8th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, February 27, 2011
In the past, when I’ve heard today’s Gospel reading, I’ve usually heard it this way: (shouted with upraised hands) DO NOT WORRY.
Oh, the reader, the preacher, they didn’t actually need to yell it, but that’s how I heard it in my mind. (shouted with upraised hands) DO NOT WORRY. And since very rarely I have heard this passage as part of the whole Sermon on the Mount, I would very rarely also hear a whisper of the beginning of the sermon, the beginning words of Jesus, (whispered) “You are blessed.”
Which meant when it came to hearing this passage about not worrying, well, I mainly heard it as Law, as command, as condemning me for all the worrying I do on a regular basis.
Here Jesus was actually offering some good news, some Gospel, an assurance that we don’t need to worry, that He’s got things covered, that we can trust in Him to take care of things, here these words are meant as a hope and promise, but all I could hear was: (shouted with finger waving) DO NOT WORRY.
Hmm, that’s a sad thing to realize, to realize that I couldn’t really hear what Jesus was saying, couldn’t hear the good news in the words of Jesus, and a lot of that was because I forgot about the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.
I mean, we have been reading different sections of the Sermon on the Mount over these past weeks, but it’s really, really important to remember that this is one sermon. This is Jesus sitting down and in one fell swoop teaching many things, but it’s really, really important to remember that there was a reason Jesus said all of these things together in one sermon. We can sit down today and talk about this passage about not worrying, about not being anxious but trusting the Lord to provide, we can talk about this section, but it’s really, really important that we remember that the whole sermon started this way:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
That’s what’s so loud in this sermon, that’s the loudest word in this sermon, that’s where Jesus began, that’s what would stick in the minds of the disciples, that’s the hook that Jesus starts with, and from that beginning everything else follows. Instead of shouting (shouting with upraised arms) DO NOT WORRY, and then whispering, “You are blessed,” if we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we realize that it’s exactly the opposite. (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED, (whispered) so do not worry. (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED, (whispered) so do not worry.
Do not worry. That’s an invitation from Jesus, that’s an invitation to a new kind of life, a new kind of life because of what Jesus has done for us. God has blessed us in Jesus, God has blessed us, God has made us His children, God has given us comfort and mercy and peace and righteousness, God has given us the promise of eternal salvation. God has blessed us. (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED.
And because of that, because we are blessed, that’s why we don’t have to worry, that’s why we don’t have to be anxious, that’s why we can rest in the Lord, that’s why we can trust that God is going to take care of us, that’s why we can seek God’s kingdom first because He has promised to give us comfort and mercy and peace and righteousness. We don’t have to seek our own way, we don’t have to fight to get our own stuff, we don’t have to focus on taking care of number one, because (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. God has already done everything we need for salvation, God has already promised to take care of us, God has already shown that He will bless us in ways that we can’t even imagine. (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED, (whispered) so do not worry.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine going through a whole series of challenges, challenges that threaten his faith, challenges on a deeply spiritual level. A lot of things to be worried about. He was anxious and wondering what he was going to do. And in conversation, a few times he made reference to needing to do something about these challenges, to be praying more, to be in God’s Word more, to take the right steps to prevent these challenges from stealing away his faith in Jesus.
But it was like saying all of that out loud made him realize that he was trying to do it all on his own, trying to take matters into his own hands. When that dawned on him, he realized that was a problem—he was trying to handle these challenges by himself.
Of course he was worried. Of course he was worn out. Of course he was feeling weak. Of course this wasn’t working out so well. Here my friend was trying to do it himself instead of relying on Jesus, instead of asking Jesus to handle these challenges. Of course he felt as if he couldn’t do all of this by himself—we’re not meant to handle these challenges by ourselves. We need God. We need His help, His intervention, His power, His strength, His guidance.
Then as we were talking, he remembered what his home pastor had said. When my friend talked to his pastor about his troubles, his pastor immediately reminded him: “You are a child of God; you are in Christ.” In other words, (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. (whispered) Do not worry. Do not worry about what threatens you, because (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED.
That’s exactly what my friend needed to hear. And I couldn’t agree more. I just repeated the same thing to my friend—“You are blessed, you are a child of God, you are in Christ, you are under God’s care.”
And that’s what I want you to hear today—(shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. (whispered) Do not worry. You are blessed, you are a child of God, you are in Christ, you are under God’s care.
I want you to hear how much you are blessed. I want you to know that because you’re blessed that you don’t need to worry. Because of what God has done for you, you can truly rest and relax in Jesus.
It’s like driving through a snowstorm—something we’re familiar with these days and something I was especially familiar with last weekend while we were on vacation in Minneapolis visiting my parents while they got 17 inches of snow. Driving around during the blizzard, driving home the next morning, I kept being aware of how tense I got holding onto that steering wheel, hunched a bit closer to the wheel, peering out into the snow.
I think part of the reason I get tense is that I think I can then keep the car from sliding. It’s sort of like I’ve transferred the way I ride my bike in the rain to how I drive a car. On my bike, if it’s raining, you have to prepare your body to hold that bike upright, to keep the bike from sliding, you need your whole body to work together to stay upright. Well, somehow I take on that same kind of posture while I’m driving a car in slippery conditions, as if I could use my body to keep the car from sliding into the ditch. It’s absurd, I know, so when I catch myself doing it, I try to relax and realize that tensing my whole body isn’t going to do much for keeping the car on the road.
As much as it’s absurd to try to use your whole body to keep a car on the road, it’s absurd to walk around worrying about what you’ll eat and drink and what you’ll wear. That’s what Jesus was saying: it’s absurd to be so worried about these things as if by worrying you can make food and drink and clothes appear. Birds gathering things into barns is absurd; flowers making their own clothes is absurd. And trying to use my body to keep a car on the road is absurd; worrying is absurd.
Oh, I don’t mean that just because it’s absurd that it’s any easier to stop worrying; if you have a habit of worrying, it’s definitely not an easy thing to stop. Just because my friend knows he doesn’t need to worry doesn’t make it easy for him to stop worrying.
But Jesus here is helping us to kind of chuckle at ourselves about it, to realize worrying is the same as…birds with silos and flowers with sewing machines. Instead of worrying, we can turn to God instead, turn to Him and realize we’re His children, realize that He’s blessed us, that He’s promised to watch over us and care for us.
So, then, relax your shoulders; you don’t need to drive in the snow like you can keep that car on the road by tensing your whole body; that’s absurd. And you don’t need to live your life as if you can make it all work out if you just worry enough.
(shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. (whispered) Do not worry. God is your source of strength. God is your true focus. God is the One who will bless you and watch over you and care for you.
(shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. (whispered) Do not worry. Instead of feeling like you need to take matters into your hands, instead of thinking that you need to do stuff by yourself to make your spiritual life right, remember that you are blessed by God, you are God’s child, God will provide for you in so many ways.
And that’s what it means to seek first the kingdom of God. It means to seek out the places where God has promised to bless us, to go to the places where God has already promised to bless us in tremendous ways spiritually, to seek the Word of God, to remember our baptisms, to seek the Lord’s Supper, to seek out the fellowship of believers, to seek out all of these places because in them we find God’s blessing, in them we are reminded that we are blessed in incredible ways, because in these places we are reminded that we do not need to take matters into our own worrying hands, we are reminded that God has done it all for us.
(shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED. (whispered) Do not worry. (shouting with upraised arms) YOU ARE BLESSED.