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The Rev. Dr. Kelly Hough Rogers The Rev. Dr. Kelly Hough Rogers
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Hough Rogers is the senior minister of The Scarsdale Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Scarsdale, NY.

Member of:

United Church of Christ

Representative of:

The Scarsdale Congregational Church (UCC), Scarsdale, NY


Kelly Hough Rogers: Therefore, Do Not Worry

Matthew 6:25-34

26th Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

November 18, 2018

 

I am a lectionary preacher. The lectionary is the prescribed readings for each Sunday in a three-year cycle. It is designed to offer readings with lengths that can be heard comfortably. But I would argue that our reading from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6, ends a verse short. To me, verse 34 is vital to the hearing and understanding of Jesus' whole message saying, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

I like this call to take life one day at a time. I like this call, but I may not have always heeded it. I was an anxious adolescent. I worried nonstop. But with the benefit of age and experience, I can see how little worry accomplishes. I love the way that author and activist, Corrie Ten Boom, speaks of worry writing, "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength." I think this notion strengthens Jesus' message that worry lessens our faith. Listen to Matthew 6:25-34.  

"Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 'For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

Thanksgiving time is a big deal in our family. We plan the menu and welcome guests from far and near. We gather at the table to give thanks to God for all of the blessings in our lives. We share stories of why we are thankful for each other. We incorporate service into the holiday by preparing baskets of food for the less privileged members of our community. Thanksgiving is special, and I look forward to it every year. But Thanksgiving comes with its own set of worries.

The cooks worry whether there will be enough food and that the preparation is up to muster. The hosts worry about seating and making everyone comfortable. The guests worry about imposing upon the hosts and try to be helpful - sometimes. The family members worry about everyone letting bygones be bygones for this one day. Yet others face this holiday with a different set of worries.  

Many in our nation worry whether there will even be a meal on Thanksgiving. Others worry that they will be alone on a day that's dedicated to sharing time with family and friends. Still others will need to work on Thanksgiving Day and worry about losing a job that is vital to making ends meet. While the premise of Thanksgiving is a beautiful opportunity to pause and give thanks for the bounty in our lives, that pause is indicative of a certain amount of privilege. Rather than abundance, for many the day brings a stark reminder of scarcity.

The story in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 6 is about being anxious and worrying. The previous verse declares, "You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:24b) The worry Jesus names in this portion of the Gospel seems to be about material things. The passage starts with the word, "therefore" which in my mind introduces a conclusion before making an argument. I think it is intentional that the word therefore comes first. Jesus is saying in a sense, "Therefore, since you cannot serve both God and wealth, you need to choose. And if you choose to serve God, then what have you to fear? You are called to serve God and not serve the things of the earth. Do not worry about these earthly, material things. Your God will provide your sense of worth without more stuff."

In this passage, we see Jesus exhorting his followers against anxiety. In verse 25, Jesus teaches them not to be anxious about what they will eat and drink or what they will wear. He is saying that one's body is worth more than what we put in it and what we put on it. God's own self was made flesh in the incarnation of Jesus, so He knows the value of a body. We see in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, that Jesus allowed his own body to be sacrificed as an offering. I think Jesus is reminding us that these bodies of ours are temporal, and that it is easy to get caught up in being concerned about our provisions. But Jesus is encouraging us to remember that what God provides goes way beyond food and clothing and that worrying won't get you any closer to the Kingdom of God.

It's troubling to me that we are a society that expects to be full to the brim - to have life that is overflowing with meaning, to have plates that are overflowing with food, to have homes overflowing with stuff. However, when I reflect on this passage in Matthew, I wonder whether it is possible that we expect too much, and in our expectation, we are distracted from the things that really matter? Is it possible that we are focused on our credibility, our possessions, and our status in such a way that we forget that we all share a common call from God regardless of our economic status? 

Jesus is reminding us that God knows our need and knows how to care for humankind and that God's presence in our lives can alleviate suffering. All are called to share so that all of God's beloved children have enough. I would argue that our fears often prevent us from sharing what we have. Our worry and anxiety indicate a lack of faith implying that our God does not know what we need. This is when Jesus calls us to consider the lilies of the field.

When Jesus is asking us to consider the lilies, perhaps we are misinterpreting his meaning. I would argue that the appeal to consider the lilies is more than a helpful word against worry. What if considering the lilies is also the work God is calling us to? What if noticing their short-lived beauty is in itself the cure for our preoccupied and anxiety ridden lives? What if God is asking us to notice the beauty in our world in spite of the suffering around us. And what if noticing the beauty is how we are to truly give thanks and praise and faith to our God?

God's promises and providence are made real in this Matthew passage. If we focus more attention to seeking God rather than to seeking a person, goal, ideal, concern or object - then all the good things of life will come. We can live our lives in a way that God intends by relying on what Father Richard Rohr calls an "Infinite Source." Richard Rohr further points the way beyond anxiety when he writes,

"The opposite of faith is not intellectual doubt, because faith is not localized primarily in the mind. The opposite of faith, according to a number of Jesus' statements is anxiety. If you are fear-based and "worried about many things," as he says...you don't have faith in a Biblical sense. Faith is to be able to trust that God is good, involved, and on your side. So, you see why it takes some years of inner experience to have faith. It is not just that somewhat easy intellectual assent to doctrines or an agreement with a moral position. This has passed as the counterfeit of faith for far too long.

When you cannot rely upon an Infinite Source, you yourself become your primary reference point in terms of all preferences, needs, results, and controls. That would make anybody both anxious and insecure."[1]

Friends, God is good and is on our side. But it takes faith, real honest faith to see that. And faith drives out fear. Faith alleviates worry. Faith reminds us that in times of scarcity or in times of abundance, God is there. We get anxious because things happen that we can't control. We worry because at times there are problems that we can't solve. But Jesus reminds us that all of that worry will not add a single day to our lives. All of that fear will not fix your problems, in fact it could add to it. Dr. W. C. Alvarez, a stomach specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said that "...80 percent of the stomach disorders that come to us are not organic...Most of our ills are caused by worry and fear...."[2]

So, I propose that we don't just make Thanksgiving more than a sentimental and wonderful holiday, even though at times it can be difficult. I think one of the reasons that the Matthew passage is prescribed for Thanksgiving Day is to encourage us all to make giving thanks an action of our souls. When we make giving thanks to God active, we can act against worry and fear. We can do something, even if we don't do it well, we can do it consistently. Giving thanks can become a habit.

When we are thankful for what we have and give thanks to God for God's provision, we aren't as worried about what's lacking. We aren't as worried about what we will eat, drink or wear. When we give thanks, we take time to consider the lilies in our lives, and that is good. That is what God is calling us to do. Let us remember Corrie Ten Boom's words from her book Clippings from My Notebook, "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength." Corrie wrote this after being arrested for aiding her Jewish friends and neighbors in Holland during World War II. She wrote this after being a prisoner of war at Ravensbruck concentration camp. She wrote this after losing many of her own family and friends to the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom - in my mind - has earned the right to worry. But instead, she gave thanks. Instead, she forgave. Instead, she had faith. May we all do likewise.

Let us close in prayer. May God's word be in your heart. May God's word be on your lips. May God's word be in your touch. May God's word direct your feet. On this day and all your days to come, may God's word be the life you live. Amen.

 


[1] Rohr, Richard. Adapted from, Jesus' Plan For a New World. Fransiscan Media. 1996. Pg. 118.

[2] Ferguson, Ben. God, I've Got a Problem: How To Deal with Depression, Guilt, Loneliness, Fear, Disappointment, Doubt and Temptation. Regal Books. 1987. Pg. 71. 

 


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