Sermon Text: Matthew 6:25-34
It happens, by my estimation, every two or three years. As if there weren’t enough for the average person to worry about in a typical news cycle—from whatever is going on in Washington, to terrorism, to climate change, to the economy; from China, to Russia, to Iran, to North Korea—in addition to all that, every two or three years there’s a new public health scare to worry about. Right now, it’s the coronavirus. A few years ago, it was Ebola. In the early 2000s, it was SARS. In fact, from what I read, the new coronavirus is related to SARS.
Anyway, I remember SARS well. There was a big outbreak in Canada, in Toronto… And it just so happened at that same time I had to travel to Toronto, on business, when I was an engineer. And you have to understand how my mind works: See, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, and rationally, I should have said to myself, “There’s a tiny risk of getting SARS if I happen to be in close contact with someone who has it. And worst case, even if I contracted it, there’s an even tinier chance that I would die from it.” Because that’s how normal people think. But when I found out I was going to Toronto, the epicenter of the SARS outbreak, I said to myself, “Well, I guess I’m getting SARS!” Because that’s how my mind works!
And every time I turned on the news, I saw people walking around Toronto wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the virus… and since my vanity is even greater than my irrational fear of getting sick, there was no chance I was going to walk around with a surgical mask on! I may not die from SARS, but I would certainly die of embarrassment!
All that to say, when Jesus tells us not to worry… and why… well, to say the least, I need to listen! Three times in this passage he says it: Verse 25: “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” Verse 31: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat…” Verse 34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow…”
Am I wrong to suspect that of all the “red letter” words of Jesus—and notice this is a command—these are possibly the most overlooked, or neglected, or flat-out disobeyed of all of Jesus’ words?
And notice how anxiety seems to lead to many other sins: When we worry about money and finances, for instance, we tend to covet what others have. We become greedy. Commandment number 10. We may even steal. Commandment number 8. When we worry about what other people think of us—we worry about our reputation—we tend to lie, or hide the truth, or refrain from telling the whole truth. Commandment number 9. When we worry about meeting deadlines, getting our work done—doing all things we have to do for our career and our families—we get angry, irritable; we curse. Recall that Jesus says getting angry with a brother and using abusive language of him is on the same spectrum with murder. Commandments 3 and 6. That’s five commandments we’ve broken right there because of anxiety… but not so fast…
Notice Jesus begins this first paragraph of today’s scripture with the word “therefore.” “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” In other words, what he’s about to say is connected to what he’s just been saying; it follows, logically, from what he’s just been talking about. And what’s he just been talking about? Look at the verse 24, just before the start of today’s text: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” In other words, we tend to place our faith in money and the things that money can buy, rather than in God. When we do this, Jesus warns, it’s as if we’re treating money as a god. Which is what sin? Idolatry. So add Commandments number 1 and 2 to the list.
And of course our problem with anxiety is bigger than money—but don’t we often have this false belief that if we just had more of it, all of our problems would be solved? Remember that old Hollywood song? “We’re in the money/ We’re in the money/ We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along.” But is that what it takes to get along? Jesus says, emphatically, no.
Like everyone else, my heart goes out to Vanessa Bryant and the surviving family and friends of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who died last Sunday in a helicopter crash. Kobe was 41. Only 41. And very healthy, seemingly with so much life ahead. And I think at least a small part of the public outpouring of grief over his death—the strong sense that his death was a tragedy—is not merely that young and healthy people died in an accident—that happens thousands of times a day all around the world. And it wasn’t merely the sense that we all knew Kobe a little because of his fame—although that’s obviously a part of it. But it was also… also… the sense that he had everything… everything money could buy… including a well-manufactured helicopter… and a highly-skilled pilot to fly it. Kobe had it all! He had everything going for him. Everything to live for. But none of those things were enough to keep him and his daughter safe.
His death is a sober reminder of how fleeting this life is. Yet we so easily take it for granted! We take for granted that every heartbeat we enjoy is an ongoing gift from God. Every breath in our lungs is an ongoing gift from God. Biblically speaking, all of our time, no matter how young or old we are, is borrowed time—to which we are entitled to not even a millisecond. It’s a sheer gift from God, for however long God chooses to give it to us.
This is why the apostle James says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus compares the preaching of the gospel to a farmer sowing seed. Some of the seed, he says, gets sown among thorns. And what does that mean? He tells us: “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word.” And how exactly is riches or or money or wealth “deceitful”? Because it lies to us all the time! “Trust in me,” it tells us. “I’ll make sure that you have peace and security and happiness.” I know that temptation, don’t you? It seems so practical, so sensible, so down-to-earth to trust in money and the things it can buy. But Jesus says no. Don’t do it!
