Whenever Penny and I travel in the car for several hours, I always like to update her on how much longer until we arrive. For example, I don’t just say an hour and a half. I say that we only have a little over four sermons to go. “Ok, now we’re just three sermons left! Now two! Final sermon just started! Last illustration. We’re home!!! Amen!!!!”
It actually makes the trip feel so much longer when I do that and I don’t know why.
So Jesus has this super long sermon here in Matthew’s Gospel. We get a little hint that it’s going to be an extra long one because we are told that just before Jesus began to preach, he sat down. That is not a good sign when the preacher sits down to preach the sermon. Actually, that was a common thing for preachers to do in Jesus’ day.
So how about for the rest of this sermon, I just go ahead and sit in this comfortable recliner over here?
I’ve always wanted to do this! I’m just being biblical because this is how Jesus taught.
(Pastor Robert sits in a recliner)
I’m guessing that this sermon is going to be a lot longer than 18 minutes. Just guessing.
- So, I’m not really sitting in this chair because this how Jesus taught. I’m sitting in this chair because of what Jesus is telling us in our Gospel reading for this morning.
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 6:25 where Jesus says, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
OK, that’s not quite it. I never was good with memorizing verses. Actually, Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life.” “Don’t worry.”
In a way, I can actually hear Jesus saying that line because, well, just think about it. Don’t you get the sense that Jesus was a very happy person? I know that he had his fair share of run-ins with the religious leaders of his day and as he got closer and closer to the cross, things turned much darker as you would expect, but if you really think about his life in general and his day to day living, you get a strong sense that he was a very happy and joy filled person.
That’s probably why he had this great crowd of people listening to him preach! People can only take so much doom and gloom. We are drawn to people who are filled with hope, life, spontaneity, creativity, and joy. That’s who Jesus was. He was someone who was filled with all of those things on a consistent basis.
And so, in this part of the sermon on the mount where Jesus is teaching about living a life free of worry, he is really just preaching about what he has already been practicing. Jesus showed us in the way he interacted with people, in the way he healed, and in the way he called people to follow him, that life is meant to be filled with joy and gratitude.
Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. So what does Jesus teach us about a life free of worry and a life that is filled with happiness, gratitude, and joy?
Having a Biblical Image of Who God Is
Well, the first thing he reminds the people at this outdoor chapel service is the biblical image of who God is. How we perceive who God goes a long way in us having or not having a worry free life.
And Jesus reminds us of this biblical image of who God is when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather in into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Just picture Jesus pointing up to some trees as he is offering this illustration. “Look at the birds. They’re right there in front of us. God is taking care of them so why wouldn’t he do the same for us?”
Jesus is reminding the crowd of people who had gathered to hear him preach that the God of the scriptures is intimately involved in our world, even in the simple act of birds being fed. Jesus isn’t teaching anything new here because it’s a basic concept that we find throughout the Bible.
I wonder if Jesus might have had Psalm 145 in mind. The psalmist there says, “The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in al his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.”
This is a God who is not some remote deity that cares very little for the world that he created. This is a God who is actively involved in our day to day lives. Just think about this. God is constantly reaching out to us with his grace, mercy, guidance, and love. God’s grace surrounds us in any given moment! This is something we talk a lot about here in our church, to be alert to how God is at work in your life and in the lives of others. We call these “thin place moments” because heaven and earth often overlap and we get glimpses of God’s presence in both big and small ways.
Where do you see God at work in the world? Where do you see God at work in your life? Where do you see God at work in others?
It’s kind of like the little message that is on the side mirror of a car where it says, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
I think that we need a sign like that as we go about our day. “God is closer than you may think.” This is the biblical image of who God is. God is more loving and more gracious and more active in our lives than we can ever imagine. What a great thought!
God is present in the simple act of a mother bird feeding her young. Jesus is saying that if we want to have a worry free life, to just look at the birds and see how God is caring for their needs. If God is present in these very simple ways in creation, than certainly, God is present in our lives as well. Are we not of more value than they?
