June 7, 2015
“Antidote for Anxiety”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I recently returned from the Festival of Homiletics which is a large preaching conference held every year with some of the best preachers and writers and theologians from around the country. And we spent each day listening to sermon and lectures about sermons, which might sound like a very unpleasant thing to do, but there were 1800 participants there who loved it.
One of the key note speakers was a Lutheran pastor named Nadia Bolz-Weber who wrote a best-selling spiritual memoir and she has a fresh and unorthodox approach to preaching and being church.
We were in a big Presbyterian church in downtown Denver and the place was packed for her lecture, which was called, “Screw it, I’ll go first: Getting hit by the bus of the Gospel.” She was giving this lecture to a room full of preachers but I think what she said applies to all of us, when we are reading scripture whether for preaching or for devotion, we need to let ourselves get hit over the head with it first, before we do anything else with it, and especially before we hit anyone else over the head with it. We have to go first.
So I’m going to go first and say I have long struggled with this passage. We all worry, but I worry that I worry more than you worry (just kidding).
But truthfully, I have always been a worrier, born that way I think (and I see this trait more in one of my kids than the other).
And even though I feel like I have been transformed by the Holy Spirit in many ways as I have tried to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, this part of my life has not changed, though what I worry about has changed over the years. I used to worry that when my parents left, that they wouldn’t come back. Now I worry about my children.
And I have struggled with these words that Jesus preaches. On first read, it feels like a platitude. It feels like something you see on bumper sticker or bill board or fridge magnet: “Don’t worry, be happy” love, Jesus. As Swiss theologian Ulrich Luz has put it, when interpreted superficially, this statement could only have been written by a single guy living a carefree life on the beach in sunny Galilee.
We know it is not so simple. Jesus must be trying to get at something more. He is preaching to a crowd of subsistence fishermen and farmers, those for whom clothing and food were very important and immediate concerns – he can’t be saying have no concern for your survival. So there must be something else to it.
Let’s look at this passage again with fresh eyes, and it helps, as it always does, to look around and see what was happening before Jesus launches into this topic. So a crowd numbering in the thousands has found were Jesus is, and also his disciples are with him.
And you’ll see if you are following along in the earlier part of chapter 12, he starts to talk about really dark and heavy and profound things – death and persecution and fear – he tells his followers not to fear for their lives, but give care for their souls.
And then someone in the crowd, who has clearly been listening closely to what Jesus has said, says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
And this is how I think we make sense of what Jesus has to say next about worrying, and wealth, and God’s providing — Jesus has his eyes on the spiritual and the eternal, but those hearing him are stuck; they are trapped by a different concern.
And so Jesus replies to this man, in essence, I’m not going to judge this matter – and be careful about greed, because life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
God is standing in our midst in Jesus, and all we want God to do for us is mediate our greedy little squabbles, and help to make sure we get what we are owed in this life.
Then Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Do not worry about your life.”
Now worry is a word with nuance. When we use the word worry, we mean something awful close to fear, or sometimes we can mean something awful close to being nervous.
In the Greek, the word for worry merimneso means “to care for”; so we should hear it to mean, “to be overly concerned; to care too much; to be anxious about.” It is that which we put our energy towards – it is that which takes up undue space in our mental landscape.
So hear again Jesus words with this meaning in mind, “Therefore I tell you, do not care so much about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” What, then, really matters?
These things, honestly, need focusing on sometimes – for the fifteen percent of residents of Winchester who are food insecure, the next meal or feeding your children is something to worry about.
I don’t think Jesus is saying that food, clothing, and physical well-being don’t matter – but I think he is saying that life is more than this – or in other words, don’t be deceived that these things are all that there is, don’t be deceived that these things have ultimate value. Life is more than all these things.
And then Jesus directs our attention to birds and flowers – and points out how they are clothed and cared for by God.
This is not an object lesson in strength or power – birds and flowers are weak, vulnerable, here one day and gone the next. These things are fragile – and they do not strive to control their lives or their future or their God– they receive what is needed. We come back again to what Rich and Dan spoke about last week – Jesus points us to the sovereignty of God – in Dan’s words, “God’s got this,” and we can rest in that knowledge.
One blogger writing on this passage shared this: “I’m not sure how to live free from worry, anxiety and fear, but I did recently appreciate the wisdom of ninety-one-year-old Huston Smith in his book Tales of Wonder, Adventures Chasing the Divine: An Autobiography. Born to Methodist missionary parents in rural China in 1920, Smith enjoyed a distinguished career as a scholar of world religions at Washington University, MIT, Syracuse, and Berkeley. His book The World’s Religions, first published in 1958, has sold 2.5 million copies as an introductory university textbook on the subject.
Smith has been married to his beloved wife for almost seventy years now. They lost an adult child to cancer and a grand daughter to a mysterious murder. Now near the end of his long life, Smith says that he’s absolutely convinced of at least one thing: ‘We are in good hands.’”
I came across a TED talk by author and thinker David Brooks who pays special attention to neuroscience and the deep social currents of our society. He gives this lovely 5 minute talk on whether you should live for your resume or your eulogy.
These are two ways of understanding our purpose and meaning and value in this world, which impact profoundly how we live our lives, the choices we make, and the things we worry about.
The things we put on our resumes are our marketable skills, our accomplishments, our training, our productivity.
The things we hope will be spoken about us in a eulogy are our relationships, our faith, our courage, our humor, our boldness, our love. We would say that the eulogy virtues are the things we value most, but are they things we think about the most? Are they the things we encourage our children to think about the most?
And Brooks shares this idea that we have these two natures, which is echoing what Jesus lays out for us, what the Apostle Paul writes about in himself, and Brooks uses the language of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who wrote a book called “The Lonely Man Of Faith” in 1965. And I’m using a lot of Brooks’ words here from his talk.
We have these two side of ourselves which the Rabbi calls Adam I and Adam II.
Adam I is the worldly, ambitious, external side of our nature. He wants to build, create, control, be in charge. Adam I wants to conquer the world and values accomplishment.
I was sitting in Chik-Fil-A thinking about this sermon surrounded by a soccer team that had finished their season victoriously, and large gold trophies sat on the tables, and one little girl, who did not look very old, said loudly, “this is my fourth trophy.” And then she turned to another member of her team and asked him, “How many trophies to do you have?” And he looked puzzled and she replied, “You don’t even know, do you?”
Adam II is the humble side of our nature who wants not only to do good but to be good, to live in a way internally that honors God, creation and our possibilities. Adam II wants to hear a calling.
Adam I asks how things work. Adam II asks why we’re here. Adam I’s motto is “success.” Adam II’s motto is “love and redemption.”
But these two sides of ourselves struggle against each other, and one of the reasons is that each works by a different logic. Brooks explains that the external logic is an economic logic, risk leads to reward, more is better. The internal side of our nature is different: You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer the desire to get what you want. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.”
The problem for us remains the same as it was in Jesus day, we feel pushed towards the concerns of Adam I, we focus on the external, what we want, what we gain, what we accomplish, what we deserve to have.
Jesus encourages his disciples and us, do not care so much about this things. Do not wear out your heart on clothes or food or status symbols. This is not what life is about. You are missing what is truly good. Trust that God knows what you need. Trust that God knows what you need.
So as we get hit by the bus of the Gospel, we need to ask ourselves what do we strive after? What do we worry about? What do we care about? Is it resume things, or eulogy things?
These are important questions because they tell us where we put our ultimate trust and what we value most.