Scripture: Matthew 6:25-33
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” ~ Matthew 6:33
Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
While most people that tell you not to worry are well-meaning, more often than not the act of telling you not to worry has the opposite effect of making you worry all the more. I remember when I was first tasked with leadership of Grace, everyone around me told me not to worry, that I was ready and would do a great job – from the bishop to colleagues to family everyone had the same refrain: don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
Which was easier said than done. If ever you’ve been in charge of anything – whether that was a family, or a job, or something in school it can be very easy to descend into worry as important decisions come at you fast and furiously. When I first became priest in-charge I was so inundated with administrative work that it seemed I might drown in worry: the youth shelter closed and needed to be sold, we had a grant to manage, staff changes and so much more. It was easy to lose sight of the big picture, easy to lose sight of the reason why I had entered the ministry in the first place – the proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and minister to God’s people. That’s what worry does, it distracts us from what is important, it places obstacles in our path, it blinds us to all the wonderful things happening around us.
Worry is certainly not uniquely the domain of church leadership, each of us has probably worried excessively about something in our lives – often about things that we have no control over. And the more somebody tells us not to worry, the more likely it is we will, something within our psychology causing the opposite effect than intended
Jesus understood the tendency in the human heart to worry, he understood that when faced with challenges and obstacles people inherently worry. And so Jesus told his disciples not to worry – if he had ended his encouraging words there they probably wouldn’t be so memorable. Instead, he offered his disciples illustrations and examples of why they shouldn’t worry, why everything was under control in God’s hands.
Jesus pointed his disciples to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air to demonstrate the care and concern that God shows for even the smallest creatures and plants of creation. Jesus told his disciples that the birds of the air neither sow nor reap, but God’s providence ensures they are fed – and the lilies of the field, whose life is short, are as beautiful as anything that humans have created, their clothing as magnificent as the finest kings and queens. If God cares for and tends to the needs of the smaller creatures of Creation, then how much more would he care for the centrepiece of creation, humanity.
Jesus’ point was that as long as the disciples were focused on the kingdom of God, focused on proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed then God would help take care of the rest, that God would provide for the necessities of their physical life, as they sought to further the mission of God on earth as it is in heaven.
We cannot deny that Jesus’ larger point has merit – for although there are some benefits to worry, being prepared for the worst or example, Jesus’ overall assessment rings true – how has worry truly benefited or added value to our lives? Instead of adding value, more often than not worry robs us of the present, it robs us of the opportunities and joys of the moment because our concern is either in the past or the future, or not fully present in the moment to appreciate and give thanks for the blessings right before our eyes.
In there lies the secret to overcoming worry – gratitude. Gratitude, giving thanks, is a sure-fire way to stem our need to worry. How can someone worry when they are focused on the ways they are blessed, the gifts they have received, the opportunities they have been given?
As we mark the dual celebration of Harvest Thanksgiving and National Thanksgiving, this is an important lesson to remind ourselves of.
Without gratitude, we all have a lot to worry about both as individuals and as the church – the economy, mental health, violence on our streets, homelessness, the ongoing pandemic, cultural and societal changes, church decline – you name it there is something to worry about. As a congregation we are not devoid of these worries – financial and volunteer situations are bordering on dire, our people are exhausted and concerns about the continuity of our faith and worship to the next generations is potentially in doubt. If we were to dwell on all of these things it would be easy to descend into worry, depression and an assumption acceptance of our fate.
But Jesus calls us to strive for the kingdom of God, to strive for the kingdom which is ultimately marked by gratitude and joy. What would happen in our lives and the life of the church, if we began from a place of gratitude and not of worry or concern. What beauty and wonder are we missing when spend our days worrying about the future rather than celebrating and being grateful for all that we have as individuals and as a congregation?
While the pandemic isn’t over and our lives have not completely returned to normal, we can give thanks that we are once again worshipping in this place. We can give thanks that for the most part, our members have not suffered from COVID-19, that despite being apart for almost two years we have not lost significant numbers of our congregation. We can give thanks that as we have opened up more and more newcomers and curious people have wandered through our doors. We can give thanks that while we are constantly in need of more volunteers to keep the ministry going, for the moment we have dedicated servants who have filled in when we most needed it.
And every day we can give thanks for Jesus, for his willingness to bear our sin; we can give thanks for Jesus’ willingness to suffer the humiliation and pain of the Cross to restore our relationship with God; we can give thanks for the way that Jesus has opened a path of abundant and eternal life for us and for all people; we can give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit which gives us strength; we can give thanks for the gift of the church, of brothers and sisters in Christ that support us and uphold through our times of trouble.
This week as you begin and end your day, I encourage you to begin and end with thanksgiving. As you pray or as you wake up or as you drift off to sleep, I encourage you to fill your mind with at least one thing you are grateful for. Scientific studies have shown the immense benefit that gratitude has on our overall health, and why wouldn’t it – gratitude is the natural position of someone who is coming more and more into the right relationship with God, who is orienting their life more and more to the Kingdom which is breaking in on earth as it is in heaven.
Worry comes easy, but gratitude is the path to life. Choose gratitude, choose life.
Let us pray,