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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Done Worrying? (Matthew 6:24-34)


“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And who do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For is it the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble in enough for today.

Today’s text is yet another snippet from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus is addressing worry. We all know what it’s like to be worried. Worry seems to be a national pastime! I was really tempted to entitle today’s sermon “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” in honor of Bobby McFerrin’s hit song. You all know that song – sing it with me: “Here’s a little song I wrote - you might want to sing it note for note – don’t worry – be happy.” It’s a happy little song with a simple, counter-cultural message – the kind of song that makes you want to kick off your shoes, lie out in the sun, and have a cold drink, which would probably be good for many of us to slow down and take the time to do!

What sort of things do you all worry about? What sort of things are you worried about right now? To all those things you’re worried about, I’m tempted to simply say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” because if we could honestly do that, we’d all be a lot further ahead than where we are right now. The problem with dismissing worry so glibly is that most of us, on our own, don’t have the power to simply turn off our worries. It’s something that we need God’s help with, and that’s what we’re going to spend a little time talking about this morning. May we pray.

One of the formative movies of my generation was Office Space. When I was in college, when I wasn’t busy playing ping-pong in our dining room, Super Smash Brothers on our Nintendo-64, off doing something that the senior class president has to do, or . . . what else was it I was supposed to be doing? Oh yeah, studying! When I wasn’t doing any of those things, you could probably find me and my housemates watching this movie.

Office Space is, among other things, brilliant commentary on the dysfunction often found in today’s corporate culture. It is full of all the clichés of working in an office full of cubicles, bringing in outside consultants, and an executive structure that seems to reward mediocrity and promote into management those who don’t seem to have a clue what’s really happening. Does that sound like any of the places you work?

In one scene, the main character, Peter Gibbons, is meeting with two “efficiency experts” the company has brought in to eliminate redundancy – that’s business speak for figuring out who to fire. As Peter begins to open up about the difficult and idiotic working conditions, he says, “I have eight bosses. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Can you imagine what it’s like trying to please eight different bosses? It ain’t gonna happen, for the simple reason that those bosses have different goals, different perspectives, and different expectations about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. You’re never going to please everybody.

Jesus opens today’s text by saying, “No one can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and wealth” (6:24). It doesn’t work to have more than one boss. You can’t follow them both.

The word that our English texts have translated as “wealth” comes from the word “mamona,” or “mammon.” Most literally, it means “that which is trusted in.” The term became equated with “worldly treasure” or “wealth.” So, the desire to accumulate “stuff,” to have big bank accounts, lots of land, and the race to be the one to die with the most toys and thus be declared the winner is an old race, indeed.

Earlier in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” (6:21). So, if you trust in money, then your heart – the center of your desires and affections – will also focus around money. But, if you trust in God, then your heart will also focus around God.

You can’t serve both God and money. Jesus says we’ll end up loving one and hating the other. If blind accumulation of wealth is your goal, you won’t like what God asks you to do with your resources – to share with those in need, to be generous toward others as God has been generous toward you, to give of your time and talent and treasure to further God’s purposes in the world. You’ll despise God, who already owns everything, by the way, for asking you to share part of the resources God has given you in the first place.

Notice: Jesus doesn’t say money is inherently bad or evil, just that it makes a poor master. Money is a bad boss. The word in Greek is kurios, which is translated “lord.” The lord is the one who demands and deserves your loyalty, allegiance, and worship. This, by the way, is what made the earliest Christian confession such a dangerous thing – in a world in which everyone was expected to swear their allegiance to Caesar and say, “Caesar is Lord,” can you hear the defiance from the earliest Christians who began to confess, “Jesus is Lord”?

Jesus says giving our allegiance to money falls prey to the larger worldview that crowns money lord in the first place – the myth of scarcity. Scarcity teaches us there is only so much to go around, and if we trust in money, that’s true. Again, the issue isn’t money per se; the problem comes when we make money our god and trust it for every good. Once we believe that money can solve all our problems and satisfy our deepest needs, we will discover that we never have enough. After all, money is finite, there is only so much of it to go around, and we are trapped immediately into a world of counting, tracking, and stock piling.

If you were to take a poll and ask people, “How much money is enough?” you would get a very similar response across all income levels. For most people, it’s just a little bit more than what we have. We think we’ll stop worrying about money if we just have a little bit more than what we have now.

And so, if money or wealth or worldly possessions are the thing in which we have placed our trust, then there’s never going to be enough, and we will chase something that always eludes us. And so, we’re going to worry. Jesus makes the connection here – freeing ourselves from trusting in and serving wealth also frees us from worry, because as long as we trust in money, which can run out, we have reason to worry.

For our own good, Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice, and the rest will follow. Jesus isn’t naïve here – he knows that we have basic needs for food and clothing and shelter. But, he tells us not to chase after all these things. “More than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33, Contemporary English Version).

Jesus challenges us to behaviors consistent with the kingdom of God – creating a more compassionate, equitable, and peaceful world. Remember the Beatitudes in Matthew 5? Jesus lists a whole group of people who are blessed in the eyes of God – the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. Those qualities may not be rewarded in our competitive, fearful, scarcity-driven world, but in the kingdom of God, those are the minimum qualifications for even being considered employee of the month. Jesus keeps calling us to something different – a little salt in the world to change its whole flavor, just a little light to pierce through the darkness, overcoming anger with good, publicly exposing unjust authority, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

Friends, that is the way of wholeness and completeness and living in the kingdom of God. If we desire to live a whole life, a free life, an unconcerned life, then we must seek the generosity of God’s kingdom, a kingdom whose heart is turned outward on the needs of those around it, rather than inward on its own needs and desires. We need to embrace each other and take responsibility for caring for one another. We need to nurture and protect our connections and celebrate our interdependence.

