Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The sermon text is from Matthew 6:24-34 previously read.
There are times when worry is appropriate… times when it can even save your life. If it causes you to wear a life jacket or buckle your kid’s seat belt – good. If it causes you to diet and exercise, that’s probably not a bad thing. If it causes you to drive the speed limit or put down the cell phone in the car, more power to you.
The worry Jesus cautions against is dangerous, because it lacks trust in God’s grace. How often don’t we pray, “Give us each day our daily bread” and then sit around worrying about the results! God promises that He “works all things for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purpose.” Yet, we still worry about our family or job or church or health or how to pay for college and on and on. Minutes ago we chanted Psalm 62: “Trust in Him at all times; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” Worry can cause us to do some good things, like prayer, but worry when it means we aren’t trusting in God is always sinful.
The anxiety and worries Jesus warns about can cripple us. Worry-related stress is a killer and can be so spiritually, as well as heart attacks, strokes and more. Many times our worries border on godless unbelief. So often people worry about health issues, but refuse to pray or be prayed for. What can that be but a lack of faith? An unbelieving heart that refuses to take God at His Word: “Call upon Me, and I will deliver you and you will honor Me.”
“Don’t worry about tomorrow… what you will eat or what you will wear.” Don’t worry doesn’t mean don’t work and don’t plan and don’t try. Not trusting God is forbidden, not labor. Paul is quite clear: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Jesus compares us to the birds of the sky. If you ever sit and watch the birds, they’re balls of constant motion and activity, but they don’t worry. After birds get done eating, they don’t fly up on a wire and worry about their next feeding. They don’t worry if the crops will get enough rain or lie awake nights thinking about tomorrow. And yet, “Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” If God so orders the world that even the little birds rest in God’s promises, how much more can we rejoice that God has us in His hands, inviting you to “cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you.”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” You might worry yourself to death, but you won’t worry yourself a longer life. You can worry yourself into a debilitating depression, but you can’t worry your way to a healthier, happier life. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus said, “ Each day has enough worries of its own.”
That’s good advice for all of us – not really advice, so much as a Divine command. In a real sense, we’re right to sit in sackcloth and ashes and mourn this world’s direction. But rather than despair we go to God in prayer for ourselves and our neighbors in these Last Days before Christ’s return. Wars and unrest and calamity are signs that we are living in the last days. With the President refusing to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, many of us worry about the world our children will grow up in – a world that holds in contempt God’s Law and glorifies sexual sin.
That’s a good God-given attitude insofar as it moves us to pray for our families and our nation. But despair and hopelessness over our own life or our children, that gives up home in God and no longer prays, is sinful unbelief and should be confessed and repented of. God can handle the future better than we. Take Him at His Word, “Pray without giving up.” There’s no better place for worried sinners to rest than in the arms of the One who “engraved you on the palms of His hands.”
One of the greatest antidotes to a life of worry is reading God’s Word. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is called the Epistle of Joy. If every Christian read Philippians daily, many therapists would be out of work. In Philippians 4, Paul counsels: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Did you catch Paul’s secret to contentment through trials? Paul knew God’s victory in Christ.
Dr. Martin Luther famously advised that when the devil drives us to the brink of despair we should shout: “Return to hell, I am baptized.” Sounds kind of goofy, but it’s really just taking God at His word. God pledged His love for you in your Baptism and in Christ’s body and blood. God can no more forget you than “a mother can forget the baby at her breast; though she may forget, God will not forget you!” From all eternity God has never once lied. You won’t be the first. Lean on God’s baptismal promise.
“Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus said, “they do not labor or spin. Yet, I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” Lilies don’t try to grow into trees or worry their color is different than the other lilies or despair their part of the field isn’t as nice as other lilies. If God cares for them, how much more you whom God baptizes into His family.
The Psalmist wrote: “For You, O God, created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful.” God saw your unformed body. He designed you to be His own purchasing you in the blood of His Son. You don’t get any of the credit, but God saw “all the days ordained for [you] before one of them came to be.” Even the mess we often make of our lives God saw fit to handle by sending His perfect Son to live and die in your place.
50 years ago, Dr. Norman Nagel preached on “consider the lilies of the field”, saying: When we live our lives to God we call them lives of faith. The only other way is the way of anxiety and worrying. There is insecurity and fear before what life requires, fear in losing loved ones or facing uncertainty and loneliness or death. Such uncertainty and the fear it breeds causes us to cling to the things of this world and try to possess them, be it health, family, wealth and possessions. Such effort is vain – useless as trying to add one cubit to your height. We are designed to live to God and find our fulfillment in Him. The lily isn’t anxious, no toiling, no spinning, no storing up in barns. The lily doesn’t worry. It receives the garment of its beauty as a gift from God.
Dear friends, God has provided your garment of beauty as His gift to you. Clothed in your Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism your garment is His glistening purity, forgiveness and love, clinched at the cross and wrapped around you in His watery promise. Galatians 3 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Christ is the beautiful garment God has prepared for you, His holiness covers every sin, even the sin of worry and anxiety over the future. One of my favorite hymns goes: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head.”
Jesus closes with a stirring verse, surely a favorite of countless Christians: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” In other words, as the Holy Spirit gives strength, don’t let worry crowd out Christ and His cross. This Kingdom of God is His gift to you, don’t let worry close your hearts to God’s free gift. Jesus said, “Have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom.”
The reason I commend Philippians as a book for us “worriers” is Paul puts it all in perspective. When you rest in the Baptismal vow of a God who never lies, you can always run back to that promise and know God’s love for you. And the God who can handle that big thing, can certainly handle the other stuff. 2 Corinthians 4 says, “These light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an everlasting glory that outweighs them all.” Praise be to God! Amen.
And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.