Birds, Flowers and the Kingdom of God

Matthew 6:25-34 (New International Version)

Do Not Worry

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

   28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

            I really considered not writing a sermon today.  I considered not writing a sermon because the world was supposed to come to an end yesterday, May 21st, 2011.  Now it is not my intention to mock those that were predicting the end of the world to occur yesterday, but I think we all know that the real end of the world will come in 2012.  My intention is to point out that there was a lot of hubbub, a lot of attention, and a lot of people getting all worked up over absolutely nothing.  A lot of money and time was spent preparing people for the rapture and the ensuing destruction of the earth.  Tracts were distributed, people set out on missions to share this information with others, websites with countdown clocks were developed.  Friday’s USA Today had an entire page add on the back page of a section dedicated to the prediction that the world was to come to an end yesterday.  Some people even quit their jobs a few weeks back because if the world is going to end on Saturday, then you wouldn’t have to worry about going into work on Monday, would you?  Some people spent their life savings, emptying their bank accounts and retirement accounts, because what good is money if there isn’t a world to spend it in? 

            I do believe that there will come a day when the earth as we know it ceases to exist.  But Jesus said that even he didn’t know when that was going to happen.  So why some people believe that if you just study the Bible enough, looking for clues, looking for symbolic numbers, that they will be able to find the day when the earth is going to end is a real stumper to me.  Jesus knew the Bible better than anyone else before or since, but he didn’t know when the world was going to come to an end.  So why are so many people worried about the day that the world as we know it is going to come to an end?

            I find a lot of comfort in Jesus saying that he didn’t know when the world is going to come to an end.  I find it comforting because it seems clear to me that Jesus didn’t get all worked up about this stuff.  He didn’t let it bother him so neither should we.  And I believe that Jesus didn’t let it bother him because he knew that God is a good and loving being.  Not only is God worthy of our praise, he is worthy of our trust.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff.  Be faithful to God and things will turn out okay.

            That is really the central message of our scripture for this morning.  Don’t sweat it; Be faithful to God and things will turn out okay.  I have to imagine that Jesus’s hearers as he preached the Sermon on the Mount were probably worriers.  They were living in an age when they were under the oppressive rule of the Romans.  They surely worried about their children and if they would ever be able to live a normal life.  They surely worried about the high taxes that they had to pay to Caesar and the cost of putting food on the table.  They probably worried about clothing.

            You see, worry is not anything that is new.  Worry has been a part of our human existence since the fall of humanity when Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and they hid from God.  But Jesus comes says very clearly in our scripture for today Do…not…worry.  Easy for him to say.

            I have heard it said that worry is irreverent, irrelevant and irresponsible.  It is irreverent because we are not trusting in God.  It is irrelevant because worrying doesn’t accomplish anything.  Worrying about money isn’t going to make money.  Worrying about sickness isn’t going to make you healthy.  Jesus asks the question in our text today, Who among you can add a single hour to your life by worrying?  And worrying is irresponsible because we can spend a lot of time worrying about something and not actually doing anything about it.  Worrying is irresponsible because it isn’t good stewardship of time.  I might add one more “ir” to the list and say that sometimes worrying can be irritating!  Maybe you have been around someone that is always worrying.  Oh, I don’t want to go out to eat, you can’t trust the restaurants.  Taco Bell’s meat isn’t even meat!  No, I don’t want to go for a drive, I don’t trust the other drivers.  I might get in an accident.  I don’t want to watch a movie, I might not like it and then I will have wasted two hours. 

            Now I am not trying to say that there aren’t issues that should concern us.  Believe me, I totally understand why people worry.  With all of the rain that has been falling in the Midwest, the Mississippi is swelling and flooding the surrounding land.  Farmers have either not been able to get crops in the ground because it has been too wet, or the seeds have rotted in the ground.  My family in Ohio has not been able to plant any corn yet and they are not able to harvest their hay because of all of the rain that they have received.  Already the potential quality of these crops for this year has been compromised and it is only May.  And when a certain portion of the country isn’t able to produce as much of a crop as they usually do, what happens?  The price of grain goes up!  Then the farmers need to buy corn and hay to feed their livestock.  Then that trickles down to the consumer.  The price of meat and dairy products goes up in the supermarket.  And not only that, anything that contains wheat or corn will go up in price as well.  And if you check the labels on your food, you will find that most of our food has milk, meat, corn, or wheat in it.  The flooding in the Midwest, though we might be hundreds of miles away, is going to affect us all.  That is something to worry about.

            But maybe that doesn’t concern you.  So what should concern you?  Maybe you have children of any age.  They don’t stop being our children just because they reach a certain age and move out of the house.  So whether your children are 5 or 55-years-old, you probably are at least a little concerned about their well-being.  My mother still wants me to call her when we are traveling to make sure that we have arrived safely at our final destination.  And I have been legally able to drive now for almost half of my life!  We worry about our children and their future.  What school to send them to, who they are hanging out with.  Are they hanging out with a good crowd or a bad crowd?  Will they go to college?  If so, how will we be able to afford that?  What will they study; what will they do for an occupation?

            We can concern ourselves with issues like global warming and outbreaks like the H1N1 virus a couple of years ago.  We can become concerned about the mortgage and how we are going to make ends meet.  Just this week we here in Staunton received our annual water safety report which tells us about all of the impurities in our water.  Do we need to start being afraid of what is in our drinking water?  Maybe we need to start drinking only bottled water, but then again, who knows where that has come from?!  And if we think our water is in poor condition, think of the water that people in the Third World have to drink!  An estimated 1.8 million people die each year because of a lack of clean drinking water.  1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water.  Maybe you worry about people that you have never met before.