The great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, defined anxiety as “the next day.” We don’t know what will happen “the next day,” which creates anxiety today. When I was a child if one of my siblings and I were acting up on a car ride, and my dad turned around and said, “All right, I’ve had it – just wait until we get home” – do you know how excruciating the rest of the ride became? Often times, that anxiety, that in-between of what I had done and waiting for whatever punishment was to come was worse than the actual punishment itself.

All the things that cause us anxiety – a big test, a court appearance, a visit to the dentist, an interview, an inspection, an audit, a difficult conversation, waiting for medical test results, anticipating a confrontation – is it just me, or is the anxiety of waiting for these things usually worse than the actual thing itself?

Our security is not in things, not in hedging against any calamity that may come, not in buying insurance and securities to protect ourselves, not in stockpiling, bankrolling, and accumulating against whatever is out there that may threaten us. Our security and identity isn’t in money and wealth and possessions and appearances. We don’t need to be worried about how big our bank account is, how much our investment portfolio is worth, how impressive our house is, or what our stuck-up neighbors think about the car we drive or how our landscaping looks. If that’s where we have placed all our trust, our lives are shallow and worrisome, indeed.

When we trust in our treasure, we can never have enough and so we invariably begin to give less and share less and connect less. How many people who have won the lottery refuse to tell their friends and family for fear that they will be expected to share? Hoarding and stock piling is not the behavior of those living in the kingdom of God. Problems of poverty in our world today stem not from the lack of wealth, food, or resources; poverty is perpetuated by lack of sharing and equitable distribution that would ensure that all people have enough. To experience the fullness of God’s kingdom takes a shift in our loyalties – from ourselves, our resources, our accumulated treasure, to God, God’s resources and God’s interconnected community.

Jesus proposes an alternative, a relationship with God – serving God, pledging our allegiance to God, making God our master and Lord. Jesus invites us into a relationship not with money, but with God – God who is infinite and whose love for us and all creation is infinite as well. You see, love is the primary commodity of the kingdom of God, not money. Money is scarce, it’s only available in limited quantities, but love is infinite.

Think of it this way. You grow up in a family, and you have love for your parents. You have love for your siblings. You have love for your grandparents. Then, a special person comes into your life, and you decide that you want that person to be your partner, because you love them, too. Does your love for this new person decrease your love for your family of origin? Or, suppose you have a child, and then two. Does your love for the second child diminish your love for the first? Of course not. You suddenly have more love, more than you could have imagined, but full and complete love for all those people in your life.

In order to be more loving, we have to release our devotion to and our trust in money. Money isolates us and leads us into self-protective hoarding. Just think of Ebenezer Scrooge, or Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The happiest among us often give much of their treasure away to share and nurture goodness with humanity.

William Feather once wrote, “No one is a failure who is enjoying life.” Those who enjoy life the most are not those who die with the most toys, but those who are surrounded with a network of loving relationships. Those who are happiest are rich in love – and that’s something that can never be taken away. In fact, the more love they give away, the more they seem to have. That’s just how it works in the kingdom of God; that’s why Jesus told us to seek God’s kingdom first, and the rest would have a way of working itself out.

No doubt, you’ve noticed the same thing: how the more love you give away, the more you have. Love – and especially God’s love – cannot be counted, tracked, or stockpiled. And when your life is governed by this kind of relationship of love and trust, you’ve moved from the world of scarcity into the world of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of interconnectedness, the world of contentment. Suddenly in this world – Jesus called it the kingdom of God – not worrying actually becomes an option.

Life in God’s kingdom is just plain better. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for today will bring worries of its own” (6:34). Jesus is so clear that there’s a better way to live. A way that is free from worry and anxiety. It is the way of life in the kingdom of God. Friends, we belong to God – in God we find our identity, our trust, our security, and our hope.

Do you see the connections here? Living between the competing claims of two masters – God and money – pulls us in opposing directions, and all this pulling does is create worry. Jesus invites us to something better because he cares about us – he doesn’t want to see us torn apart in this tension, he doesn’t want us to live as if we’re serving two different masters – he wants what’s best for us – a life of consistency and wholeness lived in keeping with the values of God’s kingdom. It’s the path away from worry, away from anxiety, and it’s the path toward being who God wants us to be.

This is the world Jesus invites us to live into – God’s kingdom – a world of abundance, generosity, and new life. But it is also a world of fragility, trust, and vulnerability. Lilies and birds, after all, can’t defend themselves but must trust God’s providence and love.

Instead of worry, we are to seek first for God to rule our lives. We are to seek God’s reign, his rule, his lordship over our lives. God and the ways of God are to be number one in our lives.


We, as God’s children, worry way too much about way too many things. Instead, Jesus wants us to trust God for all of our needs. As we trust God, God will help us win the war against worry.


Trust God. Your tomorrow is in God’s hands.

2 comments:

  1. You told us few weeks ago that God was not in control of everything, so that part he does not control may come and zap us or hurt us or get us. So how can we feel safe in his hands?

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  2. AJ, alot of what you have written here has hit a note with me. Worrying is difficult to release....I know that I need to 'cast my burdens onto Jesus' and I have been trying to do it.
    Thank you for this thought-filled writing. It really helps me and I am going to go read it again. :)

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