As we are all staying at home during COVID-19, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog.
— (Rev) Andrew Jensen
Worry, Fuss and Fume
Scripture: Matthew 6:25-34
A few years ago I used this passage for the opening worship at a Presbytery Executive meeting. I talked about the call to stop worrying in the context of the changing church. I included a comment about not worrying about things like pensions, as we try to do what we believe is right, and one of the other ministers asked “yes, but how do you do that?”.
It’s a very practical question. It cuts to the core of this teaching of Jesus.
Religion is dismissed by some as unrealistic; as idealism that isn’t grounded, not part of the “real world” and suggesting that as soon as you experience the “real world” you can’t take teachings like this very seriously.
The thing is, Jesus was very grounded in real life. In his day, pensions didn’t exist; no one had ever heard of them. Your old age security came from accumulating wealth – if you were very successful or fortunate, or more commonly from having children and grandchildren to look after you if you actually made it to old age. If you had no money or kids you would literally lose years off your life.
Jesus was being very practical in his words. His comment about Solomon being under-dressed compared to the wildflowers was kind of funny but it was really dealing with people who didn’t worry about fashion as much as they worried about freezing to death at night.
There are some undeniable truths in Jesus’ words here that even the most cynical can’t deny: Not only will worry not add a single hour to your life but modern medicine has proven that worry and stress are harmful to our health, literally shortening our lives. This pandemic is providing more and more evidence of that every single day.
No, Jesus was not being idealistic or naïve. He was talking about his vision of The Kingdom of God.
That was an important phrase for him and it carried a lot of meaning when he uttered it. Yes, there are modern concerns about the use of the word “kingdom” both in terms of its sense of imperialism and in terms of ascribing a masculine identity to God. But let’s put that concern about wording aside for now as we consider what Jesus was trying to convey.
In his vision of the kind of place God wants to create in the world, Jesus was very aware of the people on the margins; the ones who had no family support, no pension. In other words, the ones who are listed in the beatitudes: the meek, the poor in spirit, the ones who suffer, the merciful, the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Many of these people are not in the driver’s seat in any society.
His vision, which he taught carefully and repeatedly, would have people working together, sharing what they have, developing a community of love where there is room for each person and each person is loved and respected.
The first Christian community in Jerusalem tried to follow this pattern. It wasn’t simple and there were bumps in the road, but it would still be going if the Romans hadn’t torn down the walls of the city and slaughtered all the occupants in 70 AD.
Those first Christians understood that when Jesus told us not to worry about the future it wasn’t some idealistic vision based on miracles. It was a way to be a community of faith, that made sure that no one is left behind.
Christian monastic communities have tried to achieve the same thing although the addition of a number of disciplines has made that pretty exclusive. There were old Celtic monasteries that had monks and nuns married to each other. The system of shared life was encouraged without the demand to disconnect from family life.
Our modern situation is rather different than the one faced by Jesus. We’ve tried to create economic systems that allow us to be independent of others, to avoid community.
That’s not working out so well, is it? Our modern pandemic has just underscored how much we need each other, how visceral a problem that becomes when we are forbidden to gather, to see loved ones.
So let’s learn from this day, and from these ancient teachings. Jesus knew what he was talking about: the more we worry, fuss and fume, the less we accomplish.
Let’s focus on doing God’s work in this world: on building community, on loving each other in practical ways, on reaching out across boundaries. Today that will involve virtual connection, more and more, but we mustn’t stop, because as we connect with others, as we work to build others up we ourselves will also be built up and the support and care we offer will come back to us.
It’s not because we’re in control of some pyramid scheme but because God has given us the chance to build something better than the dog-eat-dog world that people claim is “the real world”.
The real world is what we make it. God calls us to make it a world where we work together for everyone’s benefit.
Yes, a step of faith is required. Jesus invites us to believe that this is possible and that God will inspire others to share and to help, and to love.
This is no naïve belief. It is real, it has worked before, and it will work again. And I can’t think of a better way of relieving stress and worry than by helping others.