My guess is we have all been in that place before – at some point or another, we’ve all been in that moment of worrying what might come next. Have you ever been there before?
Perhaps ever more so today than in recent history, worry is a word that is used to define our outlook on each and every day.
For some people in our nation, our greatest worry is whether the stock market is going to hold up. Our life’s investments are entrusted in the hands of multi-national corporations who have allowed us to buy in to their business. When our future hangs in the balance of the financial security and prosperity of others, we watch and worry when the green numbers turn red.
Others in our nation worry about sending their children off to school or over seas in the military. Perhaps one of a parent’s greatest fears is waiting while they try to answer the question: will my child ever come home? Will my child be influenced to make poor decisions? Will my child get in to difficult altercations? Will my child succeed in their endeavors? Will I ever see them again?
Across our nation, we have people who worry and fear leaving their homes. Present in our nation are the detrimental effects of racism, sexism, prejudice, and otherwise named hatreds that lead some to fear for their lives. We have children, men, and women around our nation who are threatened by the presence of hate groups; we even have many who fear the repercussions that are the result of systemic prejudice in the lives of public servants.
And perhaps now more than ever, we have people who worry for the future of our nation given the upcoming political election. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are on an extreme to the left or right, or even if you are in the extreme center, people all over the spectrum seem a bit worried about the presidential candidates.
It would be unfaithful for us to try and convince any whose life situation is different than our own that their worry is unfounded or unnecessary. No one of us can speak toward the felt worry of others, real or perceived, without perhaps crossing a line of judgment. Yet, all of us can work toward alleviating the worry of others in reshaping and rethinking our own perceptions, words, and actions. In truth, changing our own perceptions, words, and actions is likely the most effective and the most faithful step toward alleviating the sense of worry both present in our nation and present in our own lives.
I am convinced that worrying in general – worrying in any of these named or unnamed scenarios – is detrimental to faithful discipleship. And I am convinced that when faithful discipleship is found to be lacking because of worry, the capability of our nation and world to exemplify the will and way of God, is deficient.
It would be difficult on any one Sunday to speak a truthful message about worrying that encompasses each and every type of worry you may encounter. Yet, at the same time, I think it’s safe to say that each and every type of worry is loosely connected. Our worrying can perhaps be boiled down to our capacity to trust in God, a topic we discussed last week. Trusting in God means for many, if not most of us, learning to see the world altogether differently. In some situations, we have the ability to lessen our worry simply by realigning our own vision of God’s work in this world. We can make changes in our own lives through a deeper discipleship that lessens our worrying. In other situations, like those of racial prejudice and realized hatred, our sense of worrying may only be lessened when others are able to accept a more God-directed vision of the world for themselves. In such examples of worry, such as worrying for life and safety amidst others who may have racist tendencies, our ability to worry less may rely on God’s love and truth being made known more tangibly to the other.
Our passage in Matthew this morning is perhaps one of the more well known passages that speaks against worrying. The other passage, perhaps equally well known, comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians 4:6 reads, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made before God.”
The passage in Philippians seems to be more about worrying and anxiety in general. Our passage in Matthew is a bit narrower in scope. Jesus, speaking in the midst of the Sermon on Mount as offered in Matthew’s Gospel, in this text, is specifically focusing on worry regarding financial matters.
Realistically, this text can be a difficult text to hear and apply at full face value. The passage seems to indicate rather clearly that Jesus frowns on those who may worry about where their food or clothes may come from. It also makes pretty clear that Jesus wants us to focus on today instead of tomorrow. But unquestionably you and I can each think of someone (either by face or by name), perhaps even of ourselves, who at some point, even when focused on the kingdom of God, experienced a time of life where all things necessary for life were not available.
Perhaps many of us have also considered the dichotic option of investing financially for the future or spending it all today. Is Jesus suggesting that investing for the future is not wise? Is Jesus suggesting that even a small savings account is an unfaithful endeavor?
Yes, yes. I am convinced that is exactly what Jesus is suggesting. Jesus, just as he suggests when speaking the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, says that to be most faithful – to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect – you should go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor. Do this, Jesus says to the young ruler, and then come follow me.
Am I suggesting that you take Jesus’ words verbatim and go and do the same. No … I mean, yes, that is an awesome call and if it’s your call from Christ, say yes. But No, I’m not suggesting that is the call for every person’s life. Yet, even still Jesus’ teaching here begs the question, ‘How should we engage with the resources over which we have been made stewards in this life?’
To faithfully respond to Jesus’ teaching, we have to admit that our world is full of myths that would lead us astray from really living out Jesus’ call. Let’s name those myths so we can move beyond them.
The first myth we should name is: “Having more stuff will make me happier.”
First off, we all know this statement is false. We know this statement is false because, well, Christmas. We have all received a gift at Christmas, perhaps from that one aunt or uncle, that was never used, worn, or appreciated. We have all received gifts from a brother, sister, or maybe even a spouse, that within weeks after Christmas we could no longer remember the gift received. Having more stuff does not make us happier; we know this because sometimes more stuff is unappreciated and unused.
So we alter the myth to say, “Having more stuff that is stuff I want will make me happier.”
Again, we know this to be false from our own lived experiences. If having new things that you wanted made you happier, you would conclude that having received them, you would want no more because you would be fully happy. But that’s not how our lusting works. When we receive a new item, even one we really want, it doesn’t take but a few days (if not a few hours) until we identify the next thing we want. You just bought a new computer? Great, there’s a faster computer coming out next month with voice recognition software. You just bought a new car? Awesome, there’s a new car on the market today that’s faster and more fuel efficient.