            My friends, these things that I have mentioned are all issues that we can and should be concerned about.  But there is a difference between being concerned about something and worrying about something.  It is good to be concerned about your health and the wellbeing of your family.  If you don’t pay any attention to your health you probably won’t make it too long.  But what do you gain by worrying about these things?  I would say that to be concerned about something means that you are aware of that thing and the needs that surround it.  To be concerned about something means that you take action to try to make something better or to give it a better chance.  But to worry means that something is keeping you awake at night; taking your attention and keeping you from focusing on other issues.  Worry can be crippling.

            Now I think that people can take this to the extreme either way.  We might think of the guy with a family, a wife and three young children, who just lost his job.  That person should be motivated to find employment.  Four other people are depending on him for their food, clothing, and shelter.  Does he sit around and do nothing, playing video games in his boxers?  The Bible tells us not to worry, so he is kicked back and enjoying the vacation from work.  No, Jesus’s instructions to not worry about life isn’t an invitation to just kick back and do nothing.  But the other side of the coin is that if this father was worrying all of the time, not sleeping at night, he would become short tempered with his family, stressed out, and he wouldn’t ever have a good interview because he hasn’t slept well since he lost his job.  High levels of anxiety also suppress the immune system so the father might be so stressed out that he makes himself sick and he can’t even go to a job interview because he was so worried.

            It would seem to me that there is a continuum between worry totally checking out.  We are called to be somewhere in the middle of that continuum.  The Bible condemns laziness a number of times.  2 Thessalonians 3:10 says it about as clear as could be.  If a person doesn’t work, they don’t eat.  But we are not supposed to worry about life, food, drink, or clothing.  We need to be somewhere in the middle, aware of the things that we can change, aware of the things that we can have an effect on, and letting go of the things that we cannot change.  Again, verse 27 asks the question, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  The answer is no.  But you can probably reduce your life by a few hours if you worry too much.  The incidence of ulcers, high blood pressure, anxiety attacks and insomnia all seem to be increased by worry.  Be concerned about things that you can change and do what you can, but sometimes you just need to sit back and trust God to be good.  We need to keep focused on him.

            If we go way back to the first verse from our text for this morning, the very first word of verse 25 is “Therefore.”  Now I know that this is a little bit corny, and I thought that it was corny the first time that I heard it as well, but it has been helpful to me and it has stuck with me for a number of years.  Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you should always ask what it is “there for.”  I want to remind you again that the Sermon on the Mount is something that Jesus sat down and gave as a seamless message, not one broken up and preached on over a period of several months.  The word therefore is a linking word that tells us what should be the result of something that has been predetermined.  Since this is the way things are, then this should be the result.

            Jesus had just finished up telling his hearers that they are not to store up for themselves treasures on earth because these things will not last forever.  And one of the treasures that he speaks of is wealth.  He says that a person cannot serve both God and money.  Then he says, “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.”  Clothes, food, drink, these things can become idols and we are not to worry about them, but to instead focus on the kingdom of God.  When we don’t focus on these things that can be taken away from us and instead focus on that which is eternal we find ourselves worrying a lot less.

            Now I think that I want to go in a little different direction with this text than most people usually do because as I was reading through today’s scripture something troubling struck me.  Verse 26 says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  As I was reading this passage, I thought to myself, But don’t birds sometimes die?  And don’t they sometimes starve to death?  And then I read on to verse 28b-30, “See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”  Flowers die.  The flowers that you plant today will be gone by winter.  Jesus even points this out when he says that the grass of the field is here today and is thrown into the fire tomorrow.

            We all know of good Christian people who have died way too soon.  Cancer hits Christians; Christians get in car accidents.  There are Christians that starve to death and there are Christians that go naked.  And there were probably Christians out of those 1.8 million people that died last year because they didn’t have clean drinking water.

            I would say that this passage has perhaps at times been taken to mean that if you follow Jesus that you will never experience hardship.  Just name Jesus as your Lord and you will have health, wealth, and prosperity.  But I think that it is interesting that in Luke’s parallel (12:22-34) that this passage comes in the same chapter that Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to fear people that can kill them and he tells them that “when” they are brought before the rulers not to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit will speak through them.  Elsewhere Jesus talks about following him as picking up their crosses daily.  In his instructions to his disciples to not worry, Jesus isn’t promising his disciples that if they follow him that everything is always going to be perfect.  I would say just the opposite is true!  In this world you will have trouble.  It is inevitable.  The point is to not worry about it because worrying about it can’t change anything. 

            I come back to the whole end-of-the-world thing.  Just as the birds of the air die and the flowers of the field do too, things as we know it will come to an end.  But this isn’t a reason to shut ourselves up in our homes, locking the doors and windows.  We can’t allow these things to worry us.  No, instead they should motivate us.  One day we will die.  One day the world will come to an end.  So we are called to live today!  We can’t allow worry to cripple us.  We should instead use what we know to live the life that we have been called to live!

        So what is left for us to do is to seek God’s kingdom.  Verse 33 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and like so many of you, when I have a particular verse that I have memorized I have it memorized in the King James Version.  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

            I remember that this was my cousin’s wedding scripture about 10 years ago.  And that is interesting to me because I can’t remember what I preached on last Sunday, but I recall this brief message from a decade ago.

            Today’s scripture isn’t a promise that God will protect us from all harm and it isn’t about checking out of the real world and just coasting through because God is going to give you the things that you need.  Today’s scripture is about prioritizing your life so that you might be able to best serve God.  Today’s scripture is about living a life as a part of God’s kingdom now, seeking first God and his kingdom.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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