Consider the Lilies of the Field – or don’t worry about the wrong stuff

And Jesus said, “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.”

Easy for Jesus to say. He didn’t raise a pair of daughters who wanted a new dress for each prom.

But what is Jesus saying to us here today in the Bay Area? Is Jesus saying what Bobby McFerrin wrote down his song: “Don’t worry, be happy?” Remember that song? He wrote: c

“Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double”
Is Jesus saying the famous motto of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, you know “What, me worry?”

 

 

Jesus is pretty clear about what he is telling us about the place of worry in our lives. Jesus tells us: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” And Jesus asks us “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” 

And this fragment of Matthew is not the only time the anonymous author of each Gospel preaches this same message to us. In the very next line that follows this lesson in this Gospel the author writes (according to the King James translation) “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

And in Luke 12:22 we hear Jesus say: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.”

And in John 14:27 we hear Jesus say: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

And there’s a reason we hear this teaching again and again. Each author of every book in the Bible is writing to solve a very specific problem facing a very specific community in a very specific time and place. The same is true for laws: people don’t write laws unless there is a very specific problem that needs to be addressed in a very specific community in a very specific time and place.

For this simple realization about human nature, we can deduce that the people listening to Jesus were having a hard time with worry. They may have been worried about having enough food to eat. Or they may have been worried about having shelter from the cold. Or they may have been worried about having clothes. And Jesus acknowledges that some concern about having the essentials of life is understandable. But he says, only worry about the right things.

But Jesus suggests problems arise if people start to worry not about having enough food to survive and instead fret over whose dinner party was more sumptuous; if they shift from worrying about basic shelter and fret over the size of their mansion; if they start worrying about having clothes that are the object of envy, as did a Great King like Solomon. For Jesus knows that when we worry about having more than we need, then we run short of time for God. Jesus is warning us we can’t focus on material things and fit in walking humbly with our God.

Remember the hymn we sang awhile back?

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Through every day, o’er all the way;

God will take care of you.

Yet it is hard to believe that. Look at God’s church. Across America, church congregations are shrinking. Church budgets are shrinking. And it is hard not to worry about that.

Some churches have responded with ambitious marketing programs and multiple-point plans. Others worry but do not act. And some seek to impose their pseudo-Puritanical purity code on our country, all in the name of Jesus! Talk about that ‘Old Time Religion!”

Perhaps these responses are based on asking the wrong questions. Perhaps they are based on the wrong assumptions. Perhaps they point toward the wrong goal. Perhaps we don’t need to march backward to a fabled time in American religion, a day which seems better than today because it never existed. Perhaps instead of trying to impose a 1950’s code of conduct on people, Christians should be wrestling with what Jesus calls us to do today.

Perhaps Jesus would tell us that the world has changed and his churches need to change. Back in those ‘good old days’ we lived in an industrial age, one where we focused on producing material goods and accumulating physical things. We were living in a Material World. The industrial age helped reduce poverty, raise living standards, and drive down some killer diseases. But it also led to an emphasis on personal property: as in the saying “the one with the most things when they die wins.”

Perhaps today, today we are living through the birth of a new age. Perhaps we are slowly moving into to a time when information access and electronic communication order our lives. Perhaps this new era will be one where people value relationships and experiences and community and in place of material things.

The shift to a Digital Age has the potential to offer an economy of abundance. Just as Uber and Tesla are changing transportation, we can see signs of equally significant changes in housing along with other economic activities which can be shared through social media platforms. But the way Facebook and Twitter has grown – and gone astray – reminds us new ways of managing a digital world needs must be found or we risk growing inequity, inequality, and repression. And these dangers emerge before we’ve even starting to think about how this age will evolve as Artificial Intelligence and robotics become commonplace.

All of these forces offer the potential of tremendous change. Each of these factors is real, real enough to be seen and felt and recognized right now. As the digital age emerges, we see disappointing and encouraging signs.

We see a growing gap between the richest of the rich and everyone else. We see a government unwilling to help those whose lives are being turned upside down by the fall of manufacturing jobs and the rise of workplace automation. We see a kind of tyranny emerging, enabled by new tech communication platforms, one which threatens the stability of our world at a time when global warming threatens to unleash global disasters of an unprecedented scale.

But we also see people becoming more likely to seek personal transformation. We also see people starting to value experiences instead of the accumulation of goods. And we see signs that this new digital age is fundamentally relational rather than transactional, that is one that values connection instead of physical things.

We may be tempted to worry whether these changes will be for good or ill. But Jesus tells us don’t worry: be the church of God here today. For these emerging positive signs of a new digital age suggests we need to be a new church. Not build a new church building, but to be a new church: a community that encourages and helps people sustain personal transformation; one that offers authentic Christian spiritual experiences; one that creates community through enabling people to build better relationships. These signs also signal a new era of possibility for a new church, an age of a Missional Church that offers the possibility of new and amazing opportunities for being Church.

Today Jesus is telling us we don’t have to worry about how this all ends. We don’t have to fret over the size of our Thanksgiving feast or the clothes we wear to celebrate. Rather, Jesus says, live in the here and now and help bring the Kingdom of God a little bit closer. He calls us to be a new kind of church: one that sustains transformation; offers authentic Christian spiritual experiences; and creates community through building relationships. If we do this we bring God’s kingdom a little closer, and that is what we have to do. Don’t worry about daily Sunday attendance, leave that to God. Don’t worry about our budget, leave that to God. Don’t worry about fancy clothes, leave that to God. Instead, focus on be the Church of God in this time and in this place. So don’t worry about the wrong stuff, be happy, everything’s gonna be alright: Jesus said so.

Let us pray,

God clothes the grass of the field
and feeds the birds of the air.
On behalf of the church and the world,
We ask to be transformed.
Free us from all fear and worry
that, trusting in your goodness,
we may always praise your mighty deeds
and give you thanks for the bounty of your gifts.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May God’s church say: Amen.

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