. Not even close.

Jesus says, look, if God dresses these little flowers so beautifully, will he not even more clothe you, you of little faith?

Bottom line: humans and lilies are not that different. We are both creatures molded from God's hands. We are both exquisite and perfect just as we are. Most importantly, we are loved and we are worthy. The main difference is that the lilies know it, and we don't.

Just imagine this: dawn is beginning to break, the skies are lightening, the birds are beginning to chirp, and the little lily raises its beautiful face to the morning sun and says, "I feel fat. I hate what I'm wearing. This color washes me out."

No, a lily is not going to say that. But we will. We will because we just can't trust the gift we've been given. Like somehow, God didn't think through every aspect of how we were made, like God didn't plan every hair on our head.

Unlike human beings, lilies know without a doubt they are loved and worthy and beautiful exactly as they are made. There's no worry that they should be something they are not. There is no worry about where they fall short because every moment of their lives is spent living their gift--living simply as God designed them to be. As Dr. Seuss said, "Why fit in when you were born to stand out!"

This week, when we start worrying about something--and we will, 'cause that's what we do--I want us to remember three things, three simple things:

1. Just focus on today.

2. Remember worry is a waste of our time.

3. Worry is an affront to God.

We are beautiful, beloved children of God. Do we not trust? Do we not have the faith that we will be cared for like the lilies of the field or the tiniest of creatures?

What is the old saying? Worry or believe. You can't do both.

And if you have any remaining doubts, let me leave you with ancient words from the Psalmist, words that Jesus and our forbearers read and sung and chanted, words that remind us that God is in charge and there is no reason to worry.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Let us pray. Gracious and loving God, help us not to worry. And let us remember that all things are in your hands, and that as a result, all things will be well. Amen.

 


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