In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus repeatedly says “Do not worry, do not worry, do not worry.” Have no anxiety. Not about your money or your life, or your food or drink, not about your clothing or even your tomorrows. He reminds us that we cannot accomplish anything with worry, that it does not give us control over anything. And more importantly, that worry and anxiety will only make us slaves to the false gods we think will fix our concerns.
In my day job, of course, I am intimately acquainted with the wages of anxiety. Worry and stress, allowed to run rampant through our bodies narrows our arteries, swells our waistlines and shortens our lifespan. But we all know, don’t we, how hard it is to stop those anxious thoughts, especially when they come calling in the wee hours, taunting us with all those things we really do have on our very full life plates…. finances, health, jobs, kids, the future? All the things that are important to us. All the things that we can do nothing about by worrying over. All those things that we sometimes deal with by doing what one of my therapist friends calls the “spinning behaviors” of life….. Things like shopping till you drop or gambling or drinking or working to exhaustion. All of those things that can easily become our masters and our Gods if we let them.
I am a worrier by nature and upbringing. In a family that wanted to make sure I knew the world was a dangerous place in order to insure my safety I learned to be anxious and fearful about life. In a church that wanted to make me holy, I learned to be anxious and fearful about God. The formative God of my upbringing was much more a God of judgment than a God of comfort. I knew a lot more about how to determine whether or not I had supposedly offended God by breaking some rule than the fact that I was loved by God. And I am sad to say that I carried this incomplete and distorted version of God for a very, very, very, long time. All the way up to the point in fact, where I really met and encountered Jesus. Jesus, of course, gives us through his Incarnation as recorded in the Scriptures the clearest possible picture we can have of God and God’s desires for us. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount we have a glimpse of Jesus’ vision of what God’s desire for His kingdom manifest among us might look like. Those who mourn finding comfort, the meek inheriting the earth, those who have hunger and thirst for righteousness being filled, the merciful receiving mercy, the pure in heart seeing God, the peacemakers being called children of God, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake coming into their own. Jesus reminds his hearers this vision of justice and mercy is not just for some but for all. Today’s Gospel is not simply a “don’t worry, be happy” message. It goes deeper than that. Yes, Jesus asks us to trust in God for our needs. The God he knew intimately as the God, as theologian Walter Bruggeman says, of exuberant generosity and inexhaustible well-being. The God who loves us and has been in covenant with us from the beginning of creation. The one of whom Isaiah writes, “Yet I will not forget you, See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” Jesus says to us in today’s gospel, “Trust this God who loves you and cares for you and keep your priorities in order.” “Be salt,” he said, “Be light. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Turn the other cheek.” Do these things and do not be anxious and do not worry so much about the things of your life.
This is not to say that nothing is going to go wrong in life. Of course we know that! It just does not work that way. We have only to listen to the news for a few moments as the death tolls climb in China and Myanmar, as we hear the ongoing news about war and unrest in so many places. And closer to home as well, there are all the worries and concerns we hold, public and private. The lilies wilt and are tossed away. The birds of the air get eaten by cats….it happened in my back yard this week. Illness strikes and sometimes a cure is not in sight, we pray for yes and get no, sometimes the story does not have a happy ending. And in our pain and anxiety we say, “Where is God?” Jesus was incarnated out of God’s love for us, to be a living and enfleshed witness of God truly pitching God’s tent among us, a fulfillment of the covenant, God-with-us. Human life in all its messiness became God’s life, too. Not to help us escape it, but to live with us in it, and to show us how to be with one another in it as well.
Jesus call not to worry about our lives in the Gospel today is a call to discipleship. Let us pray that trusting in God’s exuberant generosity, inexhaustible well-being and never-ending love for us we can be co-creators of God’s kingdom in working for righteousness, justice and mercy. Amen.