Text: Matthew 6:24-34
Date: Pentecost 2 (Proper 3) + 5/25/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
My Dad was a down-to-earth guy. He grew up on a Norwegian farm in North Dakota in the first decades of the 1900s. He learned Luther’s Small Catechism in Norwegian. As a young man in the early days of automobiles he left the farm for the big city of Minneapolis to work as an auto mechanic eventually working in a machine shop. I recently referred to him (without mentioning his name) in my writing for CPH’s “Creative Worship” for this Sunday. One of his favorite phrases was “Worry don’t help nuthin.” He repeated those words often almost as a creed or a motto especially whenever he faced puzzling circumstances or troubles. It was almost as if he were trying to talk himself into believing that “Worry don’t help nuthin” because he was an experienced worrywart.
He had a sister who was a kind of Christian missionary. I later figured out she was of a sect simply called “Two by Twos” which was basically against any organized religious body, denomination or organization. It was based on Jesus’ sending out of the seventy(-two) in Luke chapter 10, “two by two” with the instruction, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals…whatever house you enter…remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:1-8). Her creed or motto, often repeated, was, “God will provide.” Now, it’s not that my Dad didn’t believe that “God will provide,” it was just that Aunt Helga would visit occasionally, carrying little money, few essential pieces of clothing and would remain in our house for a time, eating and drinking what we provided and then leaving again. She believed she was following God’s will. Dad called her a “leech!” defined in the dictionary as, “a person who clings to another for personal gain, especially without giving anything in return, and usually with the implication or effect of exhausting the other’s resources; a parasite.” In his own simple way he was identifying in her what it means to “tempt the Lord” by taking one of His promises and applying it way beyond its intended purpose or sense.
Today we begin the long, green season of Sundays after Pentecost (after Trinity) with the most pastoral section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is intended for His Christian followers as they live the life of faith in this world. And it basically boils down to those two things my Dad believed: “Worry don’t help nuthin” and “God will provide.”
Earlier in the Sermon Jesus gave the model prayer which includes the petitions, “Give us this day our daily bread” and “Deliver us from evil.” It is interesting, then, that the first thing He expands on is the issue of worry and anxiety over food and clothing. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Now in our day and in this prosperous country we live in, I don’t believe most people worry about such basic things. Our Lutheran churches are filled with middle class people who are unbelievably wealthy compared to world standards. Listen to a few items from our LCMS World Relief and Human Care:
· Disease and hunger threaten an estimated 1.5 million survivors of the Myanmar-Burma cyclone.
· LCMS has numerous contacts in southwest China in areas affected by the recent 7.9-magnitude earthquake. In hardest-hit Sinchuan province, an estimated 25,788 are still buried and an additional 14,000 people are missing.
· There are 2.3 million orphans in Kenya, nearly half due to the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
And, lest you think only in terms of foreign areas, there’s this: “Even with retirement benefits and Social Security, some retired LCMS pastors, teachers, and their spouses live in poverty on as little as $200 per month.”
Even so, though few of us have been threatened with poverty, we still find plenty of things to worry about. Many worry about health. Others about relationships or loneliness. Some have lost their employment.
When Jesus says “Do not worry, do not be anxious about your life,” he asks a few simple questions. First, arguing from the greater to the lesser, He asks, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, if you had nothing to do with how you came into existence in the first place, you should be even less concerned with how life is maintained through food and clothing. The God who creates life will also preserve it.
Then Jesus reverses His argument from the lesser to the greater. If God cares for such insignificant creatures as birds of the air, which do nothing to earn their food, He will certainly provide for human beings. Finally, Jesus addresses the futility of worry, or as my Dad would say, “Worry don’t help nothin.” “Which of you by means of being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The answer is, none of us can. “Worry don’t help nothin.”
Still, it is one thing to tell us not to worry, it is another thing to do it. That’s where you need to know and remember that this is not a sermon aimed at telling you what to do but what to believe.
Repeatedly Jesus speaks of God as “your heavenly Father.” Disciples of Jesus are to know that God as Father will provide even before being asked. Isn’t that what the prayer, “Our Father,” teaches? It begins not with us and our concerns for this life but with God and our eternal life. “Hallowed be Thy name.” God’s name is holy of itself without our prayers. “Thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom comes whenever His Word is proclaimed. “Thy will be done.” God’s good and gracious will is done without our prayers. Then, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What is this? “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” This is why Jesus concludes with the invitation to faith in the words, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
“The kingdom of God” is not a place but God’s gracious rule especially with regard to His plan of salvation. As little part you had in being created and born into this world, so salvation from sin and death and worry has been provided by God without ever asking whether we wanted to be saved! “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6). He did not come simply to show us the way or to give us good advice but to bring forgiveness of sin, life and salvation by giving His holy, sinless life into our death, for us and for our salvation. All sin has been atoned for. Now by simple faith in Christ we share His righteousness, that is, we are restored as children of the heavenly Father Who provides everything we truly need for life, not as a reward for seeking His kingdom but incidentally by grace. We could, in this sense, reword the promise, “but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and you just won’t care much or get all worked up about things or anything else!”
When we gather here around God’s powerful Word and Sacraments we are seeking God’s kingdom, His gracious rule and His righteousness through the forgiveness of our sins.
“Worry don’t help nuthin.” “God will provide.” Freed by faith from worry and anxiety we can concentrate on the more important things reflecting the forgiveness of sins to others and using our resources to provide for the neighbor in need in works of mercy.