Don’t worry, be happy?

Matthew 6:24-34
February 27, 2011
Steve Hammond

So who was the audience that Jesus was talking to in today’s story? It’s one thing to say don’t be so caught up in your job description when you have a job, and quite another when you have been on long term unemployment. It’s one thing to say to folk who have a closet full of clothes they should not be so concerned about the latest style of shoes, and another to folk who can’t afford the clothes down and the Goodwill Resale shop, or even afford to get there. Worrying can do bad things to us, not matter our economic realities, but some of the things folk worry about are more understandable than others. And money is one of the things we worry about a lot, no matter how much or little we have.

It’s probably safe to assume it was a mixed group that heard Jesus say things like these. Some of the folk in the crowds would be the wealthy and powerful, others would be their slaves. And it’s also probably safe to assume that the folk who had the least were willing to take Jesus the most seriously about these things. In fact, there is a long history of the rich using this passage to tell the poor they should be content with what they have, while the rich are going crazy accumulating more themselves, often at the expense of the poor.

What did I hear the other day? The economic disparity in the United States in greater than in Egypt. That is a smaller percentage in the U.S. controls a larger share of the wealth in this country than in Egypt. And they took to the streets.

Your situation in life is going to influence how you hear what Jesus says. It seems the best we can do with today’s is imagine he’s talking to us, rich, poor, or somewhere in between, and not tell others how they need to hear this passage.

The United States is the most powerful nation in the world. The nation that proclaims itself the most Christian. But the politics of fear controls us. We say in ‘God we trust’ but we are armed personally and nationally to the teeth. Our defense budget may well be greater than the defense budgets of all the other nations in the world combined. We have more than 200 million guns in a country of 300 million people. That’s more guns than adults. The people who live in the safest neighborhoods have the most expensive security systems.

There is a happiness index that asks people around the world how happy they are. The U.S. came in 17th, because we worry about so many things. We have all these things, but it doesn’t make us happy because so many of us are still convinced we don’t have enough.

Jesus is showing us the trap. Fear, whether your are rich or poor, robs us of the abundant life, the real kind of life God wants for us. And it can happen so easily.

Do any of you listen to Car Talk? A woman called in a few weeks back to talk about her 20 something son who had worked long and hard so he could buy his first car. He saved up enough money. He looked in Consumer Reports before he went shopping and found a great car at a good price. He was so excited about this car he had worked so hard for until his older brother saw it and made the comment that ruined the whole thing for his younger brother, “It’s great for a chick car.” The mother was calling in to see if something could be done to dechikify the car so her son would feel good about driving it again.

I must admit that was the first time I had heard the concept ‘chick car.’ I know about muscle cars, and the desire many have to have nicer cars than their neighbors or relatives do. Now this kid was worrying about what everybody thought of him driving a chick car, instead of feeling good about all the work he had done to buy it.

Jesus knew we worry about so many things. Whether those fears are real or imagined, or even seem silly to us. They suck the life out of us. And the truth is that some fears are more real than others. It is a more fearful thing to not know how you are going to get to the doctor or pay for the visit, than drive there in a chick car. And it’s even a more fearful thing to learn, however you get to the doctor, that you are a lot sicker than you thought you were, and it’s going to cost you a lot more than you ever imagined.

It doesn’t simply help, though, to try to remember some people are worse off than we are, although it doesn’t hurt to keep that in mind. How bad off others have it doesn’t help you sleep at night whether you are worried about people making fun of your clothes the next day at school, or what you are going to do when the factory closes next month. Jesus didn’t say just look and see that others are worse off than you. What he did say is look and see that God is with you.

It’s about trust. Jesus is asking us where are we placing our trust. In our bank accounts? Our social status? How our peers view us? Or in God?