Live in the Present Moment
The second way that we can learn to be more grateful and not get caught up in the worries of life is to live in the present moment. Live in the present moment.
This is similar to the first point about always keeping in mind the biblical image of God as being constantly active in our world and in our lives. To do that, we need to live in the present.
After Jesus points out the birds that are right in front of us, he then talks about the lilies of the field. So, when Jesus mentions the lilies, he isn’t referring to this one specific plant like when we think of an Easter Lilie. The word that is used here by Jesus would have also included many different kinds of plants that would have been growing in the fertile Galilean soil like the autumn crocus and the gladiolus. These plants didn’t have to put on any make-up to be beautiful. They are beautiful just as they are. And the same is true of us.
Do you know what this means? It means that I don’t have to spend hours and hours working on my hair. I don’t have to worry about which of my worship robes I should wear on Sunday morning. God already made me beautiful!
I have a friend from my home church in Pennsylvania who has taught me this basic truth. He’s a couple years older than I am and he said how he went on a trip with his daughter. And my friend said that he was feeling kind of lazy that day, so he put on an old pair of outdated shorts and a wrinkled polo shirt that totally clashed with the shorts. His daughter was terrified and said, “Dad, you can’t wear that! That’s awful!” And he just shrugged his shoulders and said. “Hey, I’m 58. That means I can wear whatever I want.”
Jesus says, “Do not worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ Or ‘What will we drink?’ Or ‘What will we wear.’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
Jesus is saying that the key to having a worry free life is to live in the present. Live in the present. Don’t get caught up in always thinking about the future. There’s so much in the present to appreciate and enjoy.
I had lunch with one of our church members this past week, Mike Sweeney, and during our conversation Mike said how he is always seeking to “squeeze all the juice out of each day.”
I love that! Squeeze the juice out of each day. I think this is what Jesus is telling us. Live fully in the present moment.
So it was during this part in Jesus’ sermon, that he starts to step on my toes because I’m not very good at living in the present moment. I feel like I’m always thinking about the future like right now, I can’t help but to be thinking about my Christmas Eve sermon. We’re not even at Thanksgiving and that’s what’s been on my mind lately.
Now, we know that there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. In fact, that’s also a wise thing to do, but if it keeps us from living in the present moment, than it will often lead to unnecessary worry and anxiety. And then, if I get my Christmas Eve sermon done early, yeah, I feel really good about it, but then I start worrying about if there’s going to be a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and how nobody will hear it anyway. And then there’s next year’s Easter sermon to worry about, and then… You get the point.
Yes, this is the problem with focusing on the future at the expense of living in the present moment. As a friend of mine used to remind me, “All you got is now. All you got is now. Enjoy this moment.”
When I was out on the bike path one Spring, I loved seeing those signs that simply said, “Look to your left.” “Look up.” “Look to your right.” Those signs were reminding people like me to be aware of all that is around us or we’ll miss it. Look at those beautiful southeast Ohio hills. Look at those Japanese tree blossoms. Look at the geese swimming in beautiful formation down the river.
How do we have a more worry free life? We remember who God is. God is a loving, gracious, caring, compassionate, and merciful God who cares about us more than we can ever know. When we fully live in the present moment it helps us to not get anxious about what the future might hold. All we have is the present, so enjoy it.
Keep God & God’s Kingdom as Top Priority
And this final thing that Jesus teaches us for a worry free life. Keep God and God’s kingdom as your top priority in life.
Jesus ends this part of his sermon by saying, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When I hear that, I think of how that also means that we need to get our focus off ourselves and on God. Sometimes the biggest reason that we worry is because we are focusing on the wrong thing.
A friend of mine who’s a pastor was telling me why his church went from survival mode to becoming a growing church. He said that it was all because the people shifted their focus from surviving to serving. When the church reclaims its mission of serving others and of reaching out in the name of Christ, it is striving first for the Kingdom of God.