Our yearning for stuff is never satiated – we will always worry about our longing for more as we give in to the myth that having more of the right stuff will make us happier.
The next myth claims that, “Having the right stuff will make me more important.”
The lie that is offered by our predominant culture is that our value comes from our valuables. When we give in to such a lie, we yearn to acquire ad nauseum. Not only do we acquire that which we do not need, but we seek to acquire the more expensive items we do not need. We hope that such acquisitions will make us more meaningful in the eyes of others. Yet, while this hope is fleetingly stroked as others notice our acquisitions, it leaves us in an endless cycle of always having to acquire more, newer, and more expensive items. We never reach a point where we feel complete and whole. We are always being left yearning for something more fulfilling, worrying if others will appreciate the items we have on display.
Another myth that is true today is, “Having more things will make me more secure.”
This is perhaps our greatest detriment when giving in to the Wall Street invitation to invest. When we give in to the false notion that having more will make us more secure, we put off doing tomorrow that which God is calling us to do today. I’ve heard people defend such a myth by saying, “If I achieve financial independence, then I’ll go after these lifelong dreams.”
We want to trust God, but the culture (and perhaps even a close friend around us) says, “are you sure that’s going to be sufficient?” We put off doing what God is trying to do in us and through us because we aren’t defined by society as having the ‘right’ goods, or ‘enough’ goods. And so we worry about taking a step in faith when everything and everyone around us says, ‘you’re not ready yet.’
I want to give you four concrete steps toward living Simply Free of such worry. Four things you and I can do together as part of community, and that you and I can do individually in our own lives, to live free ourselves of the societal pressures, and free ourselves of worrying about our financial tomorrow.
First, “Resist the temptation to compare what you have to what other people have.”[i]
When we compare ourselves to others, to our neighbors, even to our own family, we tend to measure success by worldly metrics. Such metrics were not intended by God to determine our worth as children of God. Jesus says in verse 32 of today’s passage, “It is the Gentiles who strive for food, drink, and clothing; and indeed your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. But strive first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God, and all these things will be given to you.”
We know – we have scriptural proof – that following God does not mean you will never go hungry. Paul is one of the greatest witnesses of faithful living. Yet Paul makes it very clear that his faithfulness led him down a path in which he went hungry and thirsty from time to time; he went without food, cold and unclothed. Adopting a focus first on God does not mean we will have a life defined by the world as glorious. Focusing first on God and learning to worry less what we eat and drink means adopting an otherworldly view of economics and money. It means learning first to see God’s vision for our lives and the world, which means a shift from the cultural priorities.
Resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others means that you have to regain control of your possessions instead of letting them posses you. Those who have wealth tend to give away their used or junked items. The practice is to give away that which we no longer have use for. But when we look at the scriptures, Jesus never asks for people to give away that which they no longer need – Jesus tells people to give away the cloak from their back. Jesus says nothing you own should be unavailable for the work of God in the world.
This leads us to step two, “Rejoice in what you already have.”[ii]
One of the most important steps to curbing our worry is to be grateful for that which we already have. Too often we are so focused on that which do not yet have, that we can not be thankful for that which we already have. G.K. Chesterton once said, “There’s two ways to have enough. One, get more. Two, desire less. If you desire less, you can be content without having to get more.”[iii]
This is very true in the realm of material possessions, but it is not limited to such. I’ve had conversations with world travelers who focus little on past trips to exotic locations because there are as of yet still locations on their bucket list that remain unchecked. Far too often we complain about what more we want instead of being grateful and thanking God for that which we already have.
The third step to worrying less, “Return to God that which belongs to God.”[iv]
When we claim that what we own is ours and ours alone, we make a mockery of the scriptural foundation of the establishment of humanity as stewards over God’s creation. We talked last week about the numerous times in our scriptural record that we are called to give to God out of that which God has given us. In scriptural accounts, we find that each person in the community of God was asked to give 10% of that which they were stewards back to the church, back to God, so that the church could continue to live out God’s witness of love in the community.
I’m a firm believer in the call to tithe. But I’m also a realist. There have been times in my own life when had I given even 2% of what I was earning, I would have likely gone without food. I’m not asking anyone to give up their basic necessities – but Christ’s call on us as disciples is to be honest with ourselves about what we really need and what we take away from the community we are called to live and serve within because of what those things we simply want.
And finally, the last step to living simply free of worry, “Refocus: hold what you already have with an open hand.”[v]
We are taught by society to clinch on to what we have with a tight fist. Such a mentality is built around the idea that others are seeking to take from us that which is ours. It calls us to be reminded that nothing we have will leave this world with us, we are but stewards for our turn around the sun. The question we need to ask ourselves is this, “Is there anything you have that you have not made available to God?”
When we worry about our resources, when we focus so much on keeping for ourselves and keeping up with the Jones’, we becoming nothing but paralyzed by chronic anxiety that is futile and even self-destructive. Our call by Christ is not to focus our worry on the resources of the world, but acknowledge that we are in the hands of the loving Creator. By focusing on the kingdom first, we “assess [the usefulness of economics and money] in relation to other more serious matters, such as the deprivations of the poor.”[vi]
The worries of this world will never subside if we continue to allow the culture of the world to dominate our worldview. So let us seek to live simply free – free of the worry of that which is to come. Free that some other person is going to take my share of wealth. Free of the fear that I’m not good enough to fit into the world around me. Free of the toxic mentality that pits me against my neighbor. God’s desire is not for us to be pit against our neighbor, but to live in healthy community alongside one another. And that starts with freeing up ourselves to share in the work and ministry of God in the world. So may you find a new found freedom in worrying less and living Simply Free, that together we may share faithfully in the work of God in the world. Amen.