Jesus was convinced that trust in God enables us to figure out how we can find more life for ourselves and others, no matter our economic situation. It’s trust in God and God’s ways that frees us to seek God’s Realm, or God’s culture, as I like to think about it. What if, for example, that kid could not worry so much about driving a chick car, but using that car not only to get himself to where he wants to go, but take some folk to the doctor, or loan it to someone who needs it for the day? What if his car could help relieve some worry others were feeling and he thought about that more than what his brother thought about his car? Even if you are worried about driving a chick car, you still have done something God wants you to do. That’s got to count for something.

Jesus says that if we seek the culture of God we will receive the things we need. I don’t think Jesus is talking magic, though miracle is always appreciated. And it is abundantly clear that plenty of people aren’t getting what they need, no matter how faithful they are. But I think he is assuming that the more of us who are seeking to make God’s culture a reality in our lives, the more we will receive from each other. Working for peace, for example, might save all kinds of people the heartache of war somewhere else. And in the meantime, we learn to live more peacefully and be known as the children or God. (That’s in the beatitudes).

I heard someone on the radio the other day talking about the time he spends in Haiti. He is there a lot and agonizes over the pace of the rebuilding there. But he also agonizes over the fact that so many people are so very hungry. And what gets hard is when some child comes to him asking for food. He said if you give one kid food, suddenly there are 20 hungry kids with their hands stretched out. Sometimes he just has to walk away. But the other day he decided to give his food to the kid who asked. And sure enough, there was a whole group. And he just handed out what he had until it was gone. Do you know what the kids did who got the food? They shared it with the ones who didn’t get any. Even though life is hard for them, they understand what Jesus is saying here.

We all would do well by seeking to live God’s ways, to seek God’s culture above all things. But this doesn’t work if it is simply me and Jesus, it has to be us and Jesus. That’s a hard message for U.S. Christians. We want everything to be about the individual, including our salvation. But Jesus had a much different view of things. Following him leads us not only to God, but to each other. We find that life Jesus has for us with and because of each other. It’s not only our faith that saves us, but the faith of others.

Jesus says there are enough worries for today without getting caught up in the worries of tomorrow. Or as one person once said to me, “We don’t need to borrow worry.” That’s good advice no matter what we are worrying about, no matter how hard or relatively easy our situation really is. There will always be stuff to worry about. But the realm of God is still waiting to be discovered, no matter what is going on in our lives.

Seeking the culture of God first, making God’s realm more of a priority than what we are worrying about; that’s the challenge of faith Jesus presents to us. If God knows about the sparrow that falls from the sky, do you have the faith that God knows what’s going on with you? Jesus is convinced that all of our worrying is not going to do us the good that seeking God’s culture, God’s ways can.

Jesus starts it off by reminding us that we can’t serve two masters, like God and money. One is going to demand our allegiance over the other. We have to make a choice. But, Jesus shows us, money doesn’t love us. Worry doesn’t love us. Cars and houses and clothes don’t love us. People who care about those things don’t love us, they love our things.

Jesus didn’t promise an end to our worries. But he promised us God’s love and God’s presence. And he also promised he would do his best make a new community out of us where God’s culture would turn our hearts toward each other in times good and bad. He promised us a new way of seeing the world, each other, ourselves, and God. The way of God’s Realm doesn’t put an end to our worries. But when God’s Realm becomes more important that what we own, or wear, or worry about, we get a new perspective that puts things in their proper place. We find God, and we find each other.

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At the close of services that talk about worry, sometimes people will do a ritual like write their worries on a piece of paper and burn them or somehow find a symbolic way to trust those worries to God. That might be helpful. But it would also be helpful to think about what you need and to figure what you need to ask for. Not just ask God, but ask us. We may be able to help. Maybe not. But we can walk this journey together. What does it say in the Book of James, “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” The people that seem to take that the most seriously are professional fund-raisers.

Then we can also think about what we are willing to offer to help someone with whatever they are worrying about. Asking. Giving. Trusting. Suddenly we find ourselves seeking God’s Realm first.