Theme: Don’t worry – Be happy
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, your son taught us about keeping perspective in life, yet, we get so preoccupied with the events of life, we forget his words; remind us of your overwhelming love for us that supersedes everything else, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells many memorable stories in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal.
In one of her stories she asked one of her patients to describe her husband. The woman laughed and told a story about a visit they made to Hawaii. An organized and frugal man, her husband had re¬served compact rental cars on each of the four islands months in advance.
On arriving on the Big Island and presenting their reservation to the car rental desk, they were told that the econ¬omy car they had reserved was not available. Alarmed, she watched her husband’s face redden as he prepared to do battle. The clerk didn’t seem to notice. “I am so sorry, sir,” he said. “Will you accept a substitute for the same price? We have a Mus¬tang convertible.” Barely mollified, her husband put their bags in this beautiful white sports car and they drove off.
The same thing happened throughout their holiday. They would turn in their car and fly to the next island, only to be told that the car they had been promised was not available. They of¬fered a substitute for the same price and each time the substituted car was an upgrade far nicer than the car they had expected. It was amazing, she said. After the Mustang, they had been given a Mazda MR-10, a Lincoln Town Car, and finally, a Mercedes, all with the most sincere apologies.
The vacation was absolutely wonderful and on the plane back, she turned to her husband, thanking him for all he had done to arrange such a memorable time. “Yes,” he said, pleased, “it was really nice.” Then, much to her amazement he added, “Too bad they never had the right car for us.” She said he was absolutely serious.
What do you do with people like that? Some people can see the dark side of any cloud, even one with a silver lining. They are worriers. They fume, they fret, they stay stressed out.
Do they ever read the words of Jesus?
Our gospel reading for today continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters, which makes sense. It is sometimes bad enough to have one boss, but two?
So, Jesus is intuitively correct, but there always exceptions. If we have two masters, we will tend to like one better than the other. This means we will tend to expend most of our energies for the one we like to the determent of the other. This will exasperate our relationship with the one we don’t like, leading into a downward spiral in that relationship.
Now knowing all of this, Jesus names the two masters: God and wealth. Ironically, the Greek word translated master is one that denotes someone who is rich and powerful or perhaps a monarch. A slave is owned by the master. Jesus is our master. We are his slaves.
This was a powerful metaphor in Jesus’ time. Even if you were poor in Jesus’ time, being free meant a great deal, because you were not a slave. Your labor was yours and the fruit of your labor was yours and not someone else’s. But when it comes to Jesus, we are not free. The fruit of our labor belongs to Christ. In fact God gives us gifts to utilize for the glory of God and not ourselves.
We will love God or will we love wealth. If we become overly attached to wealth, we will begin to despise God and vice-versa. The word written here for wealth is a Semitic word, mammon. Much has been made of how to translate mammon, but it is clear from Jewish documents that it has one of two meanings: money or possessions. The NRSV chooses wealth, which wisely encompasses the duel meaning of money and possessions. The word “serve” means literally in the Greek to be a slave. Will we be slaves to God or will we be slaves to wealth? This is the key part of this passage.
We are lucky to live in this country at this time, even with soaring energy and food costs. In Jesus’ time, there was only so much land and so much food. If someone gained, someone else lost. To serve wealth meant that someone else was robbed. And that someone probably had very little to begin with.
What Jesus says next follows from the proposition of loving God or wealth, not both. What Jesus is saying next is that if we love God, which means that we reject wealth, loving God need not cause us anxiety. If we love God, then we do not need to worry. In either case, God loves us no matter what. So don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from or what you will wear or what car rental you get. Compared to your life, they are nothing.
Look at the birds of the air. They’re not farmers. They don’t store food. Yet God takes care of them and are you not more important to God than the birds? Does worrying add one more second to your life? In fact, we now know that worrying subtracts time from your life. Maybe that is why Christians have a longer life span than non-believers.
We may see models displaying the latest in fashion, but aren’t the flowers of the field so much more beautiful than they are and the clothes they wear? The flowers don’t do much for their fine clothing. Even the people on tonight’s red carpet at the Academy Awards don’t look anything as good as the flowers. The fashion industry is merely spinning its wheels. All that God given beauty in the fields is later gathered and thrown into the fire. We are reminded, as people of faith, that we are more important to God than flowers or birds.
Don’t even ask yourself, will I have enough to eat, enough to drink, enough to wear? People who don’t know God worry about these things. God knows you need these things. Do God’s work first. Do what God wants and what you need will be taken care of. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Today has enough worries all by itself. Trust in God and you can let go of everything else.
There was response of a single mother to this passage, “Yeah, right! It’s a week before payday and I’ve got just enough money to buy bread and peanut butter to eat for a week, but nothing left to buy a jacket for my kid, and it’s snowing outside. And I’m not supposed to worry? Get real!” Probably not an exact quote, but that was the essence of it.
Would we read this passage to someone in New Zealand, whose home is obliterated, and who has no food and no drinkable water? But the passage does speak positively to those of us who are living quite comfortably, with all the essentials of life, and pension checks coming in regularly. Our physical needs are well met. And still we worry.
Food and clothing are not unimportant. In the peasant society of Jesus’ time, food and clothing were what was required to get by. Jesus is warning us not to let our concerns of having enough food and clothing become the driving force of our lives and ultimately claim our loyalty. To strive for the kingdom of God is what this passage is all about. This isn’t so much about our relationship with God, it is about how we live in relationship with God and with one another. If we serve wealth, our primary concern is ourselves. If we serve God, then our concern is the whole of creation and to value life the way God values life.
Tony Campolo shares, “At Eastern University, where I taught for so many years, I would constantly encounter students who would ask a simple question: How can I know what God wants me to do with my life? What a question! But I could never answer the question because I’m not sure that Jesus wants us to look that far ahead. I’m convinced that what Jesus calls us to do is to solve this problem: What should I be doing today? He says quite pointedly, ‘Take no thought for tomorrow what you shall eat, what you shall drink.’ Are you going to do what God wants you to do today? That’s the ultimate question. Everyday you should get up and say, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. What does God want me to do? What does God want me to achieve this day?’” (Tony Campolo, Becoming What God Intended You to Be)
Text: Matthew 6:24–34 (NRSV)
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.i
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,j or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?k 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of Godl and hism righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.