Okay, but why? I love our local radio station, WNEG. I listen to it a lot. But a couple of weeks ago dear Connie Gaines, whom I love, played that Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” I was a teenager when that song was a hit, but for the first time I actually paid attention to the words: “Ain’t got no place to lay your head/ Somebody came and took your bed/ Don’t worry, be happy/ The landlord say your rent is late/ He may have to litigate/ Don’t worry, be happy.” Is that a cruel joke? Is he mocking the person who’s worrying? I can’t even tell. Because, to say the least, it’s not helpful to tell a suffering person, “Don’t worry, be happy,” without also offering reasons why we shouldn’t worryh and why we can still have joy!
But the good news is, Jesus offers us reasons why! Why shouldn’t we worry? How can we have joy in the midst of difficult circumstances? Because our Father takes care of his children, just as sure as takes care of birds and wildflowers. Verse 26: “Look at the birds of the air… your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Granted, we have a hard time thinking of things this way. Because we have an either/or understanding of God’s activity in our lives. It goes something like this: “God, I may have to depend on you every once in a while to intervene supernaturally in my life; to work a miracle from time to time. In the meantime, I can take care of myself—so long as I continue to have this job; so long as I continue to enjoy good health, and my family has good health; so long as my marriage is O.K.; so long as my grades are good.”
So we tend to trust in God only when he gives us something that we can’t provide for ourselves.
But notice how different Jesus’ teaching is: He says that we actually depend on God for everything, whether we realize it or not! This doesn’t mean we do nothing; that we wait passively for God to do everything for us. After all, the “birds of air” to which Jesus refers are among the busiest creatures that God created. They work all the time collecting worms and insects, feeding their young, gathering twigs, pine straw, leaves, feathers—anything they can find—to build a nest. They work hard to survive. Yet, Jesus says, God is feeding them; God is caring for them. And so it is with us: it’s not either God or me… It’s both God and me at the same time.
Many scriptures capture this truth:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalm 127:1.
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. Proverbs 21:31.
“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1 Corinthians 4:7.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17.
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, the “model prayer” for us, which includes the petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Even that petition has this radical and countercultural understanding of how God works in our lives! We might say, “I work hard to provide my daily bread! Yet Jesus is saying that somehow our heavenly Father gives it to me?”
And the answer is yes. Without question. The foundation for living without anxiety or worry is believing that our Father will take care of us—that he is sovereign over the tiniest details of our lives, that he is always working his specific plan for our lives, that he’s always ultimately in control… that he will take care of us!
“Yes, but,” you might object. Was he “in control” when Kobe’s helicopter crashed into that mountain last Sunday morning? Was he taking care of Kobe and his daughter… or did his care for the nine people on board that helicopter fail? In which case, Jesus is lying!
And the answer is no—if Kobe was in Christ, if Gianna was in Christ, if the seven others on board were in Christ, then the answer is no! And I hear that Kobe was in Christ. He went to church and worshiped that very morning!
Listen: this isn’t the only place even in the Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus talks about birds and anxiety. If you have your Bible—and you should—turn over a few pages to Matthew 10:29-31:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Jesus acknowledges the reality that birds “fall to the ground.” Death will happen. I mean, look at verse 28 in Matthew chapter 10: “And do not fear those who kill the body…” He’s speaking about the reality that his faithful followers will be persecuted and sometimes killed because of their faith. Indeed, going back to today’s scripture, in verse 34, Jesus says that trouble will come our way. Each day will come built-in with just enough trouble for God’s grace to enable you to face that trouble without giving in to anxiety; without worrying. But instead trusting. Instead praising God. Instead thanking God. Instead glorifying God,
That’s the promise here. Not that we won’t have trouble and plenty of it; not that we’ll be spared from death—even at times tragic death. But even when death comes, our Father will give us the grace to endure it.
The grace to prevail against whatever life throws our way. That’s the promise of Matthew 6:33. “All these things will be added to you.” God will give you exactly what you need to face anything in life. Not just to face it, not just to endure it, with white knuckles, not just “grin and bear it,” but to prevail against it, to be more than a conqueror, as Paul says—because nothing in life, God’s Word tells us in a hundred different way, will have the power to rob us of deep and lasting joy and satisfaction in Christ.
But I’m like you… When I heard about the helicopter crash last Sunday, you know the first place my mind went? “What if I was in that helicopter… with my daughter… with one of my children… Let’s say that there was likely some period of time, some matter of seconds, at least, during which Kobe, his daughter, and the passengers on board knew they were going to crash and die. What would I do in those last remaining moments? How would my Christian faith help me to cope with that—without being anxious?
If I have learned to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, surely I would grab my daughter, hold onto her, and remind her and me, that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Surely I would say, “Thank you, Jesus, for giving me this precious gift of life, and thank you for giving me this even more precious gift of eternal life, which is far better. Because, as the Bible says, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ Thank you, Jesus, for that inheritance we have in Christ, which is ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven’ for us, which we’re about to receive.”
In Christ I lose nothing; in death, I gain everything. And in the meantime, we have Jesus! Which means we have everything! Lord, give me the faith to believe it! Amen.