And then this pastor said how the people in the church have become a lot happier and joyful because they were seeing more and more fruit by serving rather than just by being in survival mode.
That’s also true on a more personal level. When we take our focus off ourselves and put our focus on serving God and others, we end up becoming more grateful, more joyful, more hopeful, more generous, more loving, and more thankful.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added onto you.”
Jesus says that if you want to have a worry free life, remember who God is, live more in the present moment and keep God and God’s kingdom number one in your life.
I was blessed to know a very loving older member of one of the congregations I served as pastor. Marjean was always very care free, grateful, and joy-filled. Didn’t seem to have a care in the world. She was the kind of person who you just wanted to be around. She had a very deep rooted faith that had weathered many storms in her life and she was a living example of this scripture passage today.
She had a large family who also attended that church. One night, I received a call from one of Marjean’s sons. “Hey, mom is in the ER of the hospital. It’s not looking good. Can you come over and have prayer with us. We’re right here at the hospital.”
I said, “Sure.” And off to the hospital I went.
When I got there, the family was now up at the surgery waiting room. Marjean was to have surgery soon and the family was giving me all of the details and they were all saying that things weren’t looking very good and they didn’t know if she was going to make it through the surgery.
There were a lot of tears and and hugs going on in that waiting room. I had them gather in a circle and we all lifted Marjean in prayer. We then continued our quiet conversations there in the waiting room. It was a very tense time.
As we were sitting there, we happened to look up, and noticed that a nurse was wheeling a bed down the hallway. Imagine our complete shock when we realized that it was Marjeam on that bed. She lifted her head up, looked over at us, gave us a great big smile and then waved at us! That was just like her to take our tears and turn them into joy and laughter.
Marjean ended up recovering from whatever it was that put her in the hospital. It’s actually still a mystery to me. She continued on with her life as if nothing happened. That was several years ago.
I heard that Marjean passed away last year. I looked up her obituary and here is what it said. I share this with you because the obituary really captures who she was and how she lived. It reads,
She was the heart and soul of her family. She was a cheerful woman of great charm, with a ready smile and a loving disposition. Her example of courage, honesty, and love will be tenderly remembered. As a role model, she left her mark on several generations with her fortitude, perseverance, strength of character, and positive attitude. She lived with compassion and overflowing generosity for humanity. Her strong connection to the Lord gave her an inner aliveness that made her seem youthful despite her years. There was always a calming presence at the center of her being where she walked in union with God. She was full of love, full of hope, full of faith. Her family will not grieve, but will continue to honor with great celebration and enthusiasm all that she taught, knowing that she is forever at peace in God’s home.
As I read this, it made me smile. I recalled that story of her in the hospital and it made me laugh. And I remember thinking, “I want to be more like Marjean” in my life. Someone who knows that God is always present with us. Someone who knows what it means to live in the moment. And someone who always seeks to keep God and God’s kingdom as the most important priority in life.
For those of us who worry way too much, let’s sing together, hymn no. 404, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.”
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful
Small Group Questions
November 18, 2018
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers a teaching about having a life free of worry. He says, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life.” – Matthew 6:25
Do you struggle with worry? What things cause you to worry?
Pastor Robert shared three things that Jesus teaches us to help us have a worry free life. These include 1) Having a biblical image of God 2) Living fully in the present 3) Keeping God and God’s kingdom as our top priority in life
Which one of these stands out to you the most?
Jesus uses nature to help illustrate how we can live a worry free life. He tells us to think about how birds feed their young and how the lilies of the field are naturally beautiful.
Share a time when your observation of nature helped you to overcome a worry in your life.
Having a worry free life is closely connected with having a more thankful life, hence the sermon title, “Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.”
As we near Thanksgiving Day, share one or two things for which you are thankful.